Christiana Resistance 1851
Many historians consider the Christiana Resistance to be the first battle of the Civil War. In fact, General Robert E. Lee, when making his attack into southeast Pennsylvania in the next decade, is alleged to have asked where the town was so he could burn it.
It was here that the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 was tested for the first time. Southern slaveholders believed that federal law protected their right to apprehend fugitives. Northern abolitionists denounced the law and denied that the federal government had the right to enact a bill that ran contrary to human rights and the laws of God.
The story of September 11, 1851....
The story began in 1849 when four slaves ran away from 'retreat farm' in Baltimore County, MD owned by Edward Gorsuch.
The slaves were...
The four slaves made their way to Christiana and ended up living in William Parker's house.
1850 the Fugitive Slave Law was passed. The law basically made every citizen of the US a slave catcher and all blacks, free or escaped, subject to slavery on command of any federal marshal or greedy commissioner.
1851 William Padgett, a Lancaster county resident, informed Edward Gorsuch that he knew the location of the four men he was looking for. Padgett wanted Gorsuch to come to Lancaster County, employ a federal marshal and pay him (Padgett) for his knowledge. Slave catching and informing had become a lucrative business.
William Padgett (the snitch) was a bad man. According to a resident of Christiana at the time, Padgett was a white farmhand that would go around the county meeting runaway slaves. Through casual and seemingly friendly conversation, Padgett would learn where the runaways came from and the names of their former masters. He would then write to their masters, guide the slave catching parties and then get a reward.
Padgett was a member of the 'Gap Gang', a group of thieves, counterfeiters and bounty hunters.
September 8, 1851 - Edward Gorsuch took an express train from Baltimore to Philadelphia and obtained 4 fugitive slave warrants. Deputy marshal Henry Kline was assigned to assist with the warrants.
September 8 and 9 abolitionist William Still had men stationed around the law offices to intercept information about possible slave catchers.
Fun Fact: William Still aided 800 or more fugitive slaves and published a book in 1872 with first-person accounts of men and women who escaped to freedom. Click this link to download or read his book.
Gorsuch and Kline (the marshal) boarded a train and was followed by Samuel Williams who was one of Still's spies. Kline exited the train early to secure a horse and wagon. Williams (the spy) followed Kline. Gorsuch stayed on the train.
The rest of the Gorsuch posse was coming up from Baltimore. The posse included...
Dickinson Gorsuch (Edward's son)
Dr. Thomas Pearce (Edward's nephew)
September 10 Gorsuch and his posse were to meet near Christiana, connect with Padgett (the snitch) and capture the slaves while it was dark.
September 10, 2:00 am the group waited for Kline (the marshal) to bring the wagon. However the wagon broke down and Kline missed the rendezvous.
The group temporarily retreated.
Kline (the marshal) found a second wagon but couldn't find the posse. Remember that Williams (the spy) was following Kline all this time.
Williams (the spy) figured out that the posse's ultimate destination was Christiana and headed there to warn of the kidnappers.
William Parker heard the news. The region was now on the lookout for slave catchers.
September 10 9:00 am Kline (the marshal) found the posse. The element of surprise was no longer on the kidnappers side so they spent the day in Gallagherville, about 15 miles east of Christiana.
September 10 11:00 pm They hopped on a train to Gap where they met up with Padgett (the snitch).
September 11, 1851 Padgett (the snitch) guided the posse to Parker's house where 2 of the runaway slaves were staying and left.
One of the runaway slaves (Nelson Ford) was leaving early in the morning for work. He spotted the posse, including Kline (the marshal), and warned the Parker household.
7 people were in the Parker house...
Eliza Parker (William's wife)
Hannah Pinckney (Eliza's sister)
Alexander Pinckney (Eliza's brother in law)
Nelson Ford (former Gorsuch slave)
Joshua Hammond (former Gorsuch slave)
Everyone in the Parker house ran upstairs. The posse wanted them to give up Nelson and Joshua based on the warrants.
Parker announced that they would 'fight to the death' to maintain their freedom.
The Parker household and the posse were at a standoff.
Eliza Parker blew a tin horn to alert the neighbors. The blowing of the horn caused the posse to shoot at the trumpeter. Eliza never gave up her blowing even though there were bullets all around her.
The gunfire ended in a stalemate.
Neighbors promptly came to see what the problem was.
Eventually the neighbors arrived at Parker's house carrying weapons...long corn knives, clubs and axes. There were very few guns. The number of neighbors that responded was anywhere from 50 to 150 men. Historians aren't sure of the exact number, but it could have been as low as 15 to 25. Most of the neighbors were black.
Two Quakers, Elijah Lewis and Castner Hanway (remember his name), arrived on the scene. They would not aid in the capture of the runaway slaves but tried to avoid violence by persuading the neighbors to leave the area. Nobody departed. The two Quakers gave up and left. Kline (the marshal) also left (important aftermath fact).
Edward Gorsuch was dead. He was severely beaten and shot. His body was taken to the Zercher's Hotel.
Dickinson Gorsuch was shot and critically wounded. He was taken by Quaker Joseph Scarlett (remember his name) to the nearby farm of Levi Pownall. Scarlett had only arrived on the scene after the shooting stopped.
'Black had conquered white in a country that knew only the opposite and would demand its recompense' according to author Anthony Rice.
Authorities were sure to arrive. Parker, Pinckney and Johnson quickly realized that it would impossible to get a fair trial and decided to flee to Canada, leaving their wives and children behind.
Fun Fact: They were helped on their journey to Canada by Frederick Douglass. It's the third time Parker and Douglass' paths had crossed. In this final meeting, Douglass was the one impressed with Parker.
Local police, federal marshals and 45 marines were dispatched to Christiana. Warrants for the 3 Quakers...
Elijah Lewis - tried to avert violence
Castner Hanway - tried to avert violence
Joseph Scarlett - took Dickinson Gorsuch to nearby farm
were issued and they were taken to Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia.
Lots of slave catching groups arrived to try and kidnap suspected runaways for profit.
All of the neighboring blacks were rounded up...even if they weren't at the Parker's house. 141 people were arrested. 38 individuals were indicted for the murder of Edward Gorsuch, including William Parker and his men. A local black man named George Washington Harvey Scott (important person in trial) aided in identifying the men present at the Parker's house.
The largest treason trial in American history...
Thaddeus Steven is the lead defense attorney for the accused men.
The prosecution decided to try each defendant separately, starting with Castner Hanway who was portrayed as the treasonous leader of the resistance....which we all know was not true. Also, by getting a guilty verdict for a Quaker (white) defendant, it was assumed that the rest of the trials would be easy.
November 24, 1851 Hanway's trial began at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Abolitionist Lucretia Mott attended the trial.
Harvey Scott (the person that identified the men at the Parker's house) was a witness for the prosecution. He was caught in many lies when cross examined and even admitted to perjury.
December 16, 1851 after 15 minutes of deliberation, the jury rendered a verdict of 'not guilty' for Castner Hanway. Charges against Elijah Lewis and Joseph Scarlet were also dropped.
January 16, 1852 charges against the remaining prisoners were dropped.
The Christiana Resistance ended with no on being held accountable for the death of Edward Gorsuch or the defiance of the Fugitive Slave Law.
Some historians label the Christiana Resistance as 'the first battle of the civil war'.
Download the Project Gutenberg ebook of the Christiana Riot and the Treason Trials
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
February 14, 2022
Jeffrey Wright: America is Divided Now, But Not As Much as During Lincoln’s Time.
Watch an interview with Jeffrey Wright about his docuseries ‘Lincoln’s Dilemma’.
This video is about 6 minutes…well worth watching as it has a surprise piece of info about the Christiana Resistance.
But there's more...
Edward Gorsuch had another son, Thomas who was too young to join the posse to retrieve the slaves. Thomas was very upset about his father's death and the fact that nobody was held accountable.
Prior to the resistance, in the fall of 1849, Thomas Gorsuch attended the Milton Academy in Baltimore Maryland which was only 2 miles down the road from the Gorsuch farm.
While at the school Thomas was friends with a younger student...John Wilkes Booth. Yes, the one who assassinated President Lincoln.
Check out this excerpt from the book
The book contains extensive records of Booth's writings.
The Christiana Resistance paved the way for both the Civil War and the first American presidential assassination.
Whatever happened to Dickinson Gorsuch?
Remember that Dickinson Gorsuch was taken to Levi Pownall's homestead after being shot. While there, he learned to know that the Quaker families of the valley, while they were considerate of the slave, could be no less kind to the master in distress.
The daily entries of his diary attest his gratitude and appreciation, and these he substantially manifested throughout his lifetime.
Dickinson kept up his acquaintance with people about Christiana until his death. He rejoiced in the establishment of good relations between those who had been on opposite sides of the conflict of 1851.
Dickinson Gorsuch was 56 years old when he died, August 2, 1882.