The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

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Oct 3, 2005
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 strengthened the previous Act of 1793. The earlier act didn't work very well, in the sense of getting people back into slavery. George Washington's prolonged, but fruitless pursuit of one of his escaped women, Oney Judge, demonstrates its toothless nature.

But the beefed up 1850 law wasn't all that successful either. 330 people were forced back into slavery by 1860. That's 330 too many, of course, but only a fraction of the number of escapees per year. This doesn't count the number arrested, but whom escaped, or the few found not to actually be fugitives.

Antebellum America was definitely not a society that tended to keep close tabs on people generally, outside the slave states, of course. Officers of the law were local and had little reason to be interested in solving slavery's escape problem. But because the incidents were so individualized, so dramatic, it galvanized interest. I'll share some of these accounts.







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Oct 3, 2005
Well known is the story of husband and wife escapees William and Ellen Craft. In 1848, Ellen Craft disguised herself as a middle class gentleman, and William as his bodyservant. Ellen was illiterate and to cover for this, she wore her right arm in a sling. They left Macon, Georgia for freedom.

Clothes make the man! By acting the part they successfully passed, traveling first class and staying in fine hotels. Ellen performed as a man, as a member of the middle class and as a slaveowner, so successfully that two young ladies in Charleston flirted with her. Scarlett would have had more luck with Ashley Wilkes. However this is not a Netflix special. They took ship and arrival in Philadelphia on Christmas Day, 1848.
 
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Joined
Oct 3, 2005
The Crafts settled in Boston, she working as a seamstress and William as a carpenter. Their exploit became well known, and in 1850, their owner send two bounty hunters to retrieve them, under the new Fugitive Slave Act.

The Crafts hid in a number of safe houses and evidently fled to Portland, Maine, then by ship to Nova Scotia, then Liverpool, England. Then lived in England for 18 years and had five children.

The two bounty hunters had a thin time in Boston, sued for slander, damaging Craft's woodworking shop, and just to show that abolitionists meant business: arrested for kidnapping and smoking in public.

Collins appealed to President Fillmore for support, and the President authorized the military to intervene. But with the Crafts in England, the issue was moot.

So a good time was had by all and a general happy ending, except for the two slave hunters, and those guys can buzz off.
 
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Oct 3, 2005
In May of 1850, an enslaved man named Shadrach Minkins escaped from slavery in Norfolk, Virginia. He made his way to Boston and was working in a restaurant when he was seized by slave catchers on Feb. 15, 1851. They hustled him to the federal courthouse in Court Square in Boston.

Four abolitionists, including a lawyer named Charles Davis, appealed for a writ of habeas corpus, and other legal tactics. The only one they got was a delay of three days to prepare a defense. Three of men repaired to their offices to prepare a defense, while Davis stayed with Minkins. Suddenly a crowd of black men charged through the courtroom door, plowed through the court officers and surrounded Shadrach Minkins, they then exited the building into Court Square, "a black squall" noted the author Richard Henry Dana, and were gone. Minkins traveled to Concord, then Framingham, and then finally to Montreal, where he went into the restaurant business.

It was not lost on a Bible reading society that Shadrach was a young Hebrew, rescued with Daniel from the fire.

Davis was arrested for facilitating the escape, as were some others. Davis's lawyer argued he had been unaware of the attempt, which may have been true. Davis and the others were eventually acquitted.

Slave staters were not amused. The Georgia Citizen called for a "naval and military force" to be deployed to Boston, "sufficient to batter down the walls of Boston and lay it in utter ruin." On the other hand, abolitionists patted each other on the back and said the rescue recalled the Boston Tea Party, although, as Andrew Delbanco points out in The War Before the War, it was the descendants of Africans, not the Pilgrims, who did the heavy lifting. Elvis was not the first white man to claim credit for the achievements of black people.
 
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Oct 3, 2005
Well its been good, clean fun up to this point.

On Feb. 21, 1851, in Savannah, an enslaved man named Thomas Sims stowed away on a ship bound for Boston. His master heard of his whereabouts when he wrote to his free wife, and send two men to Boston to reclaim him.

There were legal maneuvers by both sides, but learning from the Shadrach episode, the federal commissioner moved very quickly to get Sims back to slavery. A strong contingent of armed police was mobilized, as well as militia and volunteers carrying clubs. Strong chains were fastened around the doors, making the judge entering the courtroom have to duck below them, an image not lost on anyone there.

Judge Lemuel Shaw turned Sim over to the federal commissioner. He called slavery "odious" but the Fugitive Slave Law was clear. Sims was taken by a large number of militia and police to Long Wharf for his voyage back to slavery while protestors shouted "Shame, shame"

Sims shouted as he was taken away, "Is this Massachusetts liberty?" He was the first fugitive ever taken from New England. Back in Savannah, Sims received a vicious public flogging, while President Fillmore congratulated Daniel Webster on his public spirit. Sims was sold to a Virginian, and managed to gain his freedom after the Battle of Vicksburg. After the war he lived in Washington DC, working for the justice department.

Paraphrased from p. 277-282 from The War Before the War. by Andrew Delbanco.
 

DanSBHawk

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Well its been good, clean fun up to this point.

On Feb. 21, 1851, in Savannah, an enslaved man named Thomas Sims stowed away on a ship bound for Boston. His master heard of his whereabouts when he wrote to his free wife, and send two men to Boston to reclaim him.

There were legal maneuvers by both sides, but learning from the Shadrach episode, the federal commissioner moved very quickly to get Sims back to slavery. A strong contingent of armed police was mobilized, as well as militia and volunteers carrying clubs. Strong chains were fastened around the doors, making the judge entering the courtroom have to duck below them, an image not lost on anyone there.

Judge Lemuel Shaw turned Sim over to the federal commissioner. He called slavery "odious" but the Fugitive Slave Law was clear. Sims was taken by a large number of militia and police to Long Wharf for his voyage back to slavery while protestors shouted "Shame, shame"

Sims shouted as he was taken away, "Is this Massachusetts liberty?" He was the first fugitive ever taken from New England. Back in Savannah, Sims received a vicious public flogging, while President Fillmore congratulated Daniel Webster on his public spirit. Sims was sold to a Virginian, and managed to gain his freedom after the Battle of Vicksburg. After the war he lived in Washington DC, working for the justice department.

Paraphrased from p. 277-282 from The War Before the War. by Andrew Delbanco.
Even in 1851 protesters turned out to shame the verdict. It's hard to imagine how slaveowners couldn't recognize the immorality of slavery.
 
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Oct 3, 2005
In November of 1849, four black men escaped from the plantation of Edward Gorsuch, a Maryland wheat farmer. In 1851, Gorsuch learned that two of the men were living near Christiana, a southern Pennsylvania town, where there was a community of free blacks. Gorach gathered a posse including a federal marshal and went in pursuit. Unknowingly he was stepping into a hornet's nest.

Slave catchers were doing a good business in the area. They were capturing free blacks and forcing them into Virginia or Maryland
to be sold. Sometimes they would spy on blacks in the area, and have an accomplice work up a matching description, and capture "fugitives" proving that had escaped using the fraudulent descriptions before federal commissioners. The accused Black person could not speak in his own defense.

Blacks had organized a militia to resist slave catchers, and one of its leaders was William Parker.
 
Joined
Oct 3, 2005
In November of 1849, four black men escaped from the plantation of Edward Gorsuch, a Maryland wheat farmer. In 1851, Gorsuch learned that two of the men were living near Christiana, a southern Pennsylvania town, where there was a community of free blacks. Gorach gathered a posse including a federal marshal and went in pursuit. Unknowingly he was stepping into a hornet's nest.

Slave catchers were doing a good business in the area. They were capturing free blacks and forcing them into Virginia or Maryland
to be sold. Sometimes they would spy on blacks in the area, and have an accomplice work up a matching description, and capture "fugitives" proving that had escaped using the fraudulent descriptions before federal commissioners. The accused Black person could not speak in his own defense.

Blacks had organized a militia to resist slave catchers, and one of its leaders was William Parker.
When Gorsach and his posse got to Parker's farm, then found fifteen to twenty black men, armed with tools and a few guns waiting. A local Quaker, Castner Hanway, advised Gorsach and the marshal to retreat.

Later accounts said that Gorsach took pride in being a lenient master and actually planned to free these slaves at some future point. That day in Christiana, he didn't act like that. Accounts differ, but at some point, Gorsach and his supporters rushed Parker's door. In an exchange of gunfire, Gorsach was shot by Parker or one of the others. Gorsach died and some of the other posse members were wounded, and rest fleeing.

The two men then fled, eventually ending up in Canada. Parker, Hanway the Quaker, 27 other Blacks and 3 other Whites were arrested and charged with treason. Their defense attorney was none other than Thaddeus Stevens.

Opinions about the well publicized trial split along political lines. Either they should all be hanged or lauded as heroes, William Parker the equivalent of Capt. John Parker who had resisted the Redcoats at Lexington.

In Hanway(the Quaker) trial, Judge Grier instructed the jury that treason was an inappropriate charge. "The resistance to the exeution of a law of the United States accompanied by force...must be of a public and general nature." Grier also expressed disdain for the "odious" slave catchers, "incited by cupidity..had heretofore undertaken to seize them(the fugitives) by force and violence, to invade the sancity of private dwellings...and insult the feelings and prejudices of the people."

The jury took five minutes to acquit Hanway, and the rest of the indictments were dropped.

paraphrased from "The War Before the War" by Andrew Delbanco p. 287-92
 
Joined
Oct 3, 2005
Even in 1851 protesters turned out to shame the verdict. It's hard to imagine how slaveowners couldn't recognize the immorality of slavery.
In order to practice brutality on other people they have to be defined as somehow different. A practice not limited to antebellum America. Then some airy abstractions about the Constitution.
 
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