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The Christiana Resistance Precursor to the Civil War - Christiana Pennsylvania

The Christiana Resistance thought of in some corners as a precursor to the Civil War. It is one of the many events in American History that is not widely known.

"A major episode in African-American history, along with John Brown’s raid, was the Fugitive Slave Rebellion in Christiana. This event was a harbinger of the Civil War. Frederick Douglas referred to the Christiana Riot as “… the battle for liberty.”

On September 11, 1851, Slave owner Edward Gorsuch, his son Dickinson, a Federal Marshall, descended on the house of a Free Black, William Parker. The slaves, Noah Buley, Nelson Ford, and George and Joshua Hammond, were at the Parker house in Christiana. The Parker House, like many in the area was a Safe House, for escaped slaves. The Fugitive Slave Act, gave slave owners authority to travel to pursue escaped slaves into Northern States. Once the Act was passed White Militas' entered Northern States and many times kidnapped free blacks and sold them into slavery. The Fugitive Slave Act meant that Slave Owners like Gorsuch could use Federal Marshals in their pursuit of slaves.

When Gorsuch arrived with his entourage he went to Parker's house and demanded that his property be returned. In the Parker house, hiding in the attic were escaped slaves, who Parker had sworn to protect. His focus was not on Buley, Ford, and then Hammond brothers, who were by then headed north. His focus was on the women and children, under his protection, who were now trembling in fear. At the door of the attic was Elizabeth Parker, who stood holding at the door holding a shotgun. As the argument at the front door became louder, Elizabeth sounded the alarm. She blew her horn, and the sound alerted the entire community that the Parker House was under siege.

William Parker and Edward Gorsuch were engrossed in their argument, and neither was prepared to budge. William Parker told Gorsuch that there was no, "Property" at his house, since human beings were not property. Gorsuch angrily facing Parker, made a move to go into his house, and a shot rang out. Edward Gorsuch was shot in the chest, and fell to the ground dead. The Posse looked around, and saw a sea of angry black faces. There were whites in the crowd as well, and none of the faces were friendly. The Federal Marshall attempted to deputize Castner Hanaway, a white man, and he refused. Castner Hanaway was a part of the community, and an organizer of the Abolitionist movement in the area.

The Federal Marshall and Posse ran and were chased by the angry mob. Dickinson Gorsuch was knocked to the ground, and beaten almost to death. He was saved by a member of the community, and taken to safety. The siege continued into the night, as the Federal Marshall and his posse hid in the Woods. The next day Marshals descended on the community and arrested most of the blacks and several whites in the community. Although a warrant was issued for William Parker, he and the slaves under his protection left for Canada. Eliza was tried for treason and acquitted. William Parker returned to the United States and fought in the Civil War. After the war he returned to Bruxton Parish in Canada where many of his descendants continue to live.

Of those arrested in Christiana thirty-eight were tried for treason, and acquitted (including my ancestor Henry Green). The blacks were held in Cow Pens in the City of Lancaster while Castner Hanaway was tried in the Federal Court in Philadelphia. Today Christiana is an Historic District, and the house where the Parker House, where the incident took place is now an Historic Landmark. The streets are named after those who were indicted for Treason, and also for Dickinson and Edward Gorsuch.

1. Forbes, Ella But We Have No Country: The 1851 Christiana, Pennsylvania Resistance, Africana Homestead Legacy, 1998
2. Wills, Anita L., Notes and Documents of Free Persons of Color: Four Hundred Years of An American Family's History, Lulu Press, pgs. 31-34, 2004 Slaughter, Thomas P., Bloody Dawn: The Christiana Riot and Racial Violence in the Antebellum North, Oxford University Press, 1994

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