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Christiana Fugitive Affair


CHRISTIANA FUGITIVE AFFAIR. On 11 September 1851 a battle erupted between members of the black population of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and a Maryland slave owner who had come to recapture his four escaped slaves.

On 6 November 1849 four slaves escaped from the Retreat Farm plantation in Baltimore County, Maryland. The plantation, a wheat farm, was owned by Edward Gorsuch. When he received word that his slaves had been found in September 1851, the plantation owner recruited his son and some of the local Christiana authorities to remand the fugitives back to him.

When the attempt was made to recapture the men, who had found refuge in the home of another fugitive slave named William Parker, they resisted. With the support of the local black townspeople (and some of the white) their resistance was successful. Edward Gorsuch was killed in the fray. The fugitives made their way to Canada and remained free.

The skirmish was set in the backdrop of national debate about fugitive slave laws and slavery itself. The free state of Pennsylvania wanted no part of returning the slaves to their Maryland owner and was not obligated to help. The battle heightened this controversy and helped set the stage for the Civil War.


Slaughter, Thomas P. Bloody Dawn: The Christiana Riot and Racial Violence in the Antebellum North. New York: Oxford Press, 1991.

Michael K.Law

See alsoMason-Dixon Line ; Slave Insurrections ; Union Sentiment in Border States .

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