Christiana case (1851)
. — Occasionally the rescue of fugitives was not accomplished by a sudden unorganized movement, but by a deliberate armed [defense] on the part of the slaves and their friends. In the Christiana case the affair was marked by violence and bloodshed, while the fact that the Quakers Castner Hanway and Elijah Lewis were afterward prosecuted made it notorious; and the further fact that the charge was not, as usual, that of aiding a fugitive, but of treason, gave it still greater interest.
In and about Christiana, Pennsylvania, there were many negroes who had formerly been slaves, descriptions of whom were frequently furnished to kidnappers by a band of men known, throughout the country as the "Gap Gang." A league for mutual protection had therefore been formed by the colored people, and prominent among them for intelligence and boldness was William Parker. Soon after the passage of the law of 1850, Edward Gorsuch and a party came from Maryland to Christiana for a fugitive slave. With United States officers from Philadelphia they went immediately to the house of William Parker, where the man they were seeking was sheltered. When their demand was refused, they fired two shots at the house. This roused the people, and a riot ensued in which the fugitive escaped. Mr. Gorsuch was killed, his son desperately wounded, and the rest put to flight. Castner Hanway at the beginning of the struggle was notified of the kidnappers' presence, and, though feeble in health, hastened to the scene. When ordered by Marshal Kline to aid him in accordance with the law, he refused; yet, far from leading in the affair, he tried in every way to prevent bloodshed and bring about peace.
After it was over, Parker, with two other colored men, knowing that arrest must follow, secreted themselves under piles of shavings in an old carpenter's shop. At night they sent four wagons in different directions as decoys for the detectives, and were carried safely away by a fifth. Many negroes hid that night in the corn shocks, and under the floors of houses, until escape could be made in safety.
Castner Hanway was arrested, and arraigned before the United States court on the charge of treason; but no proof of a conspiracy to make a general and public resistance to the law could be found, and he was acquitted. Afterward it was desired to try Hanway and Lewis for "riot and murder, "but the grand jury ignored the bill, and all prisoners were released. With these prosecutions the end of the affair was apparently reached, though perhaps its influence may be traced in a succeeding case.