Near the village of Christiana in southeastern Lancaster County lived William Parker, a slave who had escaped detection during the period of underground railroad operations before the fugitive slave law of 1850 was enacted. Parker used his home as an underground station, assisting other Negroes who came to him for help. In September, 1851, Edward Gorusch, of Baltimore, came to Parker’s house demanding two escaped slaves that Parker was harboring. Gorusch brought with him warrants for the arrest of his slaves and a posse of armed men, under the command of a United States deputy marshal.
The armed men surrounded Parker’s house after the deputy marshal’s demand for the release of the slaves was refused. The Negroes of the neighborhood had a prearranged signal with which to summon help if needed. Parker’s wife gave the signal from a bedroom by blowing a horn which could be heard throughout the countryside. The besiegers sensing that the horn was a signal of some sort discharged their rifles, aiming them at the bedroom window, but Mrs. Parker was not injured. The neighbors of Parker, all negroes, rallied promptly bringing with them an odd assortment of weapons, including long blades used in cutting corn.
White Men Arrive
Soon a group of white men came to the scene. They were a band of notorious ruffians, known as the “Gap Gang,” men who lived by thieving and by acting as guides for slave catchers. Some of them had been Negro kidnappers. While these opposing forces were rallying two respectable white men of the neighborhood came to the scene. The deputy marshal read the warrants to them, ordering them to assist in the capture of the slaves. Both men refused to help. Instead they prevailed upon the members of the “Gap Gang” to depart, lest the shedding of blood be added to their other crimes.
Boldly William Parker left his house to hold parley with Gorusch and the deputy marshal. During the argument which followed, Gorusch’s son fired a shot at Parker the bullet passing through the negro’s hat.
This was the beginning of a bloody fight, in which Gorusch was killed and a number of his party severely wounded. When the fighting began the deputy and his posse withdrew from the scene, unwilling to participate in a shooting affair. Deserted by their Pennsylvania reinforcements the Baltimore slave catcher fled, hotly pursued by the victorious Negroes.
Marines Rushed to Scene
A detachment of 45 Marines and almost 100 Philadelphia policemen were rushed to Christiana to restore order. Thrity-five negroes were arrested and taken to Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia. Three white men, the two who had to refused to help the deputy marshal, and Joseph Scarlett, a Quaker, who had come upon the scene while the fighting was in progress, also were taken into custody. All of the prisoners were charged with treason under terms of the fugitive slave law, the indictment charging them with levying war against the United States.
When the treason trial was held in the federal court at Philadelphia it was difficult to select a jury. The citizens called for that service claimed that they were deaf. After wasting one week in finding jurymen who could hear, the trial began. The lawyer for the defense was Thaddeus Stevens, an ardent abolitionist. When the case was submitted to the jury for its decision that body deliberated for only a few minutes and then returned a verdict of not guilty.
The entire nation had watched the proceedings of the trial. The North was satisfied with the results, but the South was angered because the trials showed that the fugitive slave law could not be enforced.
By Arhtur D. Graeff
For more information an excellent source is: http://civilwar.lancasteronline.com/2011/04/05/part-ii-blood-flowed-first-at-christiana-riot/
Parker House, where the Christiana Riot occurred.
In 1896, Samuel Hopkins, holding a corn cutter, and Peter Wood, seated, returned to the former residence of William and Eliza Parker 45 years after the Christiana Riot. Both were arrested during the riot. (Photo courtesy of Moores Memorial Library). Source: http://civilwar.lancasteronline.com/2011/04/05/part-ii-blood-flowed-first-at-christiana-riot/