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SHADRACH MINKINS by Gary L. Collison


From Fugitive Slave to Citizen

by Gary L. Collison

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1997
ISBN: 0-674-80298-5
Publisher: Harvard Univ.

 A lively and engaging account of a fugitive slave that also offers a glimpse into the painstaking process of historical inquiry. Collison (English/Pennsylvania State Univ.) here assembles a life, almost as though it were a jigsaw puzzle, with the barest of information: a few census reports, a will, an auctioneer's advertisement, some newspaper articles. Although Shadrach Minkins was something of a celebrity in his lifetime, almost no trace of him remains for the historian today. Because he was born a slave in Norfolk, Va., in the early 19th century, Minkins's birth and early life are recorded only inasmuch as they related to the holding or transfer of property. And when he escaped to Boston in 1850, had he not been considered valuable property, Minkins could have easily disappeared. But he was pursued by an agent of his master and arrested under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. He was taken to trial and thought doomed by his lawyers until a mob of Boston's black citizens burst into the courtroom, lifted up the startled Minkins, and spirited him out of the city. He arrived soon after in Montreal, where he remained for the rest of his life. Unlike other fugitive slaves who wrote narratives of their adventures, Minkins was illiterate. So Collison had little to work with beyond the highly suspect newspaper accounts of Minkins's rescue (the number of the rescuing mob was variously reported as 100, 200, 300, and 500, although the actual number was probably closer to 20) and his unusual first name, Shadrach. It was because of this name that Collison discovered Minkins in a Montreal census, even though his surname had been misrecorded as Nichols, and was able to reconstruct the final portion of this unique life. Atmospheric, highly readable, and instructive; this is first-rate history. (18 illustrations, not seen)