BLOODY DAWN: The Christiana Riot and Racial Violence in the Antebellum North by Thomas P. Slaughter

BLOODY DAWN: The Christiana Riot and Racial Violence in the Antebellum North

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A wide-ranging, fascinating investigation by Slaughter (History/Rutgers) into the social and racial circumstances surrounding the Christiana Riot of 1851, in which runaway slaves stood up to the master who tracked them clown and killed him. Sketching vivid scenes of a polarized American society in the 1840's and 50's, Slaughter re-creates conditions in Maryland and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where the grim episode began and ended. Together, four men escaped their slavers, fleeing to the free-black community of rural Lancaster; two years later, their presence was reported to owner Edward Gorsuch, who came after them with a posse and a warrant under the newly enacted Fugitive Slave Law. In a tense face-off, during which dozens of nearby African-Americans answered a call for assistance, Gorsuch was murdered and his posse beaten back, acts forcing the primary black participants to flee to Canada. A trial garnering national attention ensued in which a neighboring white miller, a bystander in the riot, was charged with treason but acquitted, to the delight of abolitionists and the disgust of slave-owners. From this historical base, Slaughter expands his inquiry compellingly to consider preexisting social conditions in the area, where roving white gangs of kidnappers forced blacks to defend themselves, as well as the prevailing racial prejudices under which supposedly free men and women suffered as severely in Pennsylvania as they did in slave-holding Maryland. An admirable study of a significant precursor to the Civil War, with specific details providing a springboard to broader treatment of the issues and tensions of the time.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1991
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press