Send an E-Postcard of:
Excerpts from "Reminiscences of Fugitive-Slave Law Days in Boston"
(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
Contact us for information about using this image.
These pages contain an account of the events surrounding the arrest and escape of fugitive slave, Shadrach Minkins. It is written from the point of view of an abolitionist, and person who is very much against the Fugitive Slave Law. Lengthy quotes from the Liberator are included. The Liberator was an abolitionist newspaper published in Boston by William Lloyd Garrison. On February 15, 1851, Shadrach Minkins was arrested in Boston by Deputy U. S. Marshall Riley, under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law. This law was passed by congress on September 18, 1850, as part of a compromise allowing California to enter the Union as a free state and ending the slave trade in the District of Columbia. The act made the federal government responsible for tracking down and apprehending slaves who had escaped to the northern states. No statute of limitations applied, so that even slaves who had been free for many years could be returned. The passage and enforcement of this law enraged many people in the North--even those who were not ardent abolitionists. Shadrach had made his way from Norfolk, Virginia, where he had been born into slavery, to Boston, Massachusetts in May, 1850. He worked at the Cornhill Coffee House, where he was arrested that Saturday morning and brought across the street to the federal courthouse. Charles G. Davis was one of the lawyers who offered their services as Shadrach's counsel. They asked the court to postpone the proceedings until February 18, so that they could prepare a case. A group of about thirty African-American men had gathered in the hallway, and when Davis and another man who had been with Shadrach opened the door to leave, the men rushed the courtroom and grabbed Shadrach. He eventually found his way to safety in Canada.
top of page