Bloody Dawn

Bloody Dawn : Christiana Riot and Racial Violence in the Antebellum North

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When four young men, slaves on Edward Gorsuch's Maryland farm, escaped to rural Pennsylvania in 1849, the owner swore he'd bring them back. Two years later, Gorsuch lay dead outside the farmhouse in Christiana where he'd tracked them down, as his federal posse retreated pell-mell before the armed might of local blacks--and the impact of the most notorious act of resistance against the federal Fugitive Slave Law was about to be felt across a divided nation. Bloody Dawn vividly tells this dramatic story of escape, manhunt, riot, and the ensuing trial, detailing its importance in heightening the tensions that led to the Civil War. Thomas Slaughter's engaging narrative captures the full complexity of events and personalities: The four men fled after they were detected stealing grain for resale off the farm; Gorsuch, far from a brutal taskmaster, had pledged to release all his slaves when they reached the age of twenty-eight, but he relentlessly pursued the escapees out of a sense of wounded honor; and the African-American community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania that provided them refuge was already effectively organized for self-defense by a commanding former slave named William Parker. Slaughter paints a rich portrait of the ongoing struggles between local blacks and white kidnapping gangs, the climactic riot as neighbors responded to trumpet calls from the besieged runaway slaves, the escape to Canada of the central figures (aided by Frederick Douglass), and the government's urgent response (including the largest mass indictment for treason in our history)--leading to the trial for his life of a local white bystander accused of leading the rioting blacks. Slaughter not only draws out the great importance given to the riot in both the North and the South, but he uses legal records reaching back over half a century to uncover the thoughts of average people on race, slavery, and violence. The Whiskey Rebellion, Slaughter's previous work of history, received widespread acclaim as "a vivid account" (The New York Times) and "an unusual combination of meticulous scholarship and engaging narrative" (The Philadelphia Inquirer). It was a selection of the History Book Club, and won both the National Historical Society Book Prize and the American Revolution Round Table Award. In Bloody Dawn, he once again weaves together the incisive insights of a professional historian with a gripping account of a dramatic moment in American more

Product details

  • Hardback | 266 pages
  • 160.02 x 238.76 x 30.48mm | 476.27g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195046331
  • 9780195046335

Review Text

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. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About Thomas P. Slaughter

About the Author: Thomas P. Slaughter lives in Trenton, New Jersey, and is Professor of History at Rutgers University. He is the author of The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American more

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14 ratings
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5 7% (1)
4 43% (6)
3 50% (7)
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