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Underground Railroad Research Forum

More Independent Research

I would like to see the historians involved in the Underground Railroad, do more independent research. I am making that statement from experience with my own ancestors participation on the Railroad. My ancestors were free blacks, and escaped slaves who lived in Lancaster and Chester County prior to the Civil War. One of those ancestors, Robert Pinn, was a free black, who left Virginia and settled in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. He was a Baptist Minister, who preached against slavery, and left Fredericksburg Virginia in fear of his life, and his families safety. We believe that the white militia attacked him in Pennsylvania, and may have killed some of his children.

To those who may not know, the Baptist were considered a cult, when they began meeting in Virginia, in the 1700's. They were preaching against slavery, and that God created all men equal. Robert Pinns Grandfather, who was also a free black, attended Baptist meetings in Amherst County Virginia. Before he died in 1800, he formed a church named Fairmount Baptist Church, which is still in operation (in Stapleton Virginia). The Baptist in Virginia claim that the church was not organized until 1879, but I found documents in the 1700's that mention Fairmount Baptist. It is not surprising to find Rawley Pinns' grandson, still a Baptist, and fighting against slavery.

In 1853, Robert Pinn was in Lancasater County Pennsylvania, and had connections all along the Underground Railroad. He resided in Columbia Pennsylvania and Burlington New Jersey. He sent one of his children to live in Chester County Pennsylvania, and his only surviving son joined the 54th Massachusetts (the same unit that Frederick Douglas sons belonged to). After the Civil War, when the 54th Massachusetts were headed home, they camped at Robert Pinns home in Burlington New Jersey. His son Samuel Walter Pinn, then a Corporal, came home with his unit. Yet the black historians I contacted stated that there were no records attesting to Robert Pinns involvement in the Underground Railroad. A true historian of the Underground Railroad knows that very few records were kept during that period. In other words the historians are not willing to do any research, preferring to rely on those whose writings already exist.

There is another incident that took place in Pennsylvania, which involved the Underground Railroad. This was in Christiana Pennsylvania, and involved a group of escaped slaves, and free blacks. For obvious reasons this rebellion is not part of American History books. But it is amazing how black historians are not playing it up, or making it a part of our history. There are several books written about this rebellion, one is, Bloody Dawn, and the other the Christiana Resistance. The event was surrounds escaped slaves, who were taken along the Underground Railroad into Christiana Pennsylvania. There they found a home with William Parker, a free black, and Conductor on the Underground Railroad. William Parker was vocal with his disdain for slavery, and slave holders.

On September 21, 1851, a group of whites descended on the William Parker house, in christiana. The group was comprised of Edward And Gorsuch Dickinson (father and son), slaveholders from Maryland. A United States Marshall, and a group of deputized militia men. They were their under the protection of the, Fugitive Slave Act. This Act allowed white slaveowners from the south to apprehend escaped slaves in the north. Gorsuch and his group confronted William Parker, telling him they wanted to search his home. William Parker had slaves in hidden in his home, who were waiting to travel north to Canada. He had sworn to protect these fugitives with his life, and knew the stakes were high.

Gorsuch had spied his runaway slaves, when he entered the property of William Parker. They fled at the sight of the militia into the woods of Pennsylvania. The angry slaveholder was adamant that Parker allow him access to his home, and told Parker that he should turn over his slaves. Parker told Gorsuch that no man could own another, and there were no, "slaves" in his home. While the arguement continued Parkers wife, Elizabeth sounded a horn, whose sound vibrated throughout the valley. At the sound of the horn, every black man within miles headed for the Parker home. The Marshall, and Militia were in the heart of anti slavery country. Not only blacks, but whites in this area of Lancaster County, had opposed the Fugitive Slave Act, slavery, and slave owners.

Before the whites knew it, they were surrounded by, a sea of angry black faces. When Castner Hanaway, a white man, walked by, the Marshall attempted to deputize him. Castner told him, that he was not about to help them capture another human being. Oblivious to all what was happening was Edward Gorsuch, and then a shot rang out, Gorsuch fell to the ground mortally wounded. All hell broke loose, as the white militia headed for the hills, chased by the blacks, and several white abolitionist in the crowd.

Dickinson Gorsuch was beat nearly to death, before he was saved by a white abolitionist. He was taken to a local tavern, where his fathers body was also being examined. The next day, the Marshall, with a bigger militia, descended on Christiana, and the surrounding communities, arresting every man in sight. The men were tried for murder and treason, in a Federal court, along with Castner Hanaway, and several other white abolitionist. All were acquitted of the charges, because the evidence was inconclusive. William Parker took his family and moved to Canada stating that blacks would never be free in America. He did return to fight in the Civil War, and then headed back to Canada.

Out of those who participated in this event, Henry Green was my Great-Great Grandfather, William Parker was a cousin, and Benjamin Johnson was also a cousin. The William site of the William Parker House is now a Historic Landmark. The streets in Christiana are named after those who participated in the Christiana Resistance (once known as the Christiana Rebellion). My Great Great Grandfather, Henry Green went on to fight in the Civil War, and returned to the area after his service.

This event was so significant that Frederick Douglass came to the area and gave a speech about it. Yet, it is not celebrated anywhere except in the Lancaster County area. When it is written about by whites, Castner Hanaway is portrayed as the leader. William Parker is portrayed as second to Hanaway, and that is so far from the truth. Hanaway came in response to the call by Parkers wife, the Safe house for slaves was the William Parker house.

This is the first time I heard of the debate raging about the Underground Railroad, and I cannot weigh in with an opinion until studying all sides. My interest is in having blacks portrayed as the organizers, and leaders they were on the Railroad. Our freedom was on the line, and we did work with white organizations, but it was the cry of black leaders, and activist, that whites responded to. We did not need white people to tell us about the suffering of our own people.


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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