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Castner Hanway Treason Trial: 1851

Slave Master Killed Chasing Fugitive

In 1849, four slaves escaped from the Monkton, Maryland farm of Edward Gorsch. Two years later, Gorsch learned that the four were in Christiana, Pennsylvania. After receiving a warrant for their arrest, Gorsch, his son, deputy U.S. marshal Henry Kline, and six others, all heavily armed, went to Christiana. On September 11, 1851, the nine approached the house of William Parker, an escaped slave who was reported to be hiding the runaways.

Parker refused to hand over his guests, an argument ensued, and shots were fired. Mrs. Parker blew a horn to signal the local black community that help was needed. Other blacks (estimates vary from 30 to over 100) soon began to arrive with guns, scythes, and stones. Also arriving on a horse was a white man, Castner Hanway, who lived at the home closest to the Parker residence. Hanway was neither an abolitionist nor a Quaker, but he felt duty bound to prevent any disturbances in his neighborhood.

When the Gorsch party saw Hanway, they automatically assumed that he was an abolitionist protecting the runaways. Kline handed Hanway the warrant for the arrest of the four slaves. In the meantime, another white, Elijah Lewis, showed up. Hanway advised the deputy marshal that "the colored people have a right to defend themselves. You had better leave or there will be bloodshed." The deputy told Hanway and Lewis that he was holding them responsible for the Gorsch slaves and ordered a retreat. Hanway and Lewis, realizing that there was nothing they could do to alter the increasingly dangerous situation, also left. Suddenly, Gorsch turned to face the blacks and shouted, "I won't leave without my slaves. I'll have my property or go to hell." The crowd surged and during a short but fierce battle, Edward Gorsch was shot and then hacked to death with a corn cutter while his son was severely wounded. At least two blacks were wounded in the melee. It is not certain who shot or killed Gorsch.

The local district attorney, based on Kline's statements, issued warrants for the arrest of suspects for murder and riot. Since he did not know the names of those who gathered at the Parker home, Kline insisted on the apprehension of everyone, black and white, who could possibly have been involved. Hanway and Lewis turned themselves in once they learned that they were going to be charged. Parker and the four runaway slaves fled before they could be arrested. Then, the federal government decided to intervene.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Castner Hanway Treason Trial: 1851 - Slave Master Killed Chasing Fugitive, Politics Dictates Treason Charge, Hanway Tried In Test Case, Suggestions For Further Reading