The Christiana Riot and The Treason Trials of 1851, An Historical Sketch.

Resisting the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

An account of the Christiana Riot, an incident of African American-led armed resistance which took place in 1851 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, just over the Mason-Dixon line, in reaction to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

The “riot” occurred when a U.S. Marshall attempted to capture four slaves from Maryland who had escaped into the free state of Pennsylvania. The incident began during a raid on the farm of former slave-turned abolitionist William Parker (1821–1891) in Christiana in Lancaster County where two of the escaped slaves were believed to be hiding. The slaves’ owner was killed during the subsequent confrontation.

Dozens of African Americans and one white man were arrested and charged with treason under the Fugitive Slave Act. One of the accused rioters—the only white defendant, Castner Hanway—was later tried, but he was acquitted.

“The defense of the Christiana Riot participants became a popular cause for the abolitionist movement. Fiery abolitionist and U.S. representative for Lancaster County Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) led Hanway’s defense team, and abolitionist Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) sat in the courtroom on the second floor of Independence Hall throughout the trial. ...[F]or many Pennsylvanians—even those who were not in sympathy with the abolitionist cause—there was little interest in prosecution, because the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law seemed to represent an incursion of federal power into state sovereignty. After fifteen minutes of deliberation by the jury, Hanway was found not guilty of treason. Subsequently, federal and state officials declined to press further charges against the riot participants. The verdict served as a fuel for the abolition movement as it gained momentum in the 1850s.”¹

Description: The Christiana Riot and The Treason Trials of 1851, An Historical Sketch.

Lancaster, Pa.: Press of The New Era Printing Company, 1911. Second and Revised Edition. Frontispiece, ix, [1 (blank)], 158pp + [16] plates. Large 8vo (11¼ x 8¼ inches). Publisher’s cream-colored buckram; printed paper spine label; untrimmed fore and bottom edges; top edge gilt. Moderate binding soil; thin crack line to front hinge. A very good tight copy.


Note. 1. Christiana Riot Trial | Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia accessed online. Work p334.

Price: $100.00