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CHAPTER IV. The Escape and Pursuit of the Slaves.
    The Gorsuch Homestead and Its Proprietor—An Old and Prominent Maryland Family—The Runaways Absent for Nearly Two Years Before They were Pursued—The Warrants and Attempted Execution.

In Baltimore County, Maryland, on the west side of the York and Baltimore turnpike, south of Monkton, and north of Glencoe, stations of the North Central Railroad, stand today the farm buildings of the Gorsuch homestead, where and as they stood in 1849 and for a long time before. Their earlier owner, John Gorsuch, devised this estate to his nephew, Edward, with several hundred acres of land and a number of slaves. It was a provision of his will that certain of them should be free when they reached a fixed age. In 1849 one of them at least attained this condition. Jarret Wallace had during the period of his bondage so served his master and was so appreciated by him that after he became free Mr. Gorsuch retained him in his employ as his “market man” to sell his products in Baltimore. In November, 1849, he was building Wallace a tenant house, and John Wesley Knight (who now lives in York, aged 83) and Joshua Pitt, carpenters, were working for him at the time. He had also millwrights, boarding and sleeping there and then they were building him a saw mill on Piney Creek, which ran through his extensive farm. Four of his slaves were Noah Buley and Joshua Hammond—whose time was nearly up—and two younger, about twenty-one years old, named Nelson Ford and George Hammond who had six or seven years to serve. The man Ford was a rather delicate young fellow, and Mr. Gorsuch spared him heavy work.[Pg 21] He was the teamster of the place, but was always accompanied by help when he needed it. Buley is described as a copper colored mulatto and of treacherous disposition.

Mr. Gorsuch was a man of much prominence. He was a Whig in politics, a class leader in the Methodist church, a dignified and courtly gentleman in his manners, a just and accurate man in his business dealings, a kind hearted master and employer and a man of forceful and determined temperament. He was born April 17, 1795, and was, therefore, in his fifty-fifth year when his slaves escaped and in his fifty-seventh when he was killed. He was living with his second wife, and had five children of his first wife, two daughters and three sons, of whom the eldest, John S., was a Methodist clergyman, then residing in Washington, D. C. There is no portrait extant of the elder Gorsuch, but his son Dickinson resembled him.

In the fall of 1849 Mr. Gorsuch had his wheat stored in the corn house, a building which stood between the house and barn. The main barn fronts and adjoins the turnpike; the mansion house is some distance back of the road, reached by a shady lane and surrounded by lawn, orchards and out-buildings. In accordance with his habit Mr. Gorsuch kept careful account of his wheat in store and of the quantities withdrawn from time to time, as he made his grain all into flour at his own mill and retailed it in Baltimore. Having missed considerable of his stock, he made inquiry of a neighbor miller, Elias Matthews, who reported a lot of wheat sold to him by one Abe Johnson, a ne’er-do-well free negro living two miles north of Gorsuch’s, who had no land to raise wheat nor credit to buy it. Gorsuch got out a warrant for his arrest, and it was put into the hands of Constable Bond for execution. He was laggard and “Bill” Foster who was something of a local terror to wrong-doers, was entrusted with the job. But Johnson got over into Pennsylvania, and Governor Johnston subsequently refused to honor a requisition for his extradition.

[Pg 22]While the carpenters were building the tenant house and the millwrights were putting up the saw mill, in November, 1849, the negroes were cutting and topping the corn, hauling in the unshucked ears with ox-carts to the barn floor where, by aid of lanterns, the whole household, mechanics and slaves engaged nightly in husking bee merriment. Meantime news of Bill Foster’s search for Abe Johnson were rife; likewise suspicious that the colored “boys” had helped him to raid the cornhouse and shared his spoils. One day they exhibited unwonted unrest and clustered into whispering groups; one expressed to the white workmen special anxiety to know “if the Boss is going to husk corn tonight,” and another declared his purpose to set a rabbit trap, for it was “going to be a very dark night.”

It was. There was no corn husking; and Knight, the carpenter, was aroused early by the call of Dickinson Gorsuch from down stairs that “the boys are all gone.” They escaped through a skylight in the back building and made their way down a ladder and up the York turnpike. When the Gorsuches next saw any of them it was in the flash and fire of the Christiana Riot, in the early dawn of September 11, 1851, at Parker’s cabin.

During the interval, however, reports reached the Gorsuches from time to time of their whereabouts; messages came from the runaways soliciting food supplies and other aid, which were sent upon assurances of their return. Mr. Gorsuch had such confidence in his benevolence as their master that he always believed if he could meet or communicate directly with them he could get them back. They soon found their way into the vicinity of Christiana where they “worked around” and were known by various aliases; after nearly two years sojourn thereabouts their ownership became known to those who made gain of such information.

The personal narrative of Peter Woods, survivor, leaves little room for doubt as to their identity and their residence[Pg 23] around Christiana. He says: “They lived here among us adjoining me. One lived with Joseph Pownall. His name was John Beard. He was a little brown-skinned fellow—a pleasant chap. The other three were known to us as Thomas Wilson, Alexander Scott and Edward Thompson; Scott was a tall yellow-colored fellow, with straight hair. The colored fellows met at Parker’s nearly every Sunday. A good many got their washing done there. He had an apple-butter party about the time of the riot. We knew that these new colored fellows were escaped slaves. They were about the Riot House and in our neighborhood a couple of years before the riot. We colored fellows were all sworn in to keep secret what we knew and when these fellows came there they were sworn in too. Scott told how they four happened to run away. He said he brought them with him in a big wagon to Baltimore, or he said he had come with a big load of grain for his master. He put them on the cars at Baltimore, then sent his master’s team back and took the next train too, and that way they come up among the Quakers in this country which they knew was a good point on the underground railway. The people who owned these slaves or some of them sent men up into this country some time before. One man came to me one day while I was cradling wheat and said, ‘You are a little man to cradle wheat, I am trying to find three or four big colored men to cut wheat for me. Can you tell me if there are any here that I can get?’ I knew what he was after, that he was looking for escaped negroes, and I did not give him much satisfaction.” The “John Beard” whom Woods knew was Gorsuch’s boy Nelson Ford—so he told Cyrus Brinton.

From Penningtonville (now Atglen, near Christiana), August 29, 1851, there was mailed to “Mr. Edward Gorsuch, Hereford P. O., Balt. Co., M. D.,” a letter which was found upon and taken from his body after he was killed; the following is a copy:

[Pg 24]
Lancaster, Co. 28 August 1851.
Respected friend, I have the required
Information of four men that is within
Two miles of each other. now the best
Way is for you to come as A hunter
Disguised about two days ahead of your son and let him come
By way of Philadelphia and get the deputy marshal John
Nagle I think is his name. tell him the situation
And he can get force of the right kind it will take
About twelve so that they can divide and take them
All within half an hour, now if you can come on the 2d or 3d
of September come on & I will
Meet you at the gap when you get their
Inquire for Benjamin Clay’s tavern let
Your son and the marshal get out
Kinyer’s[B] hotel now if you cannot come
At the time spoken of write very soon
And let me know when you can
I wish you to come as soon as you possibly can
Very respectfully thy friend
William M. P.
(In pencil) Wm M Padgett.

About the same time there had come into Gorsuch’s locality a man (whose name is not known), purporting to be from lower Lancaster County, who claimed to be able to locate a number of slaves escaped from Baltimore County, among them one of Dr. Pearce, who had escaped the same night as Gorsuch’s. Dr. Pearce was a son of the elder Gorsuch’s married sister Belinda.

Acting upon these reports and under the authority of the new Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Edward Gorsuch, his son, Dickinson, his nephew, Dr. Thomas Pearce, Nicholas Hutchings and Nathan Nelson, neighbors and friends, came to Pennsylvania to recover the slaves. Under date of September 9, 1851, the owner procured from Edward D. Ingraham, United States Commissioner at Philadelphia, four warrants directed to Henry H. Kline, Deputy United States Marshal, to apprehend the fugitives. About the attempt and failure[Pg 25] to execute those warrants, or any of them, circle the Christiana Riot and the Treason Trials of 1851.

According to Dickinson Gorsuch’s diary his father left for Philadelphia “on the express train,” Monday, September 8, 1851, and the others followed next day. The warrants had meantime issued and the Maryland party met at Parkesburg on Wednesday, September 10. By arrangement Constables John Agan and “Sheriff’s Officer” Thompson Tully of Philadelphia had come on to Parkesburg; Deputy Marshal Kline went separately by rail to West Chester, took a vehicle to Gallagherville, and started thence for Penningtonville [now Atglen]. His wagon broke down; he and his man Gallagher hired another vehicle and reached Penningtonville about midnight; his delay caused the party to disconnect. Agan and Tully and the Gorsuches stayed at Parkesburg. Meantime a light young colored man, named Samuel Williams, of Seventh Street, below Lombard, Philadelphia, recognized Kline at Penningtonville; he likely scented his real errand, and when Kline represented that he was after two horse thieves, Williams told him they had left. When Kline started for Gap he was followed by some one whom he suspected to be Williams, and Williams no doubt sounded a general alarm as to Kline’s errand. He had been dispatched for that purpose from Philadelphia, where a Vigilant Committee was on the lookout to protect fugitives. It was also told by John Criley on information from Henry Murr, blacksmith, that Joseph Scarlet, from a business trip to Philadelphia early in the week, had brought like tidings into the neighborhood.

Kline and his associate slept at Houston’s hotel, Gap, on Wednesday night and returned early next morning to Parkesburg, where they found Agan and Tully; the Gorsuch people had gone over to Sadsbury on the old Philadelphia turnpike and Kline rejoined them: Gorsuch went to Parkesburg to detain the Philadelphia officers, and Kline went to[Pg 26] Downingtown and thence to Gallagherville, where the entire searching party met, except Tully and Agan, who returned finally to Philadelphia. About eleven o’clock at night the party went from Gallagherville to Downingtown, took the cars there after midnight, came through to Gap, where they got off the train and went down the railroad track. About 2 A.M. they met Padgett (his name was not mentioned at the trial). Presumably they joined him and left the railroad at the grade crossing of a public road to Smyrna, formerly known as the “Brown House,” which stood at the northeast corner of the intersection. Padgett was a farm hand at Murray’s, the stone house at the top of the hill, between Gap and Christiana on the Brown farm. The Murrays had lived in Baltimore County, Md. There their local guide led them, likely by or at least toward Smyrna and through cornfields to the Valley Road, where the “long lane” led southward through Levi Pownall’s farm to the Noble Road, across the Valley and near to Pownall’s tenant house on the southern slope, where William Parker and his brother-in-law Pinckney lived.


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