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CHAPTER V. The Defense and Defenders.
    William Parker and His Home—A Leader of His Race and Class—The Hero of the Fugitive Slaves and the Champion of Their Resistance to Recapture—The Night Before the Fight.

To those who sympathized with resistance to the execution of the warrants, and rejoiced in the results of the battle to the death made by the refugees, the hero of the event was William Parker. His home was “where the battle was fought,” and he was then and had been long before a leader of his race and the most resolute defender of the runaway slaves in that section. He was a man of force and had strong though untutored intellectual qualities. After the war for the union, in which he served, he inspired some articles for the Atlantic Monthly, in 1866, from which this story will later be amplified, and upon the occasion of a revisit nearly forty years ago to Christiana he gave some account of himself to old friends thereabouts.

He was born opposite Queen Anne, in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. His mother was Louisa Simms, who died when he was young, and his only parental care was from his grandmother. His mother was one of the seventy field hands of Major William Brogdon, of “Rodown” plantation; and six years after the old master died, when his sons David and William divided his plantation and slaves, William Parker fell to David and to his estate “Nearo.” There he had kind treatment, until slave traders came and a slave sale occurred, followed by others with their cruel and pathetic separation of families. Then he realized the bitterness of slavery and the blessings of freedom. He set out for the North by Baltimore, with his brother as a companion.[Pg 28] They reached York and Wrightsville, crossed the river to Columbia in a boat and he settled down to farm work near Lancaster at $3 per month; while his brother moved on to the eastern part of the County. Later William got employment with Dr. Obadiah Dingee, a warm sympathizer, who lived near Georgetown and was the father of the venerable Charles Dingee, of West Grove nursery and rose culture fame. While there Parker had access to anti-slavery periodicals and he heard William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass speak; he caught inspiration from them to organize his fellows, fugitive and free, in that community to resist recapture and repel assaults upon their race.

It has been already told, upon his own testimony, how they operated. Parker was involved in many other affrays. In a rescue riot on the streets of Lancaster on one occasion he proved himself a man of great strength and valor; he was recognized by whites and blacks as a towering figure. Daniel Gibbons sent Eliza Ann Howard, another refugee, to Dr. Dingee’s and she became Parker’s wife; her sister followed and married his associate Alex. Pinckney. They all lived together, and at the time the Gorsuch party came for their slaves Parker and Pinckney were running a horse-power threshing machine for Joseph Scarlet and George Whitson. Their families lived together in the tenant house, just to the east of the “long lane” on the Levi Pownall farm, later owned by Marion Griest, and now by Mrs. Agnes Lantz. It was a place for frequent foregatherings of the colored people in that day. No trace of the little old stone house is left, but sketches of it were made before the obliteration. The news spread by Sam Williams of Kline’s visit reached Parker’s house the evening before the officers. Besides Pinckney, Josh Kite, Samuel Thompson and Abraham Johnson were there. Sam Hopkins, who died recently, always related that there was an apple-butter boiling at Parker’s that night, and the merrymakers danced around the kettle and fire singing a song the refrain of which was

“Take me back to Canada,
Where de’ cullud people’s free.”

The men named and the Parker and Pinckney sisters were there all night at least. That the negroes were armed not only appears from subsequent events, but it might be inferred from Parker’s own account of his habit. He was long reticent as to the details of the final encounter; but there is ample proof that of the Gorsuch slaves Noah Buley was there very early on the day of the affray, and at least two others of the Gorsuch slaves were on the ground soon after. The names taken by fugitives were so uncertain that the “Abraham Johnson” of this occasion may or may not have been the Baltimore County freeman of that name who fled from Gorsuch’s warrant in 1849. Some of the Gorsuch party so identified him. It is beyond doubt that the concourse of colored men already gathered at Parker’s house when the Kline-Gorsuch squad arrived were assembled by design, upon some call or signal; that their leaders knew the objective point was the arrest then and there of the Baltimore County runaways; and they soon had added force large enough and brave enough to resist, defeat and either kill, wound or drive off the officers and owners.


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