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CHAPTER VI. The Fight.

    The Challenge to Surrender and the Defiance—A Long Parley—The Prompt Response to a Call for Aid—The Firing Begins—Flight of Kline and his Deputies—Gorsuch is Killed and his Son Terribly Wounded.

Padgett, guide and informer, led the Southern and Federal forces to within about a quarter mile of the Parker house, where they stopped at a little stream crossing the long lane, ate some crackers and cheese and “fixed their ammunition.” It was then just about daybreak; it was a heavy, foggy morning; and Padgett found it was his time to withdraw. As the party drew near to the short lane which led into the house and little garden-orchard around it they were seen by Nelson Ford and Joshua Hammond, two of the Gorsuch slaves who had evidently been picketed. They retreated to the house; Gorsuch and Kline followed and the Marshal officially announced their errand. Some inmate of the house answered that the men called for were not there; and when Kline, as he testified, went to go up the stairs, followed by the elder Gorsuch, a five-pronged fish “gig” was thrown at him; next came a flying axe. Neither missile hit him; he and Mr. Gorsuch withdrew, and he says a shot was fired at them from the house and he returned the fire. Then Kline made a feint of sending off for a hundred men “to scare the negroes.” His bluff had that temporary effect and a parley ensued. During this it was made manifest that a considerable number of armed men were in Parker’s house.

Meantime, on their way, the officers had heard a bugle blown; conjectures differed whether it was a signal from the Parker house or a summons for the laborers on the railroad[Pg 31] to go to work. The evidence on this point was not positive, but the besieged soon sounded their horn from the upper story. Parker is quoted as saying that Kline threatened to burn the house, and he defied him to do it; that Mrs. Parker sounded a horn which brought their allies; and the deputies fired at her as she sounded it, without causing her to desist; that Pinckney counselled surrender, but Parker was for fight. Parker’s own accounts show no lack of self-assertion nor absence of self-confidence. That may or may not enhance their credibility.

Some early summons called a mixed mob together, for while the brief events already described were occurring, Castner Hanway, who lived a full mile away, rode up on a bald-faced sorrel horse; Elijah Lewis came on foot in his shirt sleeves and a straw hat; Zeke Thompson, the Indian negro, arrived with a scythe in one hand and a revolver in the other; Noah Buley rode in on a handsome gray horse and carrying a gun; Harvey Scott was there, weaponless; and a half score of others armed with guns, scythes and clubs, were assembled—far more than the upstairs of that little cabin could have held, even without the women. Other white men came trooping along, who in Parker’s imagination were Gap gangsters enrolled by Kline as “special constables”; but there is no satisfactory proof that these were anybody but residents of the vicinage attracted to the place by the commotion.

The excitement and confusion that subsequently ensued, the quick succession of tragic events, the prompt retreat of the officers and the almost immediate flight from the vicinity of their guiltiest assailants, and the fact that none of them remained or ever returned to tell the whole story, combine to make it difficult even now to aver with certainty what next actually happened. It is, however, reasonably sure that Hanway and Lewis were called upon to interfere and aid in executing the warrants and they declined to do so; but they[Pg 32] neither advised nor inspired any violence; nor does it appear that they arrived on the scene by any pre-arrangement or otherwise than from hearing that an attempt was being made by some one to take negroes from the Parker house.

Parker says Dickinson Gorsuch opened the next stage of the battle by firing at him in resentment of a supposed insult to his father, and that he knocked the pistol out of Young Gorsuch’s hand before “fighting commenced in earnest,” and the outside negroes then shot both Gorsuches. Deputy Kline, who made himself somewhat ridiculous on the witness stand, remembered most vividly how he himself went “over the fence and out” through the cornfield and did not very clearly account for the fatal renewal of hostilities. Joshua Gorsuch testified that as Edward Gorsuch started to the house in answer to Kline’s call to him to come on and get his property, his uncle was murderously assaulted with clubs and he fired a revolver to save his kinsman, but his cap burst and the weapon did not go off; he was severely beaten and ran for his life, the infuriated crowd pursuing him; a thick felt hat saved his life and he rode off from the battlefield behind some one on a horse, supposing Edward and Dickinson Gorsuch were already killed; his retreat ended only at York; but it was months before he recovered from his wounds.

Whoever else ran or stayed, the Gorsuches, father and son, stood their ground and took the enemy’s fire. Dickinson warned the elder that they would be overpowered; but when the parent declined to retreat the son stayed by him until he was himself clubbed and shot down, as he went to the rescue of his assaulted father. Eighty shot penetrated Dickinson’s arms, thigh and body—and many of them stayed there; so that when he died in 1882—thirty-one years after he was shot—his body prepared for burial was “pitted like a sponge” with the marks of the “Christiana Riot.” When he was supposed to be dying Dickinson Gorsuch was taken into the shade of a big oak tree, about fifty yards from where the small lane then entered the “long lane.”


[Pg 33]Dr. Pearce was hit with a missile from an upper window; Nathan Nelson knew and recognized Buley, one of the runaways, and while, at the outset, only fifteen or twenty negroes were lined in the lane with guns, scythes, clubs and corn cutters, Nelson saw from seventy-five to a hundred before the smoke of battle had entirely cleared. Sam Hopkins and his historic corn cutter were among the later arrivals.

One of the dramatic features of the engagement was the appearance on the field of old Isaiah Clarkson. He summoned fifteen or twenty infuriated and raging negroes into the cornfield and “called them to order” three times before he could quiet them, and withhold them from violence. Meantime old Clarkson had seen the body of Edward Gorsuch lying alone where he fell dead, clubbed, cut and pierced with gun shots, his son desperately wounded; his kinsmen beaten and driven off; the United States deputies marshal in full retreat—infuriated women, forgetful of all humane instincts, revenging on a humane Christian gentleman’s lifeless body the wrongs their race had suffered from masters of altogether different mould, rushed from the house and with corn cutters and scythe blades hacked the bleeding and lifeless body as it lay in the garden walk. At the first hearing Scott, the witness who afterwards swore differently on the trial, testified that he lived with John Kerr and had stayed at Parker’s out of doors in the road all that night, having been persuaded to go there by John Morgan and Henry Simms, who were armed; that he saw them both shoot and Henry Simms shot Gorsuch; that John Morgan cut him in the head with a corn cutter after he fell. Dr. Pearce stated under oath that he saw Noah Buhly running past Gorsuch, but he could not say that Buhly did the shooting. At the time Edward Gorsuch was shot he was standing still calling his nephew Joshua and had no weapon in his hand.

It will never be known whose shot or how many killed[Pg 34] Edward Gorsuch. More than one weapon was directed at him and doubtless several were guilty of his blood. It was not long until a consciousness of this fell upon the mob and they scattered as rapidly as they had assembled. If the Federal deputies had dispersed in fear and flight and the local authorities were slow to move, neither were the guilty laggard in flight. By nightfall every man inmate of Parker’s house and every runaway from Baltimore County were on their way to Canada. Hay mows and straw stacks weltered above the throbbing presence of trembling fugitives; and all the local agencies of rapid news and transportation which were at command of the anti-slavery people were set in motion to get and keep the accused in advance of the warrants. Somebody tarried long enough on the Parker premises to despoil Gorsuch’s body of $300 or $400 in money, which was on his person when he fell and which was missing at the coroner’s inquest. According to Tamsy Brown it was taken from his body by a black man, who divided it among the colored women and Abe Johnson. On a blank leaf of the Padgett letter, heretofore printed, were found some memoranda made by Mr. Gorsuch himself of the railroad schedules and names of persons in the neighborhood of the scene of the affray, with whom it was supposed colored men resided, together with the following:

Robert M. Lee
John Agen Henry H. Cline
Marshal Kline
Lawyer Lee
and Benit
O. Riley’s Telegraph
avoid Halzel
Cpt. Shutt
J. R. Henson.

[Pg 35]The significance of these entries will be recognized. No weapons were found on the body. This of course does not prove that Mr. Gorsuch was unarmed, as he easily might have lost or have been despoiled of his arms. Fred Douglass boasted that Gorsuch’s pistol had been presented to him. His family believe, and from his habits of life and temperament it may be presumed, the elder Gorsuch was unarmed. He depended mainly on the force of the law’s warrant and, perhaps too confidently, on the nerve of the Federal deputies marshal.

Dickinson Gorsuch was soon removed to friendly shelter and tender ministrations under the hospitable roof of Levi Pownall’s homestead. There he learned to know that the Quaker families of the valley, while they were considerate of the slave, could be no less kind to the master in distress. The daily entries of his diary attest his gratitude and appreciation, and these he substantially manifested throughout his lifetime. His contemporaneous portrait herein published was taken from a daguerreotype sent to the Pownall family. Dr. Asher Pusey Patterson, who attended him, was then practicing at Smyrna. He was of the Lower End families whose names he bore. Dr. John L. Atlee, Sr., of Lancaster, was called into consultation.

During Dickinson Gorsuch’s stay in the Pownall household he was visited in his convalescence by many of his Baltimore County friends and relatives. Among them were his brother John S.; his uncle Talbott Gorsuch; his sister Mary (afterwards Mrs. Morrison); his cousin George and others. It was ten days before he could eat and nearly three weeks before he could sit up. By October 1 he could take a short drive and was entertained next day at Ambrose Pownall’s. When he returned home in charge of some of his family on October 4, Dr. Patterson accompanied them as far as Columbia. During his recovery he had no more popular visitor than his friend Alex. Morrison, who subsequently[Pg 36] married his sister. Morrison is described by the older inhabitants as one who “made friends everywhere.” He kept up his acquaintance with people about Christiana until his death and visited there as late as 1903. He rejoiced in the establishment of good relations between those who had been on opposite sides of the conflict of 1851. Dickinson Gorsuch was 56 years old when he died, August 2, 1882.

Exactly when and how Parker, Pinckney and the fugitive slaves got away from the neighborhood is difficult to tell with absolute certainty; but a surviving neighbor throws light on their movements immediately after the affray. George Steele, now living in Chester County (who subsequently married Elizabeth, daughter of Levi W. Pownall), was making charcoal iron at the Sadsbury forges in 1851. He lived near by the Parker place and recalls the events with great distinctness. He met some negroes coming from the scene exultant over its results and he warned them of their serious danger. He says Parker first came to Pownall’s to arrange for Dickinson Gorsuch’s removal there, but another neighbor was already on the way with the wounded man. Both Parker and Pownall remained hidden all day; the news of young Gorsuch’s serious condition brought many visitors to the Pownall house; later in the evening Parker and Pinckney themselves called and for the first time seemed to realize their position. Some of the women members of the household warned them; and, while Mrs. Pownall was nursing the wounded man to life, she was sparing of her pantry supplies to fill a “pillow case” with food for the fugitives; and her husband, under whose roof Gorsuch was receiving every kind attention, loaned of his clothing to their disguise—all being carried to them by George Pownall, then a boy, who was directed to find them at a certain apple tree on the farther side of the orchard.


At the “Riot House” the Pownalls found both Pinckney’s and Parker’s loaded guns; and they prudently burned a lot of[Pg 37] letters found there, which would have incriminated some of their neighbors in violation of the Fugitive Slave Law. The Pownalls later received anonymous information that Parker had reached Canada. Gorsuch himself is said to have expressed kindly feeling for Parker, which bears out the theory that Parker tried to stem the riot after it attained a deadly stage.

Even they who were guiltless of their neighbor’s blood were not unmindful of the responsibility imposed upon their community by the violent killing of Gorsuch and the escape of his slayers. His dead body was taken to Christiana and lay at Fred Zercher’s hotel, where Harrar’s store now is and nearly opposite the Commemoration Monument. There a coroner’s inquest was held before noon. The main facts of the riot were related by Kline, “Harvey” Scott (who later recanted), and others. John Bodley and Jake Woods testified that Elijah Lewis passed them in the early morning, when they were working at James Cooper’s, and that Lewis said “William Parker’s house was surrounded by kidnappers and it was no time to take out potatoes.”

The coroner’s jury, summoned by Joseph D. Pownall, Esq., consisted of George Whitson, John Rowland, E. Osborne Dare, Hiram Kinnard, Samuel Miller, Lewis Cooper, George Firth, William Knott, John Hillis, William H. Millhouse, Joseph Richwine and Miller Knott. Their finding was:

“That on the morning of the 11th inst., the neighborhood was thrown into an excitement by the above deceased, and some five or six persons in company with him, making an attack upon a family of colored persons, living in said Township, near the Brick Mill, about 4 o’clock in the morning, for the purpose of arresting some fugitive slaves as they alleged, many of the colored people of the neighborhood collected, and there was considerable firing of guns and other fire-arms by both parties, upon the arrival of some of the[Pg 38] neighbors at the place, after the riot had subsided, found the above deceased, lying upon his back or right side dead. Upon a post mortem examination upon the body of the said deceased, made by Drs. Patterson and Martin, in our presence, we believe he came to his death by gun shot wounds that he received in the above mentioned riot, caused by some person or persons to us unknown.”

Dr. John Martin and Dr. A. P. Patterson reported officially that Gorsuch came to his death by a gun shot wound made by slug or heavy shot, occupying the upper part of the right breast, and that there was an incision found near the frontal bone, produced by a light sharp instrument, and a fracture of the left humerus by some blunt weapon.

It must be conceded, even at this distance in time, the jury’s thermometer of popular indignation at the crime scarcely registered above the mark of “cold neutrality.”

Scharf’s history of Baltimore County states that on September 13th and 15th meetings of citizens of Baltimore County were held to take action in the premises. Wm. H. Freeman, John Wethered, Samuel Worthington, Wm. Matthews, Wm. Taggart, John B. Pearce, Samuel H. Taggart, Wm. Fell Johnson, Wm. H. Hoffman, Edward S. Myers, John Merryman, and Henry Carroll were appointed a committee to collect all the facts in the case and transmit them to Governor Lowe, in order that he might lay them before the President of the United States. Another committee, consisting of John B. Holmes, Levi K. Bowen, Dr. Nicholas Hutchins, J. M. McComas, and E. Parsons, was appointed to confer with the gentlemen who had accompanied Mr. Gorsuch into Pennsylvania. A meeting at Slader’s tavern, on September 15th, passed resolutions calling upon the people of each district of the county to elect delegates to meet at Cockeysville on October 4th for the purpose of forming a county association, and recommending the formation of district associations “for the protection of the people in their[Pg 39] slave and other property.” An indignation meeting of six thousand persons was held at Monument Square, Baltimore City, on September 15th, at which Hon. John H. T. Jerome presided, and addresses were made by Z. Collins Lee, Coleman Yellott, Francis Gallagher, Samuel H. Taggart, and Col. George W. Hughes.


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