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CHAPTER VII. The “Pursuit” and Arrests.
    Federal and State Authorities in Conflict—“Rough Riding” the Valley—Numerous and Indiscriminate Arrests—Hearings in Lancaster and Committals to Philadelphia.

Whatever anybody was doing in the way of vindicating whatever law or laws had been violated, the perpetrators of the killing were being allowed to escape. There were no daily newspapers in Lancaster then and the Philadelphia journals of Friday, September 12th, had very meagre accounts of the affair. But meantime the Federal officials in Philadelphia and the Commonwealth authorities in Lancaster County “got busy.” Constable William Proudfoot, of Sadsbury, acted under the direction of ’Squire Pownall and District Attorney John L. Thompson. In Philadelphia John M. Ashmead was United States Attorney, and Anthony E. Roberts was Marshal. When District Attorney Thompson made his second visit to the scene on Saturday following the riot, accompanied by a “strong party of armed men,” he found there the United States Marshal, District Attorney and Commissioner “with a strong force of U. S. Marines and a detachment of the Philadelphia police.” A controversy arose between the local District Attorney Thompson and the United States Attorney Ashmead as to whether the prisoners should be held for murder in Lancaster County, or for treason against the United States. Commissioner Ingraham sustained the latter charge. The difficulty was adjusted by an agreement that each party should make its own arrests. Some forty-five United States Marines who went to Christiana were in command of Lieutenants Watson and Jones. United States Marshal A. E. Roberts had a civil posse of[Pg 41] fifty. There were county constables and deputies sheriff on the scene. With these three detachments landed in a little country village and scouring the surrounding farms, of whose inhabitants half the many blacks had fled the State and the other half were in hiding, and the whites mostly suspected of sympathy with the fugitives, a local reign of terror ensued; “the valley” was in a state worse than subjection to martial law. The tendency of a “little brief authority” is toward abuse of it; and the class of persons easily secured for the service then required of temporary officers of the law was not such as to insure delicacy of treatment or tender consideration for the objects against whom their summary processes were directed. Whites and blacks, bond and free, were rather roughly handled; few households in the region searched were safe from rude intrusion; many suffered terrifying scenes and sounds.


Peter Woods, sole surviving sufferer and prisoner of the occasion, was working for Joseph Scarlet when he and his employer were arrested. He tells his story thus to the author of this history:

“The day the fight happened I was up very early. We were to have ‘a kissing party’ that night for Henry Roberts; and as I wanted to get off early I asked my boss, Joe Scarlet, if he would plough if I got up ahead and spread the manure. I started at it at two o’clock. The morning was foggy and dull. About daylight Elijah Lewis’s son came running to me while I was getting my work done, and said the kidnappers were here. They came to Ellis Irvin’s farm, and then to Milt Cooper’s which is known as the Leaman farm. The morning of the riot I got there about seven or eight o’clock. I met some of them coming out of the lane, and others were on a run from the house. I met Hanway on a bald-faced sorrel horse coming down the long lane, and his party with him. The other party, the marshal and his people, took to the sprouts, licking out for all they could, and then took the[Pg 42] Noble road. There were about sixty of our fellows chasing them. The strange party got away. I got hurt by being kicked by a blind colt on the hip. The shooting was all over. Gorsuch had been killed before I got there. The Gorsuch party was riding away as fast as they could. I guess I am the last man living of our party.

“When Scarlet was arrested they were rough in arresting him. They took him by the throat, and pointed bayonets at him all around him. I said to myself if you arrest a white man like that, I wonder what you will do to a black boy? The arrests were made a day or two after the riot. I was plowing or working the ground, and when I saw the officers come to make the arrests, I quickly got unhitched and went towards Bushong’s, and soon there was six of us together and we went to Dr. Dingee’s graveyard and hid. We heard a racket of horses coming and then we jumped into the graveyard. This was two days after the riot. We hung around Rakestraw’s too; and he said we could have something to eat, but we couldn’t stay around there. Then they got us. They asked George Boone and James Noble who we are. The man with the mace, the marshal I guess, said ‘I got a warrant for Peter Woods.’ They pointed me out and then he struck me and then they tried to throw me. They arrested me and took me up a flight of stairs, and then they tied me. Then they started away with me and tried to get me over a fence. They had me tied around my legs and around my breast, and they put me in a buggy and took me to Christiana. From there they took me to Lancaster, and put me first in the old jail and then in the new prison.”

The accuracy of Woods’ narrative is attested by the historical record that at that very time the new Lancaster County prison was just ready for occupancy. The first prisoners were transferred to it on the day immediately following the riot—September 12, 1851.

Woods’ further story of what occurred at Christiana has[Pg 43] all the marks of verity: “There at Christiana was [David] Paul Brown and Thad. Stevens and Mr. Black. They had quarters in ‘Old Harry’s’ store. We did not know who they were counsel for, and we thought they were threatening us, and trying to make us give away ourselves. Thad. Stevens or some one said to me: ‘Who do you live with?’ They had just brought me down from the Harry garret, and Fred Zercher was there. Mr. Brown then asked me again how I got up there into that garret, who put me there? I made up my mind not to talk, and Brown said, ‘If you don’t tell we will send you to jail.’ Then a mutiny broke out there. George Boone and Proudfoot and others got in it. George commenced striking and I got knocked over. Boone was taking my part.”

Arrests were numerous and somewhat indiscriminate and the charges varied, some relating to State and others to Federal laws, and many of them involving capital crimes and death penalties. All of them called for appearances and preliminary hearings before J. Franklin Reigart, Esq., an alderman of Lancaster City. He was a cousin of the late Emanuel C. Reigart, Esq., and mingled the pursuits of letters and law. His handsome picture in lithograph is the frontispiece of his somewhat bizarre biography of Robert Fulton, now something of a curio, once the ornament of many centre tables in Lancaster County.

Alderman Reigart was kept busy for some time issuing warrants and having hearings that attracted great attention, numerous and distinguished lawyers and ever increasing popular interest. Among those taken into custody were Elijah Lewis, storekeeper at Cooperville; Joseph Scarlet, farmer and dealer; Castner Hanway, miller at the “Red Mill”; James Jackson, farmer; Samuel Kendig, all white; and a large number of colored men and women, among them, William Brown and William Brown, 2d, Ezekiel Thompson, Daniel Caulsberry, Emanuel Smith, John Dobbins, Lewis[Pg 44] James Christman, Elijah Clark, Benjamin Pendegress, Jonathan Black, Samuel Hanson, Mifflin Flanders, Wilson Jones, Francis Hawkins, Benjamin Thompson, John Halliday, Elizabeth Mosey, John Morgan, boy, Joseph Benn, John Norton, Lewis Smith, George Washington, Harvey Scott, Susan Clark, Tamsy Brown, Eliza Parker, Hannah Pinckney, Robert Johnston, Miller Thompson, Isaiah Clarkson and Jonathan Black. The officers claimed to have captured on the persons or premises of some of them heavily charged guns, dirks and clubs.

The examination of the persons charged before Alderman Reigart for complicity in the affair began in the old Lancaster County Court House, in Centre Square, on Tuesday, September 23, at 11 o’clock A.M. The appearances at this hearing for the prosecution were Attorney General R. T. Brent, of Maryland, John M. Ashmead, United States Attorney, District Attorney John L. Thompson, Colonel William B. Fordney and Attorney General Thomas E. Franklin. For the defense, Thaddeus Stevens, George Ford, O. J. Dickey and George M. Kline appeared.

The testimony of Dr. Pearce, Milton Knott and Deputy Marshal Kline was relied upon to make out a prima facie case. It was at this hearing George Washington Harvey Scott, a colored man (who subsequently changed his testimony in Philadelphia, and swore he was not even at Parker’s), testified that he saw Henry Simms shoot Edward Gorsuch, and that John Morgan afterwards cut him on the head with a corn cutter. Lewis Cooper testified that John Long, colored, was on his premises the evening before the occurrence “giving notice.” He was with Henry Reynolds. Long was described as a dark mulatto, five and one-half feet high, and of slender make. The District Attorney argued that the offense was treason, and asked that the persons be committed to answer at the Circuit Court of the United States. Mr. Stevens made the opening speech before the Alderman,[Pg 45] claiming that the defendant prisoners, especially Lewis and Hanway, had not been identified as criminals or offenders; he dwelt upon the local kidnappings that had occurred in the night time, and charged William Bear and Perry Marsh with participation in these offenses; he produced many witnesses to the affair and to prove an alibi for some of the colored men, especially John Morgan, and nothing worse than inaction by Hanway and Lewis.

The women were all discharged; and some of the men. The names of those who were remanded to Philadelphia to await trial in the Federal Courts for treason, together with some others subsequently held, and some indicted in their absence and never apprehended, will be found in the report of the trial later in this history. James Jackson, father of William Jackson, now of Christiana was so well known to Marshal Roberts that he was released “on parole,” though subsequently indicted for treason. Mrs. Parker and Mrs. Pinckney left the vicinity and made their way to their husbands in Canada.


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