The Christiana Resistance

Line drawing of William Parker’s house, circa 1851

Not many people have ever heard of the 1851 Christiana Resistance. Like many stories during the antebellum period of American history involving Black resistance the event has been largely effaced from memory outside of Christiana, Pennsylvania. 

In a personal effort to make our stories visible, I have sought to humanize the Black migration experience of George Hammond, Joshua Hammond, Nelson Ford, and Noah Buley by commemorating their heroic effort as a walk to freedom, just as our ancestors did over 170 years ago to reach the quiet, tranquil, farming community of Christiana. 

Over the past four weeks I’ve walked about 75 miles retracing the trail of freedom northward from Sparks Glencoe, Maryland to York, Pennsylvania and eastward to Lancaster county. At the Susquehanna River I crossed into Columbia, where communities of free Blacks once lived and worked to disrupt the network of kidnappers and slave catchers that preyed upon their community. 

As the story goes, “In Christiana, Lancaster County, a group of African Americans and white abolitionists skirmish with a Maryland posse intent on capturing four freedom seekers sheltered on a farm” rented by William Parker, a pious, self-emancipated person of color, who strongly believed in freedom.

The skirmish resulted in the death of Edward Gorsuch, a stubborn, wealthy white planter, who was shot after attempting to shoot his way into Parker’s home. His death and the wounding of his son, greatly upset the Southern states forcing President Millard Fillmore to send in federal troops to put down “the riot.” Forty one Blacks and three abolitionist whites were arrested and charged with treason. 

Time to get up out of here.

Parker, Hammond, Ford and Buley knew what was coming next and with the help of local abolitionists and Fredrick Douglas, at least five of the Freedom Seekers escaped to Rochester, New York where they were welcomed into Douglas’ home before being ferried across into Canada.

As witnessed in other instances of Black resistance, federal troops were dispatched into action to quell the disturbance. In Christiana, this involved rounding up members of the small Black farming community and putting them on trial for treason.