It’s 1851 a chilly February night in Boston’s Beacon Hill Neighborhood.
The hum of steam boats in the harbor.
Nearby Echoes through the air.
As black residents walk home from their jobs across town, they passed by posters lining, the cobblestone streets.
Posters warning them to avoid the police and stay vigilant inside a nearby meeting house.
Speakers approach a lectern one by I won forgiving impassioned, speeches about protecting their Community by breaking the law, a new federal law looming over the city which empowers slave owners to retrieve people who’ve escaped enslavement in the South and return them into bondage.
The community is on high alert, Boston was already a major stop on the Underground.
Railroad, many formerly enslaved.
People had passed through our settled here.
They weren’t about to just sit back and watch a slave Hunters rolled through town.
They were going to fight back.
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This is not past it a show about the stories.
We can’t quite leave behind every episode.
We take a moment from that very same week in history and tell you the story of how it shaped our world.
I’m Simone plannin on February 15th 1851 172 years ago.
This week black abolitionists in Boston were faced with a crisis.
The country was on the verge of Civil War.
An aggressive new fugitive, slave law was in place, and black people in the north were preparing to defend their own, their efforts, would soon be put to the test as one escaped slave who found refuge in Boston, would soon find his freedom at risk that’s coming up.
When Shadrach minkins went to work one February morning in 1851 he was likely expecting the usual, he was a waiter at the Corn Hill Coffee House, right?
In the heart of town.
He’d worked there less than a year serving up coffee to local bostonians, but this shift would change the course of his life.
But Shadrach didn’t yet, know, was that he was being hunted down?
One sleeve Hunter had been sent all the way from Virginia to find him for days.
He held secret meetings around the city enlisted members of local law enforcement to help him and Drew up plans to capture Shadrach minkins.
Shadrach Was Born Into Slavery around, 1814, in Norfolk Virginia, throughout his early life.
He was sold multiple times to different slave owners but in 1850 he escaped by some accounts.
He snuck onto a ship in Virginia that made its way to Boston.
When he landed he found work and quickly integrated with the black community in the city.
One that was growing more and more incensed by the passing of a new stringent law.
Law in September of 1850 President Millard, Fillmore signed the new Fugitive Slave Act laws.
Like these ones that empowered slave hunters from the South had been on the books since the drafting of the US Constitution.
But this 1850 law took things to new extremes.
Now, slave hunters from the south could enter a state that had abolished slavery and forcibly deputize.
Its local officials Cysts in an arrest, a u.s. marshal.
Could go into a city like Boston and say, hey, that looks like Tom help me get Tom, and if you don’t help him get this fugitive slave, you could face six months in prison, you could face a thousand dollar fine.
This is Wellesley history, Professor Kelly Carter Jackson and her book force and freedom.
She writes about how the Fugitive Slave Act was in many ways, a political move at this point, the Civil War was still about a decade away.
And the law was part of a broader set of compromises to appease Southern States making calls for secession.
She also emphasizes how the law incentivised Commissioners in the north, who oversaw hearings to determine if someone was a fugitive slave Commissioners are paid $10.
If a person is returned to slavery and then five dollars.
If it’s found out that oh, actually your free person.
So there’s a financial incentive for the Commissioners, for to get.
As many enslaved, people back into slavery as possible.
Ideologically, this law favored, the South and it Eyes to the refugee status of formerly enslaved.
People in States that had rejected slavery decades before like and Massachusetts.
Now, they will be real consequences for people who run away.
So there’s no sort of statute of limitations.
Meaning, it doesn’t matter if you ran away like five days ago, five weeks ago, five years ago.
If you had been living longer and freedom, then you had in slavery.
If your slave holder finds you captures you, he can bring Bring you back and bring you back into bondage.
And what It ultimately did was it made of Canada’s Board of the new Mason-Dixon line for someone like Shadrach minkins.
The slaw was a direct threat to his safety, to his freedom.
The black community in Boston was Furious when the law passed abolitionists, rallied in meeting houses and churches to plan their response.
The community really takes a strong stance and says, this is how we are going to That we are going to support one another, we are going to trust one another.
We’re gonna arm one another.
We are not going to allow the South to get a foothold in our abolitionist City.
The abolitionists of Boston had already proven their commitment, just a few weeks after the Fugitive Slave Act passed when one, couple William and Ellen craft arrived in.
Boston, after escaping from a plantation in Macon, Georgia, from the moment, the crafts, leave the plan.
It’s probably a matter of hours before people realize that they’re gone and that they have runaway slave catchers are immediately sent after them and are pretty much trying to track them the entire way that they’re getting to Boston.
The crafts were immediately embraced by the city’s abolitionists, including a key group, The Boston vigilance committee, the committee formed as a community resource that pushed back on the Fugitive Slave Act, they were a communication hub for the Underground Railroad.
Sort of like a switchboard for abolitionists to share information.
As they ushered enslaved, people to Freedom.
They closed ranks around the crafts.
Protecting them from recapture, they throw up.
Marshals and throw off.
People that are seeking them.
The craps wouldn’t know, never heard of him.
Never seen them, you know, like these things you can imagine that people are trying to do to throw off, anyone, who would try to turn them in and snitch on them.
The committee’s legal team.
Also, got to work.
They hounded the slave catchers with criminal complaints, for little things.
Things to slow them down.
They reported them for carrying concealed weapons smoking in the street.
Swearing and public, the local, press even joked about how Marshals getting arrested was a twice a day occurrence.
The committee also made, sure word, got out to the larger community of the threat that lurked among them, they plastered, hundreds of posters all over the city, one, red colored people of Boston, you are hereby respectfully, cautioned, and advised to avoid conversing with the Watchman and police.
Officers of Boston, they are empowered to act as kidnappers and slave catchers.
It’s a classic iconic abolitionist poster that is meant to just bring awareness to as many people as possible, and I think that atmosphere of sort of vigilance is circulating all throughout the community.
It wasn’t just posters and legal action, though, some members, took it straight to the marshals themselves.
Some people get to the point of really threatening US Marshals and think like coming here.
Here and this is going to get violent.
All these tactics worked pretty well.
Those slave Hunters.
Got the hell out of Boston, and the crafts were able to escape to England.
It was a real win for the Abolitionist community and a critical loss for President Fillmore.
Who signed the Fugitive Slave Act into law.
His Olive Branch to pro-slavery secessionists was hitting some roadblocks a few months after slave Hunters.
Abandoned their And for the crafts, the hunt for Shadrach minkins began.
There was an opportunity to make an example of him.
Save a bit of face.
Actually, enforce the law, shadrach’s arrest and recapture needed to go off without a hitch.
On the morning of February 15th 1851 that slave hunter from Virginia sent a team of deputies out into the Rainy Streets of central.
Boston, they didn’t know what Shadrach looked like but they knew where he worked.
So they marched down Court, Street toward cornhill, Coffeehouse When they arrived to of the deputies, grabbed a seat and waited for their informant to arrive.
So, he could Point Shadrach out, actually, order coffee from Shadrach naked.
They just didn’t know it yet because there was a lot of African-American wait staff at this coffee shop.
This is Sean Quigley.
A national parks ranger at Boston’s African-American Historic Site, he leads black Heritage Trail, Tours in Boston, one of the stops along his tour, tells Shadrach story, Shadrach took the men’s order and within minutes, the informant walked through the door jedrek apparently is leaving to go get changed for this the informant, discreetly pointed Shadrach out to the deputies and then very quickly, very some, they arrest him in Long.
Really know what has happened until it’s almost too late.
The men ushered Shadrach through the back, doors of the coffee house over to the nearby courthouse and up to the court room.
On the second floor, they sat him down between two guards.
Some of the deputies split off, throughout the building and forming judges, and bureaucrats that they needed to move.
Fast, declare Shadrach a fugitive, get him out of Boston, because something was already Brewing outside.
Word had quickly, spread through the neighborhood, about shadrach’s arrest, and a crowd of people was forming on the street.
Outside the courthouse, very strong community of activists that is willing to quite literally put their money where their mouth is and fight.
If necessary shadrach’s Freedom was on the line time was of the essence and his community was ready to take action to protect him, even if it meant literally busting, open the door.
ORS to do.
So stick around.
Welcome back before the break Shadrach Mankins, had been snatched by slave catchers newly empowered by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 to return him to bondage in the South, they brought him to the courthouse and outside a crowd, many of them, black abolitionists was growing.
Now, inside the courtroom, Marshals are moving quickly to place Shadrach before a judge and rule that.
He’s a fugitive slave.
But after a few minutes the crowd manages to push into the courthouse, run up the stairs and fill the courtroom or Shadrach is being held here is Boston.
African-American Historic Site guide.
Sean Quigley, again, people are packing the courtroom white and black lot of waters abolitionist, lawyers arrive, one of the men is civil rights lawyer, Robert Morris.
He was the go-to lawyer for black residents in Boston at the time.
One of the Black men to practice law in the country and he was an active member of the Boston vigilance committee.
He splits off from the main crowd to go file a petition.
He wants to stop the hearing and its tracks, prove that shadrach’s arrest was illegal.
If approved the marshals would have to let him go, but the petition is denied Morris returns to the courtroom within the hour.
The crowd is growing, increasingly Restless.
As one reporter wrote that, the men in the room were quote about to Spring over the rail.
Morris and the legal team try, one more strategy to buy them some time, they’re able to get a delay on the trial where they delay, the hearing a couple of days because slavery was outlawed in Massachusetts.
The marshals, can’t transport Shadrach to a state jail.
They have to keep him in the courtroom for the next two days a courtroom that’s now packed to the brim with angry abolitionists.
The deputies in the courtroom are vastly outnumbered, they’re growing nervous.
So they try to diffuse the situation Claire in the courthouse.
Getting people out of it.
After this delay.
Has been granted and there are people waiting outside.
All of them, people have come.
It’s now, 2:00 p.m. just a couple of hours since Shadrach was brought to the courthouse.
The Marshal start to Corral the crowd out of the courtroom leaving just a few lawyers inside.
But the Abolitionist stay close by right outside the doors.
Black men line up and down the courthouse, stairwell, some were said to have been armed with knives.
One witness, even heard someone say boys, are you ready now is the time or never one by one?
The remaining lawyers and reporters still inside the courtroom.
Start to exit guards.
Open the courtroom doors just in Enough to let each person out.
And when they do, the abolitionists standing on the other side, pull on the door as hard as they can trying to force it, open and turn the guards.
Do their own pulling, trying to keep the door closed.
They do this back and forth for a while, until finally, the doors give out.
When people rush into the courtroom, they overpower the half a dozen guards.
One of the marshals looks over at Shadrach he warns him they’d shoot if you try to escape, but the black men who charged into the courtroom surround Shadrach to protect him.
Some of the abolitionists turn to him and they grabbed Shadrach quite literally carrying him out of court house like that.
In a roar of commotion, the abolitionists carry Shadrach, through the doors of the courtroom, down the staircase, and into the chilly early evening are two of the men hoist Shadrach into a carriage and ride with him away from The Fray.
The driver apparently recalls later that he look back and know who the two men were.
But he’s thinks, he might have seen pistols between them, they bring him a few minutes, West to Beacon Hill where an older black woman agrees to hide him in her attic later in the evening.
Another Carriage comes to pick him up and takes him off to Concord on the outskirts of Boston.
He stays overnight at a home in Concord and then he is sent out to Western Season’s over the next four or five days Shadrach moves along the Underground.
Railroad people hide him in their homes, sometimes in an attic, sometimes in a secret basement.
Until finally, he makes it all the way to Montreal to safety but there’d still be repercussions for the men.
Who’d helped him news of the rescue.
Got back to President Fillmore.
He issued a proclamation.
I’m saying that the men who aided in the rescue would be tried for their crimes.
Nine men in total were arrested including the lawyer, Robert Morris Morris is trial began on October 31st, 1851 the prosecution brought witnesses to the stand claiming, he was a principal actor in the storming of the Court.
Some said that as he left the courtroom, he gave the decisive signal to the men outside to make their move Morris and his fence claimed.
He was just a bystander there to perform his duty as a lawyer.
This defense worked on.
November 12 Morris was acquitted and it’s unclear the exact outcomes of every other trial.
But most of the men involved went free, The rescue of Shadrach minkins set a new precedent in the movement, black abolitionists, armed themselves.
They pushed back against the law.
They drove slave.
Hunters out of town.
They knew they were endowed the same freedoms and Liberties that the constitution promised, if they weren’t going to be given them, they would take them for themselves.
Even if it meant rallying the community and demanding it by force.
Here’s Professor, Carter Jackson, again force can be a strike force.
Can be a boycott force, can be a speech, or a vote can be a lot of different things that and ways in which you can engage or compel someone to bend to your will.
Robert Morris continue to advocate for formerly enslaved.
People who’d escaped their captors, his words became a beacon seven years after shadrach’s rescue, he wrote a piece for an abolitionist newspaper and the message was clear, don’t mess with Boston.
Let us be bold If any man flies from slavery and comes Among Us.
When he’s reached us, will say he’s gone far enough.
If any man comes here and they try to take him away, we’ll come down, 300 strong and stay with you and we won’t go until he’s safe.
Ultimately the Fugitive Slave Act was considered a massive failure.
It’s reported that in the laws first decade about 330, people were recaptured and that same period thanks to the resolve of abolitionists.
An estimated 15,000 escaped slavery and found Freedom.
They really had to fight for it that when they took it, there was always a risk that it would be taken.
I’m back and so that force is something that has to be implemented.
The Fugitive Slave Act was eventually repealed in 1864 by President Abraham Lincoln.
One year after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation and in 1865, Congress passed, the 13th Amendment which would formally abolished slavery in the United States.
The culmination of generations of resistance, if you were to ask someone, Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass.
If you think slavery will ever be abolished, you know?
Like they would have told you.
Yes, they might have told you how.
But yes, we have to believe that this work is possible.
Otherwise what are we doing?
If you don’t have hope what is the point?
And even if you don’t live to see it, that’s not the point.
The point is that you work to make sure that it is whether it’s in your lifetime or your children’s or your children’s children, that the mission is accomplished.
Hope to me.
It sounds so simple, and yet, so impossible, it’s always baffled me.
Hope manages to penetrate that even faced with systemic atrocities that finds a way help, propels it.
Ignites, it certainly seems like that kind of help help guide the abolitionists of Boston in the face of their autonomy and their Humanity being threatened.
A few days after his rescue Shadrach minkins wrote a letter from Montreal thanking the people who risked their lives to save him dated February 28th 1851 it reads, do you sir?
I feel it.
My duty to forward you the account of my arrival, in this city, I reached here last Friday evening, a journey of four days had a loss for words to express the Gratitude, a field of those Those kind and dear friends and Boston in believe me, I should always consider it.
My duty to pray for their health and happiness.
Please remember me?
Kindly, Lincoln’s died. 26 years later in 1875.
A free man.
Not passed it as a Spotify original produced by gimlet and zsp media.
This episode was produced by Ramon Phillip next week.
We’ve got stories about some prominent figures in their Underdog era.
Like, did you ever wonder who ice cream maker is Ben and Jerry were before they got so popular, the company placed an ad in the back of Rolling Stone magazine, helped to Vermont hippies fight the corporate Giants.
Son $1 for.
So what’s the Doughboy afraid of bumper sticker?
The rest of our team is producer, Olivia Briley.
Our associate producers are Nick, Delle Rose, and Lauren Newcomb are in turn is Jasper, Direct Key.
The supervising producer is Erica Morrison editing by Aaron Edwards, Andrea be Scott is our executive editor, voice, acting by John butts fact-checking by Ian, Michael sound design and mixing by Emma Monger original music, by Sachs kicks.
Ave Willie Green, Jay bless, and Bobby Lord Theme song is Toko, Liana by cocoa with music supervision by Liz Fulton, technical Direction by Zach Schmidt show art by Elysee Harbin.
And Talia Rahman, the executive producer, at DSP media is Zach Stewart Ponte.
The executive producer from gimlet is matched shilts special.
Thanks to Professor Manisha Sinha Cabrillo, Baumgartner Laurel Davis and Avi Bauer at the Robert Morris Law Library, Suzanne Taylor, Spencer, Buell and Gary Collison.
His book, Shadrach minkins.
From fugitive slave to Citizen was an invaluable resource and Reporting this story.
And to Lydia Pole, Green Abbie ruzicka Dan Behar Jen hon, Emily wiedemann, list, Styles, and Ariel Joseph, follow not past it.
Now to listen for free exclusively on Spotify, click the little bell next to the follow button to get notifications for new episodes and while you’re there hey why don’t you write us 5 Stars?
You can follow me on Twitter at Simone, polenin.
Thanks for hanging.
We’ll see you next week.
There was a fable about him that he kept two kegs of gunpowder inside his front door so that if slave catchers came to his home, he would open the door over the Candlestick and he would basically say you can leave in peace, or you can leave him pieces.