1847 : Slave Catchers Thwarted in Marshall

January 27, 2023 all-day

Photo of Adam Crosswhite, courtesy of Seeking Michigan, February 2, 2010

January 27-28, 1847

Slave catchers arrived in Marshall hoping to capture the Adam Crosswhite family who had escaped from slavery in Kentucky. Once they realized what was going on, the citizens of Marshall thwarted their efforts and helped the Crosswhites to flee to safety in Canada.

The next summer, the Kentuckians filed charges in the U.S. Circuit Court in Detroit against some of the Marshall people who had helped the Crosswhites. The case is called Giltner v Gorham et al.

A jury decided that the Marshall people had violated the 1793 Fugitive Slave Act. The court ordered the Marshall people to pay the Kentuckians $1,926. Angered by the efforts of Michigan residents to thwart slave catchers, the U.S. Congress also passed a more stringent Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 requiring harsh punishment for interference.

Michigan would respond by passing its own legislation. In 1855 Michigan’s first Republican-controlled state legislature adopted personal liberty laws, which prohibited state and local officials from cooperating with federal marshals in recovering escaped slaves. The 1855 Michigan Personal Freedom Act 162, Section 3 also allows someone “imprisoned, arrested or claimed as a fugitive slave” the right to appeal to the county circuit court for their release. Section 4 allows them to have a trial by jury.

Adam Crosswhite Marker Marshall Michigan

Adam Crosswhite Marker Marshall Michigan

Sources :

Michigan Time Traveler Kid’s History – February 2002, the Underground Railroad, including two newspaper articles about the Crosswhites.

Bob Garrett, Flight to Freedom, Seeking Michigan, February 2, 2010.

“The Crosswhite Family’s Story” from the Michigan Time Traveler.

Michigan Historical Calendar, courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University.