February 15, 1851: The Fight For Shadrach Minkins

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Shadrach Minkins, a African American fugitive slave, is arrested by U.S. Marshals but he is rescued by members of the anti-slavery Boston Vigilance Committee, who used force to take him from the marshals. From Boston, Minkins was spirited to Canada, where he settled in Montreal, in the section of the city known as Old Montreal. There he made a living first as a waiter, then operating restaurants of his own and, finally, as a barber. He married in 1853.

The rescue of Minkins brought calls for President Millard Fillmore to use federal troops to help marshals enforce the Fugitive Slave Law. Fillmore’s response, however, was a cautious proclamation calling on the citizens of Boston to respect the law and aid in recapturing Minkins. Fillmore also ordered Minkins’ liberators to be prosecuted, and John P. Hale served as defense counsel in the resulting trials.

This incident in his home state deeply embarrassed Secretary of State Daniel Webster, who hoped to be elected President in 1852 with Southern support.

Minkins died in Montreal, He is buried in an unmarked grave near two of his children in Mount Royal Cemetery.

Shadrach Minkins was born in Norfolk, Virginia, he escaped from slavery in 1850 to settle in Boston, Massachusetts, where he became a waiter. Later that year, Congress enacted the Fugitive Slave Law, which allowed federal agents to seize escaped slaves living in free states such as Massachusetts and return them to their owners.

Read more about the BVC at: Daily Black History Facts

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