Shadrach Minkins (1814? - December 13, 1875) was an African-American fugitive slave. Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Minkins escaped in 1850 to Boston, Massachusetts. He was captured and held under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 that was intended to return slaves to their owners. He was saved by Boston abolitionists and then settled and raised a family in Montreal.
Escape and capture
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 and return them to their owners.
Writ of habeas corpus
Minkins was taken to a hearing at the Boston courthouse. Attorneys, including Samuel E. Sewall, Ellis Gray Loring, Robert Morris and Richard Henry Dana, Jr., offered their services to defend Minkins. Seeking to have Minkins released from custody, they filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with the Supreme Judicial Court, which was refused by Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw.
Edward G. Walker, Robert Morris and Lewis Hayden collaborated to obtain Shadrach's release. He was rescued by white and black members of the anti-slavery Boston Vigilance Committee, including Hayden, who entered the courtroom and used force to take Minkins from the marshals. He was hidden in an attic in Beacon Hill. Minkins escaped Massachusetts with the help of John J. Smith, Lewis Hayden and others. Nine abolitionists were indicted, charges were dismissed for some of the individuals. Morris and Hayden were tried and acquitted.
Richard Henry Dana, Jr., attorney and author of the novel Two Years Before the Mast, represented many African Americans fighting their return to slavery. He refused any fee for his work and in later years remarked that his defense of fugitive slaves represented the “one great act” of his life.
Portrait of Lewis Hayden, 19th century, a member of the Boston Vigilance Committee and a conductor on the Underground Railroad
Edward G. Walker who collaborated in obtaining Minkin's freedom.
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. 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.
From Boston, Minkins was spirited to Canada, having traveled along the Underground Railroad. 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 or 1854.
- Gary Collison, Shadrach Minkins: From Fugitive Slave to Citizen, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (1998 paperback reprint), pp. 11-13. ISBN 0-674-80299-3.
- Collison, Shadrach Minkins (1998), pp. 1, 54, 65.
- Collison, Shadrach Minkins (1998), pp. 2, 75.
- Collison, Shadrach Minkins (1998), p. 1.
- "The Ordeal of Shadrach Minkins". Massachusetts Historical Society. Retrieved April 23, 2013.
- Edwin Garrison Walker. BlackPast.org. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
- Collison, Shadrach Minkins (1998), pp. 83-87.
- "Fugitive Slave Law". Massachusetts Historical Society. Retrieved April 23, 2013.
- Collison, Shadrach Minkins (1998), pp. 104, 122, 139-142.
- Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1892). "Hale, John Parker". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton
- Gary Collison, Shadrach Minkins: From Fugitive Slave to Citizen, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (1998 paperback reprint). ISBN 0-674-80299-3.
- Collison, Shadrach Minkins (1998), pp. 187, 196, 209, 220, 277.
- Collison, Shadrach Minkins (1998), pp. 222, 267, 277.