When four young men, slaves on Edward Gorsuch's Maryland farm, escaped to rural Pennsylvania in 1849, the owner swore he'd bring them back. Two years later, Gorsuch lay dead outside the farmhouse in Christiana where he'd tracked them down, as his federal posse retreated pell-mell before the armed might of local blacks--and the impact of the most notorious act of resistance against the federal Fugitive Slave Law was about to be felt across a divided nation.
Bloody Dawn vividly tells this dramatic story of escape, manhunt, riot, and the ensuing trial, detailing its importance in heightening the tensions that led to the Civil War. Thomas Slaughter's engaging narrative captures the full complexity of events and personalities: The four men fled after they were detected stealing grain for resale off the farm; Gorsuch, far from a brutal taskmaster, had pledged to release all his slaves when they reached the age of twenty-eight, but he relentlessly pursued the escapees out of a sense of wounded honor; and the African-American community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania that provided them refuge was already effectively organized for self-defense by a commanding former slave named William Parker. Slaughter paints a rich portrait of the ongoing struggles between local blacks and white kidnapping gangs, the climactic riot as neighbors responded to trumpet calls from the besieged runaway slaves, the escape to Canada of the central figures (aided by Frederick Douglass), and the government's urgent response (including the largest mass indictment for treason in our history)--leading to the trial for his life of a local white bystander accused of leading the rioting blacks. Slaughter not only draws out the great importance given to the riot in both the North and the South, but he uses legal records reaching back over half a century to uncover the thoughts of average people on race, slavery, and violence.
The Whiskey Rebellion, Slaughter's previous work of history, received widespread acclaim as "a vivid account" (The New York Times) and "an unusual combination of meticulous scholarship and engaging narrative" (The Philadelphia Inquirer). It was a selection of the History Book Club, and won both the National Historical Society Book Prize and the American Revolution Round Table Award. In Bloody Dawn, he once again weaves together the incisive insights of a professional historian with a gripping account of a dramatic moment in American history.
"A compelling analysis of racial violence in pre-Civil War America as seen throgh the prism of the September 1851 riot in Christiana, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania....Slaugher...is a very good storyteller....He neatly weaves together the threads of local, regional, and national ises to offer a persuasive account of the importance of the Christiana Riot in the coming Civil War....An eloquent and insightful story that is respectful of the past, yet speaks to our
present concerns with clarity and conviction."--Philadelphia Inquirer
"Admirably researched....Slaughter...has reconstructed a sequence of events that goes to the heart of American slavery."--New York Review of Books
"Mr. Slaughter relates this story deftly, sifting the evidence with an eye observant of telling details and alert to embedded prejudices."--New Yorker
"An important, well-written book with a clearly stated point of view, one that can throw light on contemporary violence as well as on bloody incidents in the past."--Civil War History
"Slaughter's recounting of the events leading up to the riot, the fight itself, and its aftermath is excellent. He is at his best in weaving the intricacies that characterize American race relations into an engrossing stroy."--The Journal of Southern History
"Marshals impressive evidence that this racial conflict illustrated major patterns of racial, class, gender, political, legal, and regional differences during its time....Engages the reader's attention with the lives that it recreates and the author's intriguing interpretations."--History: Reviews of New Books
"Slaughter's book goes well beyond Jonathan Katz's Resistance at Christiana...to use the riot as a means of exploring the master-slave relationship, the significance of freedom for free blacks, and the nature of relations between black and white Northerners before the Civil War....He makes a further contribution with his imaginative and deeply probing readings of late-eighteenth and nineteenth-century Lancaster County newspapers and court
records....Slaughter illuminates a domain of black poverty and race relations in the antebellum rural North of which we heretofore knew little, and...demonstrates the central, animating role that popular black activism
played in the culture and politics of the pre-Civil War North....Compelling and timely."--American Historical Review
"A dramatic rendering of the confrontation between African Americans and Gorsuch's federal posse and of the treason trial that followed the incident."--CHOICE
"Tells the fascinating story of the Christiana Riot of 1851 with the sense of narrative and subtlety of texture that a reader expects from a first-rate novel but seldom finds in a work of history....Goes beyond unraveling the violent events in rural Pennsylvania that challenged the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. His exploration on pre-Civil War racism, free-black poverty, and rioting in the North casts new light on subjects too long neglected."--Bertram
Wyatt-Brown, University of Florida
"A great history: a riveting story, full of fascinating characters, and a powerful evocation of the impending conflict of the sections and the perennial conflict of the races. But it is more than that: an unblinking insistence on the prevalence of violence in the lives of Americans, and an eloquent pondering of its causes and costs."--Michael Zuckerman, University of Pennsylvania
"[Slaughter] demonstrates more acutely and powerfully than any previous writer the poisonous character of racial prejudice in nineteenth-century Pennsylvania."--Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography