The Fugitive Slave Law, passed by the United States in 1850, was enacted to enable slave owners to hunt for their runaway slaves “in free States and compel the North to assist them in catching them and sending them back into slavery. Should any person in the free States lodge, or feed, or clothe, a slave making his escape to Canada or aid him in any way knowing him to be a slave, such person was liable to be fined 1,000 Dollars. The enforcement of this law was galling to the North and rendered it very unsafe for any slave who had escaped many years before the passing of this law, and was living in the free States in safety. They could no longer do so after the passing of the law. The slave owner had power to go into the free States and take them away with all the children that were born to them and all the property that they had acquired in the free State. It was only necessary for the Master to prove that the person claimed by him was formerly his slave. The person claimed had no power to defend himself: the trail of jury was denied him. He was carried before a commissioner, who got ten dollars if he delivered him to the person claiming him, but if the commissioner declared the evidence not sufficient and gave him his liberty he only got five Dollars.
“Some heart-rendering cases occurred in the enforcing of the act, that in many places aroused the feelings of the Anti-slavery spirit in the North to resist the surrender of the fugitives. At Christiana, Lancaster County, Pa, where a number of negroes were comfortably situated, Edward Gorsuch, a Maryland slave holder, who attempted with two or three accomplices to seize his alleged slaves (four in number) was resisted by the alarmed and indignant blacks and received a ball from a musket fired by one of them which proved fatal and his son who accompanied him was wounded. The slaves made their escape and one of them who fired the fatal shot made his way to me in Canada, with his family entered one of the lots and became a peaceful, sober and industrious settler. Slave hunting became a profitable business along the border States and Canada.”
The full story of the stand-off at Christina is well worth reading.
Quotes are taken from Autobiography of Rev. William King, National Archives and Library of Canada.