If you relied solely on what is being taught in schools about Black history or what you can easily find on the internet, you would think Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Robert Smalls were the only “significant” escaped slaves. Everyone who escaped and survived is significant but there was one who had an interesting story worthy of sharing.
Shadrach Minkins was born into slavery in Norfolk Virginia around 1814 and had several owners between 1832 and 1849 before being sold to naval career officer John DeBree, where he worked as a house servant. In 1850, Minkins made his escape from Norfolk to Boston which at the time, had become a safe haven for runaway slaves due to strong anti-slave population of black and white abolitionists. He lived in Boston for about a year waiting tables in an upscale restaurant under the name of Frederick until he was arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act in 1851 by two undercover police officers posing as customers.
When the word spread that Minkins was being taken to the courthouse, hundreds of abolitionists including lawyers came to his assistance and during a large distraction caused by members of the anti-slavery Boston Vigilance Committee, and a group of about twenty men which included leader Lewis Hayden, were able to seize Minkins from the marshals custody and hid him until he could escape to Montreal, Canada using the Underground Railroad. While in Canada, he married and had four children and made his living as a waiter, restaurant operator and later as a barber.
The escape of Minkins created an uproar in Boston and across the country prompting an embarrassed President Fillmore to issue a proclamation demanding that citizens obey the law and assist in the recapture of the fugitive slave. This resulted in the arrest of nine men, seven of which had been charged with aiding Minkins’ escape and trials for each got under way in May of 1851, which resulted in being nothing short of becoming highly public failures on the part of the government when all seven of the men avoided convictions.
This is just a glimpse into the story of Shadrach Minkins, one of many black expatriates responsible for starting the first black community in Montreal.
Remember Shadrach Minkins.
SOURCES: Encyclopedia Virginia