Theme: “Understanding the Underground Railroad and the Anti-Slavery Movement”
Level: Middle School
Author: Steffany A. Baptiste
Duration: about 45 minutes to 1 hour (or two 45-minute lessons if extended)
Objective: The LWDAT discuss the various definitions and understand an essential
definition for the Underground Railroad as a way to better understand the
perceptions of the “Christiana Resistance” of 1851 and the “Raid on Harpers
Ferry” of 1859 by using the “movement flashcards” and writing a persuasive
letter about the definition of these particular events with 80% accuracy.
Materials: The Christiana Resistance Collection - Folder 9 Printed account, "Christiana
Riot." Compliments of E. P. Zane, Jeweler, Christiana, Penna. No date.
PBS’s Africans in America: Harpers Ferry
NEH Landmarks of the Underground Railroad (Course Book)
page 21 – 44, 111 – 120
Set: Write on the board: “How would you define the Underground Railroad?”
Have the students complete a journal reaction based on the question.
Procedures: 1) Discuss the different definitions formulated within the class and why.
2) Present the students with the following definition and have them
discuss it: “The Underground Railroad was a sophisticated
network of free Blacks, runaway slaves, religious groups, and
White abolitionist used as a system to rescue people held in bondage
and to defy the Southern ‘barriers' of proslavery enforcement.”
3) Based on the following words battle, rebellion, resistance revolt, riot, and tragedy, discuss how various acts in the spirit of the Underground Railroad may be perceived in different ways.
4) Provide each student with a “movement flashcards”: battle, rebellion, resistance revolt, riot, and tragedy.
5) Display the images and read the incident reports of the specific historical events (do not mention the name of the incident at this point).
6) Have the students identify the incidents using the flashcards.
7) Inform the students how various public venues have defines the incident.
Assessment: Have your students write a persuasive letter to the National Park Service
explaining why they should keep their definitions or change it. Students
must provide an alternative option and a justification for their choice.
Underground Railroad Definition for Discussion
The Underground Railroad was a sophisticated network of free Blacks, runaway slaves, religious groups, and White abolitionist used as a system to rescue people held in bondage and to defy the Southern ‘barriers' of proslavery enforcement.
Movement Definitions for Discussion
battle 1) a sustained fight between organized armed forces
2) a lengthy and difficult struggle or contest
rebellion 1) an act of rebelling against an established government or ruler
2) defiance of authority or control
resistance 1) the action of resisting
2) (also resistance movement) a secret organization resisting
3) the impeding effect exerted by one material thing on
4) the ability not to be affected by something
5) lack of sensitivity to a drug, insecticide, etc., especially as a
result of continued exposure or genetic change
6) the degree to which a material or device opposes the passage
of an electric current
revolt an act of rebellion or defiance against authority
riot 1) a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd
2) a confused or lavish combination or display: a riot of color
3) (a riot) informal a highly amusing or entertaining person or
tragedy 1) an event causing great suffering, destruction, and distress
2) a serious play with an unhappy ending, especially one
concerning the downfall of the main character
Dickinson Gorsuch III (1826-1882), son of Edward Gorsuch, the Maryland slave owner who was killed at Christiana in Pennsylvania in 1851. Dickinson Gorsuch traveled with his father and a small slave-catching party and was seriously wounded during the confrontation. Nursed back to health by the Pownall family, local Christiana residents, Dickinson Gorsuch went on to inherit his father's property. His remaining slaves, however, joined the Union Army during the Civil War. Gorsuch died at the age of 56, the same age his father had been when he was killed at Christiana.
Edward Gorsuch (1795-1851) was a Baltimore County, Maryland farmer and slave-owner, who died on September 11, 1851 while trying to recapture four of his escaped slaves in Christiana, Pennsylvania. Although Gorsuch prided himself on what he believed was his kind treatment of his slaves, four of his younger male slaves fled the farm in 1849, fearing punishment for some stolen wheat. Over the course of two years, Gorsuch unsuccessfully attempted to recapture them. In 1851, he finally succeeded in tracking the fugitives down, confronting them with a posse of slave catchers at the home of William Parker in Christiana. An altercation ensued in which Edward Gorsuch, at the age of 56, was killed.
Castner Hanway (1821-1893) resided in Delaware and then Maryland prior to Christiana where he was a miller by trade and an inadvertent participant in the Christiana resistance. The morning of the riot, Elijah Lewis alerted Hanway of the escalating altercation. He rode to the scene and refused to assist the slave catchers in capturing the slaves. After the riot, Hanway was charged with treason for his refusal. Although Hanway was charged simultaneously with many other riot participants, because Hanway was white, he was also the focal point of a host of defendants that were predominantly black. Hanway and others were acquitted. He went on to become a Quaker with abolitionist tendencies.
William Parker (circa 1822-????) was a militant free black man who led the resistance against Gorsuch party in the Christiana standoff. Parker was born into slavery in Maryland. Although his master was said to be comparatively “kind” Parker wanted his freedom. Not the type to long for anything, one day Parker refused to go to work in the fields. Parker's master picked up a stick to beat Parker but when the first blow fell Parker seized the stick and challenged his master. Parker wounded the man and fled, settling in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he became the charismatic center of a black defensive association, formed as a source of organized resistance to threats posed to the free black community by kidnappers. On more than one occasion, the organization beat slave catchers to drive them off. Parker harbored the Gorsuch fugitives at his home in Lancaster. When the Gorsuch party arrived to reclaim the fugitives Parker took them all to the second story of his home to resist. He repeatedly exchanged defiant threats with Kline and attempted to buy time by suggesting to the Gorsuch party that the black men in the house were not the fugitives they sought. Nevertheless, the confrontation escalated violently. Edward Gorsuch was killed and once again, Parker was forced to flee to preserve his freedom and his life. Parker was put on the underground, and with the assistance of Frederick Douglas himself, delivered into Canada . His wife and children followed shortly thereafter but not without complication.