Fugitive slaves Adam and Sarah Crosswhite seemed to have found sanctuary in Marshall, Michigan. The town, located on the famed underground railroad, was known for anti-slavery sentiment. When the Crosswhites arrived there in 1843, they soon established residency and sent their children to the local school (Marshall’s school was racially integrated at that time.). Everything seemed to be going well for them. Then, in January 1847, four slave catchers arrived from Kentucky.
The Crosswhite Affair
Legally, the Crosswhites were property of a Kentuckian named Francis Giltner. Adam and Sarah fled Kentucky with their four children, because Giltner planned to break up their family. Giltner hired his nephew, a man named Francis Troutman, to track them down. In December 1846, Troutman found them in Marshall. After verifying their identities (He allegedly hired a local deputy sheriff to visit them posing as a census enumerator.), he decided to make a move.
In late January, 1847, Troutman arrived at the Crosswhites’ house. With him were David Giltner (son of Francis Giltner) and two other Kentuckians. The men tried to arrest the Crosswhites. Somehow, neighbors were alerted, although accounts vary as to how (According to one witness, Adam Crosswhite had fired a warning shot.). In any case, a crowd of about two to three hundred Marshall citizens congregated at the Crosswhite house. Both blacks and whites were represented in the assemblage. Most of the people were simply curiosity seekers, but some outwardly jeered and/or threatened the slave catchers.
After awhile, banker Charles T. Gorham arrived with other prominent Marshall citizens. A sort of “town meeting” then commenced. Gorham introduced a resolution stating that the Crosswhites would not be taken. The townspeople agreed. Troutman and his party were then arrested for assault, battery and housebreaking. Over the next two days, the men stood trial as the Crosswhites left for Canada.
U.S. Senator Zachariah Chandler (Photo by Matthew Brady)
Francis Giltner later sued Charles Gorham and some other Marshall citizens for the value of his slaves. He won the case, and Gorham (ultimately becoming the sole defendant) was ordered to pay Giltner $4,800. Zachariah Chandler, a Detroit businessmen and anti-slavery sympathizer, paid Gorman’s fine. Chandler was later elected to the United States Senate, where he gained a reputation as a staunch, pro-Northern “radical Republican.”
Meanwhile, the Crosswhites resided in Canada for several years. Then – for reasons lost to history – the family returned to Marshall.
Adam Crosswhite, who died in 1878, is buried in Marshall, Michigan. To view his grave at findagrave.com, click here; Adam Crosswhite’s Grave
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The following sources were consulted for this article:
“A Beacon of Liberty on the Great Lakes: Race, Slavery and the Law in Antebellum Michigan.” By Ray E. Finkenbine. In The History of Michigan Law (Paul Finkelman and Martin J. Hershock, editors), pp. 83-107.
”One Flame in the Inferno” by John C. Sherwood. Michigan History March/April 1989, pp. 40-47.
“The Crosswhite Case” by John H. Yzenbaard. Michigan History, Summer 1969, pp. 131-143.