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This is Mr. Shadrach Minkins. He was born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia (the actual year is uncertain), Mr. Minkins spent the first 30 years of his life in his hometown, but in May of 1850 he decided to run for freedom and escaped to Boston, where he became a waiter.
In the 1850s, some runaway slaves found refuge in Boston due to the strong anti-slavery community there. Another option for fugitive slaves was to pass through Boston to another safe location using the Underground Railroad. The Fugitive Slave Act, part of the Compromise of 1850, however, undermined Boston’s reputation as a safe haven for slaves. This law allowed slave owners, or their representatives, to reclaim runaway slaves, with proof of ownership, throughout the United States. This meant slave-catching now carried the force of law which meant all law enforcement agencies throughout the North were required to assist those seeking fugitives. Law enforcement officers were required to arrest and hold any suspected fugitives and assist their return to slaveholders no matter what they believed.
On February 15, 1851, Minkins was captured by two Boston police officers while he worked at Taft’s Cornhill Coffee House. Once he was taken into the courthouse, as the crowd grew bigger, black abolitionist Lewis Hayden and a crew of men rushed through the courtroom, seizing Minkins from marshals holding him in custody. Lewis then hid Minkins in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.
From there, Lewis guided Minkins to Cambridge where he followed the Underground Railroad to Montreal, Canada. Minkins made a living first as a waiter and restaurant operator and later as a barber. He married about 1853 and had four children, settling in a community with fellow fugitive slaves from the United States. This was the first all-Black community in Montreal.
This is the story of one of our ancestors that were determined no matter what the costs. Its unfortunate that it isn’t taught in our history curriculum.