Seven white guards ringed the courtroom. Two more stood at Shadrach Minkins’ side. His lawyer Robert Morris, a black member of the Boston Vigilance Committee, a group of abolitionists who helped runaway slaves like Minkins, talked softly to him. Five other white men, who were also abolitionists stood behind Morris. Shadrach appreciated their support but he knew it wouldn’t matter. His three months of freedom in Boston, Massachusetts were over; he would be dragged back to Norfolk, Virginia and his owner, John DeBree. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 had been passed a year earlier: if runaway slaves were tracked down in the free states, they had to be returned to their owners.
The guards started letting a few people at a time into the courtroom until it was packed with over a hundred and fifty black men and about fifty white men.
Morris went up with DeBree’s lawyer to speak to the judge.
“I need more time to prepare my client’s case,” Morris told the judge.
Debree’s lawyer protested. The judge agreed to give Morris a few more days. Then he ordered the courtroom cleared. Most of the white men hurried out. Not one black man moved.
“Clear the court!" the bailiff shouted.
No one moved.
The guards walked threateningly toward the black spectators, and they reluctantly got up to leave. The guard opened the courtroom door just wide enough for one man at a time to get out. Shadrach watched them leave. Morris was the last. When the door was opened for him, twenty black men and a good number of whites pushed into the courtroom.
The guards on either side of Shadrach pressed him close. The seven guards along the wall tried to move toward Shadrach, but the crowd moved more quickly and pressed them back. Two men hoisted Shadrach to his feet. “Take him out the side door,” someone shouted.
A guard’s voice echoed in Shadrach's ears as the crowd ran triumphantly out the side courtroom door, down the stairs, out into the street with their prize.
Five days later, on February 20, 1851, Shadrach arrived in Canada shepherded by various Underground Railroad conductors along the way. His rescue caused an uproar. Southerners demanded an investigation. Northern abolitionists insisted the Fugitive Slave Act was illegal. Eight men, including Morris were arrested, but the charges were dropped.
Eighteen months later Shadrach was married and running a barber shop in Montreal.
Admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1847,
Robert Morris may have been the first black male lawyer to file a lawsuit in the U.S.
Doreen Rappaport is known for her ground-breaking approach to multicultural history and stories for young readers. In her many award-winning books, she brings attention to not-yet-celebrated Americans, along with well-known figures. Her book Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is an Orbis Pictus Honor Book, Coretta Scott King Honor Book, Caldecott Honor Book for Illustration, and an ALA Notable Book. For more information, click here. And while you're on Doreen Rappaport's website, look at the list of her African-American History books.
MLA 8 Citation
Rappaport, Doreen. "Caught!" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 12 Feb. 2018,
In the mid-nineteenth century, a young man named Allan Pinkerton fled Scotland with a warrant on his head for his work agitating for labor rights. In the United States, he continued to fight for social justice. Beginning in 1844, he worked for Chicago Abolitionist leaders and his home outside of Chicago was a stop on the Underground Railroad. He was a close friend and ardent supporter of John Brown, helping him get runaway slaves to Canada.
He was working as a barrel maker when he stumbled on a gang of counterfeiters. His handling of that incident began his career as a crime-solver, and in 1849, he was hired to be the first detective on the Chicago police force. Detective work was considered sleazy at that time—a way of profiting from other’s crimes. Pinkerton gave it a new meaning by making justice his mission. He created careful “detecting methods,” using psychology, logic, and clear thinking. These tools worked, and a year later, Pinkerton was able to set up his own company known as the North-Western Police Agency. This later became Pinkerton & Co. and then the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
In October, 1856 Pinkerton hired Kate Warne as the first woman detective in the United States. He was so impressed with her skill that he hired many other women (fifty years before any police department in America had female personnel.)
While Pinkerton insisted that detectives must combine “considerable intellectual power and knowledge of human nature,” he discouraged them from pressuring confessions or taking statements from witnesses who were drunk. Above everything else, he valued the truth.
Pinkerton ran the new spy agency, the Secret Service, for President Lincoln during the Civil War the same way he'd run his detective agency. He honed the art of “spycraft” and trained his agents the same way for both jobs, detective and spy.
“The object of every investigation. . .is to come at the whole truth. . .There must be no endeavoring, therefore, to over-color or exaggerate anything against any particular individual, whatever the suspicion may be against him.”
Pinkerton was working on a national criminal database when he died, but he left behind the legacy of his intelligence agency and a series of popular books about his cases, the first “true crime” stories in America.
A retouched photograph of Pinkerton (left) with President Abraham Lincoln and Union Major General John A. McClernand on the Battlefield of Antietam, Maryland. Library of Congress
Pinkerton is shown on horseback on the Antietam Battlefield in 1862. Pinkerton served on several undercover missions as a Union soldier using the alias Major E.J. Allen. This counterintelligence work done by Pinkerton and his agents is comparable to the work done by today's U. S. Army Counterintelligence Special Agents in which Pinkerton's agency is considered an early predecessor. Library of Congress
Award-winning author Marissa Moss has written the first children’s book about Allan Pinkerton. Everyone knows the story of Abraham Lincoln, but few know anything about the spy who saved him! Pinkerton had a successful detective agency, but his greatest contribution was protecting Abraham Lincoln on the way to his 1861 inauguration. Though assassins attempted to murder Lincoln en route, Pinkerton foiled their plot and brought the president safely to the capital. The Eye That Never Sleeps is illustrated with a contemporary cartoon style and includes a bibliography and a timeline.
MLA 8 Citation
Moss, Marissa. "How to Go From Being Wanted by the Police to Working For Them."
Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 23 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/
When she was a girl in Scotland, Frances or “Fanny” Wright fell in love with America, a new nation “consecrated to freedom.” On September 3, 1818, the 22-year-old writer set foot on that actual land of her dreams. She and her little sister Camilla, a pair of wealthy orphans, spent the next two years touring the young U.S. Young females did NOT go traveling without a man in those days, but Fanny believed that freedom should apply to women too!
Her 1821 book about her travels won her the friendship of another freedom fan, the Marquis de Lafayette, who’d helped free America from the British Empire. In 1824, the old Frenchman made sure Fanny met his friend, 81-year-old Thomas Jefferson and his friend, 73-year-old James Madison.
But wait – maybe you already see a fly in the soup. To Fanny, “slavery was revolting everywhere.” Slaves in the Land of Liberty was sickening! As much as she admired the two former presidents, she hated that they lived in slave-built mansions, waited on by people who had no choice but to do so. But slavery really did trouble them, too. Slavery trapped everyone in its evilness. With so much money tied up in costly human property, owners couldn’t afford to let them go. Could blacks support themselves, after lifetimes of being fed, housed, and denied education? Madison and Jefferson thought no; emancipation had to be gradual. Really, centuries of racial division had them and their countrymen thinking that the races could never live together. Surely blacks must go back to Africa! (In fact, many had already been sent there, to Monrovia, but that’s another story for another day.)
So Fanny planned farms where blacks could learn while they earned their freedom money. It was her way of freeing her beloved America from the curse of slavery. She published her idea and tried to make it work on Nashoba, her own farm in Tennessee, but her experiment failed. Then, in the late 1820s, she went around the eastern US, making speeches about all of her freethinking ideas and shocking the daylights out of people. A public-speaking woman was unheard of! Going around, talking about abolition, day care for working mothers, the rights of women and factory workers? SHOCKING! That’s the thing to know about Fanny Wright: She was one stubborn radical, WAY ahead of her time, imagining freedoms she never lived to see.
Cheryl Harness has written (and illustrated) short, spirited profiles of twenty women who impacted life in America by speaking out against injustice and fighting for social improvements. The book spans over two hundred years of American history and includes time lines for such important social movements as abolition, woman suffrage, labor, and civil rights. Readers inspired by these fiery women can use the civil action tips and resources in the back of the book to do some of their own rabble-rousing. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Shocking Fanny Wright." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 1
Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/