In 1846, slave catchers tried to capture escaped slave Adam Crosswhite and his family in Marshall to return them to their owner in Kentucky. Instead, the citizens of Marshall arrested the slave catchers and smuggled the Crosswhite family into Canada.
The Marshall citizens were later convicted of “depriving a man of his rightful property” in Detroit Federal Court. The citizens paid large fines, with help from donations gathered from along the Underground Railroad. This incident, and others like it, eventually led to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which guaranteed that escaped slaves had no rights, meaning they could not defend themselves in court.
It also led to instances where blacks who had always been free were sent into slavery, after slave catchers swore that they were the slaves they had been chasing. Since the blacks had no way of defending themselves, the slave catchers job became much easier but much more unfair.
In 1854, Senator Erastus Hussey from Battle Creek wrote and passed the Personal Liberty Law which stated that capturing escaped slaves was illegal within the State of Michigan, leading to conflicts between state and federal laws. This law and conflict became one of the major catalysts of the Civil War.
Crosswhite returned to live in Marshall after the Civil War and he is buried near his rescuers in Marshall’s Oakridge Cemetery.