The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was much stronger than an earlier 1793 fugitive slave law. Armed with a legal affidavit describing the fugitive, a slaveowner or his representative need only convince a federal commissioner that a captive was his property. No court or trial was necessary, and no defense was guaranteed. Particularly infuriating to blacks and other abolitionists was the provision that compelled bystanders to assist in captures or face fines and imprisonment.
Antislavery forces organized vigilance committees to protect fugitive slaves from the increased danger, and many were rescued from slavecatchers. For example, abolitionists spirited William and Ellen Craft out of Boston and sent them to England; a group of blacks burst into a Boston hearing room, freed Shadrach Minkins (known in Boston as Fred Wilkins) and carried him to Canada; a crowd in Syracuse overwhelmed jail guards and freed Jerry McHenry. There were also many unsuccessful rescue attempts, such as the cases of Thomas Sims in 1851 and Anthony Burns in 1854, both of whom were returned to slavery after reaching Boston. Such events generated public sympathy for the antislavery cause. Resistance to the federal law in Boston was so strong that 2000 soldiers were required to escort Anthony Burns to the ship that returned him to Virginia.
- African American History: Early Abolitionist Efforts (egrejeen.wordpress.com)