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Leominster to Recount Slave Sanctuary

February 13, 2019
Perhaps the only surviving photograph of the Drakes, with Jonathan wearing the stovepipe hat and Frances sitting next to him. PHOTOs COURTESY OF THE LEOMINSTER HISTORICAL SOCIETY Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LEOMINSTER -- There is an 168th anniversary celebration on Saturday that author, historian, attorney, and City Councilor Mark Bodanza said is arguably the most important date in the city’s history -- the day a fugitive slave was given shelter at the home of Jonathan and Frances Drake on Feb. 16, 1851.

To mark the occasion, Bodanza will offer those who attend an educational program from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the former home of the Drakes at 21 Franklin St. a blow-by-blow account of how the fugitive slave Shadrach Minkins used the Underground Railroad to find safe passage to Montreal, Canada -- and it came right through Leominster and Fitchburg.

Minkins, then 33, had escaped from bondage in Virginia and found his way to Boston where he worked as a waiter but was arrested by federal marshals using the authority of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

While in a Boston court to face charges, he was freed when a group of African-Americans burst into the courtroom, overwhelmed Minkins’ guards and spirited him to freedom.

During his passage north, he spent a night at Drake’s home and was then taken to the home of Benjamin Snow in Fitchburg.

Bodanza will provide that history, but with a detailed knowledge gleaned from years spent researching the Drakes, their contributions to the anti-slavery movement and their startling progressive views for the era.

And he will do so in the parlor of the Drake home, only feet from where Minkins was hidden only a day removed from being freed from the Boston courtroom.

When Bodanza held a similar talk last year over 300 people attended, so he suggests arriving early.

The event is free and sponsored by Historical Society and the office of Mayor Dean Mazzarella.

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