He escaped from slavery in 1850 to settle in Boston, Massachusetts, where he became a waiter. Later that year, Congress enacted the Fugitive Slave Law, which allowed federal agents to seize escaped slaves living in free states and return them to their owners.
United States marshals, who posed as customers at Taft’s Cornhill Coffee House where Minkins worked, arrested him on February 15, 1851.
Writ of habeas corpusMinkins was taken to a hearing at the Boston courthouse. Attorneys, including Samuel E. Sewall, Ellis Gray Loring, Robert Morris and Richard Henry Dana, Jr., offered their services to defend Minkins. Seeking to have Minkins released from custody, they filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with the Supreme Judicial Court, which was refused by Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw.
Edward G. Walker, Robert Morris and Lewis Hayden collaborated to obtain Shadrach's release. He was rescued by white and black members of the anti-slavery Boston Vigilance Committee, including Hayden, who entered the courtroom and used force to take Minkins from the marshals. He was hidden in an attic in Beacon Hill. Minkins escaped Massachusetts with the help of John J. Smith, Lewis Hayden and others. Nine abolitionists were indicted, charges were dismissed for some of the individuals. Morris and Hayden were tried and acquitted.