Item #7389 [Manuscript letter of inquiry relating to the abduction of free Black teenager Rachel Parker in Pennsylvania.]. Thomas H. O’Neal, Secretary of State.

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[Manuscript letter of inquiry relating to the abduction of free Black teenager Rachel Parker in Pennsylvania.]

Annapolis, Maryland, 24 March 1853. Single 8vo sheet (9.75” x 7.75). 1 p. manuscript. Blindstamp of Platner & Smith at upper-left corner picturing the U.S. Capitol. CONDITION: Very good, old folds.

A letter of inquiry from Maryland Secretary of State Thomas O’Neal, on behalf of Governor Enoch L. Lowe, relating to a notorious case in which slave-catcher Thomas McCreary kidnapped free Black teenagers Rachel Parker and Elizabeth Parker in Pennsylvania.

The letter reads in full:


Executive Department,
March 24th, 1853.

H. P. Schoolfield, Esq.


Will you please inform the Governor, by return mail, by what authority and under what circumstances Thomas McCreary brought Rachel Parker into this state, as the supposed slave of your mother-in-law.

Very Respectfully
Your Obt. Servt.
(signed) Thos. H. O’Neal
Secretary of State.

[Postscript:] The original of the above was sent to you some days ago. Will you be so good as to send an immediate answer.

Yours &c.
Thos. H. O’Neal
Secy. of State.

The main body of the text is written by a clerk, while the postscript and the signatures are in Thomas H. O’Neal’s hand.

Free African American teenagers Rachel and Elizabeth Parker, who lived in Nottingham, Chester County, Pennsylvania, just north of the Maryland border, were kidnapped late in 1851 by the notorious slave-catcher Thomas McCreary of Elkton, Maryland and an accomplice, under the guise of their belonging to Baltimore slaveholder H. P. Schoolfield. Elizabeth, abducted at night, was taken to Baltimore and then New Orleans, where she was sold for $1500 to a woman who used her to tend her garden. Elizabeth’s younger sister Rachel was kidnapped a week later in broad daylight against the protests of her employers, Joseph Miller and family, and was taken to Baltimore. A large gathering of outraged individuals from Chester County including Miller soon pursued Rachel and rescued her from a Baltimore “slave pen”—but she was remanded to a jail until matters could be sorted out. There she languished for a year and was joined by sister Elizabeth, who was brought back from New Orleans.

After their initial rescue of Rachel, the rescuers on the train back to Pennsylvania noticed that Joseph Miller had suddenly disappeared and eventually found him hanging from a tree not far from the railroad line. Pro-slavery Maryland men said Miller was complicit with Rachel’s kidnapping and hung himself in shame. However, Judge Benjamin Passmore of Chester County, who knew Miller and was intimately involved with the entire case, published a statement on the affair in the West Chester Village Record in which he claimed Miller was clearly bound, tortured, and poisoned with arsenic before being hung.

Sixty white individuals from Chester County testified at Rachel and Elizabeth’s trial in January of 1853, and when McCreary and Schoolfield’s lawyers gave up the case, the sisters were freed to return to their mother in Pennsylvania. Afterward, Governor Bigler of Pennsylvania issued an indictment against McCreary for kidnapping, sending High Sheriff B. Darlington to Annapolis with the requisition. Thus began an unusual legal tussle between Maryland and Pennsylvania, ending in Governor Lowe’s refusal of all requests for McCreary’s extradition. Miller’s murderers were never brought to justice.

Harriet Beecher Stowe included the incident in her Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853). In The Underground Railroad (1872), William Stills writes: “Both the kidnapping and the murder at the time of the occurrence shocked and excited the better thinking and humane classes largely, not only in Pennsylvania, but to a considerable extent over the Northern States. It may be said, without contradiction, that Chester County, at least, was never more aroused by any one single outrage that had taken place within her borders, than by these occurrences.” In the American Anti-Slavery Society’s Tract No. 18, it is noted that the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 “was well called, by the New York Evening Post, “An Act for the Encouragement of Kidnapping.”

A rare artifact of an infamous episode stemming from the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act.

REFERENCES: May Jr., Samuel. Anti-Slavery Tracts No. 18 (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1856); Still, William. The Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, &c. (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1872).

Item #7389

On Hold

Price: $1,800.00