Meeting of June 13, 2019

Join us at 7:15 PM on Thursday, June 13, at Camden County College in the Connector Building, Room 101. This month’s topic is

Milt Diggins on “Stealing Freedom Along the Mason-Dixon Line: Thomas McCreary, the Notorious Slave Catcher from Maryland”

Slave catching and kidnapping, and the politically blurred distinction between them, contributed to growing hostility in the decades prior to the Civil War, a controversy that inflamed passions along the Mason-Dixon Line. The story of Thomas McCreary, a Maryland slave catcher and kidnapper, and his community presents a closeup view and insight into the controversies over slave catching. Prigg v. Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania’s efforts to protect the rights of its citizens and residents; the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; trials in Philadelphia; the career of Philadelphia’s notorious slave catcher, George F. Alberti; and the Christiana Resistance and subsequent treason trial fold into this story. The Maryland government insisted McCreary was a heroic slave catcher, and proslavery advocates insisted on their constitutional right to recapture accused fugitive slaves without restrictions in northern states. Many Pennsylvanians, and some Marylanders and Delawareans, regarded McCreary a villainous kidnapper, and two Pennsylvania governors wanted him extradited from Maryland and tried for kidnapping. African Americans who experienced the brutality, communities outraged by the incursion of slave hunters, and abolitionists openly opposed to slavery struggled for justice. But stakeholders in the institution of slavery went to great lengths, including murder, to protect the institution without qualms about their methods.

Milt Diggins is a retired educator, an independent researcher, public historian, speaker, and the author of Stealing Freedom along the Mason-Dixon Line: Thomas McCreary, the Notorious Slave Catcher from Maryland. He has researched the Underground Railroad, slave catching, and kidnapping in the Philadelphia-Wilmington-Baltimore Corridor, and he has given numerous presentations on those issues throughout the region. His book, Stealing Freedom along the Mason-Dixon Line, published by the Maryland Historical Society, uses the story of an Elkton slave catcher and kidnapper to frame a larger story of slave catching and kidnapping in the region around the time of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.