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State historical marker for Underground Railroad activity in Harrisburg's Tanner Alley neighborhood, located at Walnut Street near Fourth.

to seek

The Underground Railroad
in Central Pennsylvania



Attempted Capture of McCreary, 1853

Excerpt from a letter from David G. Smith

I recently finished reviewing your excellent piece on the Rachel Parker case, a true tragedy. In my research in Adams County, I noticed that one of the newspapers printed a piece on McCreary almost being mobbed and arrested a week before the Parker case broke. I wonder if it was a mistake - if it happened afterwards (although I doubt McCreary left Balto.). If true, McCreary may have just missed his just desserts right before the Parker kidnapping.

Here's a short summary of the piece. It undoubtedly was taken from somewhere else, probably a Lancaster paper, as Lancaster and Gettysburg were linked through Thaddeus Stevens.

Attempt to Arrest a Marylander Thomas McCreary, of Elkton, Md., who is the mail contractor between that place and Chestnut Level, Pa., having made himself obnoxious to some Pennsylvanians, in consequence of his efforts to help arrest fugitive slaves, a possee [sic] of them, a few nights ago, made an attempt to arrest him in a house near Lancaster. He, however, successfully defended himself Star and Republican Banner, January 2, 1853, p. 2 c.3.

Do you know anything about this incident? This seems to hint at a lot of activity with McCreary right before the Parker case - perhaps the capture of Elizabeth? Or do you think this incident happened after Rachel was captured - perhaps when McCreary tried to deliver the mail?

David Grant Smith, posted March 12, 2005

Editor's note:  This particular incident was previously unknown to us, and adds a dramatic sidelight to the story of the Parker kidnapping.  It appears to have occurred just as the Parker case was approaching a resolution.  In the final stages of the case, reported January 4, 1853, Rachel and Elizabeth Parker were released from their Maryland imprisonment in exchange for Pennsylvania's vow not to pursue charges against either McCreary of his accomplice John Merritt.  It is possible that McCreary was feeling relatively safe from legal consequences, having anticipated the deal.

 We have recently found more news articles that mention McCreary, mostly in regard to additional kidnappings and captures of fugitive slaves.  It is clear why the local newspapers of the time often referred to "the infamous McCreary."  We will be running additional details of McCreary's exploits in a future article.

See also the letter from Milt Diggins, of Maryland, who is actively researching Thomas McCreary and other slave catchers/kidnappers along the Maryland-Pennsylvania border.


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