Original Document
Original Document
William Still, “Kidnapping of Rachel and Elizabeth Parker—Murder of Joseph C. Miller in 1851 and 1852," 1872.

Those who were interested in the Anti-Slavery cause, and who kept posted with reference to the frequent cases of kidnapping occurring in different Free States, especially in Pennsylvania, during the twenty years previous to emancipation, cannot fail to remember the kidnapping of Rachel and Elizabeth Parker, and the murder of Joseph C. Miller, who resided in West Nottingham township, Chester county, Pennsylvania, in the latter part of 1851, and the beginning of 1852.

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. For a long while the interest was kept alive, and even as lately as the past year (1870), we find the case still agitating the citizens of Chester county. Judge Benjamin I. Passmore, of said county, in defence of truth in an exhaustive article published in the "Village Record," West Chester, Oct. 12th, 1870, gives a reliable version of the matter, from beginning to end, which we feel constrained to give in full, as possessing great historical value, bearing on kidnapping in general, especially in Pennsylvania.


FRIEND EVANS:—I noticed in the "Village Record," a short time since, an article taken from the Delaware "Transcript," an obituary notice of the death of the noted character, whose name heads this article, in which false statements were made, relative to the outrage he committed in kidnapping Rachel and Elizabeth Parker, two colored girls who were then, 1851, residing in the southern portion of Chester county. In your paper of the 13th ult., I also read an answer to the charges and insinuations made in the "Transcript," against Joseph C. Miller, (whose life was basely destroyed), and other citizens of Chester county; as the occurrence took place in my immediate neighborhood, and I was familiar with all the facts and circumstances, I propose to give a truthful history of that vile and wicked transaction.

In the winter of 1851, the said McCreary in some unexplained way, took Elizabeth Parker, one of the said colored girls, from the house of one Donally (not McDonald), in the township of East Nottingham, where she was living; but little was said about it by Donally, or any one else. Soon after, McCreary with two or three others of like proclivities, called at the house of Joseph C. Miller, in West Nottingham, where Rachel was living, and seized her, gagged her, and placed her in a carriage and drove off. The screams of Mrs. Miller and her children, soon brought the husband and father to the rescue; he pursued them on foot, and at a short distance overtook them in a narrow private road, disputing with James Pollock, the owner of the land, whose wagon prevented them from passing. They turned and took another road, and came out at Stubb's Mill, making for the Maryland line with all possible speed; they arrived at Perryville before the train for Baltimore. Eli Haines and a young man named Wiley, who lived near Rising Sun, Maryland, about two miles from Joseph C. Miller's, arrived at the same place soon after, intending to go to Philadelphia. Mr. Haines knew Rachel, and seeing McCreary there, and her so overwhelmed in sorrow, at once guessed the situation of affairs, and he and Wiley changed their intentions of going to Philadelphia, and went in the same car with McCreary and his victim, to Baltimore, and quietly watched what disposition would be made of her, as they felt certain pursuit would be made.

As soon as possible, after McCreary had escaped from West Nottingham, Joseph C. Miller, William Morris, Abner Richardson, Jesse B. Kirk, and H.G. Coates, started in pursuit on horseback; when they arrived at Perryville, the train had gone, with the kidnapper and the girl; they followed in the next train. Soon after they arrived in Baltimore, they were met by Haines and Wiley, who had been on the lookout for a pursuing party, and they gave the information that Rachel was deposited in Campbell's slave-pen. They were directed by an acquaintance of one of the party, to Francis S. Cochran, a prominent member of the Society of Friends. Francis informed them he was well acquainted with Campbell, and he at once accompained them. Campbell assured Friend Cochran that whilst he approved of Slavery and catching runaway slaves, he despised kidnapping and kidnappers; and on the arrival of McCreary, he ordered him to remove Rachel forthwith, which he proceeded to do. Friend Cochran insisted on going with them, and saw the girl deposited in jail to await a legal investigation. By this time it was evening, and the Chester county men all went home with Cochran, where they had their suppers; the excitement being great, Friend Cochran did not consider it safe for them to go to the depot direct; he procured their tickets and had them driven by a circuitous route to the depot, charging them to keep together, and take their seats in the cars at once. Soon after they were seated and before the cars started, Miller stepped out on the platform to smoke, against the expostulations of his friends. Jesse B. Kirk, his brother-in-law and Abner Richardson followed immediately, and although they were right at his heels, he was gone; they called him by name, and stepped down into the crowd, but soon became alarmed for their own safety, and returned to their seats. A consultation was held, and it was agreed that Wiley, who was least known, and not directly identified with the affair, should pass through the train when it started, and see if Miller had not mistakenly got into another car. At Stemen's Run station, Wiley returned to the party with the sad tidings that Joseph C. Miller was not in that train. On consultation, it was agreed that Jesse B. Kirk and Abner Richardson should return from Perryville in the next train, and prosecute further search for Miller. They did so return, and McCreary also returned to Baltimore in the same car, he having left Baltimore in the car in the evening with the Chester county men; they arrived late in the night, and locked themselves up in a room in the first hotel they came to. Their search was fruitless, and they were forced to return home with the sad tidings that Miller could not be found. This intelligence aroused the whole neighborhood; public meetings were held to consult about what was best to be done. The writer presided at one of those meetings, which was largely attended, and it was with difficulty that the people could be restrained from organizing an armed force to kidnap and lynch McCreary. Better counsels, however, finally prevailed and it was resolved to send a party to Baltimore to prosecute further the search for Miller. About twenty men volunteered for the service; I went to the house of Joseph C. Miller, the morning they were to start, but they had met at Lewis Mellrath's, a brother-in-law of Miller. I was there endeavoring to console the aged mother and distracted wife and children of Joseph C. Miller, when word came that he had been found hanging to a limb in the bushes near Stemen's Run station, and such a scene of distress I hope may never again be my lot to witness; it was heart-rending in the extreme.

The party went to Baltimore, and such was the excitement that it was considered unsafe for the party to go out in a body in day-time. Levi K. Brown, who then resided in Baltimore, went with them by moonlight, and they disinterred the body, which they found about two feet under ground, in a rough box, with a narrow lid that freely admitted the dirt to surround his body in the box. No undertaker in Baltimore could be found that would allow the body left at his place of business whilst a coffin was prepared, and it was deposited in "Friends'" vault; a coffin was finally procured and William Morris and Abner Richardson started with it for his home. When they arrived at Perryville no one would render them any assistance, and they were compelled to leave the corpse in an old saw mill, and walk up to Port Deposit, a distance of five miles, in the night, the weather being extremely cold, and a deep snow on the ground. There they procured horses and a sled and started with the body, but when within a short distance of the Pennsylvania line they were overtaken by a messenger with a requisition from the Governor of Maryland to return the body to Baltimore county, in order that an inquisition and post-mortem examination might be held in legal form. With sorrowful hearts they turned back; (one of these young men told me that at no place south of Port Deposit could they get any one to assist them in handling the corpse). By this time the affair had created a great excitement, both in Chester county and the City of Baltimore. Rev. John M. Dickey, Hon. Henry S. Evans, then a member of the Senate. Brinton Darlington, then Sheriff of Chester county, and very many of the leading men took a deep interest in the matter; we all did our part. The Society of Friends in Baltimore took the matter in hand, and many other worthy citizens belonging to the Presbyterian Church and others lent their aid and influence. Hon. Henry S. Evans, who was then in the Senate of Pennsylvania, brought the matter before the Legislature, and the result was that the Governor appointed Judges Campbell and Bell, the latter of our county, to defend these two poor colored girls thus foully kidnapped.

The body of Miller underwent a post-mortem examination in Baltimore county, at which a great number of rowdies attended, who occupied their time drinking whisky and cursing the Pennsylvania Abolitionists; the body finally reached its distressed home for interment. Drs. Hutchinson and Dickey were called upon to make an examination, at which I was present, and all were clearly of opinion that he had been foully murdered. His wrists and ankles bore the unmistakable marks of manacles; across the abdomen was a black mark as if made by a rope or cord; the end of his nose bore marks as if held by some instrument of torture. His funeral took place, and his remains were followed to the grave by an immense concourse of sympathizing friends and neighbors.

Such, however, was the excitement, that the public demanded a further examination; he was disinterred again, and the same two eminent physicians made a thorough post-mortem examination, and one of them told the writer that there were not two ounces of contents in his stomach and bowels, and that there was abundant evidence of the presence of arsenic. His remains were again interred and suffered to remain undisturbed.

The theory of his friends was that he had been suddenly snatched from the platform of the car in the Baltimore Depot, gagged, stripped, and lashed down by the ankles and wrists, and a rope across his abdomen, that his nose had been held by some instrument, and that he was in this situation drenched with arsenic, and puked and purged to death, and that McCreary, or some one for him, had heard Wiley repeat at Stemen's Run Station, that he was not on the train, conceived the idea of taking his body there and hanging it to a tree to convey the idea that he had committed suicide at that place, and such was the statement published by some of the Maryland newspapers. His companions said he eat a very hearty supper that evening at Francis S. Cochran's, which with the other facts that his clothing were not soiled, and his stomach and bowels were empty, goes strongly to substantiate the theory that he had been stripped and foully murdered, as above indicated. Never was there a more false assertion than that the "broad brimmed Quakers in Pennsylvania were accomplices of McCreary," as it is well known that opposition to slavery has been a cardinal principle of the Society of Friends for a century. And that Joseph C. Miller committed suicide because of his being implicated in the kidnapping is a base fabrication. I knew Joseph C. Miller from boyhood intimately, and I here take pleasure in saying that he was an honest, unassuming man, of good moral character and stern integrity, and would have spurned the idea of any complication, directly or indirectly, with slavery or kidnapping.

It appears his foul murder was not sufficient to satisfy the friends of slavery and kidnapping, but an attempt is now made, after the victim has slumbered near twenty years in the grave, to blast his good name by insinuating that he was a party, or implicated in the vile transactions here narrated.

Rachel remained in jail; Elizabeth, who had been sold to parties in New Orleans, was sent for by Campbell, ample security having been given that she should be returned if proved to be a slave. Their trial finally came on, and after a long and tedious investigation they were both proven, by hosts of respectable witnesses to be free. They returned to their mother, in Chester county, who was still living.

The Grand Jury of Chester county found a true bill against McCreary for kidnapping, a requisition was obtained, and B. Darlington, Esq., then High Sheriff, proceeded with it to Annapolis; but the Governor of Maryland refused to allow McCreary to be arrested in that State.

Thus terminated this terrible affair, which cost the State of Pennsylvania nearly $3000, as well as a heavy expense to many citizens of Baltimore, and those of this county who took an active part, and whilst it is to be hoped that the principal actor in this sad transaction fully atoned for his evil deeds, whilst living, and his friends may have had a right to eulogize him after death, they should not have gone out of their way to traduce other parties, dead and alive, whose reputations were known by living witnesses, to be beyond reproach.


Credit: William Still, The Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters, &c. (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1872).
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