The Kidnapping of the Rachel and Elizabeth Parker and the Murder of Joseph C. Miller

Still, William. The Underground Railroad.  1871. Reprint, Project Gutenburg, 2005.

William Still’s book The Underground Railroad has a story about the kidnapping of Rachel and Elizabeth Parker from Chester County Pennsylvania, and the subsequent murder of Joseph C. Miller.  The story includes the characters: Rachel and Elizabeth Parker, Joseph C. Miller, Thomas McCreary, and John B. Campbell.  The Parker girls were kidnapped in Pennsylvania by McCreary and taken to John Campbell’s slave pen in Baltimore.  From there Elizabeth Campbell was sold to New Orleans, while Rachel remained imprisoned.  Joseph Miller and other Pennsylvanians pursued Thomas McCreary to Baltimore in order to recover Rachel and Elizabeth.  This is the basis of my project. The additional primary sources annotated here help to flesh out the characters, document the movements, and provide more details for the events of the story presented by Still.

Baltimore City Register of Wills (Wills), John Campbell, 1853-1855, Book NH 26, Folio 196, MSA CM 219-3, CR 136.

John Campbell died in 1854 and left all of his possessions to his wife Marian.  His will gave very few additional clues to Campbell’s identity, but when cross referenced with the 1850s census, the will allows researchers to confirm the location of his property holdings. 

Baltimore City Register of Wills (Administration Accounts), John Campbell, 1854, Book NH 61, MSA CM 193, CR 9548.

The administration of John Campbell’s estate after his death shows his economic profile.  He owned a country estate in Baltimore County on York Road which sold for $3,300.  He was owed small amounts of money from various individuals, and those amounts were paid to his widow Marian.  Judging from his assets, Campbell was in the lower elite-landowning class.

Campbell, John. “$10 Reward.” Baltimore Sun. June 19, 1846.  (accessed November 3, 2014).

In this Runaway ad, John Campbell offers a $10 reward for a slave named Caroline.  He lists his address of residence for Caroline’s return.  This address is at Pratt and High Street near what is now Little Italy.  On the 1850 census there were several foreign born lodgers living at Campbell’s address, it is likely that Campbell rented rooms in his home to lodgers because of his adjacency to Baltimore’s harbor.  His house was a convenient location for travelers to stay upon their arrival, or as a stop along their voyage.

Independent Whig. “Bigler and the Honor of the State.” The Raftman’s Journal, October 4, 1854, image 2. (accessed November 3, 2014).

Rachel and Elizabeth Parker had been kidnapped out of Pennsylvania and brought to Maryland for sale into slavery. Two years later, when this article appeared, the kidnapping was still the subject of tension between leaders in Maryland and Pennsylvania.  This inflammatory article in The Raftman’s Journal expresses anger at Governor Bigler of Pennsylvania for allowing Governor Lowe of Maryland to “trample on our constitutional rights.”  By 1854, the issue of slavery had become a matter of state honor and this article reflects the ongoing struggles across the border of freedom and slavery.

Masser, H.B. “The Recent Kidnapping Case.” Sunbury American and Shamokin Journal, January 17, 1852, image 2. (accessed Novemver 3, 2014).

This article describes the growing tension between Pennsylvania as a free state and Maryland as a slave state.  It places the murder of Joseph Miller and the kidnapping of Rachel and Elizabeth Parker into a larger struggle between free and slave states.  The article refers to the Christiana riots and the murder of Edward Gorsuch, comparing the murder of Joseph Miller as similar and suggesting that violence is inevitable along the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.

Mysterious Death.” Jeffersonian Republican, January 15, 1852, Image 2. . (accessed November 3, 2014).

This is the first known account of both the Rachel Parker kidnapping and the murder of Joseph Miller.  It does not explicitly implicate slave-catcher Thomas McCreary as Miller’s murderer, but a connection is implied.  The article expresses righteous indignation against Maryland kidnappers enslaving free Pennsylvanians.

 “United States Census, 1850,” index and images, FamilySearch (accessed 03 Nov 2014), John Campbell, Baltimore county, part of, Baltimore, Maryland, United States; citing family 2387, NARA microfilm publication M432, NARA microfilm publication M432, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.’

This is likely the John B. Campbell referenced in William Still’s story in The Underground Railroad.  John Campbell and his wife Marian were born in Ireland.  Campbell had lodgers from Ireland and Germany, who probably stayed with him due to his closeness to the harbor at Pratt and High streets.  If, alternatively, Campbell lived in Baltimore County and was a farmer, as the census suggests, these tenants could have been servants.  I doubt this however, because the other tenants were families, Harvey and Perry (I read the name as Perry but the handwriting is difficult to decipher; it could easily be another name).  Also, the Baltimore County estate on York road that was sold upon Campbell’s death was being rented out, so it was not the Campbells’ primary residence.

Adapted from Annotated Bibliography for The Murder of Joseph C. Miller by Michael Stone

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