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Stealing Freedom Along the Mason-Dixon Line

, 254 pages
November 2015



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Stealing Freedom Along the Mason-Dixon Line

Thomas McCreary, the Notorious Slave Catcher from Maryland

This is the story of Thomas McCreary, a slave catcher from Cecil County, Maryland. Reviled by some, proclaimed a hero by others, he first drew public attention in the late 1840s for a career that peaked a few years after passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Living and working as he did at the midpoint between Philadelphia, an important center for assisting fugitive slaves, and Baltimore, a major port in the slave trade, his story illustrates in raw detail the tensions that arose along the border between slavery and freedom just prior to the Civil War. McCreary and his community provide a framework to examine slave catching and kidnapping in the Baltimore-Wilmington-Philadelphia region and how those activities contributed to the nation’s political and visceral divide.

Milt Diggins, an independent scholar, is a former editor of the Cecil Historical Journal and a frequent contributor to local publications.

"An extraordinary book—the terrifying tale of real life human hunters who earned their living legally tracking and capturing escaped slaves, and kidnapping free people of color, in the decades leading to the Civil War. Diggins weaves a compelling narrative of a notorious slave hunter, Thomas McCreary, and others like him, who operated for years along the border between slavery and freedom in Maryland and Pennsylvania. While white and black abolitionists, escaped slaves, and their free neighbors fought McCreary and others with fists, guns, and through the courts, they discovered that the man-hunters found much support for their legal and extra-legal activities, even at the cost of innocent lives and the freedom of many more. A must-read!"

"There is no other Underground Railroad book quite like this excellent study from Milt Diggins. Stealing Freedom offers the most sophisticated portrait yet crafted about a notorious slave catcher and about the tragic realities of antebellum kidnapping along the Mason-Dixon Line."

"Milt Diggins presents the Mason-Dixon Line as a perpetually shifting boundary between slavery and freedom, a border region in which free people of color as well as fugitive slaves lived in constant danger, and kidnappers operated with the government’s blessing."

"A thorough and thoughtful study those researching the Underground Railroad or the growing conflict between North and South over slavery should have on their bookshelves. We need more books like this."