At his hero ancestor’s gravesite

by Tim Tefft
The Greenwich Journal and Salem Press
May 24, 2012

Greenwich Mayor David Doonan was one of a number of special guests at a program held Saturday, May 19, at a “remote church” (two plus hours from Philadelphia and an hour and a half from Baltimore) “surrounded by Amish farms” and “less than a mile from the Mason-Dixon Line.”

The mayor is a descendant of a West Nottingham, PA, man, Joseph Miller, who was murdered in Maryland in late December 1851 after he attempted to rescue a young woman, Rachel Parker, who worked in his house as a domestic servant. She was a free Black but had been taken (abducted) by a “slave catcher” acting under the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Act.

Last year, after a historic marker was erected at West Nottingham commemorating the abductions of Rachel and her sister Elizabeth (several weeks earlier), a search was begun for descendants of the Parker sisters and Miller.

Above, some that were found and able to attend the event last weekend, are pictured at the gravesite of Miller. David says that the woman “with the hat front and center” is his Aunt Helen, “the closest living descendant of Joseph Miller.” (David, with a look of gazing to penetrate the past, is at the far left in the photograph.)

Last week we printed a full story about the Parker abduction and Miller’s murder. David further explains, “About a year after [Miller’s] death, a trial was held in Baltimore to determine if Rachel and her sister Elizabeth were escaped slaves, or born free (such a bizarre expression). Over 60 people traveled from West Nottingham, PA, to Baltimore for the trial, including the Pennsylvania governor and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice to speak in their behalf. The Maryland judge gave up before all could testify and set Rachel and Elizabeth free.”

David adds, “At the time, the story made the news as far away as England and Sweden. When Harriet Beecher Stowe was questioned about the authenticity of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she followed up with The Keys to Uncle Tom’s Cabin that presented the historical research she did for the novel.” Included in that book’s “Abduction” chapter was information about Rachel’s kidnapping and Joseph’s murder and information about the abduction of a free Black, Solomon Northup, who had connections in Washington County and spoke locally (at the Reformed Dutch Church in Greenwich) after he was rescued from servitude in the Deep South.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was originally published in a Washington, D.C., newspaper, The National Era, which did much to publicize the Parker abduction and Miller murder case. William H. Mowry of Greenwich was a financial backer of that newspaper, contributing thousands of dollars to it.

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