History from next door
by Lisa Tome
Lucy Maddox knows how to hold the attention of her audience.
Maddox, an author and retired professor from Georgetown University, attracted more than 20 attendees at Rising Sun Library last week and captivated them from the get go.
Her latest book "The Parker Sisters: A Border Kidnapping", has all the elements of a great work of fiction - villains, heroes, victims - but is a true story. The tale was widely documented in local newspapers in 1851.
"I got interested in local history. It turns out I stumbled upon something that I thought was interesting. I was researching something else when I came across this story," she said.
The Parker Sisters is her fourth book. The others, she said, are "more literary" which is fitting for Maddox who was a professor at Georgetown for 32 years having taught English, American Literature, and American Studies.
The Parker Sisters story was based near Cecil County, in East and West Nottingham, Pa. But the action also takes place in Baltimore and other areas. "I hope people enjoy this. It's in their own backyard," said Maddox.
"This was a new kind of writing for me. It's narrative history and I liked that very much. This (case) was well publicized and there was information available," said Maddox. "This was my first book during retirement and I liked it."
As she talked to those who attended the historical presentation and book signing, Maddox said she initially thought writing the book would be easy because there was so much information available. "But some of the people didn't do what I thought they would," she said.
The book is set in both Maryland and Pennsylvania - states with very different rules in 1851. Pennsylvania was a free state. Maryland was a slave state. The Parker sisters, Rachel and Elizabeth, were kidnapped and sold as slaves. "This happened a lot between Maryland and Pennsylvania. And we know a lot about this case because it became public. There were trials in Baltimore and the press covered those," explained Maddox. "The border (between the two states) was busy, interesting, and dangerous."
"People didn't ask if you were legal or a fugitive slave. They just didn't ask," said Maddox. "Pennsylvania and Maryland came to hate each other." She also said that Marylanders would cross the border into Pennsylvania and kidnap blacks and make them slaves.
"A captured slave could not testify on their own behalf," she said. She also said that free blacks from Pennsylvania were sold into slavery after being kidnapped. She said it happened countless times and was not documented.
The Parker sisters were kidnapped by a mailman who had a route to Chestnut Level from Elkton. Rachel Parker was kidnapped from Joseph Miller's farm. Her sister, who had more of a struggle from a young age, eventually ended up working in New Orleans.
Before going to New Orleans, Elizabeth Parker lived with a family whose leader arranged to have her kidnapped. Both sisters eventually ended up in jail in Baltimore, while the courts worked to establish ownership.
Maddox explained that the story included unexpected heroes; a Quaker who worked to help kidnapped slaves, and Joseph Miller, the man who took in Rachel, and was later killed. Miller's body underwent four autopsies and his body exhumed multiple times. About 70 white people from Chester County went to court to testify on behalf of Rachel Parker.
She is currently working on another historical piece set at Rose Hill Plantation near Cecilton. "I'm enjoying it. It's neat to drive around and (see where events occurred.) It provides me with a broader picture, makes it real and brings it to life," said Maddox, who now lives in Chestertown.
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