The ceremony to honor Joseph Miller at the Union United Methodist Church in Fremont last Saturday was a fitting tribute to a man who died attempting to rescue two girls from a rogue slave catcher.

Chester County Facilities and park in conjunction with the West Nottingham Historical Commission reviewed the Parker kidnapping of 1851 and shared the information that several of the researchers had discovered in connection with this ugly chapter in American history.

There were many things to be learned and reflected on following this poignant and solemn event, including the terms of the Fugitive Slave Law, the intensity of emotions spawned by slavery and the courage of white Quakers to stand up against the treatment of two black girls, long before the Civil Right Movement of the 1960s.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 -- a decade before the Civil War -- provided that slaves who escaped from the South and reached the northern states would be returned to their masters. The fact that a law like this existed should be taught and taught again to young and growing minds. Let them ponder the depths of this concept.

The idea that anyone, even young girls of 10 and 16 years of age, were presumed to be someone's property and could be forced to work without any hope of freedom is abhorrent. That they could be separated from their families, sold and sent far away is even more horrific.

That these conditions could have existed and could have prompted a kidnapping in southern Chester County during this era of American history is something that this generation must hear about and prevent from ever happening again.

The intensity of feelings that many in the South bore encouraged them to engage in actions that were revealed in the murder of Joseph Miller, a man who, with his neighbors, could not stand by and see free-born blacks kidnapped and taken into slavery.

So enmeshed was the institution of slavery tied up with the economy of southern agriculture, that people like Thomas McCreary of Elkton, Md., picked up extra cash by meandering over the line in Pennsylvania, picking up blacks and selling them in Baltimore's slave trade. Two of his victims were Rachel and Elizabeth Parker of Nottingham.

When anyone tried to stop his efforts, he and his colleagues resorted to brutal torture and murder.

That hatred and feeling of entitlement is largely reduced, but it can be said that in most states and most regions there are pockets of animosity in people who would still act out against the descendants of former slaves, even though the generations that followed have been legally emancipated for years.

One can only hope that burning hatred will diminish in future generations of aggressors.

The good news is that throughout history there have been people of character who do not stand for injustice. Individuals of this high character didn't just pop up in the midst of the Civil Rights years, either.

Good and decent people have existed through the ages, and the stories of their courage a many.

Many of the Quakers who settled in William Penn's state had the strength to stand up for what they knew was right, and that, presumably is what drove Joseph Miller, his neighbors and Pennsylvania officials to spring into action and bring home the Parker sisters.

West Nottingham is a quiet township with a relatively small population. But the legacy of Joseph Miller is huge and the recognition of his actions speaks well for the residents who honored him on Saturday.

comments powered by Disqus