Capitol Hill Civil War Round Table

Keeping Civil War History Alive in Our Nation's Capital

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 Join us on May 1, 2017, when Milt Diggins discusses "Stealing Freedom Along the Mason-Dixon Line: Thomas McCreary, the Notorious Slave Catcher from Maryland"

The controversy over slave catching and kidnapping contributed to the growing hostility between Northern and Southern states in the decades leading up to the outbreak of Civil War, and this hostility was reflected in the growing anger between Maryland and Pennsylvania. The story of Thomas McCreary, a Maryland slave catcher and kidnapper, and his community presents a closeup view and insight into the controversies over slave catching. Prigg v. Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania’s personal liberty law of 1847; the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850; trials in Philadelphia, including the first two federal trials held in that city under the new fugitive slave law; the career of Philadelphia’s most notorious slave catcher, George F. Alberti; and the Christiana Riot and subsequent treason trial fold into the story of Thomas McCreary and his community. The Maryland government insisted McCreary was a heroic slave catcher, and proslavery advocates insisted on their constitutional right to recapture accused fugitive slaves without restrictions in northern states. Many Pennsylvanians, and some Marylanders and Delawareans, regarded McCreary a villainous kidnapper, and two Pennsylvania governors wanted him extradited from Maryland and tried for kidnapping. African Americans who experienced the brutality, communities outraged by the incursion of slave hunters, and abolitionists openly opposed to slavery struggled for social justice. But stakeholders in the institution of slavery went to great lengths, including murder, to protect the institution without qualms about their methods.

Milt Diggins received a Bachelor’s degree in history and a Master’s degree in secondary education at Towson University. He retired after teaching history for most of his thirty-two-year career in Cecil County, Maryland, but he rechanneled his enduring interest in history and he is now an independent scholar, author, public historian, and speaker.

He had served on the Historical Society of Cecil County Board of Trustees, and was the society’s volunteer editor for the Cecil Historical Journal. While serving as editor, Milt also contributed numerous articles for local publications, including the Maryland Historical Magazine.  He also wrote a local history book while serving as editor, Images of America: Cecil County. In 2014, the Maryland Historical Society published Stealing Freedom Along the Mason-Dixon Line: Thomas McCreary, the Notorious Slave Catcher from Maryland, and in January 2015, it was officially released through Johns Hopkins University Press.

In 2014, Milt researched and wrote about two Underground Railroad sites for the National Park Service's Network to Freedom project to verify and designate authentic UGRR sites. Since publication of Stealing Freedom, he has spoken to numerous groups and organizations in the region about slave catching, kidnapping, and the Underground Railroad. He presented two programs to an Underground Railroad conference in Troy, New York, and has spoken several times at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Conferences in Cambridge, Maryland. In May, he will join with other panelists for a discussion titled Kidnapped! at the National Underground Railroad Conference, being held this year in Cambridge, Maryland.

Incidentally, one article Milt wrote for the Cecil County Historical Journal, titled Cecil County’s Civil War General may be of interest to the members of the Capitol Hill Civil War Roundtable. The article discussed the career of William Whann Mackall, who was born in Washington, D. C. (some sources incorrectly state he was born in Cecil County), grew up in Cecil County, and is best known as General Joseph E. Johnston’s chief of staff. The article still makes the rounds on the internet, including here.


The presentation is free of charge. While a donation to help defray costs is appreciated, it is not required. 


Join us at 5:30 pm in the John Cosgrove Members' Lounge (formerly known as the Game Room). The National Press Club menu will challenge your palette and the very capable Club staff will be able to meet any libation request. Please bring cash or checks for payment.


The CHCWRT meets in the newly renovated John Cosgrove Members' Lounge of the prestigious and historic National Press Club, which is located at 529 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20045, on the 13th floor.

The National Press Building is conveniently located approximately two blocks from Metro Center (Blue, Orange and Red Lines).

FREE parking is available at the PMI garage located on the North side of G Street between 13th and 14th Streets, if you arrive at the garage after 5:00 p.m. and purchase food and/or drinks at the National Press Club. Just bring your parking ticket to the meeting for validation.