Prior to the Civil War, laws and court rulings aimed at keeping nearly four million African Americans enslaved jeopardized civil rights for free blacks. Whether born into freedom or legally granted freedom from enslavement, the existence of slavery was a constant threat to that freedom. African Americans residing in Pennsylvania and close to the Mason-Dixon line, an area continually scoured by slave catchers and kidnappers, were particularly aware of the threat.
Stealing Freedom Along the Mason-Dixon Line: Thomas McCreary, the Notorious Slave Catcher from Maryland takes a close-up view of the issue of slave catching and kidnapping through the framework of Thomas McCreary, a man engaged in both activities without concern for the difference, and his proslavery community. The narratives examine episodes of questionable arrests and kidnappings committed by McCreary and others. The victims had limited rights, and the proslavery laws gave advantages to their captors. But, surprisingly, despite limited rights, most of the victims in these stories did not remain victims. Those who managed to regain their freedom rather than disappear into the Deep South as slaves for life did so either through their own efforts, the efforts of their community, or the efforts of many outside their community committed to counteracting the injustice.
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