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Adams County Pa. Related Historical Articles

The kidnapping of ex-slave Kitty Payne

Debra McCauslin

Catherine “Kitty” Payne and her three children were living freely in Adams County’s Menallen Township starting in May 1843. She, a widow, had been a slave in Virginia, but she and her children were given their freedom and escorted to Pennsylvania by her owner, Mrs. Mary Maddox. Mrs. Maddox lived in Adams County with Payne and her children for about ten months before she returned to Virginia.

In July 1845, in the middle of the night, Thomas Finnegan and four assailants broke into Payne’s home, gagged her and her children, put them in a wagon and took them back to Virginia to serve Finnegan’s client as slaves. Apparently, someone in the Menallen neighborhood witnessed or learned of the event and reported the incident to local authorities.

In 1846, the kidnappers were arrested and tried in the Adams County Courts. They were found guilty of “forcibly and unlawfully taking Payne and her children back to Virginia with the intention of keeping them as slaves” and sentenced to five years of solitary confinement.

Adams County Court of Quarter Sessions records and Gettysburg newspapers revealed some of the details of the incident. Mrs. Maddox, a resident of Rappahannock County, Virginia, situated among the rolling foothills of the South Mountain southeast of Front Royal, gave Payne and her children their freedom after Maddox’s husband died. According to Mr. Maddox’s will, all of his property was granted to his wife upon his death. Mr. Maddox also stipulated that upon Mrs. Maddox’s death, all of her property would go to a nephew, Samuel Maddox, Jr. Apparently, after Mrs. Maddox died, Samuel Maddox felt that his Aunt Mary should not have manumitted Kitty and her children, so he hired Finnegan and his henchmen to perform the task of returning what he considered to be “his property.”

The Court of Quarter Sessions documents also revealed the names of the individuals who testified against the kidnappers. Six of them were members of the Society of Friends (better known as Quakers) belonging to the Menallen Meeting. Other witnesses for the prosecution were Amon and Rachel Jones, and Jane Roberts. These three individuals, according to the Adams County census, were blacks living in Menallen Township.

These court records of the 1840s also provide evidence of the collaboration between local Quakers and some of the blacks in the area. Together, they assisted others in obtaining a life of freedom, removing them from the horrors of slavery, some of them moving along the “Underground Railroad.” Furthermore, the court records document that those collaborations were occurring in Adams County long before the issue of slavery ignited a Civil War which practically brought the issue to their doorsteps in 1863.

Tragically, we do not know if Mrs. Payne and her children ever enjoyed a free life after the trial.

Read other articles by Debra McCauslin

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