Peter C. Miele


On the night of July 23, 1845, six men rode into the sleepy hamlet of Bendersville. These men had traveled north to kidnap Catherine Paine and her three children and return them to slavery in Virginia. Under cover of darkness, the men burst into the cabin where Paine and her children slept. The terrified family was bound and forced into a waiting wagon. Before the sun was up, they were south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Catherine, age 29, and her children had resided in Adams County for two years. Before that, they were enslaved by the Maddox family of Rappahannock County, Virginia. After the death of Samuel Maddox Sr., the Paine family became property of Mary, his widow. Mary moved to Pennsylvania in 1843 with the Paines and other enslaved persons. Before returning to Virginia in March 1844, Mary granted Paine, her children, and several others their freedom.

In the wake of the attack, charges were brought against Thomas Finnegan, the main kidnapper. He had been hired by Samuel Maddox Jr., nephew of Samuel Sr. and heir to part of his estate. Maddox Jr. believed that Catherine and her children were his property and Mary could not free them. The case slowly wound its way through Pennsylvania’s legal system until late 1846, when Finnegan was sentenced to five years hard labor at Eastern State Penitentiary. Catherine Paine returned to Adams County. She died four years later.

The experience of the Paine family is only one of the many stories that establish south-central Pennsylvania as “Freedom’s Frontier.” Beginning with the commonwealth’s passing of “An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery” in 1780, this region became a battleground. Over the course of the next 65 years, enslaved men and women crossed the chasm of the Mason-Dixon Line to claim their freedom, while kidnappers prowled the region capturing free people and forcing them into bondage. As late as the Gettysburg Campaign in 1863, dozens of free African-Americans were rounded up by Lee’s Army and brought south.

On Sept. 14 and 15, Seminary Ridge Museum will host a unique experience titled “The Unfinished Work for Freedom.” This tour will take participants to some of the sites of importance in the battles for freedom in the 19th century. In addition to the story of Catherine Paine, we will look at soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts (immortalized in the 1989 film “Glory”) from Franklin County; the community of Little Africa in Greenwood and the Caledonia Iron Works; Boiling Springs resident Daniel Kauffman’s arrest for his role as a conductor on the Underground Railroad; and many more.

Lonnie Bunch, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and first director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, remarked in 2016, “African-American history is the quintessential American history. If you’re interested in American notions of freedom, if you’re interested in the broadening of fairness, opportunity and citizenship, then regardless of who you are, this is your story, too.”

We hope you join us for this special event and learn about the trials and triumphs of freedom in this region in the 19th century. For more information, and to register, visit our website at or call 717-339-1300.

We look forward to seeing you on the Ridge this fall.

Peter Miele is chief operating officer and director of education at Seminary Ridge Museum, Gettysburg.

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