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Lincoln Boasts of “Slave Stampedes”

LincolnOn Friday evening, January 9, 1863, Abraham Lincoln held a private meeting at the White House with two key Republican senators –John P. Hale of New Hampshire and Orville H. Browning of Illinois—where he boasted proudly about the reaction of Missouri slaves to his recently issued Emancipation Proclamation.  While pointing at a map of the western borderland area, featuring Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, the president claimed that since the first public announcement of emancipation (September 22, 1862), “the negroes were stampeding in Missouri,” creating a backlash among Democrats in that region.  Lincoln wanted to use this moment to press for a compensated abolition measure in Missouri, describing this Western slave state, according to the revealing but little-known entry in Browning’s diary, as “an empire of herself,” claiming it would be more than “enough” for the legacy of each of these three men, “if we make Missouri free.”[1]  Lincoln’s use of the concept of the slave stampede was surely no accident.  He had personal experience with that term, because he had seen it bandied about in

newspaper article

Illinois State Journal, January 22, 1850

Springfield newspapers about a dozen years earlier, when his neighbor, Jameson Jenkins, a free black drayman, was accused of orchestrating a “slave stampede” from Missouri during the early weeks of 1850. Modern scholarship on the Underground Railroad and emancipation has not done enough to emphasize the impact of this concept of the “slave stampede” on the mindset of politicians like Lincoln.  Nor has there been quite enough attention to the importance of mass escapes within the overall process of seeking freedom in antebellum America.  This online research journal represents the first stage of a joint effort by the National Park Service (NPS) Network to Freedom and the House Divided Project at Dickinson College to address this relative oversight with new evidence and more extended analysis.  On this blog site, we will post examples of the historical material we are turning up in our digital and archival searches.  Eventually, these findings will form the basis of an online report and freely accessible database designed to provide resources for anyone who wants to teach or learn about this important subject.  For now, however, please consider this site as a kind of open historical laboratory.  We are trying to share our progress as it develops, seeking your input and assistance whenever it might be helpful.


[1] Diary entry, January 9, 1863 in Theodore Calvin Pease and James G. Randall, eds., The Diary of Orville Hickman Browning (2 vols., Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1925), 1: 611-12.

Black Authors and Fictional Stampedes

DelaneyMartin R. Delay’s Blake or the Huts of America (1859-1862) is often identified as the first black nationalist novel. It tells the story of Henry Blake as he escapes from slavery and tries to find his wife who had been sold away from him. However, Blake’s overarching goal was to unify the enslaved people  and fight for freedom together. At first printed serially in a black owned newspaper, the chapters were later gathered and edited into a single work. Delany used the word stampede once in Chapter 20, “The Pursuit,” writing:

“The absence of Mammy Judy, Daddy Joe, Charles, and little Tony, on the return early Monday morning of Colonel Franks and lady from the country, unmistakably proved the escape of their slaves, and the further proof of the exit of ‘squire Potter’s Andy and Beckwith’s Clara, with the remembrance of the stampede a few months previously, required no further confirmation of the fact, when the neighborhood again was excited to ferment.”

In this case, an incident that could be describe as a stampede reminds the community of a mass escape that had taken place a few months prior.  Delany’s usage, however, provides insight into how slave holders responded to stampedes. He wrote that the town’s “advisory committee was called into immediate council, and ways and means devised for the arrest of the recreant slaves recently left, and to prevent among them the recurrence of such things; a pursuit was at once commenced.” Delany’s fictional account illustrates real white anxiety surrounding stampedes.

HarperIola Leroy or Shadows Uplifted by African American writer Francis E.W. Harper was published in 1892. The novel follows a mixed race family’s struggle with enslavement, freedom, and identity during the Civil War. The family “passed” as white.  In the novel, Harper used the word ‘stampede’ three times. Each use was in relation to a single incident where a group of enslaved people plotted a mass escape to join the Union Army, camped nearby.

First, Harper wrote, “A few evenings before the stampede of Robert and his friends to the army, and as he sat alone in his room reading the latest news from the paper he had secreted,” (Harper, 32). Here Harper did not use the term explicitly in connection with slaves, but Robert was an enslaved figure who was passing as white.  His friends were formerly enslaved people.

The next instance reads, “When [the Union Army] came, there was a stampede to its ranks of men ready to serve in any capacity, to labor in the tents, fight on the fields, or act as scouts” (Harper, 36). This was a reference to runaway slaves.  Harper added, “It was the strangest sight to see these black men rallying around the Stars and Stripes” (Harper, 36).

The final time that the term “stampede” appeared in the novel, it was when the character Iola announced that, “A number of colored men stampeded to the Union ranks, with a gentleman as a leader, whom I think is your brother” (Harper, 196).


Database Report -Hannibal Messenger

Stampede article

Hannibal Messenger, March 19, 1857 (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Missouri)

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Cooper Wingert between March 19-24, 2019.
  • Keywords: slave and stampede.
  • Totals: 3 hits

Top Results

  • In March 1857, the Hannibal Messenger reported on a proposed railroad between Palmyra, Missouri and Quincy, Illinois, noting fears that “if a railroad connection from Missouri was made with that place [Quincy] we might expect a general stampede of all the negroes in the State.” (“Dr. Jeter’s Letter,” Hannibal Messenger, March 19, 1857)
  • In December 1859, the paper reprinted part of a letter from the postmaster of Emerson, located in northwestern Marion County, Missouri. He noted that “a day or two since a lot of negroes in this neighborhood were making preparations for a general stampede, but the scheme was detected before they got off, and their plans defeated.” (Hannibal Messenger, December 6, 1859)
  • The paper reprinted a widely circulated report of the Margaret Garner case, describing “a stampede of slaves from the border counties of Kentucky” in late January 1856. (Hannibal Messenger, February 2, 1856)

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General Notes

  • The Hannibal Messenger is available to the public through the State Historical Society of Missouri’s digital newspapers collection.
  • The paper also reported on one of our key timeline events, the escape of a large family of slaves from St. Louis in July 1856. Although frequently referred to as a “stampede” in the press, the Hannibal Messenger simply noted that “some nine negroes ranaway from Judge Walsh… in St. Louis. A reward of $1,500 is offered for their recovery.” (Hannibal Messenger, July 19, 1856)

    Stampede article Missouri

    Hannibal Messenger, July 19, 1856

Database Report- Charleston Courier

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Amanda Donoghue from March 4 – March 8, 2019
  • Keywords: stampede, stampeded, stampeding, various combinations of synonyms of stampede + slave (slave + exodus, slave + escape, etc.)
  • Total: 1 hit (but outside time frame)

Top Results

  • “One thousand negro men stampeded from their employers in Georgia in spite of contracts, and crops are consequently precarious.” (“Gleanings,” Charleston MO Charleston Courier, May 18, 1866)

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Clipping of article from Charleston Courier

Charleston MO Charleston Courier, May 18, 1866

General Notes

  • Charleston Courier was a newspaper run from 1859 to 1875 out of Charleston, MO in Mississippi County. The Missouri State Historical Society provides this paper online in searchable form through their Digital Collections Project.
  • While the May 1866 article is outside the project timeline, its usage of the word “stampede” in reference to free black sharecroppers, rather than escaping slaves, suggests staying power for the term.
  • In addition to the article search, I tested the accuracy of the database website’s text search function. Using the website’s advanced search, which allows users to search within specific newspapers, I searched for pre-selected terms found in a random selection of articles to check that each article was presented in the results of the search. Overall, it seemed that the function correctly found all the articles that contained the search terms.

Database Report- Boonville Weekly Observer

Article clipping from Boonville Weekly Observer

Boonville MO Boonville Weekly Observer, December 13, 1856

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Amanda Donoghue from March 4 – March 8, 2019
  • Keywords: stampede, stampeded, stampeding, various combinations of synonyms of stampede + slave (slave + exodus, slave + escape, etc.)
  • Total: 1 hit

Top Results

  • “The free negroes at [Murfreesboro], Tenn, took a compulsory stampede from that place last week. Their depredations had become insufferable to the citizens, and their pernicious influence among the slave population made them a serious grievance. Self-preservation compelled the whites to stringent measures to get rid of them, and a general stampede ensued during last week.” (Boonville MO Boonville Weekly Observer, December 13, 1856)

General Notes

  • Boonville Weekly Observer was a newspaper run from 1854 to 1856 out of Booneville, MO in Cooper County. The Missouri State Historical Society provides this paper online in searchable form through their Digital Collections Project.
  • The December 1856 article on Murfreesboro, TN featured above was originally printed in the New York Herald, explained in this post.
  • An 1855 issue of this paper uses the word “stampede” to describe a forced migration of Kickapoo Native Americans (Boonville MO Boonville Weekly Observer, September 22, 1855)

Database Report –Palmyra Whig

Missouri Stampede article

Palmyra MO Whig, November 8, 1849 (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Missouri)

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Cooper Wingert between March 5-7, 2019.
  • Keywords: slave and stampede, including variant “negro stampede.” The term “stampeding” did not yield relevant results.
  • Totals: 8 hits

Top Results

  • In November 1849, the Palmyra Whig provided detailed coverage of the sizable “negro stampede” near Canton, Missouri, in neighboring Lewis County. Some 27 “men, women and children” armed themselves with “guns, knives and bludgeons” and made their way towards freedom. When they were discovered near Canton, “an effort was made to take them, which they resisted.” After a slave who “appeared to be the master-spirit of the party” was killed, “the rest were taken without much trouble.” However, the paper warned slaveholders and readers in general to “keep a vigilant watch on their servants.” (“Negro Stampede,” Palmyra Whig, November 8, 1849)
  • A week later, the paper reported that “the leaders in the stampede have been shipped to St. Louis and sold.” (“The Lewis County Affair,” Palmyra Whig, November 15, 1849)
  • In February 1854, the paper published the proceedings of a public meeting held in Fabius Township, Marion County, “that particular portion of the county which suffered in the recent stampede of negroes” in November 1853. The stampede cost the slave owners of Fabius “some $15,000,” the paper reported. “They have been wantonly, wickedly robbed of their property,” the column declared. (“Prompt Proceedings,” Palmyra Whig, February 23, 1854)
  • In October 1854, the paper reprinted a column from the Lexington, Missouri Weekly Express, which reported that “a stampede had taken place among the blacks in the neighborhood of Dover, [Missouri], and that it was suspected that whitemen were concerned in inducing slaves in that locality to leave their masters.” Local slaveholders accused “a party of Jewish peddlers” of providing the slaves with money and “maps, with the roads to be traveled marked out.” Several of the escaped slaves were recaptured after having crossed to the north side of the Missouri river, and one fugitive “resisted, and was shot before taken, but it is not thought to endanger his life.” (Lexington, MO Weekly Express, quoted in “Runaway,” Palmyra Whig, October 5, 1854)
  • In October 1856, under the heading “Another Stampede,” the Palmyra Whig complained about the “frequent departures of slaves for parts unknown.” Reporting on group escapes had become “a sort of regular recurring duty imposed on the local press of this portion of Missouri.” The most recent “stampede” involved a free African-American named Isaac McDaniel, who “stole not only his wife, but some four or five other slaves in the neighborhood” of Hannibal, Missouri. McDaniel’s party also “stole a horse and buggy belonging to his wife’s master,” to effect their escape. (“Another Stampede,” Palmyra Whig, October 23, 1856)
  • Quoting the Lexington, Kentucky Atlas, the Palmyra Whig carried a column about a “stampede” of “between forty and seventy negroes” from Kentucky. The incident ended after a violent clash and the recapture of many of the freedom seekers, along with a white college student who had assisted in their escape. (Lexington, KY Atlas, quoted in Palmyra Whig, August 24, 1848)
  • In May 1851, the paper reprinted a column from the Maysville, Kentucky Post-Boy, which noted that “during the past week a leave-taking fever has prevailed among the slaves in this section. On Sunday night a woman and three children, the property of Miss Weeden of our city, left. On Wednesday night, nineteen in one gang, left their owners in Lewis… From Nicholas several have also left within a few days.” (Maysville, KY Post-Boy, quoted in, “Negro Stampede,” Palmyra Whig, May 5, 1851)

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General Notes

  • The Palmyra Whig is available to the public through the State Historical Society of Missouri’s digital newspapers collection.
  • Coverage is missing from late 1853, when a major stampede on our timeline occurred from Marion County.

Database Report –Western Citizen

Missouri Stampede article

Chicago, IL Western Citizen, November 13, 1849

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Cooper Wingert from February 8-March 1, 2019
  • Keywords:  Microfilm research, with a focus on coverage of major timeline events
  • Totals:  2 hits
  • NOTE: We will update this post once we have completed the digitization of the Western Citizen.

Top Results

  • The paper included a very brief report on the November 1849 stampede from Canton, Missouri, noting that “the slaves who stampeded” were “overpowered, after a desperate resistance.” (Chicago IL Western Citizen, November 13, 1849)

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Maryland stampede article

Chicago, IL Western Citizen, September 28, 1852

General Notes

  • Generally, the major stampedes on our timeline are not being covered by the Western Citizen.
  • Coverage of November 1853 is missing.
  • In December 1853, the paper changed its name to The Free West.

Database Report: Accesible Archives

Newspaper clipping

The Vincennes Gazette, April 4, 1863.

Search Summary

  • A search conducted by Sarah Aillon between January 19, 2019 – February 13, 2019
  • Keywords: “stampede” on its own, “negro stampede,” “slave stampede,” and “black stampede.”
  • Total Hits: Approximately 50 hits.

Top Results:

  • The Vincennes Gazette republished a column written by the North Missouri Courier in April of 1863 , which read, “some thirty or forty American citizens of African descent owned in and around this city, evidently wary of waiting for Congress and the Legislature to make Missouri a free state” fled Missouri, “therefore quietly abolishing themselves into Illinois.” (“Slave Stampede from Hannibal,” The Vincennes Gazette, Vincennes, Indiana, April 4, 1863, Accessible Archives)
  • In early 1856, The Liberator wrote on the Cincinnati Commercial’s report of “another stampede of six slaves” from Boone County, Missouri; the article suspected that the group “took the icy bridge above California,” but that there were no reports of fugitive’s whereabouts. (“Slave Stampede,” The Liberator, Boston, MA, February 22, 1856, Accessible Archives)
  • Some newspaper reports detailed the failed group escapes. On February 2, 1849, the North Star wrote, “we learn that about forty negroes had made arrangements to leave their masters in Woodford County [KY], on Saturday night last, but the plot was discovered just in time to defeat its execution.” The report continued, “the negroes all had free papers. According to the plan of operations, each was to steal a horse and cross the Ohio river before day. They were betrayed by a negro to whom the plot was disclosed and who was requested to join in it.”  (“Stampede Frustrated,” The North Star, Rochester, New York, February 2, 1849, Accessible Archives)


General Notes

  • Some newspapers referenced “stampedes” in different contexts; in 1860, the Weekly Vincennes Western Sun described the phenomena under which slave owners left Virginia to go further south as a “stampede of slave owners.”  (“The Stampede of Slave Owners from Virginia,” The Weekly Vincennes Western Sun, Vincennes, Indiana, May 4, 1861, Accessible Archives)
  • The Frank Leslie’s Weekly defined different American slang terms in 1859, writing, “[American’s] political parties are ‘barn-burners,’ ‘hard-shells,’ ‘soft-shells,’ ‘hunkers,’ ‘locofocos,’ ” and also provided quick definitions of terms, like   “to be angry is to be ‘riled,’ to confound is to ‘onfakilise,’ to defeat is to ‘chaw up,’ to apologise is to ‘cave,’ … An individual is called a ‘coon,’ a dilemma a ‘fix,’ a general run a ‘stampede’… and so on.” (“A Chapter on Slang,” Frank Leslie’s Weekly, April 2, 1859, Accessible Archives)
  • Accessible Archive is a subscription database.that contains a number of collections, including the African American Newspapers Collection, America and World War I: American Military Camp Newspapers Collection, American County Histories Collection, the Civil War Collection, and the Women’s Suffrage Collection.
  • Although 400 hits emerged when searching the database for the term “stampede” and its variants, the majority of hits did not reference to group slave escapes and instead, detailed stampedes of soldiers and livestock.

Relevant Coverage

  • Canada West (Ontario): Provincial Freeman
  • Massachusetts:   The Liberator
  • New York:  Frederick Douglass’ Paper and The North Star
  • Washington DC: The National Era


Database Report –Genealogy Bank

Stampede Article

Plaquemine, LA Southern Sentinel, November 14, 1849 (Genealogy Bank Database)

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Cooper Wingert between December 12, 2018-January 9, 2019.
  • Keywords: slave and stampede, including variants: “negro stampede,” “black stampede,” “general stampede” and “regular stampede.”
  • Totals: Approximately 600 hits with concentrations of stampede attempts from Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland and Missouri
  • NOTE:  Because of extensive results, this search was limited to the above terms.  We still need to attempt a wider array of search terms in GenealogyBank

Top Results

  • In September 1852, the St. Louis Missouri Republican directed its readers’ attention to a “large reward for the apprehension of runaway negroes” involved in a “negro stampede” from St. Genevieve, Missouri. (“Negro Stampede-Large Reward,” St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican, September 11, 1852)
  • In early November 1859, abolitionist papers cheered the “recent arrival at Detroit of a cargo of live freight consisting of twenty-six chattels all the way form Missouri.” (“The Detroit Underground Train,” New Lisbon, OH Anti-Slavery Bugle, November 12, 1859)
  • A “negro stampede” in December 1859 included “thirty passengers, five from the vicinity of Richmond, Va., twelve from Kentucky and thirteen from Missouri.” The group arrived in Chicago, and later successfully journeyed to Canada. The Missouri fugitives “were sold to go down the river the very day they started,” and were prepared to fight off any pursuers. “A stalwart six-footer and a Sharpe’s rifle were the only guides.” (“Negro Stampede,” Raleigh North Carolina Standard, December 21, 1859)
  • Multiple columns quoted a St. Genevieve, Missouri paper, which described a “stampede of negroes” from St. Genevieve County during the fall of 1862. The account detailed the decline of slavery throughout Missouri, including St. Louis, where “there were only 1400 slaves… two years ago, and the best judges now estimate that there are less than 500, and these principally old and decrepit home servants.” Overall, “negro property in Missouri has depreciated, and it is said to be nearly impossible to sell a slave anywhere in the country for one-fifth the ordinary price.” (“Slavery in Missouri,” New Orleans Daily Delta, November 13, 1862)
  • In 1848, the Louisville Journal detailed an elaborate plan for a stampede of “about forty negroes” in Woodford County. Equipped with free passes, “each was to steal a horse and cross the Ohio river before day.” The stampede was “frustrated” when another slave revealed the plot. (“Stampede Frustrated,” Indianapolis Daily State Sentinel, October 21, 1848)
  • A May 1850 column reported on a rumored slave insurrection near White Sulphur Springs, Virginia, suggesting instead that it was “simply a projected ‘stampede’ of slaves in the elegant frontier style of the day. These flights are becoming so frequent that they seem to be expected as a matter of course by the owners, nor does the offering of rewards seem usually to be attended with success.” (“Washington Correspondence,” Boston Recorder, May 23, 1850)
  • Commenting on the frequency of stampedes, a Worcester, Massachusetts paper gleefully reported that “scarcely a day passes, on which we do not hear it stated, that there has been a stampede–a flight of slaves from the prison-house of Southern bondage…. These stampedes, from their inception to the issue of them, are the most heroic events in American history; and yet they are made the greatest of American political crimes.” (“Stampedes,” Worcester, MA Spy, November 17, 1852)
  • In the aftermath of John Brown’s failed Harpers Ferry uprising, one abolitionist paper defended Brown’s plan to “run slaves, rather than free them by the slow process of legal and social reform.” “The Stampede is only a practical use of the Bill of Rights which God incorporated in the charter of human existence,” the paper argued. (New Lisbon, OH Anti-Slavery Bugle, November 26, 1859)
  • A Charleston, South Carolina correspondent for the New York Tribune reported a stampede plot among the city’s slaves in the midst of the Secession Crisis in early 1861. “The idea which possessed the slaves seems to have been that the moment the first gun was fired in Charleston Harbor, they should make a stampede, taking with them all the property they could lay their hands upon.” He confidently predicted that this was “no singular case,” and that “the first gun fired against the United States Government will explode a powder magazine the vaults of which extend beneath the feet of the whole South.” (“From South Carolina,” New York Tribune, April 2, 1861)
  • By the fall of 1863, newspapers in western Missouri were sounding the alarm about slave stampedes. “During the last two months the darkies have been leaving Platte county at the rate of about thirty or forty per day,” a paper in St. Joseph reported. “By the census of 1860 Platte county had a slave population of three thousand three hundred and thirteen, and our informant thinks that there are but two or three hundred left now. From all portions of North Missouri we have like information. The slaves are leaving by day and by night. Very few owners pretend to stay the exodus. Many pack up their duds and walk boldly off in broad day, while others quietly retire in the night.” (St. Joseph, Missouri Herald, quoted in “Slavery Passing Away in Missouri and Kentucky,” Worcester, MA Spy, September 9, 1863)
  • The St. Louis Missouri Democrat reprinted columns from multiple papers to depict the mounting “negro exodus” from the state. Quoting the Kansas City Journal, the paper informed its readers of “some thirty or forty negroes” who left Clay County in western Missouri, bound for Kansas, “taking with them a quantity of stock…. The Emancipation Ordinance has made a perfect stampede among the negroes, who cannot draw nice distinctions…. The same process is going on all along the border, and Missouri will soon be rid of her slaves, in fact, if not in name. The barriers which fence in the slave system in this State are crumbling daily, and while our politicians are talking the negro is quietly acting, without any reference to statute books or ordinances.” (Kansas City Journal, quoted in “The Negro Exodus,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, August 21, 1863)
  • In late 1863, the Columbia Statesman in Boone County, Missouri, reported on a “stampede of negroes” to enlist in the U.S. Colored Troops. “Thirty negroes enlisted in Ray county last week. Ninety negro recruits were sent form St. Louis to Lexington…. thirty negroes left Pike county to enlist.” (Columbia Statesman, quoted in “Missouri Items,” St. Louis Daily Missouri Democrat, December 22, 1863)

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General Notes

  • Genealogy Bank is a subscription database.
  • Although not part of the database’s coverage, the St. Joseph, Missouri Herald, the Columbia Statesman from Boone County and an unspecified St. Genevieve paper were quoted for their reporting on stampedes.
  • After the passage of the controversial Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, the term was used to describe the movement of fugitive slaves residing in the Northern free states, who were reportedly “stampeding” to Canada to evade recapture under the stringent new law. A widely-reprinted report from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, suggested that there was a “general stampede” of the city’s fugitive slave population, including “many… who were never suspected of being fugitives until the passage of this bill.” (“Excitement among the Colored Population,” Baltimore Sun, September 25, 1850) Many Southern papers remarked on the “regular stampede” of “fugitive negroes” from “Pennsylvania, New York and other free states.” (“Arrest of a Slave,” Montgomery Alabama Journal, October 7, 1850) An Easton, Maryland newspaper even ran the headline “Fred. Douglass in Danger,” while reporting on the “general stampede” of “runaway negroes” from Pittsburgh. (“Fred. Douglass in Danger,” Easton, MD Star, October 15, 1850)
  • Editors of the abolitionist Pennsylvania Freeman employed the term to mock pro-slavery arguments, satirically remarking that if slaves were so “enamored of the lash, the dungeon, the paddle, [and] the auction stand… one might imagine a general stampede of the fugitives in Canada and throughout the North, hurrying back to slavery.” (“Going Back to Slavery,” Pennsylvania Freeman, January 1, 1854)
  • A Georgia paper used the term to describe violence against suspected abolitionists. “One out of the four [abolitionists] was caught and ridden on a rail, the rest saved themselves by a stampede.” (Columbus, GA Times, quoted in Woodville, MS Republican, October 22, 1850)
  • The term was also used to describe the movement of free African-Americans. Reports circulated of a “compulsory stampede” of “free negroes” from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, compelled by white citizens who were concerned about “their pernicious influence among the slave population.” (Nashville Patriot, quoted in “Stampede of Free Negroes,” New York Herald, December 8, 1856)
  • In August 1857, “over a dozen” slaves stampeded from Washington, using a religious camp meeting as an opportunity for escape. Obtaining permission to travel to the gathering in Montgomery County, Maryland, they instead “embraced the opportunity to seek a more permanent camp in Canada.” (Newark, NJ Centinel of Freedom, September 9, 1857)
  • Stampedes could also include literal rail travel. An 1857 report noted a “stampede” of five slaves, who travelled using “horses and vehickles [sic]” from Hagerstown, Maryland across the border to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where they boarded the cars of the Cumberland Valley Railroad for Harrisburg. (“The Slave Stampede,” Easton, MD Star, June 2, 1857)
  • In the south-west slaveholding states, the prospect of slave stampedes into Mexico troubled slaveholders. An Austin, Texas newspaper expressed concern about patrolling its enslaved population, worrying about a possible “insurrection, or a general negro stampede for Mexico.” (“Patrol,” Austin Texas State Gazette, July 22, 1854) Stampedes also occurred among slaves owned by members of the Cherokee Nation, in present-day Oklahoma. “A large stampede of negroes was attempted from the nation to Mexico,” a Tennessee paper reported in 1860, “but the chiefs having been informed, by a faithful negro, of the movement, collected their warriors, under the pretense of going on a war trail against the Camanches [sic], and arrested the fugitives.” (Athens, TN Post, January 20, 1860)
  • The term was used to describe the escape of two Mississippi slaves owned by prominent Illinois senator Stephen Douglas. (“Stampede of two of Senator Douglas’ Slaves,” Wilmington Journal, September 17, 1858)

Most Relevant Coverage from Genealogy Bank Database

  • MISSOURI:  St. Louis Missouri Republican – 1849-1852 (Whig, pro-slavery)
  • MISSOURI:  St. Louis Missouri Democrat – 1862-1863 (Democratic, pro-slavery)
  • ILLINOIS:  Quincy Whig – 1854 (Whig)
  • MARYLAND:  Easton Star – 1849-1857 (Democratic, pro-slavery)
  • MASSACHUSETTS:  Massachusetts Spy, Worcester, MA – 1847-1863 (Whig and Republican, anti-slavery)
  • OHIO:  Anti-Slavery Bugle, New Lisbon, OH – 1848-1860 (anti-slavery)


Database Report: Black Abolitionist Papers and Black Abolitionist Archive

Stampede article, Weekly Anglo-African, October 7, 1859

Weekly Anglo-African, October 7, 1859

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Amanda Donoghue on Dec. 20
  • Keywords:  stampede, exodus, group slave escape, Missouri escape
  • Total results: Black Abolitionist Papers (BAP) = 6, Black Abolitionist Archive (BAA) = 1


  • “A Cincinnati paper of the 28th ult says: A stampede of slaves took place on the evening of the 27th-the whereabouts of several of the fugitives having been discovered here, officers at noon today proceeded to make arrests-upon approaching the house where the slaves were secreted, the latter fired, wounding two or three spectators, but not severely. One slave woman, finding escape impossible, cut the throats of her children, killing one instantly, and severely wounding two others: six of the fugitives were apprehended, and eight are said to have escaped.” (Editorial, Provincial Freedom, Toronto, February 2, 1856)
  • “A number of fugitives, I have been informed-fifteen in number-have just passed through from Detroit into Canada. Quite a stampede.” (Our Detroit Letter,” Weekly Anglo-African, New York, NY, October 7, 1859, Black Abolitionist Papers)
  • On Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry: “It seems to have been at the outset, an attempt to procure a large stampede of slaves, and to have grown, by force of circumstances, into an invasion of these United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” (“The Emeute at Harper’s Ferry,” Weekly Anglo-African, New York, NY, October 22, 1859, Black Abolitionist Papers)
  • “A colored man named Harris, and his wife and two children were arrested here this morning, on a warrant issued by the United States Commissioner Conneau, and sent by special train to Springfield, where they will be examined tomorrow. The man is claimed by Mr. Patterson, of St. Louis County, MO” (“A Carbonari Wanted,” Weekly Anglo-African, New York, NY, April 13, 1861, Black Abolitionist Archive)
  • “[In 1843] Our next undertaking was a regular stampede from Maryland. We met at Banning’s Bridge, and mustered seventy strong at starting, but through some misunderstanding the wrong road was taken, and consequently they were tracked, and after a severe encounter, with the loss of three killed and many wounded, they were forced to surrender to superior numbers, who were well armed. When the return caravan passed through Washington a perfect panic prevailed among the slaves; and of the free colored people there were many who left for fear of the threats which were being made against them carried out.” (“Recollections from the Underground Railroad,” The Elevator, San Francisco, CA, September 22, 1865, Black Abolitionist Papers)
  • BAP includes excerpts from Martin Delany’s unfinished novel Blake (1859, 1861-62) that includes a reference at the beginning of chapter 30 to slave stampedes:  “The absence of Mammy Judy, Daddy Joe, Charles, and little Tony, on the return early Monday morning of Colonel Franks and lady from the country, unmistakably proved the escape of their slaves, and the further proof of the exit of ‘squire Potter’s Andy and Beckwith’s Clara, with the remembrance of the stampede a few months previously, required no further confirmation of the fact, when the neighborhood again was excited to ferment.” [NOTE:  Delany serialized Blake at first in the Afro-American Magazine in 1859 –that was the version contained within BAP]

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General Notes

  • Black Abolitionist Papers (BAP) is a subscription Pro-Quest database that is available to Dickinson College students.  Black Abolitionist Archive (BAA) is available to the public for free through University of Detroit Mercy [WEB].
  • BAP is the larger, more comprehensive collection (over 15,000 items), but BAA director, Roy Finkenbine, was part of the editorial team at BAP, which includes a printed five-volume collection as well as a microfilm series (and now database).  BAP includes black abolitionist newspaper editorials, speeches, meeting and convention materials, and selective private correspondence. BAA offers about 800 published speeches and selected newspaper articles.  
  • Five articles were found using the term “stampede” to refer to the “colonization” movement of free blacks moving to Haiti or Africa to escape the risk of being enslaved or re-enslaved.

East or West? Group Escapes on the Western Frontier

Marion County Map, Historical Atlas 1855.

In November of 1853, 11 slaves escaped from six different farms in Marion County, located right along the Mississippi River. The group of freedom seekers converged from their different escape points, joining together on a Saturday evening to cross the Mississippi River heading eastward. [1] The group traveled through the night, moving through Missouri and eventually arriving in Quincy, Illinois. By Sunday morning, the group had reached nearby Menden.  Then they pursued freedom in Chicago. [2]

The Marion County group escape was just one of many mass slave escapes profiled in James Patrick Morgans’ book, The Underground Railroad on the Western Frontier (2010). Morgans focuses on slave escapes from the western border of Missouri and does not explicitly use the term stampede within the text, but his book covers a number of important group escapes, including some within our main project area (such as the one from Marion).[3]

Morgans also describes how increasing slave escapes along Mississippi River prompted many slaveholders in Eastern Missouri to move their slaves into the interior of the state, closer to the Missouri River and toward the states’ western border. During the 1850s, Missouri slaveowners hoped that Kansas Territory would eventually become a slave state, permanently fortifying the western border from slave escape.

Burlington Hawk-Eye, July 11, 1850. Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Yet Missouri slaveowners were rightfully concerned. Throughout the 1850s, the eastern border of Missouri became riddled with slave escapes like the 1853 Marion County group escape described above. Slaves residing along the Mississippi River in Missouri used their geographical location to their advantage, slipping across the Mississippi and moving north and east towards the free states of Iowa and Illinois.   Many slaveowners along the eastern border became repeated victims of such slave escapes. In Clark County, MO, a slaveowner by the name of Ruel Daggs experienced the difficulties of owning slaves in the most eastern parts of Missouri. [4] In 1848, one of Daggs’ 16 slaves, John Walker, escaped his farm. Walker, who found safety in Salem, Iowa, eventually returned to Clark County in June to help rescue other slaves, helping not only his wife and children but also seven others escape from Dagg’s farm. [5]  With help from a free black man in the county, Walker and his group built a raft and crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa. [6] Daggs responded to this episode by organizing a large armed posse of Missouri slave catchers, who eventually crossed over into Iowa and threatened the heavily Quaker settlement with violence.  Some of the freedom seekers were recaptured, but most escaped.  The case also led to a major verdict in Daggs’s favor (under the 1793 fugitive statute) in the summer of 1850 (before passage of the new federal law), but Daggs was never able to recover the thousands of dollars that the courts had ordered him to be paid.

St. Joseph Commercial Cycle, October 5, 1855. Courtesy of Newspapers.com

Although some slaveholders believed that moving their human property to the western part of Missouri would prevent mass escapes like the one experienced by Ruel Daggs, they were soon put on notice that such group flight could occur out west as well  when 30 more slaves on the Kansas border attempted to escape bondage in 1850. [7] The group, “armed with knives, clubs and three guns,” were eventually stopped, but there were more efforts to come. [8] In 1855 in the western town of St. Joseph, MO, an owner offered a $200 dollar reward for each of his four escaped slaves, double the amount of a typical reward for recapture. [9] According to Morgans, by the mid-1850s, it “wasn’t unusual to see ten or a dozen successfully escape at the same time- especially from western Missouri.” [10]

While group escapes may have proved more feasible along the eastern counties of Missouri, Morgans’ research on the western frontier demonstrates that mass escapes could and did occur almost anywhere.


[1]  James Patrick Morgans, The Underground Railroad on the Western Frontier (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. 2010), 69.

[2] Morgans, 69.

[3] Morgans, 1.

[4] Morgans, 94.

[5] Morgans, 94.

[6] Morgans, 95.

[7] Morgans, 77.

[8] Morgans, 77.

[9] Morgans, 77.

[10]Morgans, 77.