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Slave Stampedes as Mobile Insurrections

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 the phenomenon of group escapes from slavery.  Our regional focus is on the Missouri borderlands during the antebellum and wartime period. Contemporaries almost always called these group escapes, “slave stampedes.”  Yet that term rarely appears in modern-day studies of the Underground Railroad or resistance to slavery.  Even the idea of large groups of freedom seekers moving defiantly together toward attempted self-liberation seems almost impossible many teachers and students to accept.  Yet stampedes happened –sometimes quite frequently– and we need to try to understand what these revolutionary episodes meant to Americans in that era.

To begin this journey, we suggest watching this short 2-minute video interview with Dr. Deanda Johnson of the National Park Service Network to Freedom.  She offers a concise history of the term’s origins and explains how the reality of group attempts at liberation can complicate our understanding of the Underground Railroad.  Then you might want to read the attached 2019 essay by Professor Matthew Pinsker from Dickinson College.  His 23-page introductory survey of the topic also helps explains why the Missouri borderlands should rightly be considered at the front lines of the stampedes phenomenon and how both antebellum and wartime slave stampedes helped tip the balance toward the final destruction of slavery.

At this online research journal, we will continue to post examples of the historical material that we are turning up in our digital and archival searches about the phenomenon.  This is truly a team effort, involving faculty and students, with significant input from our outside academic experts. Eventually, our findings will form the basis of an online report with various multi-media maps and tools, and a freely accessible database designed to provide an array of resources for anyone who wants to learn more 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.

 

The 1861 Springfield Stampede

PRINTABLE NARRATIVE

DATELINE: NOVEMBER 7, 1861, SPRINGFIELD, MO

lane CDV

Union general James Lane. (Library of Congress)

Union soldiers of the 24th Indiana Infantry cheered and sang songs as they gathered outside the headquarters of Brig. Gen. James H. Lane. It was around 9 pm on Thursday night, November 7, 1861 and the Hoosiers clamored for a speech from “Jim Lane, the Liberator,” a sitting U.S. senator, outspoken anti-slavery Republican, and commander of the Kansas Brigade. Emerging in civilian garb, Lane got right to the point. The war was about slavery, and it was high time the Union army stopped returning freedom seekers, even to loyal slaveholders in border states like Missouri. “Let us be bold––inscribe ‘freedom to all’ upon our banners.” Should the federal government order him to return freedom seekers, Lane declared to “thundering applause” that he would “break his sword and quit the field.” [1]

Reporters picked up Lane’s speech, but so too did enslaved African Americans living near Springfield, a vital crossroads in southwestern Missouri. The following night, Friday, November 8, “as if by preconcerted movement,” more than 150 enslaved Missourians escaped into Lane’s camp in a “great stampede.” Men, women, young children, and “whole families” found refuge with the Kansas Brigade. And when Unionist slaveholders came looking for them the next day, Lane kept his word. A reporter on the scene had “not yet heard of an instance in which one has been found.” [2] Another ten months would elapse before President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which famously exempted loyal states such as Missouri. But early in the war enslaved Missourians were already seizing opportunities to “stampede” into Union lines, where they found growing numbers of northern soldiers willing to help them claim freedom.

 

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

James Lane invoked the term “stampede” in his November 7 speech, arguing that it was not the Union army’s duty to “prevent [Confederates’] slaves from stampeding.” His remarks were widely reprinted by northern papers urging the adoption of more aggressive anti-slavery policies. [3] Days later, correspondents for two major New York serials, the Tribune and World, described the “great stampede” or “regular stampede” that followed on Friday night, November 8. [4]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

fremont headshot

Union general John C. Fremont. (House Divided Project)

By the fall of 1861, a Union army under Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont had moved into southwestern Missouri in an effort to clear the state of Confederate forces. In late October, Fremont’s men drove Confederates out of Springfield in Greene county and set up camp nearby. Though controversy and uncertainty over federal emancipation policy dogged Fremont’s advance. Back on August 30, the Republican politician turned Union general had made headlines by declaring martial law across the state and emancipating all enslaved people held by disloyal slaveholders. Within days, President Lincoln ordered Fremont to modify his order to conform with congressional confiscation policies. Thus it was uncertain what the Union army’s presence would mean for slavery in southwestern Missouri. Some white residents actually welcomed the columns of Union soldiers streaming into the region. Many slaveholders even avowed their loyalty, looking to the U.S. government as their best chance of protecting slavery. [5]

Though the area’s enslaved populace had good reason to welcome Lane’s brigade. The three Kansas regiments had literally blazed a path through western Missouri to link up with Fremont’s forces at Springfield, burning the town of Osceola, Missouri on September 23. Its ranks were filled with men who had lived through Bleeding Kansas during the 1850s, a period of violent conflict to determine whether Kansas would be admitted as a free or slave state. The brigade’s anti-slavery leanings were so well known that some started referring to the outfit as the “Jayhawkers,” a name given to free-state settlers during the earlier contest. And its commander also had solid anti-slavery credentials. Earlier that summer, Lane declared on the senate floor that “the institution of slavery will not survive, in any State of this Union, the march of the Union armies.” He even predicted that enslaved southerners would “get up an insurrection” as U.S. forces approached. [6]

union camp

Lane’s brigade camped near Humansville, Missouri. (Harpers Weekly, November 23, 1861, Missouri Historical Society)

Not only was he a vocal opponent of slavery, but Senator Lane played a key role in crafting early federal policy about how to treat freedom seekers who entered Union lines. In August 1861, Lane and fellow congressional Republicans passed the First Confiscation Act, which authorized Union forces to seize (and presumably liberate) enslaved people whose labor was being used to aid the Confederacy. This included enslaved southerners forced to labor on Confederate fortifications and work as teamsters, body servants, or cooks for Confederate troops. But when word of the law’s provisions got out, virtually all enslaved people who ran to Union lines claimed they had been coerced into providing manual labor for the Confederate government. How could Union officers sort out who had actually been forced to work for the Confederates and who had not? It was next to impossible. So on August 8, the U.S. War Department instructed commanders in the field to accept all enslaved people seeking refuge behind Union lines, keeping careful track so that loyal slaveholders could file claims later for compensation. As the historian James Oakes observes, these instructions “effectively extended the reach of the First Confiscation Act far beyond its technical limits.” [7]

Still Lane felt that federal policy did not go far enough. In early October, he grumbled that Union soldiers were protecting the plantations of the very Missouri slaveholders who had taken up “arms against the Government.” Many of his men felt the same way. Although the First Confiscation Act was a milestone, Lane and his Kansans saw it as “a weak gesture where a vigorous blow was needed,” writes the historian Chandra Manning, because it “targeted the rights of select individuals without dislodging the institution of slavery.” Lane thought “our policy in this regard should be changed,” and was not shy about expressing his point of view. [8] Although Lane’s Kansans were among the last Union troops to arrive at Springfield in late October 1861, they were at the leading edge of federal emancipation policy.

That point was made abundantly clear on Wednesday, October 30, when Lane’s three Kansas regiments arrived in Springfield to join Fremont’s larger Union force. One of Fremont’s staffers witnessed the brigade’s “motley procession” through town, with Lane at its head and about 200 African Americans following close behind, many mounted on horseback. Most had peeled off from plantations and farms in western Missouri and joined Lane’s brigade as it headed to Springfield. They quickly found work as laborers and servants, receiving wages from the government directly or from the pockets of officers and enlisted men who hired freedom seekers as personal cooks. Just as importantly, these freedom seekers would have an enormous impact on the future of slavery near Springfield. [9]

pull quoteScores of newly-freed black Missourians fanned out from Lane’s camp near Springfield over the ensuing days, alerting the local enslaved population that the Kansans were friendly to their cause. “Our colored teamsters and servants act as so many missionaries among their brethren,” wrote Chaplain H.H. Moore of the Third Kansas Infantry, “and induce a great many to come into camp.” Enslaved Missourians already behind Union lines “have become a sort of Vigilance Committee to secure the freedom of the slaves in our neighborhood,” one of Fremont’s staffers logged in his journal, referencing the black-led anti-slavery organizations that formed the backbone of the Underground Railroad before the war. Even a correspondent for the New York World marveled that “the agency of the negro servants in the army is all the machinery necessary to cause a regular stampede.” [10]

timeline

A pivotal event that helped trigger the stampede came on Thursday night, November 7, about a week into the brigade’s stay near Springfield. Soldiers congregated outside of Lane’s headquarters in the home of Major Daniel Dorsey Berry, a wealthy, pro-Confederate planter who had fled to his Mississippi plantation when Union forces approached. Berry left behind his wife Olivia and several daughters to keep watch over the family’s Springfield home and five enslaved people, while his son was off fighting for the Confederacy. From the slaveholding Berrys’ balcony, the Union general recited his support for a more aggressive emancipation policy. The Federal army, he told the assembled Hoosier soldiers, could not “crush the rebels” and at the same time “keep their slaves from stampeding.” That would require two armies––first a “treason crushing army” that would defeat Confederates and restore the Union, and a second “slavery restoring army” that would follow “about ten miles in the rear.” Lane remarked that he wanted to “let slavery take care of itself”––a misleading claim at best, since his soldiers were actively helping freedom seekers and Lane himself was privately reminding fellow officers of his earlier prediction that slavery “would perish with the march of the Federal armies.” [11]

Springfield sketch

Springfield, Missouri, sketched by artist Alexander Simplot in the fall of 1861. (Harpers Weekly, November 30, 1861, InternetArchive)

The “great stampede” of more than 150 African Americans occurred the next evening, on November 8. But on the night of Lane’s speech five enslaved people escaped from the Berry household, within earshot of the Union general and undoubtedly encouraged by the tone of his remarks. Olivia Berry and her daughters, despite their likely Confederate sympathies, had stepped outside to listen to Lane’s speech. When they returned later that evening, they were “astounded to find that all the negroes in the family had embraced the opportunity afforded by their brief absence to run away!” The next morning the women fumed at “the melancholy necessity of preparing their own breakfast.” Furious at their uninvited guest, the Berry women refused to serve Lane breakfast the following morning. [12]

The mass escape that occurred on Friday night, November 8, was probably motivated as much by Lane’s speech as the imminent withdrawal of Union troops from Springfield. On November 2, President Lincoln had replaced General Fremont with Maj. Gen. David Hunter. In the same stroke, Lincoln advised Hunter to withdraw from his advanced position at Springfield and divide his force between Sedalia, located more than 110 miles to the north, and Rolla, Missouri, some 100 miles to the northeast. As part of the plan, Lane’s brigade was set to return to Kansas. Many enslaved Missourians must have realized that time was running out to claim their freedom. Lane’s Kansans would leave Springfield the next day, Saturday, November 9. [13]

Before Lane’s brigade decamped from Springfield, slaveholders arrived in large numbers and scoured the camp for the freedom seekers. Many of the enslavers identified as Unionists and anticipated that their vows of loyalty would establish their right to re-enslave freedom seekers. Diplomatically, Lane towed the official line, insisting that “my brigade is not here for the purpose of interfering in anywise with the institution of slavery.” His soldiers would “not become negro thieves nor shall they be prostituted into negro-catchers.” He invited slaveholders to “find your slave; if he is in my camp you can take him, if he is willing to go.” But few enslaved people would willingly reenter captivity, and soldiers collaborated with freedom seekers to conceal and protect them from forcible recapture. As Chaplain Moore of the Third Kansas wrote, “it cannot be denied that some of our officers and soldiers take great delight” in aiding freedom seekers, “and that by personal effort and otherwise, they do much towards carrying it on.” Reports suggested that none of the freedom seekers were recaptured. [14] 

 

AFTERMATH

Crossing Rappahannock

African American families escape behind Union lines in Virginia during the summer of 1862. (Library of Congress)

An estimated 150 enslaved Missourians from Springfield marched out of town with Lane’s brigade on November 9. However, the large number of freedom seekers quickly strained the brigade’s rations. On November 12, near Lamar, Missouri, Lane detailed three regimental chaplains, H.H. Moore of the Third Kansas, Reeder Fish of the Fourth Kansas, and Hugh Dunn Fisher of the Fifth Kansas, to take command of the freedom seekers and escort them to Fort Scott, Kansas. Not only were they to provide a safe conduit armed with just a “load of old muskets” and no ammunition, but the three chaplains were to “superintend the entire business of seeing them located” upon arriving on free soil in Kansas. Moore’s headcount enumerated 218 enslaved Missourians in a wagon train that spanned over a mile in length. The vast majority of these men, women, and children had fled from near Springfield. Some clung tightly to “a large amount of household furniture” they had taken during their flight. And they were clearly anxious to leave Missouri. During one brief stop, an enslaved woman approached Chaplain Moore and gently prodded him to keep the column moving. “Day is breaking, see,” she said, gesturing to the east. [15]

fisher headshot

Chaplain Hugh Dunn Fisher of the Fifth Kansas Infantry. (Kansas Memory)

The so-called “Black Brigade” crossed into Kansas on Wednesday, November 13. Chaplains Moore and Fisher portrayed the arrival in biblical terms. Moore likened “the cheers and shouts” the freedom seekers let loose upon crossing into Kansas to “the shouts of Israel after the passage of the Red Sea.” It was, he declared with no lack of hubris, “the most remarkable exodus of slaves to a land of freedom, that has occurred since the time of Moses.” Once in Kansas, the three chaplains hired out freedom seekers to Kanas farmers willing to pay them wages. “Thus far they have been taken care of,” wrote one Kansan, “as the farmers needed help and hundreds if not thousands are now employed in harvesting.” But he worried that after harvest many of the freedom seekers would find themselves out of work and overwhelm the antislavery stronghold of Lawrence. “There is not an intelligent slave in Mo., but knows where Lawrence is and we shall have them here by thousands,” he wrote, pleading for donations from eastern abolitionists to help feed and clothe the freedom seekers over the winter. [16]

They also gave the freedom seekers new names. “We changed their names from the old plantation names to those of Northern significancy,” attested Fisher, who claimed it was “to prevent the possibility of their being returned to slavery.” Moore recalled renaming one enslaved man who went by Daniel Bonham. Bonham was the surname of his slaveholder, so Moore renamed him Daniel Webster on the spot. Similarly, Moore renamed another family of freedom seekers Fisher, as a tribute to his fellow chaplain. What the freedom seekers thought of this practice is hard to determine, though they may not have appreciated the white soldiers arbitrarily assigning them new names. [17]

The column’s arrival elicited considerable attention from Kansas newspapers, which connected it to the larger debate over a more aggressive federal emancipation policy. Editors wryly observed that the Kansas soldiers’ “favorite pastime is raking the n––rs as they go.” Although “we never fancied the idea of having free negroes colonized among us,” one white Kansan took solace in the fact that “wherever our armies march… they will leave the traitors n––rless.” [18]

mcculloch headshot

Confederate general Benjamin McCulloch. (House Divided Project)

Back in Springfield, slaveholding Unionists chafed that Federal forces had abandoned the town even as they groaned loudly about the flight of freedom seekers to Lane’s brigade. Within days Confederate forces under Brig. Gen. Benjamin McCulloch recaptured Springfield. A committee of Unionists from southwestern Missouri appealed to the Union high command to return Federal troops to the vicinity. Although McCulloch withdrew to Arkansas after a few days, they claimed that 3,000 to 5,000 loyal white Missourians had been forced to flee their homes, fearing retribution from Confederates. McCulloch, however, picked up on growing tensions within the region’s Unionist populace during his brief stay in Springfield. Federal forces had “greatly injured their cause by taking negroes belonging to Union men,” McCulloch eagerly reported back to Richmond. [19]

ware headshot

Private David Ware, First Kansas Colored Infantry. (Kansas Memory)

Some of the freedom seekers who joined Lane’s column went on to play a critical role in the Union war effort. David Ware may not have been in Springfield to hear Lane’s speech on November 7, but he was among those who followed the Kansas chaplains to freedom. Ware had been born into slavery in Cooper county, Missouri in 1839, and by 1861 he was enslaved near Greenfield, some 40 miles northwest of Springfield. Aged 22, Ware was married and father to a two-year-old child. But his wife and child were forced by their slaveholder to relocate to Springfield. She escaped from there in September, making her way on foot back to Greenfield. Reunited, in November the family linked up with the column of freedom seekers guided by Chaplains Moore, Fish, and Fisher and journeyed to Kansas. Ware served in the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry, and upon discharge went to work as a janitor at the Kansas state capitol until his death in 1888. [20]

 

FURTHER READING

The most detailed accounts of the Springfield stampede were penned by correspondents of the New York Tribune and World. [21] Numerous reports of the so-called “Black Brigade” and its march from Springfield were recorded in Kansas papers afterwards. The two leading eyewitness accounts of the expedition were composed by Chaplains Moore and Fisher. Days after arriving in Kansas, Moore wrote a letter to the Lawrence Republican, and decades later Fisher authored a memoir in which he detailed the column’s movement through western Missouri. [22]

Historians have largely overlooked the specifics of the November 8 stampede, though several scholars have explored the resulting movement of freedom seekers to Kansas. Bryce Benedict’s history of the Kansas Brigade, Jayhawkers (2009), briefly notes that Lane’s brigade had become “a magnet” for freedom seekers while near Springfield, before recounting the return trip to Kansas based upon Moore and Fisher’s accounts. Ian Michael Spurgeon also references the movement of freedom seekers from Springfield to Kansas in his study of Kansas’s U.S. Colored Troops. Kristen Epps highlights the episode as part of a broader trend of military chaplains assuming “an active role in shepherding contrabands to safety.” [23]

Other works help contextualize the status of slavery in the loyal border states during the war’s first year. Chandra Manning places the Union rank-and-file at the vanguard of emancipationist sentiment in her book What This Cruel War Was Over (2007). She argues that between August-December 1861, Union soldiers came to see slavery as a stumbling block to winning the war, and “championed the destruction of slavery a full year ahead of the Emancipation Proclamation, well before most civilians, political leaders, or officers.” Although she does not describe the Springfield stampede, Manning notes that Lane’s brigade “paid no attention to official distinctions drawn by the First Confiscation Act, and instead actively liberated slaves and intimidated their owners” along its path through western Missouri. In Freedom National (2013), James Oakes takes stock of Union soldiers who “were clearly cooperating with the slaves” in loyal border states, but stresses the role of Republican policymakers in promulgating anti-slavery policies that they believed would chip away at slavery, even in regions that had remained in the Union. [24]

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

[1] “Jim Lane’s Speech at Springfield, Missouri,” Junction City, KS Smoky Hill and Republican Union, November 28, 1861; “Gen. Lane at Springfield, Mo.,” Washington, D.C. National Republican, November 30, 1861, [WEB].

[2] “Important from Missouri,” New York Tribune, November 18, 1861; “From Gen. Hunter’s Command,” New York World, November 19, 1861.

[3] “Jim Lane’s Speech at Springfield, Missouri,” Junction City, KS Smoky Hill and Republican Union, November 28, 1861; “Gen. Lane at Springfield, Mo.,” Washington, D.C. National Republican, November 30, 1861, [WEB]; “The War and Slavery,” Springfield, MA Republican, November 13, 1861; “Speech of Gen. Lane,” Boston Liberator, November 29, 1861.

[4] “Important from Missouri,” New York Tribune, November 18, 1861; “From Gen. Hunter’s Command,” New York World, November 19, 1861.

[5] Allan Nevins, Fremont: Pathmarker of the West (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1939, rpt. 1955), 550, 657; On Fremont’s August 30 order, see James Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 (New York: W.W. Norton, 2013), 156-159.

[6] Bryce Benedict, Jayhawkers: The Civil War Brigade of James H. Lane (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2009); Lane quoted in Oakes, Freedom National, 116, 196.

[7] Oakes, Freedom National, 122-139.

[8] The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891), series 2, vol. 1, 771-772, [WEB]; Chandra Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007), 46.

[9] [William Dorsheimer], “Fremont’s Hundred Days in Missouri, III,” Atlantic Monthly 9:53 (March 1862): 377, [WEB]. The staffer was William Dorsheimer. For identification as the author, see Benedict, Jayhawkers, 129.

[10]  H.H. Moore to Friend Speer, November 19, 1861, in “The Black Brigade,” Lawrence, KS Republican, November 21, 1861; Dorsheimer], “Fremont’s Hundred Days in Missouri, III,” 377, [WEB]; “From Gen. Hunter’s Command,” New York World, November 19, 1861.

[11] Official Records, series 2, vol. 1, 772, [WEB]; Benedict, Jayhawkers, 293, n10; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Campbell Township, Greene County, MO, Ancestry; “Major D.D. Berry, Veteran of Many Battles, Succumbs,” Springfield, MO News-Leader, March 23, 1915; “Jim Lane’s Speech at Springfield, Missouri,” Junction City, KS Smoky Hill and Republican Union, November 28, 1861; “Gen. Lane at Springfield, Mo.,” Washington, D.C. National Republican, November 30, 1861, [WEB].

[12] H.H. Moore diary entries for November 7-8, 1861, quoted in Benedict, Jayhawkers, 293, n10.

[13] Nevins, Fremont, 657; Benedict, Jayhawkers, 156.

[14] Official Records, series 2, vol. 1, 772, [WEB]; H.H. Moore to Friend Speer, November 19, 1861, in “The Black Brigade,” Lawrence, KS Republican, November 21, 1861; Oakes, Freedom National, 169, 176-177; “Important from Missouri,” New York Tribune, November 18, 1861; “From Gen. Hunter’s Command,” New York World, November 19, 1861.

[15] Moore to Friend Speer, November 19, 1861, in “The Black Brigade,” Lawrence, KS Republican, November 21, 1861. The estimate of 150 who fled near Springfield comes from the correspondent for the New York World. His figure pertained to Friday night alone. In total, he claimed that about 500 enslaved people had joined Lane’s column since it entered Missouri earlier that fall. See “From Gen. Hunter’s Command,” New York World, November 19, 1861. Note that the wagon train of 218 freedom seekers were not all the black Missourians who had joined Lane’s brigade. Many freedom seekers stayed in the ranks and were employed as cooks and body servants by officers, messes, and individual soldiers, or as laborers on the federal government’s dime. 

[16] John B. Wood to George L. Stearns, November 19, 1861, Kansas State Historical Society, available online through Civil War on the Western Border, Missouri Digital Heritage, [WEB]; Hugh Dunn Fisher, The Gun and the Gospel: Early Kansas and Chaplain Fisher (Chicago and New York: Medical Century Company, 1899), 166-168, [WEB]; Moore to Friend Speer, November 19, 1861, in “The Black Brigade,” Lawrence, KS Republican, November 21, 1861; “The Black Brigade,” Lawrence, KS Republican, November 21, 1861.

[17] Fisher, The Gun and the Gospel, 166-168, [WEB]; Moore to Friend Speer, November 19, 1861, in “The Black Brigade,” Lawrence, KS Republican, November 21, 1861.

[18] White Cloud, KS Chief, November 28, 1861; Junction City, KS Smoky Hill and Republican Union, November 28, 1861.

[19] Official Records, series 1, vol. 8, 370-371, 686, [WEB].

[20] “David Ware,” Topeka, KS Daily Commonwealth, September 11, 1888.

[21] “Important from Missouri,” New York Tribune, November 18, 1861; “From Gen. Hunter’s Command,” New York World, November 19, 1861.

[22] Moore to Friend Speer, November 19, 1861, in “The Black Brigade,” Lawrence, KS Republican, November 21, 1861; Fisher, The Gun and the Gospel, 166-168, [WEB].

[23] Benedict, Jayhawkers, 156-159; Ian Michael Spurgeon, Soldiers in the Army of Freedom: The 1st Kansas Colored, the Civil War’s First African American Combat Unit (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014), 41-42; Kristen Epps, Slavery on the Periphery: The Kansas-Missouri Border in the Antebellum and Civil War Eras (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016), 166-167, see post.

[24] Manning, What This Cruel War Was Over, 45-46; Oakes, Freedom National, 169.

The 1849 St. Louis Stampede

PRINTABLE NARRATIVE

DATELINE: OCTOBER 27, 1849, ST. LOUIS

enslaved people boat escape

Enslaved people climb ashore at League Island, near Philadelphia. Detail from William Still, The Underground Railroad (1872). (Schomburg Center, New York Public Library)

Henry, Jeff, Pell, and Tim must have mapped out their escape from slavery long before the night of Saturday, October 27, 1849. The four young men, ranging in age from 20 to 30, planned an audacious path out of St. Louis that involved assistance from African American and white abolitionists on both sides of the Missouri-Illinois border. At first, everything went according to plan. North of St. Louis, they boarded a skiff with a free black man named Bill Williams and reached Gabaret Island. There, Williams and the freedom seekers hopped aboard a second boat piloted by several white abolitionists who took them to the Illinois shore. They continued on land, tromping northward by foot for more than 20 miles–only to be recaptured within 24 hours. But their return to Missouri would prove no simple matter, as their slaveholders, some of the most influential men in St. Louis, quickly learned. [1] The resulting legal drama was among the many fugitive cases that ratcheted up sectional tensions on the eve of the Civil War, as enslaved people’s routes to freedom along the Underground Railroad swerved into northern courtrooms.

 

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

The term “slave stampede” was on the lips of many Missourians in late 1849. Not only did the St. Louis Republican proclaim the escape of Henry, Jeff, Pell, and Tim a “stampede,” but the organ reminded its readers of other recent group escapes, reiterating the popular conviction that numerous enslaved Missourians “have been stampeded” by abolitionists. Just days later, reports filtered into the city about a “stampede” of more than 30 freedom seekers from Canton in northeastern Missouri. Press coverage of the Canton stampede eclipsed the much-smaller group flight from St. Louis, though papers in Kentucky and New York still reprinted the St. Louis Republican‘s initial report. [2]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

The slaveholders who claimed Henry, Jeff, Pell, and Tim ranked among the wealthiest and most prominent residents of St. Louis. Henry, a 20-year-old enslaved man, had been a domestic servant to slaveholding businessman John S. McCune. In addition to enslaving two other people, McCune operated the Mississippi Foundry, a firm that specialized in making steam engines, and laid claim to over $70,000 worth of real estate in 1850. [3] McCune was linked by business to Pell’s slaveholder, Alban Harvey Glasby, a wealthy farmer originally from Pennsylvania who lived on the outskirts of St. Louis. Glasby owned more than $100,000 worth of real estate, and held at least one enslaved person, 20-year-old Pell. [4] Then there was Emmanuel Block, who enslaved 24-year-old Tim. Block had apparently “hired out” (or rented) Tim to work as a fireman on one of the many steamboats traversing the Mississippi. Block himself hailed from Europe, but by 1849 had joined St. Louis’s elite and held some 24 people in slavery. [5] Rounding out the coterie of slaveholders was Williamson Pittman, a wealthy farmer from Palmyra, Missouri, who appears to have hired out 30-year-old Jeff to work in St. Louis. [6]

The details surrounding Henry, Jeff, Pell, and Tim’s escape are murky. But key to their efforts was Bill Williams, an African American activist. Williams had a record of aiding freedom seekers, so much so the city’s leading newspaper derisively called him “an old offender in this kind of work.” Just weeks earlier, Williams had been caught helping three enslaved Missourians to escape aboard the steamer Daniel Hillman. For unknown reasons, he evaded jail time. At some point, the four freedom seekers met Williams and made known their desire for liberty. Williams agreed to help them exit slavery. [7]

On Saturday night, October 27, their plan sprung into motion. The four freedom seekers plodded about three miles north of the city limits to the vicinity of Bissell’s Ferry, where they met Williams–near the same spot from which another group of freedom seekers would launch a “stampede” in May 1855. Clambering aboard a skiff with Williams, they navigated to Gabaret Island in the center of the Mississippi River, where they rendezvoused with several unidentified “white men” who were evidently contacted by Williams or the freedom seekers to aid in the escape. They guided the four freedom seekers together with Williams to the Illinois shore, and may have pointed the way for the party to continue the roughly 17 miles north to Alton, Illinois. [8]

But not everyone would go to Alton. Jeff, by far the oldest at age 30, was also disabled. “When walking he limps very badly,” observed his enslaver, Williamson Pittman, “one leg being several inches shorter than the other.” Once on the Illinois side of the river, Jeff remained “to make what progress he could.” Whether his departure from the group was pre-arranged, or a decision made in the spur of the moment, remains unclear. [9]

Later that night, the group passed Alton. They were eight miles north of Alton, nearing the Jersey county line, when two men seized them sometime on Sunday, October 28. The captors, William R. Bowmar and his brother, were likely local men. News of the $700 reward offered for the freedom seekers could not have possibly reached Illinois by then–the escape had occurred less than 24 hours earlier, and the slaveholders’ ad would not even be published in St. Louis papers until November 3. Rather, the brothers probably sighted the men, suspected they were freedom seekers, and acted in anticipation of a hefty reward. On Monday morning, October 29, the Bowmars led Henry, Pell, and Tim, along with Bill Williams, into the jail at nearby Jerseyville. Leaving the captives behind, they headed south to St. Louis to make contact with the slaveholders. [10]

1849 St. Louis

Crucially, the freedom seekers’ recapture did not spell certain reenslavement. Although there was a federal fugitive slave law on the books from 1793, it left enforcement in the hands of northern states. And while many white northerners were deeply racist, northern state laws still afforded critical protections to black people arrested within their borders as freedom seekers. Often framed as anti-kidnapping statutes, they gave African Americans the benefit of the doubt in court when their status as free or enslaved was contested. [11] Accordingly on Tuesday, October 30, local abolitionists obtained a writ of habeas corpus and demanded a hearing for the accused freedom seekers. The writ was granted, and Henry, Pell, Tim, and Bill Williams were released from the Jerseyville jail in custody of the town’s deputy sheriff, Murray Cheney. Only the writ was made deliverable not in Jerseyville, but rather to the Illinois state circuit court meeting some 70 miles to the north in Beardstown. [12]

This was no accident. The two abolitionists who secured the writ, Baptist minister Elihu Palmer and local farmer Isaac Snedeker, were intimately familiar with an Underground Railroad route running north from Jerseyville through Carrollton, Jacksonville, and Chandlerville. Snedeker, who lived the northern outskirts of Jerseyville (around what later became the 900 block of North State Street), had a reputation as “a most daring conductor.” Local residents would later attest that Snedeker regularly conveyed freedom seekers in his wagon from Jerseyville through Carrollton and on to Jacksonville. Usually Snedeker only made trips at night. But now with the writ of habeas corpus in hand, Palmer and Snedeker weaponized Illinois state law to escort the freedom seekers northward in broad daylight. So on Tuesday afternoon, Henry, Pell, Tim, and Bill Williams piled into Snedeker’s wagon, along with the abolitionist minister Elijah Palmer, Deputy Sheriff Cheney, and Jerseyville’s former postmaster Perley Silleway, and headed north “in a hurry.” [13]

1849 stampede map

To view an interactive map of this stampede, check out our StorymapJS version at Knight Lab

By 10 pm that night, they had covered the 13 miles to Carrollton. Driving the carriage, Snedeker “gave the whip to his team” and tried to press onward through the town. But the two local officials seem to have soured on their abolitionist driver. They preferred to head due west from Carrollton to the Illinois River, where they would board a steam boat and travel by water to Beardstown. Snedeker insisted on traveling overland, by the same Underground Railroad route he knew well. So when the wagon entered Carrollton, Silleway, the former postmaster, seized the reins and led Williams and the three freedom seekers into the Carrollton jail for the night. The delay afforded time for the Missouri slaveholders to overtake the group, as they galloped into Carrollton early on Wednesday morning, October 31. [14]

Still all parties were headed to Beardstown. Recognizing they might face kidnapping charges under Illinois state law or a forcible rescue attempt if they simply seized the four freedom seekers and turned back to Missouri, the slaveholders carefully maintained the appearance of following the letter of the law, despite later carping about free states’ “interference” with their rights to human “property.” The group covered the 55 tension-ridden miles to Beardstown, where they probably arrived sometime on Thursday, November 1. They were granted an “immediate” hearing before Illinois state circuit court judge David M. Woodson. [15]

McConnel portrait

Antislavery attorney Murray McConnel (Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 18:1, 1925)

The legal battle was short but heated. To represent Henry, Pell, Tim, and Bill Williams, Elijah Palmer procured the services of two lawyers. The first was David A. Smith, a slaveholder who had emigrated to Illinois from Alabama in the late 1830s and bound his enslaved laborers as indentured servants so he could carry them onto free soil. Nonetheless he soon gained a reputation as an abolitionist. The other, Murray McConnel, had lived in Missouri before relocating to Illinois, where he became prominent in Democratic politics. Several years earlier, McConnel had represented an enslaved woman named Lucinda in a successful freedom suit that took place in his hometown of Jacksonville. [16]

Brown image

Former Illinois Supreme Court justice Thomas Browne (Illinois Courts)

In the packed courtroom at Beardstown, Smith and McConnel made the case that the four men were being held illegally. This apparently referred to manner of their initial arrest by the Bowmars. Smith then made what the slaveholders disparagingly called “an inflammatory abolition speech.” He “quoted the Declaration of Independence, about all men being born free and equal, &c.” and then raised the subject of kidnapping. The court needed to be sure, Smith stressed, that it was not green-lighting a kidnapping and sending “men born free” into slavery. The slaveholders responded in kind by retaining two  attorneys of their own, both of whom had connections to then-former Illinois congressman Abraham Lincoln: Henry E. Dummer, a Whig from Beardstown and political ally of Lincoln’s, and Thomas C. Browne, who until recently had served on the Illinois Supreme Court. (Lincoln had defended Browne at an 1848 trial to remove him from the bench for pull quoteincompetence.) Brown took center stage and blasted the antislavery attorney, seething that “such speeches were calculated to create strife and bad feelings between citizens of sister States, and ought not to be indulged.” But Browne and Dummer admitted the four men were being held illegally. And just like that, Judge Woodson released Henry, Pell, Tim, and Bill Williams. [17]

Woodson’s order, however, only affirmed that the initial arrest had been illegal. It did not declare the four men free. Upon exiting the courtroom, the slaveholders rearrested the freedom seekers and Williams and brought them before a local justice of the peace, who gave his blessing and allowed the enslavers to return to Missouri with their captives in tow. [18]

 

AFTERMATH

ad steamboat

A notice advertising the route of the steamer Daniel Hillman, from St. Louis to Peoria and finally Peru, Illinois. (St. Louis, MO Republican, April 10, 1849)

As the court case wrapped up, the steamboat Daniel Hillman docked at Beardstown, on its regular route from St. Louis up the Illinois River to Peoria and Peru, Illinois. It was a familiar, if unwelcome sight for Bill Williams. Weeks before on that very boat, Williams had attempted to lead several other enslaved Missourians to freedom. That effort too had failed. The ship’s captain, A.B. Dewitt, was quick to recognize Williams, expressing surprise “on finding him so soon at his work again.” Captain Dewitt was more than happy to oblige the slaveholders, transporting Williams, Henry, Pell, and Tim back to Missouri. [19]

Once in St. Louis, Williams was quickly placed in jail to await trial. He reportedly confessed to “his agency in enticing” Henry, Jeff, Pell, and Tim from slavery, and St. Louis’s slaveholding elite clamored to see an “example” made of Williams. “A few years service in the Penitentiary may convince others, perhaps, of the impropriety of interfering with the slaves in Missouri,” threatened the St. Louis Republican. However, it is unclear if Williams’s case was brought to trial, and his name disappears from the record soon after. [20]

As for the four freedom seekers Williams tried to help out of slavery, their fates also remain uncertain. Nothing more was heard of Jeff, the oldest of the group who split off soon after reaching the Illinois shore. As of November 5, he had not been recaptured. Only one of the four men can be documented with some certainty. Twenty-year-old Pell remained enslaved to Alban Glasby until the slaveholder’s death in 1855. Then in March 1856, Glasby’s estate hired out Pell for $120 to work for John S. McCune, the man who had enslaved Pell’s fellow freedom seeker, Henry. [21]

 

FURTHER READING

The initial report in the St. Louis Republican specified that six enslaved people had escaped from the city. But the ad placed by the enslavers days later, as well as subsequent coverage, only referred to four freedom seekers, Henry, Jeff, Pell, and Tim. [22] The most exhaustive coverage of the escape and legal case comes from a report in the St. Louis Republican on November 5. The editors acknowledged that they drew extensively from the interrogation and confession of Williams upon his capture, and evidently also from the oral testimony of slaveholders about the court case in Illinois. [23] As yet, scholars have not discussed the 1849 stampede.

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

 

[1] “$700 Reward,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 3, 1849; “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849.

[2] “A Stampede,” St. Louis, MO Republican, October 29, 1849; “Stampedes,” Louisville, KY Daily Courier, November 2, 1849; “A Stampede,” Poughkeepsie, NY Journal, November 17, 1849.

[3] 1850 U.S. Census, Ward 3, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Family 1220, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Ward 3, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB]; Morrison’s St. Louis Directory, for 1852, (St. Louis: Missouri Republican Office, 1852), 160 [WEB]; Missouri Historical Society of Saint Louis: Constitution and By-Laws (St. Louis, MO: Democrat, 1875), 19-20, [WEB].

[4] 1850 U.S. Census, District 82, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Family 1676, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, District 82, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry; Missouri Historical Society of Saint Louis: Constitution and By-Laws, 19-20, [WEB]; Find A Grave, [WEB].

[5] 1850 US Census, Ward 3, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Family 119, Ancestry; 1860 US Census, Ward 4, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Family 1019, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Ward 3, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Ward 5, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry; Kennedy’s Saint Louis City Directory for the year 1857, (Saint Louis: R.V. Kennedy, 1857), 24 [WEB]; Emancipations, St. Louis Circuit Court, NPS, [WEB]; Find A Grave, [WEB].

[6] 1850 U.S. Census, Palmyra, Marion County, MO, Family 283, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Palmyra, Marion County, MO, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB].

[7] “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849.

[8] “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849. The November 5 report in the St. Louis Republican, chiefly using information from Williams, who “made a full confession of all the facts of the case” after his capture, placed the crossing site at “the head of Gabourie [Gabaret] Island.” This suggests the departure site was not far from the present-day Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing site, which marks the location where another group of freedom seekers pushed off in May 1855. See post. Bissell’s Ferry was used as a place marker by contemporaries in describing the 1855 stampede.

[9] “$700 Reward,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 3, 1849; “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849.

[10] “$700 Reward,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 3, 1849; “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849. The report in the St. Louis Republican identified the captors as a William R. Bowmar and his brother. They may have been local men, though census records do not show any Bowmars residing in Jersey county in either 1850 or 1860.

[11] See Matthew Pinsker, “After 1850: Reassessing the Impact of the Fugitive Slave Law,” in D.A. Pargas, ed., Fugitive Slaves and Spaces of Freedom in North America (2018), esp. 97-98.

[12] “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849; Marshall M. Cooper, History of Jerseyville, Illinois, 1822 to 1901 (Jerseyville, IL: Jerseyville Republican, 1901), 153, [WEB].

[13] “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849; Perley Silleway, appointed U.S. postmaster at Jerseyville July 31, 1845, U.S. Postmasters Appointments, Ancestry; Cooper, History of Jerseyville, 17, [WEB]. The St. Louis Republican indirectly referred to the route, seething that the court hearing in Beardstown was arranged so as to be “on the route which the negroes and their allies were to take.” Details can be pieced together from allusions in contemporary reports, as well as recollections solicited decades later by Underground Railroad historian Wilbur H. Siebert. Several correspondents referred to Snedeker’s involvement in the Underground Railroad, one advising Siebert to write to Snedeker’s surviving family members because he “had several encounters and hair-breadth escapes.” See W. Chauncy Carter to Wilbur Siebert, March 9, 1896, Wilbur H. Siebert Underground Railroad Collection, Ohio History Connection, [WEB]; D.J. Murphy to Wilbur Siebert, May 7, 1896, Siebert Collection, Ohio History Connection, [WEB]; Carl L. Spicer, “The Underground Railroad in Southern Illinois,” 8, 17-18, Siebert Collection, Ohio History Connection, [WEB]. Snedeker’s descendants were eager to relate stories about their abolitionist grandfather. See “Abolitionist Hid Runaway Slaves in Vinegar Vat,” Alton, IL Evening Telegraph, June 21, 1939; “Old Jersey House Was Part of Underground Railroad,” Alton, IL Evening Telegraph, February 12, 1959.

[14] “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849.

[15] “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849. For the original 1819 anti-kidnapping statute and punishments, see sections 56-57 of “Offences against the persons of individuals,” The Revised Laws of Illinois (Vandalia, IL: Greiner & Sherman, 1833), 180-181, [WEB].

[16] George Murray McConnel, “Some Reminiscences of My Father, Murray McConel,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 18:1 (April 1925): 89-100; Mark E. Steiner (ed.), “Abolitionists and Escaped Slaves in Jacksonville,” Illinois Historical Journal 89:4 (Winter 1996): 213-232; Don Harrison Doyle, The Social Order of a Frontier Community: Jacksonville, Illinois, 1825-70 (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 54-55; Doris Broehl Hopper, David A. Smith: Abolitionist, Patron of Learning, Prairie Lawyer (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003); Richard L. Miller, Lincoln and His World (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2006), 1:195.

[17] “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849; Thomas C. Browne, Illinois Courts, [WEB]; Paul M. Angle, “The Record of a Friendship: A Series of Letters from Lincoln to Henry E. Dummer,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 31:2 (June 1938): 125-137. There was evidently some confusion about the legality of the initial arrest. Attorneys for the slaveholders “admitted the illegality,” an admission which Judge Woodson declared as the reason behind his decision to discharge the four men. Woodson added that if the enslavers “had not done so, he should have directed their [the freedom seekers’] commitment to jail, there to remain and be proceeded with according to law.”

[18] “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849.

[19] “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849. For a typical advertisement outlining the Daniel Hillman‘s route, see “For Peoria and Peru,” St. Louis, MO Republican, April 10, 1849.

[20] “Bill Williams,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 8, 1849. Later that month, a newspaper to the north in Marion county, Missouri, reported the death of a “negro who went by the name of Bill Williams” in the county jail. It is unlikely that this report refers to the same Williams involved in the stampede. It is unclear why Williams would have been moved from the jail at St. Louis to one in Marion county. See “Not Very Consoling,” Hannibal, MO Courier, November 29, 1849.

[21] “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849; Alban H. Glasby Estate Inventory, Case File 4666-4673, Probate Court, St. Louis, MO, Ancestry. By the time census takers visited slaveholder Williamson Pittman in 1850, he told them he held two enslaved people, neither of whom matched Jeff’s description. It is possible Jeff did elude capture, or that he was recaptured and sold by Pittman. See 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Palmyra, Marion County, MO, Ancestry.

[22] “A Stampede,” St. Louis, MO Republican, October 29, 1849; “$700 Reward,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 3, 1849.

[23] “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes–Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 5, 1849.

Fugitive Slave Laws

Overview

There were only two federal fugitive slave laws in American history –1793 and 1850– but they were both enormously controversial.  Each one derived from what is now known as the Fugitive Slave Clause of the original 1787 U.S. constitution (Article IV, Section 2).  However, that clause proved to be too vague and uncertain for easy enforcement, especially after Northern states began abolishing slavery within their own boundaries.  Over the years between 1788 and 1861, these states imposed obstacles against federal enforcement of the fugitive code on their “free soil,” usually dubbed “personal liberty” statutes.  Ultimately, these state laws compelled the Supreme Court to rule on the conflict in a series of landmark cases (especially 1842 and 1859).  Yet even with all of that national debate over runaway slaves, the actual operations of the federal system on fugitive recapture and rendition was notably sporadic.  Black resistance proved fierce.  Even in northern states where color prejudice was strong and abolitionist sentiment was weak, there seemed to be greater white sympathy for the plight of freedom seekers and a significant wellspring of northern state rights sentiment that made enforcing the federal code quite difficult.  Thus, it was also true that for slave states such as Missouri, their own “slave stealing” statutes often proved more important to the return of runaways and the prosecution of those “Underground Railroad” operatives who assisted them than any federal code.  Yet obviously that meant that if any individuals or groups of freedom seekers could actually succeed in crossing into free soil, there chances of liberation were strong.  Southern complaints about this reality escalated throughout the 1850s and proved to be a central component of the movement toward secession in 1860-61.


Video Resources


Primary Sources


Secondary Sources

 

Jireh Platt UGRR Diary, 1848-1859

Jireh Platt Diary

Excerpted by Rev. H.D. Platt in “Some Facts About the Underground Railroad in Ill.” Typescript March 20, 1896, Wilbur H. Siebert Underground Railroad Collection, Ohio Memory https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/siebert/id/8659

 

platt headshot

Abolitionist Jireh Platt. (Photo has been lightened, original at Kansas Memory)

The following excerpt comes from the diary of an abolitionist living in Mendon, Illinois during the 1840s and 1850s.  Jireh Platt (1798-1870) was a farmer and Congregationalist deacon, born in Connecticut, and who spent many years in western Illinois helping enslaved families escape from Missouri.  Rev. Henry Dutton Platt (1823-1903) inherited many of his father’s papers, including a diary that described Underground Railroad operations around Mendon.  Rev. Platt shared excerpts from this diary along with some of his own recollection in a typescript he sent to pioneering UGRR scholar Wilbur H. Siebert in 1896.  Siebert then included a few of the passages in his groundbreaking work, The Underground Railroad From Slavery To Freedom (1898) on p. 9.  The full scope of the diary excerpts provided by Platt’s son in 1896 are reprinted below and include a passage we can now identify (“December 5 year not given”) as being related to the 1853 Palmyra Stampede.  The passages in italics come from Henry D. Platt (the son).  Those in regular font come from the original Jireh Platt diary.


I make now a few quotations from a sort of diary and farm record of my father’s, which came into my hands at his death.  There was a “blue book,” which had vastly more in it, and some very exciting records.

May 19, 1848.  Hannah Coger arrived on the U.G. Railroad, the last $100.00 for freedom she was to pay to Thomas Anderson Palmyra, Missouri –the track is kept bright it being the 3rd time occupied since the 1st of April.

November 17, ’48.  John Buckner arrived in a car –had been acquainted with Thornton and others that have traveled this way.  Had been sold to a trade, and was to start South Next Monday morning.  He had spent most of the time for a week in sawing off his chain with an old casa-knife. [Here follows a cut of the knife]

 [no date, but between September 5 and September 14, 1849]  It is rumored that John escaped, not long since from the [steamer] Kate Kearniey.

December 5 [year not given] within a month past, there has been a great stir, advertising, telegraphing, and hunting property from Missouri.  Oh, what a spectacle!  Eleven pieces of property, walking in Indian file, armed and equipped facing the North Star!  $3000.00 offered for their apprehension, after they were safe in Canada!  The hunters say they must have gone from Mendon to Jacksonville on a new track.

July 1, 1854 – Henry Edwards took passage on the U.G. Railroad, for fear of being sent South, report says.  From St. Louis, and within a few weeks past, William crossed the Mississippi river in a dugout padding with a shingle-board after having been shot at.  Also one other, who had been taken to Pike County Jail, and the sheriff commanded them to let him go.  He had a bullet hole through his left arm.

November 9, ’54.   Negro hoax stories have been very high in the market for a week past.

November 2, ’57.  Freedom progressing.  Within a few weeks 10 tickets have been disposed of at the U.R. Depot and among the passengers were Harrison, slave of the Free State Governor of Missouri, Caroline, Bonaparte and Stephen.  I was informed last fall by neighbor Metcalf, that one of his old Kentucky friends had lost 5.

October 1859.  U.G.R.R. Conductor reported the passage of 5 who were considered very valuable pieces of Ebony, all designated by names such as John Brooks, Daniel Brooks, Mason Bushrod, Silvester Lucket and Hanson Ganes.  Have understood also that three others were ticketed about mid-summer.

This is the last record of the sort in the book.  These are among the least thrilling of many which I know occurred.

These passages from Jireh Platt’s diary and from Rev. H.D. Platt’s 1896 recollection shared with Siebert also appear with additional context and photographs in Ruth Deters, The Underground Railroad Ran Through My House (2008), see especially pp. 205-7.

 

FURTHER READING

1917 ||   Speech by Ferry Luther Platt (grandson of Jireh, son of Luther Hart Platt) at family reunion, “The Platt-Cottrell Spirit,” Kirwin, KS Kansan, October 31, 1917 (Newspapers.com)

“…The old Mendon homestead was a station on the Underground Railroad and many are the incidents I have heard father [Luther Hart Platt] relate of experience with Missouri Slave Drivers. Once Grandfather had $1000 offered for his capture dead or alive, as a violator of the Fugitive Slave Law. A band of slave drivers had traced some refugees to his door and riding up before the house, they whetted their bowie knives on the rail fence demanding the surrender of the negroes, and swearing terrible vengeance if this demand was refused, but they did not try to enter, for it was common talk that Deacon Platt kept an ax hanging just inside each outside door to brain the man who attempted to force an entrance to this home, and no negro slave was thought valuable enough to risk the life of a white hunter.”

1917 ||    Neighbor Anna V. Baldwin writes to Ferry Luther Platt ca. 1916, excerpted in Kirwin, KS Kansan, November 07, 1917 (Newspapers.com)

“…I forgot to tell you that your Grandfather’s home was a station on the Underground Railroad. It had a place in the cellar where from 1 to 10 people could be hidden….”

1853 Palmyra Stampede –Newspaper Articles

The following newspaper articles provided key source material for the 1853 Palmyra Stampede narrative:

 

“Runaway Negroes,” Palmyra, MO Whig, November 3, 1853, reprinted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 7, 1853 (Newspapers.com)

MO Democrat 11-7-1853

 

“CLEAR THE TRACK!––THE TRAIN IS COMING!,” Chicago Tribune, November 7, 1859 (Newspapers.com)Chicago Tribune article

 

 

 Quincy, IL Whig, November 21, 1853 (Quincy Newspaper Archive)patrol article

 

 “Marion Association,” Hannibal, MO Courier, January 12, 1854 (19th Century US Newspapers)

Hannibal Marion minutes

 

 

 

The 1853 Palmyra Stampede

PRINTABLE NARRATIVE

DATELINE: OCTOBER 29, 1853, PALMYRA, MO

road to liberty

“The Road to Liberty,” unknown artist, ca. 1857. (Schomburg Center, New York Public Library)

“Within a month past, there has been a great stir, advertising, telegraphing, and hunting property from Missouri,” the Mendon, Illinois abolitionist Jireh Platt confided to his diary in December 1853. “Oh, what a spectacle! Eleven pieces of property, walking in Indian file, armed and equipped facing the North Star!  $3000.00 offered for their apprehension, after they were safe in Canada! The hunters say they must have gone from Mendon to Jacksonville on a new track.” [1]

The daring escape Platt described had been set in motion little more than a month earlier, on Saturday night, October 29, 1853. Fleeing from a series of farms and homes clustered around the border town of Palmyra, Missouri, 11 freedom seekers–men, women, and children among them–charted a course across the moonlit Mississippi River to Quincy, Illinois. Not stopping, they plodded on an additional 12 miles, reaching the town of Mendon, Illinois before daybreak the next morning. [2]

Situated mere miles from the Illinois border and free soil, slaveholders throughout Marion county, Missouri found themselves constantly combatting escapes. But this latest episode proved “more alarming in extent.” As the Palmyra Whig attested days later, “there must have been a full and perfect understanding among these several servants,” who left the farms and residences of six different enslavers at the same time. Visions of enslaved people seizing their freedom in concert unnerved Missouri slaveholders, though most contended that the root of the problem lay not inside slaveholding households, but rather in outside agitation. Antislavery preachers and abolitionist operatives, they insisted, were responsible for the mounting number of escapes. Thus in the weeks and months following the nighttime exodus, slaveholders in Marion county mounted an aggressive campaign to “close our doors against abolition and free soil influences.” [3] Slaveholders’ frenzied efforts to clamp shut their doors triggered a months-long war of words with their Illinois neighbors and church officials, revealing how coordinated group escapes inflamed political tensions over slavery on the eve of the Civil War.

 

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

Even before the Palmyra escape took place, slaveholders in Missouri already felt under siege in 1853, as a mounting number of “stampedes” occurred throughout the state. Back in May, a widely-circulated report from the Alton, Illinois Telegraph headlined “Slave Stampedes,” announced that “slaves are running away from Missouri, at the present time, in battalions.” It thus comes as little surprise that the term was used to describe the group flight from Palmyra mere months later. While initial reporting from the Palmyra Whig did not employ the word “stampede,” in mid-November the neighboring Hannibal Courier situated the escape within “several stampedes among the negroes” that had occurred recently. Around the same time, the Boston Herald summarized a bulletin about the episode originally published in the Chicago Tribune, affixing the new headline, “A Stampede.” As controversy over the escape escalated throughout the winter, the Quincy, Illinois Whig employed the term on multiple occasions while defending its residents from allegations of “their supposed connexion with slave stampedes from the other side of the river.” Still later in February 1854, the Palmyra Whig referred to the October escape as the “recent stampede of negroes.” [4]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

Marion Co MO

An 1857 map of Marion county, Missouri. (House Divided Project)

Although their actions made headlines, the names of the 11 enslaved Missourians who struck out for freedom do not survive. They were claimed by six slaveholders from Palmyra and adjoining Fabius township, at the northeastern corner of Marion county. Six of the freedom seekers–a man, a woman, and four children, likely a family–fled from slaveholder Albert Gallatin Johnson’s farm some nine miles north of Palmyra. Their flight may have been motivated by their enslaver’s future plans. When he put his farm up for sale in May, Johnson had announced his intention of relocating to Texas. The family of six probably feared forced removal to the Deep South, or worse yet, being separated at the auction block. [5] Four other enslaved people, apparently all men, escaped from the Fabius township farms of slaveholders Rufus Mathews, Jeremiah K. Taylor, Caleb Taylor, and a female slaveholder identified only as Mrs. Hopkins. [6] Rounding out the group of escapees was an eleventh freedom seeker, an enslaved man who escaped from the Palmyra home of prominent slaveholding lawyer John T. Redd. [7]

Living on adjoining farms, or perhaps even members of the same extended family, these 11 enslaved people knew one another well. After what must have involved considerable planning and coordination, they slipped away on Saturday night, October 29, reaching Mendon, Illinois in the predawn hours of Sunday, October 30. Once their absence was noticed, Marion county slaveholders scrambled to action. On Monday afternoon, October 31, a large posse of white Missourians headed to Quincy in pursuit, but the freedom seekers were long since gone. Nonetheless, when the Palmyra Whig went to press on Thursday, November 3, its editors still thought it possible that the freedom seekers “may all be secured and returned to their masters.” [8]timeline

Even as they sought to track down the runaways, slaveholding Missourians were quick to accuse white abolitionists of having masterminded the escape. The Palmyra Whig postulated that “some person or persons well acquainted with the best mode of effecting the escape of fugitives” had been involved. Residents in Fabius township singled out Quincy, Illinois, “a city containing some of the vilest abolition thieves in the Mississippi valley.” Some 20 miles to the southeast, editors of the Hannibal Courier concurred, pronouncing it “our opinion that the emissaries of negro-stealing societies are prowling about the country, exciting the slave population to insubordination, and enticing them away from their masters.” Further to the west, the Paris, Missouri Mercury agreed that the runaways must have been “assisted by white friends.” [9]

To be sure, slaveholders often blamed white activists for “enticing” enslaved people to escape, even when they had no evidence to back up those charges. Reared in proslavery logic, many white southerners imagined that enslaved people (whom they considered an inferior race) would not choose to seek out liberty on their own, or be capable of escaping without outside help. Some scholars have argued that white southerners’ obsession with antislavery “emissaries” bordered on a “conspiracy theory,” allowing slaveholders to maintain that enslaved people themselves were not resisting, and the only source of unrest originated from outside actors. But while that might hold true in the Deep South, the historian Stanley Harrold cautions that in border slave states like Missouri, concerns about antislavery activists were by no means unfounded. In 1841, to name just one example, three students from Quincy had crossed the river to Marion county in an abortive attempt to help runaways. They were captured, denounced by a Palmyra prosecutor as “notorious land pirates,” and each sentenced to lengthy spells in the Missouri State Penitentiary. Indeed, while it remains unclear if the 11 freedom seekers had help from the very outset, they likely did obtain aid from a network of abolitionists soon after crossing into Illinois. [10]

platt brothers

Standing, left to right: Luther H. Platt and Jeremiah E. Platt; seated, L to R: Henry Dutton Platt and Enoch Platt (Kansas History; image also published and figures identified in Mendon Dispatch Times, November 26, 1931)

There was a well-established Underground Railroad “route” running from Quincy to Mendon, the very route the freedom seekers were known to have taken. About one mile west of Mendon was the farm of abolitionist Jireh Platt, who logged details about the escape in his diary in December 1853. Decades later in 1896, his son Jeremiah Evarts Platt revealed more about the assistance the Platt family likely gave to the Palmyra freedom seekers, writing that “eleven slaves came along at one time some of them women.” Platt recalled that he and his relatives concealed the freedom seekers under hay in “two tightly covered wagons.” It was “not practicable” to stop at Plymouth, some 30 miles to the northeast and traditionally the next place of refuge for escapees, so Platt drove for some 60 miles in the direction of Chicago, returning home a full four days later. Jeremiah believed that he was “about 17 years old” at the time of the escape described, which would place the incident in the early 1850s. Although written decades apart, together these two remarkable sources strongly suggest that the Platt family helped the Palmyra freedom seekers on their quest for liberty. [11]

platt headshot

Abolitionist Jireh Platt lived on a farm near Mendon, Illinois. His son, Jeremiah, may have helped the Palmyra freedom seekers. (Photo has been lightened, original at Kansas Memory)

Meanwhile, slaveholders Albert Johnson and Rufus Mathews offered up a sizable $3,000 reward, even telegraphing ahead to where they correctly suspected the runaways were headed–Chicago. However, the city was a center of opposition to the recently-passed 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the editors of the Chicago Tribune (a Free Soil newspaper) refused to even run the enslavers’ ad. “No one need apply,” the Tribune mocked, unless prepared to “sell his soul, for ‘thirty pieces.'” On November 16, a group of white Missourians arrived in Chicago in pursuit, distributing handbills that prominently announced the $3,000 reward. But the Chicago Tribune ridiculed them the very next day, announcing that the slaveholders were “too late.” Already about a week prior, the the 11 freedom-bound Missourians had reached Chicago, and reportedly departed for Canada. Journalists often used “Canada” as a general byword for freedom, so the freedom seekers’ final destination remains unknown. Regardless, they would not be re-enslaved, and their daring escape had succeeded. [12]

 

AFTERMATH

Panicked slaveholders convened at Palmyra on Monday, November 7 to form the Marion Association, a proslavery vigilance group. Declaring that “by the action of the Abolitionists, our rights and property are eminently endangered,” the Association outlined a system for a new slave patrol. For a fee of five dollars, slaveholders could join the organization, which would keep a detailed description of their human property on file, and promised to immediately pursue any freedom seekers. [13]

Anderson photo

Thomas L. Anderson later served as a congressman from Missouri from 1857-1861, part of the American or Know-Nothing Party. (Library of Congress)

After several meetings in November, the Marion Association invited Thomas L. Anderson, a local Whig politician, to speak at a December 24 gathering. Before “one of the largest audiences” ever assembled in the county court house at Palmyra, Anderson invoked biblical justifications for slavery, while denouncing “fanatics” from Quincy, whom he alleged “have for some time carried on a secret intercourse with our slaves.” Anderson knew of what he spoke. In May 1848, an enslaved woman he held named Hannah Coger had escaped from his residence in Marion county and traveled through Quincy, before reaching the Platte farm in Mendon. In his diary, abolitionist Jireh Platte recorded Coger’s arrival on May 19 and her backstory–Coger had apparently been trying to purchase her freedom, and was only $100 shy of doing so before she bolted to Illinois. [14]

But now on Christmas Eve 1853, Anderson addressed the latest stampede from Marion county. A few weeks prior, he bellowed, “from twelve to fifteen thousand dollars worth of slave property has been clandestinely removed from our midst.” Almost as galling, Anderson added, was that local slaveholders had been “laughed pull quote andersonat, ridiculed and insulted, for making legal and constitutional efforts to capture the flying refugees”–apparently referring to the Chicago Tribune‘s sardonic refusal to publish Johnson and Mathew’s reward notice, and mocking remarks about the pursuers being “too late.” Anderson, who in 1856 would be elected to represent northeastern Missouri in Congress, concluded by suggesting that local residents “suspend all business and intercourse” with their Illinois neighbors. [15]

Anderson’s fiery speech electrified his white listeners, but he was not the first proslavery Missourian to suggest severing ties with Illinois. In mid-November, the anonymous correspondent “Marion” called upon Missouri residents to resolve “neither to buy or sell to any citizen of Illinois and of Quincy in particular,” and “have no intercourse with them till they put down negro-stealing.” The Quincy Whig thundered back, unconvinced that “any citizen of Quincy had anything to do with the recent negro stampede.” Behind the volley of accusations was the reality that frequent stampedes had jarred many Missouri slaveholders into a siege mentality. “Almost every man in Northern Missouri can attest,” read a column in the Hannibal Courier, “the public mind is kept in a constant state of fermentation and nervous irritability.” Convinced that outside emissaries were behind the October stampede and similar escapes, slaveholders sought to insulate their farms, households, and human property from contact with northerners. [16]

Accordingly, slaveholders’ next order of business was to expel Rev. William Sellers, a northern Methodist minister. In 1844, the Methodist Church fractured into northern and southern wings over clashing teachings about slavery. When Sellers, a member of the northern branch who was known for his antislavery sentiments, announced that he would preach in Fabius township, local whites erupted in outrage. A committee of five–among them Caleb Taylor, one of the slaveholders impacted by the October stampede–tried to meet with Sellers and “ascertain his views upon the subject of slavery.” When Sellers demurred, a public meeting was held on February 18, 1854, at the Union School house in Fabius township. Although the presiding elder of the church, J.H. Dennis, appeared and lobbied for “religious toleration,” local slaveholders blasted the church for “their unholy crusade upon our rights,” and Sellers for attempting to “create disaffection among our slaves.” They warned that any northern Methodist “preaching or teaching in this community” would be greeted as “unfriendly to our best interests, and as a disturber of the peace.” [17]

map palmyra

To view an interactive map of this stampede, check out our StorymapJS version at Knight Lab

FURTHER READING

The most detailed report of the escape was published by the Palmyra Whig on November 3. Subsequently, minutes from the Marion Association’s meetings, as well as editorials, were printed in editions of the Palmyra Whig, Hannibal Courier, and Quincy Whig. [18]

Although many members of the Marion Association, as well as local presses, readily leveled blame at white abolitionists for the escape, other members pointed the finger at free African Americans. At a January 2, 1854 meeting held at Palmyra, the Marion Association sought to clamp down on the presence of free African Americans in the state. They urged Missouri lawmakers to make it illegal to manumit a bond person, unless they were transported to the West African colony of Liberia. The Hannibal Courier reported on proceedings approvingly, imploring readers to be cognizant of the “example and corrupting influence of the free negroes that we permit to remain among us.” [19]

Benjamin Merkel’s 1943 essay “The Underground Railroad and the Missouri Borders, 1840-1860” was among the first scholarly works to mention the October 1853 escape. Merkel read Hannibal and Palmyra papers, and suggested that the freedom seekers were “probably assisted by abolitionists.” [20] More recently, Stanley Harrold’s Border War (2010) indirectly refers to the escape while reporting on Thomas Anderson’s thundering antiabolitionist speech at Palmyra. Harrold situates the proslavery gathering within the broader context of what many in the Border South perceived as “assaults on its economic, social, cultural, and racial status quo.” [21] Richard Blackett’s The Captive’s Quest for Freedom (2018) notes the episode and the increased “vigilance” practiced by slaveholders in its wake. Blackett contends that proslavery vigilance groups, such as the Marion Association, succeeded in quelling the number of escapes from the Palmyra region. Reports of escapes from Marion county “ceased for a while,” he observes, until spiking again during the summer of 1857. [22]

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

[1] According to son Henry Dutton Platt, his father Jireh maintained both a a “diary & farm record” and a “blue book,” the latter which contained “vastly more” details, though its whereabouts remains unknown. Henry Platt wrote Underground Railroad historian Wilbur Siebert drawing excerpts from Jireh Platt’s diary and farm book. He said the entry for December 1853 quoted above only identified the month (December) and not the year, but it appears  clear from the context that it was written in 1853. See Henry Dutton Platt, “Some Facts about the Underground Railroad in Ill.,” Wilbur H. Siebert Underground Railroad Collection, Ohio History Connection, [WEB].

[2] “Runaway Negroes,” Palmyra, MO Whig, November 3, 1853, reprinted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 7, 1853.[WEB]

[3] “Runaway Negroes,” Palmyra, MO Whig, November 3, 1853, reprinted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 7, 1853 [WEB];”Public Meeting,” Palmyra, MO Whig, February 23, 1854. 

[4] “Slave Stampedes,” Alton, IL Telegraph, May 23, 1853, quoted in Boston Liberator, June 10, 1853; “Negro Stealing,” Hannibal, MO Courier, November 10, 1853; “A Stampede,” Boston Herald, November 15, 1853; “The Feeling Across the River,” Quincy, IL Whig, December 2, 1853; “Misrepresentation,” Quincy, IL Whig, December 12, 1853; “Prompt Proceedings,” Palmyra, MO Whig, February 23, 1854.

[5] “Farm For Sale,” Palmyra, MO Whig, May 26, 1853; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Fabius Township, Marion County, MO, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Fabius Township, Marion County, MO, Family 167, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB]. The editors of the Palmyra Whig drew additional attention to Johnson’s advertisement, praising his land as “one of the most desirable farms in the county.” For the number of enslaved people who escaped from each slaveholder, see the original Palmyra Whig report, “Runaway Negroes,” Palmyra, MO Whig, November 3, 1853, reprinted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 7, 1853.

[6] 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Fabius Township, Marion County, MO, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Fabius Township, Marion County, MO, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Fabius Township, Marion County, MO, Family 130, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB]. The Palmyra Whig alluded that the individual enslaved by Mrs. Hopkins had been residing with a John Gwynn of neighboring Lewis county, likely meaning that they had been hired out (or rented) to Gwynn. Evidently this individual journeyed south from Lewis county on Saturday, October 29, to join the group somewhere in Fabius township.

[7] 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Palmyra, Marion County, MO, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Palmyra, Marion County, MO; 1850 U.S. Census, Palmyra, Marion County, MO, Family 320, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB].

[8] “Runaway Negroes,” Palmyra, MO Whig, November 3, 1853, reprinted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 7, 1853 [WEB].

[9] “Runaway Negroes,” Palmyra, MO Whig, November 3, 1853, reprinted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 7, 1853 [WEB]; “Negro Stealing,” Hannibal, MO Courier, November 10, 1853; Paris, MO Mercury, quoted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 16, 1853; “Public Meeting,” Palmyra, MO Whig, February 23, 1854.

[10] The historian Larry Gara was among the first to argue that southern fears of an extensive Underground Railroad network stretching deep into slave territory were wildly exaggerated. See Larry Gara, The Liberty Line: The Legend of the Underground Railroad (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 1961), 18, 84-87, [see post]. On the “conspiracy theory” line of thinking, see John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 274-279. For Harrold’s historiographical intervention, see Stanley Harrold, Border War: Fighting Over Slavery before the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 42, and for the July 1841 episode, 50-52, [see post]. The three abolitionist students involved in the 1841 incident (James Burr, George Thompson, Alanson Work) later authored a memoir Prison Life and Reflections: Or, A Narrative of the Arrest, Trial, Conviction, Imprisonment, Treatment, Observations, Reflections, and Deliverance of Work, Burr and Thompson… (Hartford, OH: A. Work, 1850), [WEB].

[11] Jeremiah Evarts Platt to Wilbur Siebert, March 28, 1896, Siebert Collection, Ohio History Connection, [WEB]. Also see letters and essay from his brother, Henry Dutton Platt, also written to Siebert. Henry Dutton Platt to Wilbur Siebert, March 20, 1896, Siebert Collection, Ohio History Connection, [WEB]; Henry Dutton Platt, “Some Facts about the Underground Railroad in Ill.,” Siebert Collection, Ohio History Connection, [WEB]. See post on Siebert’s work.

[12] “Clear the Track! The Train is Coming,” Chicago Tribune, November 7, 1853 [WEB]; “Too Late,” Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1853, quoted in Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 24, 1853; “Abolitionism in Missouri,” Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1853. Unfortunately, the Tribune‘s decision not to publish the ad (which according to the editors contained a “full description of each passenger”) means that there is no known record of the names of the 11 freedom seekers.

[13] “Abolitionism in Missouri,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 15, 1853; Quincy, IL Whig, November 21, 1853 [WEB]

[14] “T.L. Anderson, Esq.,” Hannibal, MO Courier, December 29, 1853; Henry Dutton Platt, “Some Facts about the Underground Railroad in Ill.,” Siebert Collection, Ohio History Connection, [WEB].

[15]  For a complete transcript of Anderson’s speech, see “Speech of Thomas L. Anderson, Esq.,” Quincy, IL Whig, February 6, 1854. Also see the entry for Anderson in the Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress. Anderson’s charge that “from twelve to fifteen thousand dollars worth of slave property has been clandestinely removed from our midst” comes from the Quincy Whig‘s February 6, 1854 transcript of the speech. Other sources (such as Stanley Harrold’s Border War) report a slightly different version, with Anderson saying that abolitionists carried “off eight or ten thousand dollars… [of human property] at a time.” This account comes from a 1943 article by Benjamin Merkel, who quoted from the Hannibal Whig Messenger of December 15, 1853 (before Anderson’s December 24 address had taken place). According to the Library of Congress, the Hannibal Whig Messenger is available on microfilm at the Hannibal Public Library and State Historical Society of Missouri. See Benjamin G. Merkel, “The Underground Railroad and the Missouri Borders, 1840-1860,” Missouri Historical Review 37:3 (April 1943): 278, [WEB]; Harrold, Border War, 162.

[16] “Non-Intercourse,” Quincy, IL Whig, November 28, 1853; “The Feeling Across the River,” Quincy, IL Whig, December 2, 1853; “Misrepresentation,” Quincy, IL Whig, December 12, 1853; “The Underground Railroad Again,” Quincy, IL Whig, December 20, 1853; Another anonymous contributor, “Fabius,” declared the Quincy Whig‘s denial to be a “lie, black and foul,” while continuing to scold Illinoisans for “stealing our property.” In its November 28 weekly edition, the Quincy Whig had reprinted the Chicago Tribune‘s mocking article, which apparently enraged the anonymous correspondent Fabius, who called it “that infamous thing.”

[17] “Prompt Proceedings,” and “Public Meeting,” Palmyra, MO Whig, February 23, 1854; History of Marion County, Missouri (St. Louis: E.F. Perkins, 1884), 1:318-320, [WEB]; Lucas P. Volkman, Houses Divided; Evangelical Schisms and the Crisis of the Union in Missouri (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 94. On Sellers, also see Minutes of the Missouri Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held in Hannibal, Missouri, March 28th to April 2nd, 1888 (Kirksville, MO: Journal Printing House, 1888), 13, [WEB].

[18] See esp. “Runaway Negroes,” Palmyra, MO Whig, November 3, 1853, reprinted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 7, 1853 [WEB]; “Negro Stealing,” Hannibal, MO Courier, November 10, 1853; “Marion Association,” Hannibal, MO Courier, January 12, 1854; “Public Meeting,” Palmyra, MO Whig, February 23, 1854.

[19] “Marion Association,” Palmyra, MO Whig, January 5 1854; “Complaints of the People,” and “Marion Association,” Hannibal, MO Courier, January 12, 1854.

[20] Merkel, “The Underground Railroad and the Missouri Borders, 1840-1860,” 278.

[21] Harrold, Border War, 161-162.

[21] Richard J.M. Blackett, The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 140.

Slave Stampedes and German-Language Newspapers

Sklaven Stampede German

St. Louis MO Mississippi Blätter (Westliche Post), August 26, 1860 (Newspapers.com)

“Ein Sklaven-Stampede” –– German for “A Slave Stampede” –– was the headline in the Westliche Post on August 26, 1860. Among the most influential German-language newspapers in Missouri, the St. Louis-based organ provided its readers with a detailed account of the latest “stampede” of enslaved people from the city. By and large, the Post’s rendering of the escape hewed closely to the timeline of events already circulated by one of the city’s leading English-language organs, the St. Louis News.  Five enslaved people––a 60-year-old woman, her two sons, a daughter, and another young woman––had “suddenly disappeared” from the farm of slaveholder Edward Bredell, who was absent visiting the east at the time. But while St. Louis’s English-speaking journalists readily leveled blame at “some Abolitionist,” who must have “induced” the five freedom seekers to escape, the Post struck a different tone. “Of course,” the German paper added with an air of derision, “the ‘abolitionists’ are accused of having seduced the escaped.” [1]

The Post’s remark betrayed some of the critical differences in thought between German-born Missourians and their native-born white counterparts, differences that flared into the open when it came to the subject of slavery. As it were, German emigrants tended to embrace more anti-slavery views, many of them having fled from failed liberal revolutions in Europe during the late 1840s. To be sure, not all Germans arriving in Missouri became abolitionists, and substantial cleavages of conservative emigrants would go on to advocate for more conservative approaches to emancipation and African American recruitment during the Civil War. On the whole, however, it was clear that German-born Missourians were less invested in slavery, with emigrants flocking in large numbers to support the Free Soil wing of the Democratic party, and later the anti-slavery Republican party. [2] Accordingly, the primary source materials they left behind offer important insights –– and different perspectives –– into the struggle over slavery in the Missouri borderland.

As Missouri’s German-speaking population soared during the late 1840s and 1850s, a number of German-language newspapers quickly cropped up. In St. Louis, where many emigrants settled, the two major German-language organs were the Anzeiger des Westens (Free Soil Democratic) and its rival the Deutsche Tribüne (Whig/Free Soil Democratic). By decades’ end, the Westliche Post (Republican) had supplanted the now-defunct Tribune, competing with a number of other religious-specific journals also published in German. [3] Outside of the city, smaller-run German-language papers were also established in Gasconade county and St. Charles. Many of these papers have been digitized and incorporated into databases already examined by this project, including GenealogyBank and Newspapers.com. However, scouring German-language sources invites an array of challenges, especially for researchers not fluent in German. Below readers will find some helpful search tips about how we approached the voluminous archive of German-language newspapers, ranging from search queries to translating sources, as well as a breakdown of relevant results for the group escapes on our project timeline.

 

SEARCH TIPS

  • USE SURNAMES. Often one of the few constants in reporting from English-language sources to their German-language counterparts were the surnames of enslavers. Searching for the surname of a particular slaveholder affected by an escape often generated results.
  • COMMON PHRASES. It quickly became apparent that German-language papers in Missouri used several terms when referring to the escapes of enslaved people These included “Entflohen” (German for “Escaped”) and “Sklaven” (German for “slaves”).

 

TRANSLATION TIPS

  • LOOK FOR OCR. Many databases, including both GenealogyBank and Newspapers.com, offer both clipping services (digital image captures) and OCR text (optical character recognition). OCR-produced transcriptions can be rough, but when used in combination with the original image and an online translator, can produce decent results.
  • GOOGLE TRANSLATE. While it is not without flaws, GoogleTranslate offers the best way to quickly get a sense of what an article in another language is about. Simply copy and paste the OCR text into GoogleTranslate. For best results, review the OCR text with the original image, and try to correct any obvious errors. Then, let GoogleTranslate do the work, and you should have a transcription which, though by no means perfect, is mostly readable.

 

COVERAGE OF STAMPEDES IN GERMAN-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPERS

1852 Ste. Genevieve Stampede

St. Louis Anzeiger des Westens, September 11, 1852

Anzeiger Sept 11 1852

St. Louis MO Anzeiger des Westens, September 11, 1852 (Newspapers.com)

ESCAPED SLAVES. The day before yesterday, Mr. Amadee Valle of this city received the news that 9 of his Negroes, who worked in his mines in St, Genevieve County, escaped and [illegible] across the Illinois river. At Sparta, the citizens made an attempt to arrest them, but the [illegible] escaped to the nearby forest. It is said that whites persuaded to escape and offered the means to do so. After the police were informed of the incident, Lieutenant Woodward and 6 other police officers left for Illinois to [illegible].

St. Louis Anzeiger des Westens, September 15, 1852

St. Louis Anzeiger newspaper

St. Louis MO Anzeiger des Westens, September 15, 1852 (Newspapers.com)

SLAVE HUNTING. We reported before one [illegible], [illegible] Lieutenant Woodward in escort from several police officers [illegible] Sparta would have left to collect some fleeing slaves from St. Genevieve County. Police officials leaned back from their unsuccessful expedition last Sunday. It appears that the policemen here had left under the erroneous promise that they had been given by the news, that the Negroes were protected by 2 to 300 people in a church in Sparta. On the way, however, he was already driving them, [illegible] a gentleman who was interested in capturing the slaves and who had traveled ahead, according to rumor that a large division of the St. Louis Police would arrive to arrest the Negroes. The same, of course, would have to be warned: [illegible] flee. Arriving in Sparta, the police officers found a number of people from this State who came there with the same intentions as the police officers. At the same time [illegible] was told that the slaves went to Eden, a [illegible] of Abolitionism, about two miles from Sparta, almost a week earlier. The police officers [illegible] then went to Eden, where they learned that the slaves had already left this place several days before. Regardlss of the [illegible] bay horses and gave themselves all to find the trail of the refugees. …. [illegible] no difficulty [illegible] in Sparta nor in Eden.

St. Louis Anzeiger des Westens, September 22, 1852

German paper image

St. Louis MO Anzeiger des Westens, September 22, 1852 (Newspapers.com)

Five Negroes, who escaped from this State, were [illegible] the steamer Altona  were [illegible] into prison. The [illegible] caught 15 miles behind Alton in the following way: Mr. A.A. Scott, the owner of the Delphi hause in that county happened to be in the house [illegible] when a Negro came to the house [illegible] four of his comrades who were close [illegible] ordered a dinner. Mr. Scott introduced Way to teh fact that a number of [illegible] had fled from St. Genevieve and both are planning a plan to catch them. They asked the Negro to fetch his companions for dinner. While he was gone, they removed all the chairs and what [illegible] could have been used as a weapon from the room. The Negroes came to the table, they had 3 shotguns, which they left in the anteroom. These were thrown up by Scott and Way and the [illegible], the former armed with his own rifle, the latter armed with a knife, into the room, and he asked the Negroes to cross over. This happened and the prisoners were bound here with the altona.  The names of the slaves are: Henry, property of Col. Bogy; Isaac, property of Mr. Valee; Edmund, slave of Mr. [Illegible], Joseph, slave of Mr. Jannis; William, slave of Smith. They are all young people with over Edmund who was about [illegible] years old––1 to catch the negroes, the last price of 1000 was immediately paid to the third party. The day before yesterday $200 was caught [illegible] …

 

1854 St. Louis Stampedes

St. Louis Anzeiger des Westens, December 1, 1854

German newspaper

St. Louis MO Anzeiger des Westens, December 1, 1854 (Newspapers.com)

Escaped. Over the past week, more than twenty slaves have escaped from various parts of St. Louis County and the city. The owners of the Negroes suspect that Abolitionists, [illegible] should now be here, have a hand in the process. Three of the last run away, Negroes belong to Mr. Richard Berry, one Mr. Martin Wash sen., A fifth, Mr. Martin Wash jr.

 

 

1858 Vernon County Stampede

St. Louis Westliche Post, January 25, 1859

German paper image

St. Louis MO Westliche Post, January 25, 1859 (Newspapers.com)

…From Kansas. Leavenworth, Jan. 19. From various notes in your journal, I see that you have been wrongly reported about the unrest that has taken place in the southern part of this territory. They seem to think that the people who have joined Montgomery are nothing more than a gang of muggers. This is by no means the case, on the contrary, those men only came together to protect each other against attacks by the Proslavery Party. Governor Medary, who was initially very antagonistic to Montgomery and Consorten, now admits himself that, insofar as he has carefully examined the matter, he is convinced that Montgomery is never different than when it is to defend a life or its neighbors was necessary, acted… John Brown freed Missouri 11 Negroes a few days ago with several of his friends….

 

 

John Doy’s Forgotten 1859 Capture and Rescue

St. Louis Westliche Post, March 3, 1859 (erroneous reporting that abolitionist John Doy and son had been lynched by a pro-slavery mob)

German paper image

St. Louis MO Westliche Post, March 3, 1859 (Newspapers.com)

Outrageous murder of two Free Statesmen from Kansas by the thugs. The villains on the western border seem to want to conjure up the scenes of the bloody civil war with all vigor. If the message below is confirmed, we can look forward to the repetition of bloody abominations within a short time. Our readers remember that some time ago a well-known Free State official, Dr. Doy gathers his son near Topeka, Kansas, captured by a group of Missouri intruders, and has been towed to [illegible]… his fearful break, which made him so dangerous in the eyes of the Missouri, was to help fleeing slaves to freedom. Doy and his son were kept in the Jail of Platte, thirty miles below St. Joseph, Missouri. St. Joseph is now reported on February 27th: An express courier arrived here from Platte today, with the news that Doy and his son, near Topeka, Kansas, had arrived a few weeks ago from. Proslavers were drafted new because they were charged with escaping Missouri negroes who had been lynched the night before. The mob is said to have been more than 300 men strong. The iail was stormed and the son was forced to drive the cart up to 2 miles outside the city, where both were hung from a tree. Old Doy pleaded for his life, but the dehumanized gang didn’t hear him. The son was hanged first. In Platte there is great excitement because of these events…. We still want to give up hope that the reports are over, when the worst seems to be the worst from the side of the Gran. But if the news is confirmed, the response from the Free State of Kansas will not be long in coming, and [illegible] who will be avenged.

St. Louis Westliche Post, August 3, 1859 

German paper image

St. Louis MO Westliche Post, August 3, 1859 (Newspapers.com)

Dr. Doy and the mood in St., Joseph. ‘The Kansas newspaper contains an editorial correspondence from St. Joseph from 2f. July, in which [illegible] St. Joseph, Mo., July 27. That Dr. Doy was freed from the high Jail in one of those nights, as described in the knights and robber stories of [illegible]… with hair-raising imagination, is the readers of [illegible]… But it could be there at that moment, which constitutes the outflows of an excitement caused by the liberation of Doy [illegible] the ranks of the slave keeper party….

 

 

1860 St. Louis Stampede

St. Louis Mississippi Blatter [Sunday edition of Westliche Post ], August 26, 1860

A Slave Stampede. Within a few days, five slaves suddenly disappeared [illegible] Edward Bredell [illegible] farm on the Clayton Road, 6 miles from town. The refugees consist of a woman, her two sons and a daughter, resp. 7, 12 and 21. [Illegible] girl who is closely related to the family. One of the sons was his driver and enjoyed his trust. Mr. Bredell is visiting the east and the slaves are under the overseer. The old woman designed the whole escape plan. She asked the overseer for permission to visit a female [child?] that was granted to her. When the slaves were gone, the overseer became suspicious and went to the neighbors’ house. The slaves are all gone and have escaped any [illegible]. Of course, the “abolitionists” are accused of having seduced the escaped. It is not in doubt that Mr. Bredell’s slaves are well treated;  years ago he emancipated 30 to 40 slaves in Baltimore, which he would have acquired by inheritance.

 

1862 Loutre Island Stampede

St. Louis Westliche Post, December 3, 1862

German newspaper image

St. Louis MO Westliche Post, December 3, 1862 (Newspapers.com)

(For the “Westl. Post”.) From Hermann. Freedom triumphs! Probably never [illegible], dear editorial staff, I was so proud of our Hermann [illegible]. As we spoke, wrote and voted, so did we now we have also acted and our bold word has been gloriously sealed by the male act. But to the point. Known to you, escaped from Loutre Island, opposite us, in Montgomery County,  many slaves after this side of the [illegible] and found a lodging [illegible] as freelance workers with farmers in our neighborhood, not unfamiliar to you, several of their previous owners tried to convince our good squire John B. Miche to issue a warrant last week, in order to snatch their black property from us M. duly trumped them according to the existing laws of war and his duty as a Republican, and let them go their own way with a fervent and vengeance. Yesterday the gentlemen succeeded [illegible] Negro warrants from a German peace judge, his name is Karl Sandberger, to receive warrants and the deputy sheriff immediately caught four young negroes and put them in the county jail. But now the people rose in fine majesty. The news of this disgrace passed through town and surroundings like wildfire. The brave Germans clustered together, even the [illegible], with a few exceptions, did not fall behind. Curses, threats and curses against the slave owner and her helper, the Sandberger, fulfilled the rust, and the end was assured unanimously that the poor Negroes should be free people by morning, whether by legal means or by storming the jail by bloodshed, no matter. Gasconade County is not supposed to be a slave hunting area and Hermann’s free Germans do not want to be the scold and mockery of the country. [illegible] other equally arrogant but calm-thinking citizens moved excited people to postpone any use of force until at least 9:00 p.m. and asked for their major gene during this. Curtis for employment Capt. C.C.Manwaring as Provost Marshall, since he happened to discover that the previous Marshal [illegible] set up guards at the courthouse (so stood among others the old Strehly brother-in-law of the Blessed Papa [illegible] for hours on end [illegible] in the bitter cold [illegible]… At 9:00 in the evening the men came back with guns and crushing tools and were about to leave for the jail. When the most anticipated dispatch arrived, and the [illegible] immediately found themselves among three thunders in the [illegible] Gen. Curtis issued after the new Provost Marshal Manwaring, which immediately issued an order to release the Negroes. You can imagine the jubilation with which the poor alder was brought out of the singing papa. [Illegible] gave them a good evening meal and some good farmers took them to night quarters. Old Michael Poeschel kept up from the beginning to the end and the best old citizens of the city participated in the fashion that trampled on the law, as local demo friends would like to say. But everything happened according to the military laws recognized by the Congress. So we emancipate -– Hermann is [illegible] ‘Hurray for Union and Freedom! Yours Wm. Wesselhöft. Nov. 26, 1862.

 

DIGITIZED GERMAN-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPERS BY STATE

Missouri

Anzeiger des Westens (St. Louis, MO) – Free Soil Democratic, Republican (late 1850s – early 1860s), Democratic (post-1863) // Editors Carl Daenzer // Dates available: 1842-1869 (Newspapers.com)

Die Gasconade Zeitung (Hermann, MO) – Dates available: 1860-1922 (GenealogyBank.com)

Hermanner Volksblatt (Hermann, MO) – Dates available: 1860-1922 (Newspaperarchive.com)

Hermanner Wochenblatt (Hermann, MO) – Dates available: 1845-1855, 1860-1871 (Newspapers.com)

Licht-Freund (Hermann, MO) – Dates available: 1843-1845 (Newspapers.com)

St. Charles Demokrat (St. Charles, MO) – Dates available: 1857-1886 (Newspapers.com)

Westliche Post  (St. Louis, MO) – Republican // Editors Carl Daenzer, F. Wengel, (Carl Schurz later co-owner) // Dates available: 1857-1958 (Newspapers.com) **Sunday edition called Mississippi Blätter

 

Illinois

Chicago Illinois Staats-Zeitung – Free Soil Democratic, Republican // Editor George Schneider // Dates available: 1858 (one issue only) (GenealogyBank)

 

Iowa

Die Wochentliche Demokrat (Davenport, IA) – Dates available: 1862-1865 (Newspapers.com)

 

Wisconsin

Atlas Tagliche Ausgabe (Milwaukee, WI) – Dates available: 1859-1860 (Newspapers.com)

Banner Und Volksfreund Vereinigt Tagliche Stadt-A (Milwaukee, WI) – Dates available: 1855-1857 (Newspapers.com)

Das Tagliche Banner (Milwaukee, Wi) – Dates available: 1851-1852 (Newspapers.com)

Der Volksfreund (Milwaukee, WI) – Dates available: 1847-1850 (Newspapers.com)

Taglicher Volksfreund (Milwaukee, WI) – Dates available: 1850-1852 (Newspapers.com)

 

Kansas

Der Deutsche Kreiger (Fort Scott, KS) – Dates available: 1862 (Newspapers.com)

Kansas Zeitung (Atchison, KS) – Dates available: 1857-1858 (Newspapers.com)

Leavenworth Zeitung (Leavenworth, KS) – Dates available: 1858-1859 (Newspapers.com)

 

[1] “A Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Mississippi Blätter (Sunday edition of Westliche Post), August 26, 1860 (translated using GoogleTranslate); “Another Slave Stampede,” St. Louis News, quoted in Louisville, KY Daily Journal, August 28, 1860.

[2] Kristen Layne Anderson, Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2016), introduction and chapter 1. Also see, Kristen Layne Anderson, “German Americans, African Americans, and the Republican Party in St. Louis, 1865-1872,” Journal of American Ethnic History 28:1 (Fall 2008): 34-51.

[3] For a detailed overview of St. Louis’s German-language papers and their shifting political affiliations, see Anderson, Abolitionizing Missouri, esp. introduction.

The 1859 LaGrange Stampede

PRINTABLE NARRATIVE

DATELINE: NOVEMBER 7, 1859, LAGRANGE, MO

escape nighttime flatboat

Enslaved people escape aboard a small water craft, as depicted in Harper’s Weekly on April 9, 1864. (House Divided Project)

On Monday night, November 7, 1859, ten enslaved people crowded into a stolen flatboat and pushed off into the Mississippi River. Escaping from bondage in the riverside town of LaGrange, Missouri, these five men and five women steered a course by moonlight, local knowledge, and sheer determination, traveling some ten miles southeast to Quincy, Illinois. The next morning, seven slaveholders awoke to discover their “valuable slaves,” worth “not less than $10,000,” suddenly gone, and offered up a hefty $2,650 reward for their recapture. Costly as it was to local slaveholders, it was by no means the first such large escape launched from the vicinity. The town’s newspaper, the LaGrange American, hardly needed to remind readers that this latest episode marked “the third or fourth successful stampede that has taken place from LaGrange in the past three or four months.” Escapes were becoming so common, the paper alleged that “there is a regular underground railroad established from this place to Chicago.” [1] The enslaved men and women who set out upon that “underground railroad” revealed how coordinated group escapes posed a direct threat not only to slaveholders’ bottom line, but to the stability of slavery itself along the Missouri-Illinois border. 

 

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

Days after the escape, the LaGrange American described the episode as the most recent “successful stampede” from the region. This report was picked up by several Missouri papers, including the St. Louis News and Glasgow Weekly Times, both of which used the term “stampede.” The brief bulletin published by the St. Louis News attracted national attention, and was widely reprinted by newspapers in Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, and Kentucky, under headlines such as “Negro Stampede,” “Stampede of Negroes in Missouri,” and “Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County.” [2]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

The identities of the ten enslaved Missourians who escaped from LaGrange are unknown, as are the names of the seven slaveholders who laid claim to them. However, it is clear that the LaGrange stampede occurred amid a period of heightened anxieties for Missouri slaveholders. Less than a year earlier in December 1858, abolitionist John Brown had led a daring raid into western Missouri that freed eleven bond people, and in January 1859 his protege John Doy was captured and convicted of “seducing” enslaved Missourians to leave the state. Doy was rescued from prison in July, much to the outrage of proslavery Missourians. Then in mid-October, Brown and an armed group seized control of a federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in an abortive attempt to spark a slave revolt. As the Harpers Ferry raid captivated the nation and fed white southerners’ worst fears, Missouri papers were attentively reporting on the “irrepressible exodus of slaves from the borders of Missouri.” In October, a group of 26 freedom seekers escaped from western Missouri with the aid of antislavery operatives, traveling through Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois, eventually arriving in Detroit to considerable fanfare. Although matters seemed to be reaching a crisis point by late 1859, it was by no means the first time that slaveholders in Lewis County had grappled with an “exodus” of enslaved men and women. In fact, the escape from LaGrange occurred ten years to the week after an earlier “stampede” from Lewis County, where more than 30 enslaved people had struck out for freedom only to be subdued following a violent clash with slaveholders. [3]

More than ever before, human property seemed a risky investment in some parts of Missouri, particularly in places like LaGrange, where multiple “stampedes” had already occurred during the fall of 1859. Northern papers commented that “a perfect panic has seized the slaveholders of Missouri,” and the St. Louis Democrat concurred. A free soil press allied with the new antislavery Republican party, the Democrat wanted to wean the state off its dependence on enslaved labor, less out of sympathy for the enslaved than racist motivations to make room for free white labor. So the influential paper recounted the “exodus” of African Americans from the state––both in freedom seekers heading north, and in enslaved people being sold south by slaveholders apprehensive about the growing tide of escapes. Each day witnessed more enslaved Missourians forced aboard steamboats and sold down the river. “A visit to our levee will convince the skeptical of the steady and continual flow of slave property to the South,” the St. Louis organ declared.  Some contemporaries referred to this as “the stampede South,” and further evidence that “the State is fast emancipating itself from the incubus of slavery.” [4]LaGrange map

It appears the ten enslaved men and women in LaGrange were slated to be the next victims of the “stampede” to southern slave markets. According to one account, they were “sold to go down the river” the same day they escaped. Likely fearing they would be separated from family members at the auction block, these five men and five women instead set off on their own nighttime “stampede” across the Mississippi River on Monday, November 7. Soon after, the stolen flatboat used in the escape was found floating adrift near Quincy, Illinois, a riverside town that was home to a robust antislavery community. Whether the freedom seekers navigated to Quincy with aid from free African Americans or white antislavery activists, or on their own, remains unclear. However, LaGrange slaveholders were quick to point the finger at white antislavery activists in Quincy, rather than acknowledge the possibility that enslaved people might have been the authors of their own escape. The LaGrange American suggested that “an abolition conductor” had guided the ten bond people across the river, and even suspected that there were antislavery “agents” operating in LaGrange itself. [5]

timeline

Then on Friday night, November 11, an enslaved man escaped from the LaGrange residence of slaveholder David S. Lillard, a well-to-do 49-year-old farmer. Back in 1850, Lillard had held seven enslaved people, and by the time of the 1860 Census he claimed nine people as his property. They included four young children––a nine-year-old female, and three male children aged six, four, and -one––three other males in their early teens, a 36-year-old woman, and a man around the same age, likely a family. Although Lillard did not acknowledge to census takers in 1860 that any of his bond people were “fugitives from the state” (though quite a few of his neighbors did), a 50-year-old enslaved man who appeared on the 1850 Census is absent from Lillard’s list of human property ten years later. Whether this man, who would have been around 59 at the time of the LaGrange stampede, was the freedom seeker described is unknown. While the man’s identity remains clouded in uncertainty, he became the eleventh bond person to escape from LaGrange in the span of just four days. Even if his flight was not directly connected to the “stampede” earlier that same week, LaGrange slaveholders still viewed it as part of a broader pattern of escapes that was destabilizing slavery in northeastern Missouri. [6]

In the meantime, seven other LaGrange slaveholders were working feverishly to track down the ten freedom seekers who had escaped earlier in the week. They offered a sizable $2,650 reward, all while focusing their attention on Quincy. With the aid of Sheriff James Hendrickson of Adams County, Illinois, the slaveholders searched a Quincy home belonging to “a leading black republican” on Saturday, November 12, but came up empty-handed. Even Quincy’s Democratic press, the Herald, pull quotedrolly commented that “the Sheriff was at least four days behind time.” In nearby Hunstville, Missouri, the editor of the Randolph Citizen expressed what was fast becoming the general consensus: “There seems to be a poor chance for their recovery.” [7]

 

AFTERMATH AND LEGACY

On Thursday evening, November 17, several groups of freedom seekers arrived in Chicago. They included a party of five who had fled from near Richmond, Virginia, a group of 12 from Kentucky, and a contingent of 13 from Missouri. Although it is by no means certain, both the time frame and number of Missourians involved suggest that the LaGrange escapees may have been among them. The  runaways, 30 in all, passed through Chicago that night. Whether they journeyed to Canada, as the Chicago Journal reported, is uncertain. Northern newspapers often used the term “Canada” as a catchword for freedom, even if escapees were not actually headed for Canadian soil. For instance in December 1854, Chicago papers intimated that a group of 17 freedom seekers from St. Louis had already left for Canada, though the runaways were still in the city days later. [8]

LaGrange origins map

Regardless of whether the LaGrange freedom seekers made their way to Chicago, or sought refuge elsewhere, their daring escape clearly brewed consternation among Missouri slaveholders. In late November, an editor in Lewis County (where the LaGrange stampede occurred) bemoaned the “exodus of slaves [that] has taken place within the past few weeks.” Many slaveholders “have become alarmed at the losses sustained,” though most still blamed “abolitionists and negro-thieves” as the chief culprits, sidestepping enslaved people’s own aspirations for freedom and shifting focus to outside agitators, real or imagined. [9]

As white Missourians’ responses reveal, the repeat “stampedes” did more than hit the pockets of slaveholders, but unsettled the very foundations of slavery in northeastern Missouri. Local slaveholders were clearly reeling on November 28, when the county seat of Monticello played host to a meeting where “those interested in Slave property” contemplated forming “an organization to protect themselves from the depredations of negro-thieves.” The proceedings do not survive, though a Lewis County newspaper’s vow to “make an example of every negro-thief found in the State” offers a window into what the aggrieved slaveholders likely discussed. However, around the same time as the meeting at Monticello was underway, enslaved people some 20 miles to the south in the town of Emerson were “making preparations for a general stampede.” The plot was detected and quashed, but the attempted group escape only added to slaveholders’ concerns. Although slaveholding Missourians preferred to cast blame at outside forces, the mounting number of stampedes revealed more about the pressures confronting slavery from within than without. [10]

Meanwhile, the “exodus” of enslaved people being sold southward to slave markets continued at a steady clip. According to the Canton North-East Reporter (in Lewis County), and a journal in neighboring Hannibal, Missouri, slave traders were combing “through all the counties of North Missouri, buying up the slaves rapidly at high prices.” The Hannibal serial estimated that during one week in mid-November, “over 100 slaves, from Lewis, Clark and Scotland counties” had been hauled onto boats and transported south for sale. [11]

 

FURTHER READING

The first and most detailed report about the escape was published in the Lagrange American on November 12, and later excerpted by the Glasgow Weekly Times. On November 14, the St. Louis News drew upon the American‘s report and published a shorter version, with details not included by the Glasgow Weekly Times, that was widely circulated throughout the country. [12]

Despite garnering national attention in late 1859, the LaGrange stampede has received only brief mentions from scholars. In her book Runaway and Freed Missouri Slaves (2004), Harriet Frazier quotes from the copious press reports about the escape while examining newspaper coverage of Missouri escapes during the 1850s. [13] More recently, Richard Blackett’s authoritative study The Captive’s Quest for Freedom (2018) cites the LaGrange escape as among the “wave of ‘stampedes'” from Missouri after 1850. [14]

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

[1] LaGrange, MO American, November 12, 1859, quoted in “Negro Stampede,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 17, 1859; St. Louis News, November 14, 1859, quoted in “Stampede of Negroes from Missouri,” Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1859.

[2] LaGrange, MO American, November 12, 1859, quoted in “Negro Stampede,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 17, 1859; St. Louis News, November 14, 1859, quoted in “Stampede of Negroes from Missouri,” Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1859; “Stampede of Negroes in Missouri,” Cleveland, OH Daily Leader, November 18, 1859; “Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County MO,” New Orleans Sunday Delta, November 20, 1859; “Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County,” Newburyport, MA Morning Herald, November 22, 1859; “Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County, Missouri,” Jackson, MS Semi-Weekly Mississippian, November 23, 1859; “Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County,” Lowell, MA Daily Citizen and News, November 23, 1859; “Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County,” Warren, OH Western Reserve Chronicle, November 23, 1859; “Stampede of Negroes,” Franklin, KY Tri-Weekly Kentucky Yeoman, November 29, 1859; New York Times, November 30, 1859; “Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County,” Groton, MA Railroad Mercury, December 1, 1859; Toledo, IA Transcript, December 8, 1859.

[3] Detroit Advertiser, quoted in “A Large Underground Arrival,” Douglass’ Monthly, November 1859; “Signs Not to be Mistaken,” St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 9, 1859; “Twenty-Six Missouri Negroes Arrived in Canada,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 17, 1859.

[4] Detroit Advertiser, quoted in “A Large Underground Arrival,” Douglass’ Monthly, November 1859; “Signs Not to be Mistaken,” St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 9, 1859; LaGrange, MO American, November 12, 1859, quoted in “Negro Stampede,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 17, 1859.

[5] “Negro Stampede,” Cleveland, OH Daily Herald, November 19, 1859; LaGrange, MO American, November 12, 1859, quoted in “Negro Stampede,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 17, 1859; St. Louis News, November 14, 1859, quoted in “Stampede of Negroes from Missouri,” Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1859.

[6] St. Louis News, November 14, 1859, quoted in “Stampede of Negroes from Missouri,” Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1859; 1850 U.S. Census, District 48, Lewis County, MO, Family 280, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, District 48, Lewis County, MO, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Union Township, Lewis County, MO, Family 728, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Union Township, Lewis County, MO, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB]. Although Lillard’s views on the looming secession crisis are unknown, several years after the 1859 escape one of his sons, David E. Lillard, enlisted in a Confederate unit. See Margaret Thompson Winkler, Carolina Nigg, William Johnson Frazier, The “Long Tree” and Others: Longs, Davises, Thompsons, Cratins, and Slatons (Montgomery, AL: Uchee Publications,1995), 32. Later in 1865, the Lagrange American reported that “an athletic young negro named Henry, formerly the slave of David Lillard,” was arrested for allegedly attempting to rape a young woman. It is unclear if the paper referred to David S. Lillard, or his son who had fought for the Confederacy. See LaGrange American, August 27, 1865, quoted in St. Louis, MO Tri-Weekly Missouri Democrat, August 2, 1865.

[7] Quincy, IL Daily Herald, November 14, 1859; Hannibal, MO Daily Messenger, November 15, 1859; Huntsville, MO Randolph Citizen, November 18, 1859.

[8] “Negro Stampede,” Cleveland, OH Daily Herald, November 19, 1859; “Underground Railroad Business,” Cleveland, OH Daily Leader, November 21, 1859.

[9]  “Leaving,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 24, 1859; The Glasgow Weekly Times quoted an unnamed Lewis County newspaper, which it identified only as “Senator Green’s Home Organ,” (US Senator James Green of Missouri) suggesting it was either a Canton or Monticello paper.

[10] “Leaving,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 24, 1859; “The Latest News,” Hannibal, MO Daily Messenger, November 26, 1859; Hannibal, MO Daily Messenger, December 6, 1859. See post on Hannibal Messenger.

[11] Hannibal, MO Gazette, “The Slave Exodus,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 24, 1859; Canton, MO North-East Reporter, quoted in “The Slave Exodus,” Baltimore Sun, November 29, 1859. According to the Library of Congress, copies of the Canton North-East Reporter do not survive for 1859.

[12] LaGrange, MO American, November 12, 1859, quoted in “Negro Stampede,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 17, 1859; St. Louis News, November 14, 1859, quoted in “Stampede of Negroes from Missouri,” Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1859. According to the Library of Congress, the Lagrange American is held on microfilm at the State Historical Society of Missouri.

[13] Harriet Frazier, Runaway and Freed Missouri Slaves and Those who Helped Them, 1763-1865 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004), 102. See post. Frazier cites an article about the escape from the Louisiana Journal (possibly from Louisiana, MO), which apparently was published in June 1860. But the details of the escape correspond to those of the November 1859 stampede described in this post.

[14] Richard J.M. Blackett, The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 140, 234.

Illustrations of Enslaved Resistance

We have collected here a variety of contemporary and modern images depicting resistance by enslaved African Americans as the resisted slavery or recapture.  Publication dates are in parentheses on the right.

1831 || Nat Turner’s Revolt in Virginia (1831)

Depiction of Nat Turner Rebellion published in 1831; artist unknown (Library of Congress)

1850 || Broadside Against Fugitive Slave Law (1850)

Popular illustration attacking cruelty of Fugitive Slave Law in 1850;  Created by Theodor Kaufmann // Library of Congress

1851  ||  Christiana (PA) Riot (1872)

Engraving published in William Still, The Underground Railroad in 1872 that shows the events of the Christiana riots where a shootout occurred between hunters and a dozen black men who were protecting the runaways.

1853 || Freedom Seekers Cornered in Maryland Barn (1872)

Runaways heading toward Gettysburg, PA get into a shootout with white men in a Maryland barn, Illustration and details in William Still’s The Underground Rail Road (1872) // House Divided Project

1855  ||  Resistance in Maryland (1872)

Five out of six Virginia runaways successfully escaped after resisting attempts at recapture in 1855;  from William Still’s The Underground Rail Road (1872).  Engraving by Charles Reed. (House Divided Project)

1859 || Doy Party Capture in Kansas Territory (1862)

Missouri slave catchers ambushed a group of runaways escorted by Dr. John Doy (an ally of John Brown’s) in 1859. (Illustration from Le Tour du Monde (1862) HathiTrust)

1860  || A Battle on the Chesapeake Bay (1872)

Runaways fight off recapture on the Chespeake Bay in1860; Engraving by John Osler in William Still’s The Underground Railroad (1872) // House Divided Project

1861  ||  Battling the Hunters (1861)

“The Hunted Slaves,” an 1861 painting by British artist Richard Ansdell (Google Arts and Culture)

Illustrations of Group Escapes

1836 ||   Family Attempts to Escape by Boat

boat escape

A family of freedom seekers attempts to escape via boat // Schomburg Center, New York Public Library

1853 ||   Freedom Seekers Set Out for Canada (1853)

flight north star

A group of freedom seekers follow the North Star towards Canada, as depicted in the Uncle Tom’s Almanac published in 1853 // Schomburg Center, New York Public Library

1856 ||   Six Freedom Seekers Escape on Two Horses (1872)

six on two horses

The escape of six freedom seekers from Maryland in 1856, depicted in William Still’s The Underground Railroad (1872); illustration by John Osler // Schomburg Center, New York Public Library

1857 ||   Cambridge Stampede Liberates 28 African Americans (1872)

A group of an enslaved families escape from Cambridge, MD following advice from Harriet Tubman; depicted in William Still’s The Underground Railroad (1872); illustration by John Osler //  House Divided)

c. 1858 || Jacob Lawrence Depicts Harriet Tubman (1967)

“Forward” by African American artist Jacob Lawrence depicts Harriet Tubman carrying a revolver while leading a  group of runaways to freedom  // North Carolina Museum of Art

1861 || Frank Leslie’s Depicts Contrabands at Fort Monroe (1861)

“Stampede Among the Negroes in Virginia,”  Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, June 8, 1861 // Library of Congress

1861  || Harpers Depicts Contrabands Fleeing to Fort Monroe (1861)

“Stampede of Slaves from Hampton to Fortress Monroe,” Harper’s Weekly, August 17, 1861  // Library of Congress

1862 ||  Eastman Johnson Depicts Virginia Contrabands (1862)

Johnson Painting

“A Ride for Liberty” by Eastman Johnson, 1862 // Brooklyn Museum of Art

c. 1862 ||  “On To Liberty” by Theodor Kaufmann (1867)

“On To Liberty” by Theodor Kaufmann depicts a group of wartime runaways or contrabands // The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1863 || Enslaved from Davis Plantation in Mississippi (1863)

Freed slaves from the Jefferson Davis plantation arrive behind Union lines at Chickasaw Bayou in 1863. By Fred B. Schell // House Divided Project

1864 ||  Sailing to Safety

escape nighttime flatboat

Enslaved people escape aboard a flatboat, from Harper’s Weekly in 1864 // House Divided Project

1864 ||  Fleeing to Freedom

Contrabands escaping to Union lines by Aflred R. Waud. Harper’s Weekly 1864  // House Divided Project

1865 ||  Escaping to Freedom in North Carolina

Escaping by boat to Union lines in Wilmington, North Carolina, By Joseph Becker, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in 1865. (House Divided Project)