Featured post

Lincoln Boasts of “Slave Stampedes”

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

newspaper article

Illinois State Journal, January 22, 1850

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

 

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

The 1854 St. Louis Stampedes

DATELINE: ST. LOUIS, OCTOBER 22, 1854

Around midnight on Sunday, October 22, 1854, a group of “fifteen or twenty” enslaved Missourians launched their bid for freedom. Having received permission from their slaveholders––four of St. Louis’ most prominent citizens and merchants––to attend church services, they seized the opportunity to escape. Yet this was no ordinary group of freedom seekers. The escapees included “a number of women and children,” as well as “some aged and crippled.” Given the group’s assortment of young and elderly members, it seemed “extremely probable,” in the view of one St. Louis newspaper, “that all, or a majority of them, will be retaken.” [1]

Scarcely a month later, around Sunday, November 26, another series of escapes once again sent shockwaves through St. Louis’ slaveholding class. Ten more freedom seekers set out from St. Louis, apparently coordinating their run for freedom with four enslaved people from nearby St. Charles, and three others from Ste. Genevieve, farther to the south. “No traces have as yet been discovered of the fugitives,” reported a baffled St. Louis editor, who could only conclude that the freedom seekers were “under the hands of the most skillful guides.” [2] The St. Louis “stampedes” for freedom both confounded and unsettled slaveholders, while also revealing the tenuous nature of slavery in the border South.

Map 1854 Stampedes

 

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

Contemporary newspapers used the term “stampede” in describing both the October and November escapes. Most quoted initial reports from the St. Louis Democrat, which ran an article headlined “Stampede Among the Africans” in late October 1854, and a column entitled “Another Slave Stampede,” following the second group escape. The Democrat‘s reports––with “stampede” in the title––were reprinted by Northern serials such as the Akron, Ohio Summit County Beacon and the New York-based National Anti-Slavery Standard. [3]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

Chouteau engraving

Missouri merchant, fur trader and slaveholder Pierre Chouteau, Jr. (South Dakota Historical Society)

The names, ages and genders of the “fifteen or twenty” freedom seekers who departed St. Louis on October 22 are unknown. However, the escapees were claimed by a cadre of prominent St. Louis merchants and slaveholders, who offered “heavy rewards” for their return. Three were held by 65-year-old Pierre Chouteau, Jr., the wealthiest man in St. Louis and head of a prominent Francophone family. Chouteau was a fur trader and merchant, claiming a total of 15 enslaved people in 1850. Yet his extended family counted over 100 enslaved people among their holdings, along with a reputation for mercilessly pursuing runaway slaves. Chouteau was also the father-in-law of John Sanford, who later became known for contesting Dred Scott‘s freedom suit. Among the three escapees claimed by Chouteau was a “young woman, nearly white,” whom the Chicago Democrat later alleged was his “natural daughter.” According to the paper, she was “about to be sold for the purposes of prostitution to a southern man” which prompted her escape. [4]

Three of the freedom seekers were claimed by 63-year-old Emmanuel Block, a well-to-do Austrian emigrant and neighbor of Chouteau. Block held some 24 enslaved people in 1850, ranging in age from a 50 year-old man to a 4 month-old infant. Yet October 1854 was not the first time Block was forced to grapple with his slaves’ innate desire for freedom. Back in 1850, Block had informed census takers that two of his enslaved people were “fugitives from the state.” Extremely wealthy nonetheless, by the time of the 1860 Census, Block was worth $50,000 (still well shy of Chouteau, who was worth $400,000). [5] Six more escapees were claimed by Edward James Gay, a 38-year-old merchant and grocer, while another “three or four” were held by cabinetmaker William H. Merritt, part of the St. Louis furniture firm Wayne & Merritt. [6]

Edward J Gay

St. Louis merchant Edward James Gay (Find A Grave)

Setting out around midnight on Sunday, October 22, the freedom seekers crossed the Mississippi River and reached Illinoistown (modern day East St. Louis, IL). When Chouteau, Block and the other slaveholders learned of the escape, they quickly dispatched St. Louis officers to recapture the freedom seekers, offering sizable rewards for their return. Yet while the officers scoured the vicinity, reasonably confident that they could overtake a group partly comprised of women, young children and “aged and crippled,” the escapees had other plans in mind. [7]

Rather than travel by land, the large group clambered on board a boat at Illinoistown, reportedly concealing themselves in “boxes marked as goods.” Traveling north up the river to Keokuk, Iowa, the freedom seekers disembarked and “proceeded across the country to Wisconsin” and from there to Canada. When their apparent success was reported in the St. Louis Democrat a week after the escape, a Missouri editor noted that the well-devised plan must have been “under deliberation for a long time.” Yet unwilling to concede any agency to the enslaved––or grapple with their innate desire for freedom––the Democrat chose to assign blame to white abolitionists. “The negroes,” concluded the paper, were “acting by the advice and control of the numerous underground railroad agents that infest our city.” [8]

St. Louis slaveholders were still reeling from the October 22 escape when another “stampede” of “some seventeen slaves” occurred around Sunday, November 26. Coming as it did on the heels of the successful October stampede, the two large escape efforts may have been connected. Regardless, nervous St. Louis slaveholders viewed it as the continuation of what was in their eyes a disturbing trend of group escapes. [9]

The 17 freedom seekers who set out in late November included 10 enslaved people held in St. Louis, four from nearby St. Charles and three others from Ste. Genevieve. Five of the escapees from St. Louis were held by a 34-year-old farmer named Richard Berry. Originally from Virginia, in 1850 Berry had laid claim to three enslaved people––a 22-year-old black male, a 15-year-old mulatto female and a one-year-old male child. Later that year, in September 1850, he purchased two more enslaved people at his late father’s estate sale, paying $400 for 9-year-old Gilbert, and $420 for 7-year-old Jesse. Berry reportedly held a total of six enslaved people come November 1854. [10] Three other escapees were claimed by a “Mrs. Smith” of St. Louis, and two by Martin Wash, a 67-year-old farmer who, like Berry, was born in Virginia. Wash held 10 enslaved people in 1850, ranging in age from a 60-year-old black female to a two-year-old infant. [11]

The exact details of the November stampede do not survive. However, unlike the freedom seekers who had escaped in October, the group of 17 escapees opted to travel by land, heading towards Chicago. Over the following weeks, the editors at the St. Louis Democrat and slaveholder Richard Berry were busily scanning Chicago papers for any reference to the escapees––which they found in the December 5 edition of the Chicago Tribune. The paper announced that “seventeen passengers arrived in our city by the underground railroad” on the night of Monday, December 4. While declaring that the freedom seekers were “immediately forwarded to ‘the land of the free'” (a reference to Canada), Berry was not convinced. He set out for Chicago immediately. [12]

Timeline

Berry and three other unidentified Missourians travelled north to Chicago, arriving on Friday, December 8. They headed straight for the office of U.S. Commissioner John A. Bross––a Federal official tasked with enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850––who issued warrants of arrest for the seventeen freedom seekers. U.S. District Attorney Thomas Hoyne dispatched his deputy marshal to aid Berry in recovering the escapees. Yet attempts to enforce the 1850 law in Chicago had a fraught history––the city’s African American community had routinely thwarted efforts to recapture escaped slaves since the law’s passage in September 1850.  The anti-slavery community relied on both a covert vigilance network and open legal pressure to deter slave catchers. [13]

Although the warrants had been made out, Berry soon discovered that recapturing freedom seekers in Chicago was no simple task. When Berry spotted one of the male freedom seekers at a hotel, and “pointed out” the escapee to the deputy marshal, the Federal officer refused to seize him, “fearful of his life if he attempted the task alone.” Instead, the deputy marshal attempted to invoke Section 5 of the 1850 law, by calling out a posse comitatus, gathering citizens to enforce the law. When that failed, he called upon three of the city’s militia companies––two of whom refused to respond. Yet with the aid of the lone militia company, the deputy marshal “succeeded in arresting some of the fugitives.” However, the excitement had risen to “an alarming pitch” and the Federal officers “became fearful for their own safety.” While several freedom seekers were brought before Commissioner Bross for a hearing, they were released “for want of sufficient evidence.” While some reports chalked up the release to insufficient evidence, the New York Herald offered another explanation: “Intimidated by the crowd of people, the Commissioner dismissed the proceedings.” [14]

 

AFTERMATH AND LEGACY 

Pull QuoteBack in Missouri, the St. Louis Republican fumed over the proceedings which had unfolded in Chicago. The “total failure of a recent attempt to execute the Fugitive Slave Law in Chicago,” was unacceptable in the eyes of the Missouri serial. “In Chicago the law is powerless,” the paper seethed, “and a Southern man, who goes there in pursuit of his property, does so at the peril of his life.” The “nullification” of the law had helped “seventeen slaves, belonging to citizens of this county” escape the clutches of their slaveholders. Moreover, slave stampedes were becoming uncomfortably common in the St. Louis area. “Not a week passes, without ten, fifteen or twenty slaves being run off by the Abolitionists,” the paper declared. Unwilling to acknowledge that enslaved people could harbor their own aspirations for freedom and plot their own escapes, the paper maintained that “these negroes have not left good homes without the aid and persuasion of white men” and “free negroes.” In order to curb these influences, the Republican demanded “a better police force,” which could be put to work expelling from St. Louis “every free negro who cannot establish his right to be here.” [15]

While Missourians denounced Chicago’s open defiance of the law, the 17 freedom seekers moved on to safer territory. Less than a week later, one paper reported that “the slaves had all reached Canada safely.” Moreover, the Chicago Democrat claimed that one of the escapees, the alleged daughter of Pierre Chouteau, was married to a white St. Louis man by a Catholic priest in Chicago. [16] In total, the October and November 1854 stampedes had resulted in the freedom of over 30 enslaved Missourians.

The stampedes had a clear and noticeable effect on the St. Louis slaveholders impacted by them. By 1860, Pierre Chouteau’s slaveholdings had dwindled down to just five people (from 15 a decade earlier). Yet Chouteau only conceded to census takers that one of his slaves was a “fugitive from the state.” [17] Likewise, his neighbor Emanuel Block held three enslaved people as of 1860, considerably less than the 24 he had claimed in 1850. [18] Richard Berry, who had “lost five out of six” slaves in the November 1854 stampede, held two in 1860, while Martin Wash, the owner of 10 slaves in 1850, held just one enslaved man in 1860. [19]

 

FURTHER READING

The initial reports on the stampedes were published in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (Newspapers.com) on October 24, November 1 and November 30, 1854. Later, the St. Louis Republican (State Historical Society of Missouri) printed a detailed editorial column on December 10, 1854 denouncing the failure to capture the 17 freedom seekers in Chicago.

The October and November 1854 stampedes from St. Louis have received little attention in scholarship, until Richard Blackett’s The Captive’s Quest for Freedom (2018). In his chapter on Missouri and Illinois, Blackett mentions both escapes in the context of an “upsurge of stampedes” from St. Louis, which “troubled” slaveholders and exposed the precariousness of slavery in a border state. [20]

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

[1] “Stampede Among the Africans,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, October 24, 1854.

[2] “Another Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, November 30, 1854.

[3] “Another Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, November 30, 1854; “Stampede Among the Africans,” Akron, OH Summit County Beacon, November 8, 1854; “Stampede Among the Africans,” National Anti-Slavery Standard, November 18, 1854; “Another Slave Stampede,” National Anti-Slavery Standard, December 30, 1854]

[4] Lea VanderVelde, Mrs. Dred Scott: Life on Slavery’s Frontier, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 189-191; “Stampede Among the Africans,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, October 24, 1854; 1850 US Census, Ward 3, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Family 121, Ancestry; 1860 US Census, Ward 4, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Family 1020, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Ward 3, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Ward 4, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry; Morrison’s St. Louis Directory, for 1852, (St. Louis: Missouri Republican Office, 1852), 47, [WEB]; Find A Grave, [WEB]; “Over Jordan,” Chicago Weekly Democrat, December 16, 1854.

[5] “Stampede Among the Africans,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, October 24, 1854; 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; 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] “Stampede Among the Africans,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, October 24, 1854; 1850 US Census, Ward 2, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Family 1276, Ancestry; Morrison’s St. Louis Directory, for 1852, 94, 172 [WEB]; Find A Grave, [WEB]; Green’s Saint Louis Directory for 1845, (Saint Louis, A. Fisher, 1844), 123, [WEB].

[7] “Stampede Among the Africans,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, October 24, 1854; “The Fugitive Slaves,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, November 1, 1854.

[8] “The Fugitive Slaves,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, November 1, 1854.

[9] “Another Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, November 30, 1854.

[10] “Another Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, November 30, 1854; Newspaper coverage of the case only identifies the slaveholder as a “Mr. Berry, of this place.” Considering that Richard Berry held at least 5 slaves by the end of 1850, and one paper later noted that “Mr. Berry… lost five out of six” slaves in the November 1854 stampede, it is likely that Richard Berry was the slaveholder referenced in contemporary reports. See “What is to Be Done Now!,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, December 10, 1854; Thomas Berry Estate Sale, September 13, 1850, Slave Sales Court Ordered, NPS, [WEB]; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, South Half of Central St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry; Laws of the State of Missouri, passed by the Nineteenth General Assembly, (Jefferson, MO: James Lusk, 1857), 796-797, [WEB]; 1850 U.S. Census, District 82, St. Louis County, MO, Family 1121, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Central Township, St. Louis County, MO, Family 473, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, District 82, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Central Township, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB].

[11] “Another Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, November 30, 1854; 1850 U.S. Census, District 82 St. Louis County, MO, Family 1246, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Central Township, St. Louis County, MO, Family 495, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, District 82, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry.

[12] “Another Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, November 30, 1854; “Passengers by the U.G.R.R.,” Chicago Weekly Democrat, December 9, 1854; “News from the Fugitive Slaves,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, December 8, 1854.

[13] “What is to Be Done Now!,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, December 10, 1854; “Slave Hunt in Chicago,” Chicago Free West, December 14, 1854; “Great Excitement, Slave Catchers Again Defeated,” Chicago Weekly Democrat, December 16, 1854; Richard Cahan, A Court that Shaped America: Chicago’s Federal District Court from Abe Lincoln to Abbie Hoffman, (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2002), 20, [WEB].

[14] “The Constitution and Law Nullified in Chicago,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, December 9, 1854; “What is to Be Done Now!,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, December 10, 1854; “Slave Excitement at Chicago,” New York Herald, December 9, 1854; “Slave Excitement at Chicago,” Baltimore Sun, December 9, 1854;  “Fugitive Slave Excitement in Chicago,” Washington, D.C. Sentinel, December 12, 1854.

[15] “What is to Be Done Now!,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, December 10, 1854.

[16] “Brisk Business on the Underground Railroad,” Worcester, MA Spy, December 13, 1854; “Over Jordan,” Chicago Weekly Democrat, December 16, 1854.

[17] 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Ward 4, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry.

[18] 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Ward 5, St. Louis, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry.

[19] “What is to Be Done Now!,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, December 10, 1854; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, District 82, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Central Township, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry.

[20] 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), 145.

Database Report –Civil War Era Newspapers

August 28, 1860

St. Louis News, quoted in Louisville, KY Daily Journal, August 28, 1860 (Civil War Era Newspapers)

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Alex Ghaemmaghami and Cooper Wingert between July 8-31, 2019
  • Keywords: “slave stampede,” “stampede of slaves,” “negro stampede,” “stampede of negroes,” “stampeding slaves”
  • Totals: 46 hits

Top Results

  • In late August 1860, the St. Louis News reported that “five negroes belonging o Mr. Edward Bredell, disappeared very suddenly from their master’s farm, some six miles form the city, on the Clayton road. The runaway party consists of a woman, aged about sixty, her two sons and daughter, aged respectfully seven, twelve, and twenty-one years, and a young girl, closely related to the family.” The paper suspected that “the captivating stories of freedom and life in Canada” had been “breathed into their willing ears by some Abolitionist.” (“Another Slave Stampede,” St. Louis News, quoted in Louisville, KY Daily Journal, August 28, 1860)
  • In August 1850, a correspondent from Baltimore noted that the “excitement in this vicinity relative to the recent movements of abolitionists, in stampeding slaves, is very great, as large numbers have recently been spirited away.” (“Our Baltimore Correspondence,” New York, NY Herald, August 11, 1850)
  • In Kentucky, evidence was uncovered of “another stampede of slaves,” when a “valuable horse attached to a sleigh” was discovered at one man’s doorstep, with “the horse in a profuse sweat and dreadfully blown, showing clearly that he had been driven at terrible speed.” The stampede “consisted of two men, two women, and three children, belonging to Mr. Gaines who claims the slave Garner, now on trial before Commissioner [John L.] Pendery. We learn that the latter gentleman has suffered another loss, four more of his slaves having absconded.” The paper then added “since writing the above we learn that still another stampede has occurred,” involving “two men, three women, and two children…. It is probable that they are all in charge of some expert conductor on the Underground Railroad and are by this time far on their way toward Canada.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, quoted in “Another Stampede,” Louisville, KY Daily Journal, February 4, 1856)
  • The Richmond Daily Dispatch reported in September 1857 that “a stampede of slaves was prevented a few nights ago, by the police. A Philadelphia vessel was suspected of having bargained for the wrong sort of cargo, and sundry slaves were known to have been making preparations for embarking. Both parties finding the policemen alert, gave up the enterprise.” (“Funeral–Death of Jordan Branch–Stampede of Slaves, &c.,” Richmond, VA Daily Dispatch, September 11, 1857)
  • Writing to a Richmond paper in February 1862, a Confederate soldier noted that “a stampede of negroes from the vicinity of Chuckatuck,” in Suffolk County, Virginia, “has made the necessity of… drafts even more apparent than before.” (“Camp News,” Richmond, VA Daily Dispatch, February 5, 1862)
  • In early 1864, a Memphis, Tennessee paper reported a “stampede” of “One hundred and fifty negroes from about Huntsville and beyond passed through here yesterday for Nashville. Large numbers pass through almost daily. The contrabands about here are also being sent to Nashville.” (“Stampede of Negroes,” Memphis, TN Daily Appeal, March 10, 1864)

Select Images

 

General Notes

  • ProQuest Civil War Era Newspapers is a subscription database, available to Dickinson College students through the WaidnerSpahr Library. It is a separate database from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Most Relevant Coverage from ProQuest Civil War Era Newspapers

  • MISSOURI: St. Louis News (quoted in Louisville, KY Daily Journal)
  • MASSACHUSETTS: Boston, MA Herald, 1846-1865
  • NEW YORK: New York Herald, 1840-1865
  • SOUTH CAROLINA: Charleston Mercury, 1840-1865
  • VIRGINIA: Richmond Daily Dispatch, 1852-1865

The 1848 Daggs Farm Escape

DATELINE:  LURAY, MISSOURI, JUNE 2, 1848

 

Iowa map

Missouri and Iowa border between Daggs Farm and Salem (Mitchell’s Atlas, 1866)

On the evening of June 2, 1848, a group of nine enslaved people fled from a farm owned by Ruel J. Daggs of Luray, Clark County, Missouri. The group included John and Mary Walker, their four children, along with Sam and Dorcas Fulcher, and their 18-year-old pregnant daughter, Julia. The two families were able to cross the border to the free territory of Salem, Iowa, where an antislavery community stood vigilant in order to protect the freedom seekers from what they considered to be an unlawful rendition. But it was there in Salem where 48 hours later a posse of slave catchers hired by Daggs discovered them, as one eyewitness described, “in a thicket of hazel brush.” At gunpoint, the slave catchers demanded that the fugitives give themselves up.[1] Before the standoff became fatal, however, 19 people of Salem were able to bring calm to the “chaotic [and] highly emotional,” scene, according to historian Lowell J. Soike. The Salem residents offered a compromise by suggesting that the alleged fugitive slaves be brought before an impartial justice of the peace. The slave catchers yielded. A few hours later, the judicial officer ruled that the Daggs’ posse had presented no evidence proving that the Walker and Fulcher families were legally enslaved. Moments later, in the midst of the abolitionist celebration, and in defiance of the court’s ruling, Daggs’ slave catchers seized four of the runaways–two Walker children along with Dorcas and Julia Fulcher–and rode out of town.

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

June 21, 1848

St. Louis Reveille, quoted in New York Evening Post, June 21, 1848 (GenealogyBank)

Newspapers were quick to cover the dramatic confrontation in Iowa across the Missouri border, but none seem to have employed the term “stampede” to describe an organized escape of nine people.  However, the absence of the term in this instance should come as no surprise.  It was only about a year before, in 1847, that newspapers anywhere in the country had begun to apply the term stampede to larger group slave escapes.[2]  Though none of the local or regional newspapers articles covering the escape from the Daggs farm in June 1848 used the term “stampede,” this episode was without doubt one of the most important cases of mass escape in the history of the Underground Railroad.   It involved a series of dramatic confrontations, both violent and legal, ultimately contributing to the collapse the federal fugitive slave code from 1793.

MAIN NARRATIVE

The slave state of Missouri possessed a unique slaveholding population. Census records indicate that 88 percent of Missouri slaveholders held fewer than 20 men and women in bondage (the standard threshold for plantations).[3] Born in Delaware in 1775 but raised in Rockingham County Virginia, Ruel Daggs, the son of wealthy landowners Angus and Lydia Daggs, was one of those slaveholders who was a slaveholder without being a stereotypical southern plantation master. Having first arrived in Luray in 1835 with six enslaved persons, by the late 1840s, Daggs became the owner of 16 people on his 160-acre farm near the Wyaconda River in Clark County, near Missouri’s northern border with Iowa.[4] According to local historian O. A. Garretson, Daggs grew concerned about the “spirit of liberty” that had prevailed in the West. So by 1848, Daggs had “realized the difficulty of holding slaves so near the free State of Iowa,” believed Garretson, and therefore inquired about “selling his slaves south.”[5]

Hearing he and his family would be sold south and in all likelihood that his wife and children would be separated, John Walker, age 22 or 23, escaped from Daggs’s farm alone in May 1848 to ascertain the means to free his entire family. During his initial escape, Walker traveled north into the woods near the Des Moines River, where he arranged a family escape strategy with white resident Dick Leggens (or Liggon) and, according to Garretson, a free African American named Sam Webster.[6] Then, after crossing the river into Iowa, Walker established relations with a group of known abolitionists in the small Henry County township of Salem, located about 15 miles from the Missouri border.

With a population of about 500 residents, Salem was among the first Quaker communities established in the Hawkeye State. The small towns of Salem, Denmark and Washington Village,  were, according to Soike, “the core antislavery communities in southeast Iowa.”[7] To Missourians and other pro-slavery communities, Salem certainly appeared to be a hotbed for antislavery activists willing to venture into slave states to “steal” those kept in bondage. But to Aaron Street Jr., a Quaker, Salem abolitionists weren’t raiders; rather, Street Jr. testified, the objective of the antislavery community in Salem was to help freedom seekers who were already “on their way to a land of freedom.” He explained, “we believed it right to take them in and feed them, and give them such directions and assistance, as we ourselves would wish bestowed on us, were we in their situation.”[8] Writing in The Quakers of Iowa, Louis T. Jones described Salem as a place where the children deliberately ignored “this solemn business” while the adults spoke “vague but [in] well understood terms” about the Underground Railroad.[9] John Walker, the fugitive from Daggs’s farm, quickly established an alliance with Salem’s leading abolitionists: Street Jr., Thomas Clarkson Frazier, Elihu Frazier, Paul Way, John H. Pickering, William Johnson, John Comer, and Henderson Lewelling.

Once finalizing an escape plan that included a safe house on the Missouri side of the Des Moines River and with a network of abolitionists from Salem who would help with transportation, Walker returned to the Daggs farm on June 2, 1848 to take his family to freedom. During the escape, three members of the Fulcher family joined the Walkers. The group, now numbering nine, was made up of Walker, his wife, Mary; their four children, Martha, age 10, William, age 6; George, about age 4, Armistead Poston, about age 1; Sam Fulcher, age 40 or 45, who labored as a tanner, shoemaker, and cooper that had the ability to write and keep accounts; his wife, Dorcas, age 38, who was known as a cook and a weaver, and pregnant daughter, Julia, age 18 or 19, who was also a cook. John Walker and Sam Fulcher were estimated to be worth $900 to $1200, respectively. Mary Walker, Dorcas, and Julia were each worth $600 to $700. Martha was valued up to $300; while William, George and Armistead were $200.[10]

That first night, the Walker and Fulcher families made it as far as Leggens’s remote farmstead before stopping for the night. At dawn a heavy downpour began, which delayed the escape party a day from continuing on their journey. During the wait, everyone remained festive as Sam Webster entertained the freedom seekers with his violin.[11]

Fugitives in rain

Enslaved family fleeing in rain (from William Still’s The Underground Railroad, 1872)

After the rain subsided, Leggens and Webster escorted the two families to a point along the Des Moines River that looked at the shoreline of Farmington, Iowa. Since the current had become “so swollen,” according to Garretson, due to the heavy rains, the two families with the help of their co-conspirators built a raft strong enough to cross the river into Iowa. Jonathan Frazier, a son of Quaker preacher and abolitionist Thomas Frazier, then met the freedom seekers in Farmington. Frazier hid the Walkers and Fulchers in a covered wagon and escorted the runaways during the remaining 20 miles north to Salem.[12] One witness said Salem abolitionist John H. Pickering owned the horses that were hitched to Frazier’s wagon.[13] In a U.S. District Court hearing on the case two years later, Pickering denied that it was his horses used to transport the freedom seekers. His brother, Jonathan Pickering, a proslavery conservative, told a different story, however. He accused his brother, John H. of transporting and harboring the fugitives, stating to authorities when he had confronted his brother about the runaways: “[John H.] sniggered in his sleeve and seemed to know where they were.”[14]

Daggs Farm timeline

It was Monday, June 5, when Frazier picked up the fugitives. During the time leading up to that day, Ruel Daggs had tasked his sons, William Rodney, age 36, and George, age 31, with organizing a posse from their neighborhood to pursue the nine fugitives across state lines.[15] The Daggs’ eventually enlisted the help of four people: their neighbor James McClure, a man from Farmington named Samuel Slaughter, and upon entering Iowa, McClure and Slaughter also employed the help of two men from Salem, Henry Brown, who knew Ruel Daggs, and Jesse Cook. On the morning of June 5, the four men discovered wagon tracks in the mud. They followed the tracks in the direction of Salem, where they spotted the wagon about a mile in the distance. They gave chase; eventually arriving upon the wagon, now empty and idle, outside the home of Thomas Frazier. After 24 hours spent combing Salem for the runaways, McClure and Slaughter returned to the original spot where they first noticed the wagon tracks while Brown and Cook lagged behind. They soon spotted all nine runaways in the underbrush near the wagon. Brown and Cook then arrived on the scene to help secure the Walkers and Fulchers.[16]

Concerned about her four children, Mary Walker was the first to turn herself over to the slave catchers. Likewise, both Sam and Dorcas Fulcher soon relinquished their freedom. And the pregnant 18-year-old Julia Fulcher also submitted to the captors. Only John Walker refused to be taken. His attempt to preserve his freedom failed, however, as he was subdued by the slave catchers and tied to a post. Slaughter was left in charge of supervising the nine captives while McClure traveled back into Salem to find willing men who could assist in the safe return of the runaways to Daggs.

Lewelling house image

The Henderson Lewelling House, Salem, IA. (National Park Service)

The delay enabled Salem abolitionists to organize an effort to rescue the nine fugitives. There is ongoing debate over the crowd size that surrounded Daggs’s posse. While most historical accounts estimate between 50 and 100 Salem residents gathered to free the Walkers and Fulchers, historian Robert Dykstra claims it was only “a dozen local men,” which included Thomas Clarkson Frazier, his brother Elihu Frazier, Moses Pervis, and William Johnson, “who appeared intent on keeping the captives from being carried off.”[17] Meanwhile, the press coverage of the incident reported that Slaughter, Brown, and Cook were “mobbed” by a large group of abolitionists.[18] The Frazier brothers stepped forward to negotiation with the slave catchers. Elihu threatened Daggs’s men that he would “wade in Missouri blood before the negroes should be taken.”[19] Thomas Clarkson offered a solemn alternative by suggesting Salem’s Justice of the Peace Nelson Gibbs adjudicate the case. To circumvent a physical disturbance, the slave catchers acquiesced to the suggestion of a legal hearing.

Word spread throughout Salem at a rapid speed, which resulted in the gathering of a large crowd around Gibbs’ office in what is now known as the Henderson Lewelling House. The crowd was so large, in fact, that John and Mary Walker were able to sneak away from Slaughter with their oldest child, Martha. That left three Walker children and the Fulcher family to undergo a deposition by Judge Gibbs, an antislavery sympathizer whose office in the Henderson Lewelling House would eventually be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Amid the commotion, Salem’s schoolmaster, Rueben Dorland, stood on a pile of lumber to “harangued the crowd,” wrote historian Louis T. Jones, in an apparent gesture to bring calm to the scene and advocate that the fugitives must be taken before the judge.[20] The justice’s office was too small for the large crowd that had amassed so the dueling sides agreed to hold the hearing inside the Friends’ Meeting House, which was commonly used as the venue for abolition meetings, located across the street.

Two Salem Quakers (Aaron Street, Jr. and Albert Button) served as counsel for the alleged runaways. A trained attorney, Button quoted from the Revised Statutes of the Territory of Iowa (1843) explaining that kidnapping of African Americans was unlawful because of personal liberty statutes in Iowa: “If any person or persons shall forcibly steal, take, or arrest any man, woman or child in this Territory. . . ,” he recited, “with a design to take him or her out of this Territory without having legally established his, her or their claim according to the laws of this Territory, or of the United States, shall upon conviction thereof, be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars and by imprisonment in the penitentiary at hard labor not exceeding ten years.”[21] The slavecatchers, McClure and Slaughter, did not try to argue that point, by invoking the 1842 precedent from the United States Supreme Court (Prigg v. Pennsylvania) which might have easily challenged Button’s interpretation of Iowa’s “state rights.”   They either did not know about the law or perhaps chose to ignore the point.

1848 Daggs escape map

Regardless, Judge Gibbs ruled that McClure and his men did not offer enough evidence proving they were agents working for claimant Ruel Daggs. Gibbs, whose home contained three secret rooms for freedom seekers, also stated that since the alleged runaways had not been brought properly before him, he had no right to adjudicate the matter. He therefore concluded that the Walkers and Fulchers were “free as himself for all he knew.”[22]

Despite Gibbs’s ruling, there was a fight for the remaining alleged fugitives outside the Friends’ Meeting House. One of the slave catchers, Henry Brown, shouted at Sam Fulcher, “I’ll shoot that damned son-of-a-bitch.” The crowd prevented Brown from doing harm to anyone. In that instant, however, John H. Pickering led Fulcher, who was taking care of 6-year-old William Walker to Paul Way, an antislavery man described later by a witness at the trial as “an old man clothed in the working garb of the pioneer, with long chin whiskers and wore a pointed topped, lopped down felt hat.” Way delivered a horse to Fulcher and the Walker boy to use for a swift getaway. The others, however, were not so lucky. McClure and Slaughter seized Dorcas and Julia Fulcher and the two remaining Walker children, George and Armistead Poston.[23] The four were returned to Daggs’s farm by force.

Two days later, on June 7, a proslavery mob of angry Missourians estimated by multiple sources to range in size from 100 to 300 and “armed to the teeth,” according to Louis T. Jones, paid a return visit to the Quakers in Salem. Apparently, Daggs had issued a $500 reward for the return of his five at-large runaways. According to witness Rachel Kellum, the group from Missouri now brought with them rifles, pistols, knives, and a canon in order to occupy (and intimidate) the town. Though some conservative Salem citizens testified later that most of the Missourians behaved with “civility,” the slave catchers certainly laid siege to the community. Roadblocks were placed at every exit and quotationvigilantes were stationed as guards throughout the town. One eyewitness said members of the mob “snapped a pistol at an old crippled man.”[24] Houses were illegally searched, including the residence of Paul Way, who was able to prevent members of the Missouri mob from finding a fugitive in his home by threatening to shoot anyone who tried to climb into his attic.[25] The mob also paid a visit to the home of Thomas Clarkson Frazier, whom Jones later described as “the most vigorous abolitionist in the settlement.” Frazier was in fact hiding some of the runaways. Upon hearing the gang was headed to his property, Frazier helped the fugitives relocate to a nearby forest. By the following morning Frazier and several of his co-conspirators, Elihu Frazier, John Pickering, John Comer, and at least five more of Salem’s leading residents were being held under duress at a hotel.[26]

During the assault, two Salem residents were able to “slip out of town,” writes Soike, to obtain help from a sheriff in nearby Mount Pleasant and to recruit abolitionists from the town of Denmark. Though originally from Virginia, the Mount Pleasant sheriff arrived in Salem on the morning of June 8, intending to help his fellow Iowans. He gave the Missouri mob 15 minutes to leave town.  Then a gang estimated at about 40 persons from Denmark “determined to raise the siege” and, according to a reminiscence by Lindsey Coppock, a relative to one of the eyewitnesses, “with their bayonets in trim,” arrived and then some scattered violence ensued. The Missouri vigilantes quickly capitulated, but only after the Fraziers, Pickering, Comber, Way, and 14 others signed a pledge to appear in the federal district court for their actions in allegedly helping Ruel Daggs’s runaway slaves escape. By Friday, June 9, an interstate battle over slavery had been momentarily abated.[27]

Title page

Case report by George Frazee, 1850

Events in Salem were settled for just three months before Salem’s abolitionists entered in Ruel Daggs’s legal crosshairs. In September 1848, Daggs officially filed a $10,000 lawsuit against 19 men for the loss of five runaways and to offset cost for the services of his four slave catchers. The case Ruel Daggs v. Elihu Frazier et al. was finally heard in June 1850 with newly confirmed U.S. District Judge John James Dyer, a graduate of the University of Virginia, presiding. After engaging in private practice in Pendleton County, Virginia and Dubuque, Iowa from 1833 to 1847, Dyer had stepped into the federal judgeship on March 3, 1847, just a year after Iowa’s admission to the Union.[28]

Dyer acknowledged during the trial that the events in Salem were part of growing national divisions over slavery wherein proslavery and antislavery persons maintained a “warlike attitude,” especially over what to do with new territory recently obtained from Mexico.  He also noted the addition tensions over the recent increases in large scale escapes from Maryland into Pennsylvania, Kentucky into Ohio, and Missouri into either Iowa or Kansas. Dyer, who had arrived in Iowa by way of the slave state of Virginia, reminded the jury before it deliberated that the Court’s “business now is with the laws and Constitution as they are, not as we may think they ought out be.” He advised the panel to adjudicate based on the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law, which imposed a hefty financial penalty on any person “knowingly and willingly” obstructing hindering, harboring, or concealing fugitive slaves.[29]

Portrait

Augustus Caesar Dodge (House Divided Project)

However, the verdict did not end matters. The defendants’ attorneys soon asked permission to file a bill of exceptions with the intention of appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the strategy seemed to be one merely of delay. None of the defendants except for Paul Way was worth the amount levied by the court. All (or most) of them, however, apparently sold their property to their kin ahead of the trial with the aim of avoiding paying any penalty to Daggs. Accordingly, Daggs was never actually paid the fine that the verdict promised.[32] As noted by historian Robert R. Dykstra, the defendants’ decision to liquidate their estates before the trial might be considered “intent to defraud a creditor,” and yet they never faced either a reckoning on the funds nor a challenge to their financial maneuvering.  As Lowell Soike put it, Daggs “never collected a dime” and gave up his pursuit in disgust.[33]

AFTERMATH

Historian Lowell J. Soike has called this case “the last federal case decided under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.”[34] The controversies surrounding the case certainly contributed to the debates about strengthening the federal fugitive slave law in 1850.  Both of the Hawkeye US senators, Augustus Caesar Dodge and George Wallace Jones, voted for the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, as part of the Compromise of 1850, just months after the Ruel Daggs v. Elihu Frazier et al. decision.

There is a great deal of information about the participants in the 1848 Daggs escape. According to the 1850 Slave Schedule of Clark County, Ruel Daggs sold all but six of his enslaved persons not long after the episode. While his case was undergoing review in the U.S. District Court, he still possessed three males ages 55, 30, and 1; and three females, ages 40, 20, and 20.[35]

 

Daggs headstone

Ruel Daggs died in December 1862. (Find A Grave)

Daggs, who had 10 children (six sons, four daughters) to his wife of 61 years, Nancy Johnston (1777-1861), died on December 16, 1862 at age 87. He had married Nancy (originally Nancy Frazier, she had previously married then became a widow) in Kanawha County, Virginia (now West Virginia) on April 26, 1800. All 10 of his children were born in Kanawha. He is buried in Daggs Homestead Cemetery, located 3.5 miles South East of Luray, Missouri. His son George, who assisted in assembling a slave catching posse in June 1848, ended up in California, separated from his wife. Ruel’s other son who assisted in the rendition of his lost slave property, William Rodney, was actually the elected justice of the peace of Washington Township and storeowner in Luray, Clark County. He ended up buying out the rights of his siblings and after Ruel’s death and built a new home on the family’s farm property. He had a cemetery constructed on the property, too, which is now the burial location of his children and the children of the enslaved on the Daggs farm. William Rodney was married twice and had 15 children (three to his first wife, Sarah Martin, 12 to his second wife Sarah Josephine Martin).

Judge Nelson Gibbs (1823-1903), the abolitionist-friendly justice of the peace in Salem that acquitted the runaways remained in that position until 1855. He eventually joined the Republican Party and worked as the sheriff of Hardin County, Iowa between 1867 and 1871. The importance of his office in the Henderson Lewelling House located today at 401 South Main Street in Salem has already been noted as both a national landmark and a recognized Underground Railroad site. The other judge in this episode, John J. Dyer, remained in his federal seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Iowa until his death on September 14, 1855. He died on a visit to his home in Virginia.

The most remarkable post-escape story concerns the fate of Julia Fulcher.  As noted earlier, Samuel Slaughter and James McClure had recaptured Julia, the pregnant 18-year old during the 1848 incident. Julia was thus re-enslaved but eventually obtained her freedom after the Civil War. At some point, Julia married Hezekiah Hall. For a decade after the war, Julia and Hezekiah lived and worked as sharecroppers on a local Missouri farm owned by Scott Miller. Together, they obtained a reputation for their industry, having worked the Miller farm, according to their son, with “honest, sweat and toil, minding their own business and managing their meager funds to the best of ability.” In 1875, they rented a 100-acre farm from Judge Givens near Waterloo, Missouri. They “did so well that they were able to purchase the farm from Judge Givens in a few years.”[36] To date, no evidence has surfaced about whether Julia gave birth to a healthy baby after the 1848 incident. On August 4, 1866, she delivered a boy named Samuel. Julia and Hezekiah also had a daughter named Vicey. Samuel married Lulu Mae Cole on October 29, 1902. Samuel and Lulu were still living on the family farm in Waterloo as late as 1956.

FURTHER READING

A search through digital archives will yield some important newspaper articles about the Daggs Escape. The June 1848 incident, which includes the hearing in front of Justice of the Peace Nelson Gibbs and the invasion by the Missouri mob, was covered in national newspapers like the New York Evening Post and New York Herald. There are also local papers that utilized correspondents to inform local communities about the event in Salem, Iowa. These papers include the Talladega Reporter (Talladega, AL), Louisville Daily Courier (Louisville, KY), Palmyra Whig (Palmyra, MO), Burlington Hawk-Eye (Burlington, IA), Evening Times-Republican (Marshalltown, IA), and The Daily Gate City (Keokuk, IA). George Frazee, member of the Iowa State Bar Association, recorded the full account of Ruel Daggs v. Elihu Frazier et al. case heard by Judge John J. Dyer in the U.S. District Court in June 1850. Frazee’s dictation includes sworn depositions and cross examinations by members of each side of the case, with testimony fromsome members of Ruel Daggs’s party, including George Daggs, who was responsible to round up a slave catching posse; Samuel Slaughter, the slave hunter from Farmington, Iowa that assisted James McClure and the Daggs family in pursuit of the nine freedom seekers; and Jonathan Pickering, who testified against his brother John H. Pickering. Testimony is also offered of those in the defense; in particular, Albert Button, the counsel to Daggs’s escaped slaves; and Jonathan Frazier, the son of Thomas Clarkson Frazier, the driver of the wagon carrying Daggs’ fugitives. Frazee also includes the voices of the seemingly neutral parties, such as school teacher Reuben Dorland who stood on top of a pile of boards to announce the nine runaways should be taken for Judge Gibbs; and Lewis Taylor, an eyewitness that attended the hearing before Judge Gibbs.

A great deal of information about Ruel Daggs and his children can be found in Harold Alan Daggs’s March 23, 1988 recollection titled “Daggs Family History.” It is a 28-page family history and reminiscence that presents short biographical portraits of Ruel Daggs, all of his children, as well as his wife, Nancy. The author is also transparent in sharing details about the family’s relocation from Virginia with its slave estate, including members of the family who were slaveholders and how much enslaved persons were worth. A small portion of the reminiscence recalls the 1848 Daggs Escape.

There are three important secondary sources concerning the Daggs Escape. The oldest source is by O. A. Garretson titled “Traveling on the Underground Railroad in Iowa” and published in the Iowa Journal of History and Politics and The Palimpsest, a publication of Iowa history by the University of Iowa. Written about 1900, Garretson’s account covers abolition activity in Salem, Denmark, and along the border with Kansas. A significant portion of the essay focuses on the Daggs Escape. Readers should be attentive, however, to the numerous minor inaccuracies in the  Garretson account that have since been corrected by historians Robert R. Dykstra’s Bright Radical Star: Black Freedom and White Supremacy on the Hawkeye Frontier (1993) and Lowell J. Soike in Necessary Courage: Iowa’s Underground Railroad in the Struggle against Slavery (2013). Perhaps the most noteworthy contradiction among the three voices is how the fate of Daggs’s nine runaways is portrayed. While Dykstra and Soike are clear that five of the nine eluded recapture–a point confirmed by all of the primary source documentation, including the June 1850 Ruel Daggs v. Elihu Frazier et al. U.S. District case–Garretson incorrectly claims that every freedom seekers made it to Canada. Why the discrepancy? Garretson’s version of the Daggs Escape appears to be his retelling of an as-told-to account from a relative. In his article, Garretson is proud to reveal that at least two ancestors (Joel Garretson and John Garretson) were involved in preventing Daggs’s slave catchers from succeeding. He explained that both family members were fervent abolitionists: Joel was among “the instigators of the plot to free their [Missouri’s] slaves” while John used his personal carriage to feed and shelter freedom seekers from kidnappers. On the contrary, Soike’s 2013 account of the events described in Necessary Courage relies on testimony from the 1848 Salem hearing in front of Judge Gibbs and 1850 U.S. District Court trial, along with a variety of national and local newspaper coverage. Soike, a former director of the Iowa Freedom Trail Project, was able to reconstruct the proceedings through depositions given by the slave hunters and Salem townspeople. It is still perhaps best to read Robert R. Dykstra’s 1993 interpretation of events surrounding the escape of Ruel Daggs’s nine runaways, which includes eyewitness testimony of events and a wide range of media coverage during the eight days of June 2 to June 9, 1848 and the subsequent federal district court hearing of June 1850. It is important to note that both Soike and Dykstra include chapters about the Daggs Escape in books that otherwise focus on Iowa’s more general Underground Railroad history. Yet both account do a fine job of placing the events of 1848 in context with the sectional crisis that led to the Civil War.


END NOTES

[1] Soike, 34.

[2] Cincinnati Allas [sic] in “Grand Stampede,” Danville (VT) North Star, May 17, 1847;  Covington (KY) Register in “Negro Stampede,” Worcester (MA) Bay State Farmer and Mechanic’s Ledger, May 29, 1847; “Miscellaneous,” The Liberator, July 16, 1847.

[3] Soike, 30-31; Francis A.E. Waters, “Anti-Slavery Sentiment in Iowa,” Washington D.C., National Era, November 21, 1850.

[4] Morgans, 94; Harold Alan Daggs. “Daggs Family.” (genealogy file). March 23, 1988. 11; Lewis D. Savage. “Former Slaves, the Success Story of a Clark County Missouri Farm Family.” Keokuk Daily Gate City, Sam Hall Interview, August 4, 1956. Retrieved at https://connect.xfinity.com/appsuite/#!!&app=io.ox/mail&folder=default0/INBOX

[5] Soike, 33; O.A. Garretson, “Traveling on the Underground Railway.” [Date unknown]. Retrieved at https://web.archive.org/web/20160826081248/http://www.garretson.us/Garretson.us/History_Articles_by_O.A._Garretson.html

[6] Garretson; Daggs, 12.

[7] George Frazee. “An Iowa Fugitive Slave Case – 1850.” 9; Soike, 28, 44; James Patrick Morgans. The Underground Railroad on the Western Frontier. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co. 2010, 94-95; Dykstra, 92.

[8] Walter Edgerton, A History of the Separation in Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends (Cincinnati, 1856), quoted in Robert R. Dykstra. Bright Radical Star: Black Freedom and White Supremacy on the Hawkeye Frontier. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993. 90-91.

[9] Louis Thomas Jones. The Quakers of Iowa. Clio Press, 1914. 189.

[10] Frazee, 10; Daggs, 12-13; “Fugitive Slave Case Was Tried.” The Daily Gate City (Keokuk, IA). April 13, 1915. 5.

[11] Ann-Lisa Cox. A Stronger Kinship: One Town’s Extraordinary Story of Hope and Faith. Little, Brown, Inc. 2009. 34.

[12] Garretson.

[13] The Burlington Hawk-Eye (Burlington, IA). July 11, 1850. 1; Affidavit of James McClure, taken at Farmington, Iowa, Daggs Case File, October 9, 1848 and “Deposition of Henry Brown,” taken at Fairfield, Iowa, Daggs Case File, March 22, 1850 quoted in Soike, 33; District Court of the United States. Southern Division of Iowa. Burlington, Iowa, June Term, 1850. Hon. J. J. DYER. presiding. Ruel Daggs, plaintiff, vs. Elihu Frazier, et al., defendants. Trespass on the Case. 6.

[14] Dykstra, 93.

[15] “Ruel J. Daggs.” Find A Grave. Retrieved at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/29216157/ruel-j_-daggs

[16] Soike, 34-35; Garretson; Jones, 189.

[17] Dykstra, 93.

[18] Alabama Reporter (Talladega, AL). July 20, 1848, 4; New York Herald. June 22, 1848. 2.

[19] Soike, 34-35; Jones, 190; Dykstra, 93.

[20] Jones, 190; Dykstra, 93.

[21] Dykstra, 94-95.

[22] George Frazee, Fugitive Slave Case, District Court of the Southern Division of Iowa, Burlington, June Term, 1850, Ruel Daggs v. Elihu Frazier, et al. (Burlington, IA: Morgan and M’Kenny, 1850), 6; Soike, 37; District Court of the United States. Southern Division of Iowa. Burlington, Iowa, June Term, 1850. Hon. J. J. DYER. presiding. Ruel Daggs, plaintiff, vs. Elihu Frazier, et al., defendants. Trespass on the Case. 24-26, 38.

[23] Soike, 38; Garretson; “Fugitive Slave Case Was Tried.” The Daily Gate City (Keokuk, IA). April 13, 1915. 5.

[24] Dykstra, 96.

[25] Soike, 39; Garretson; Jones, 191; “Slave-Catchers in Iowa.” Evening Times-Republican (Marshalltown, IA). March 4, 1914, 4.

[26] Dykstra, 96-97.

[27] “Fugitive Slave Case Was Tried.” The Daily Gate City (Keokuk, IA). April 13, 1915. 5.

[28] James Whitcomb Ellis. History of Jackson County, Iowa, Volume 1. “John James Dyer.” Jackson County, IA: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1910. 564; Ballotpedia. Retrieved at https://ballotpedia.org/John_James_Dyer; Dykstra, 97.

[29] Ellis, 564; U.S. Congress Act of February 12, 1793; Soike, 43-45; District Court of the United States. Southern Division of Iowa. Burlington, Iowa, June Term, 1850. Hon. J. J. DYER. presiding. Ruel Daggs, plaintiff, vs. Elihu Frazier, et al., defendants. Trespass on the Case. 38.

[30] “Missouri Slave Case.” Palmyra Whig. June 20, 1850. 2.

[31] Louisville Daily Courier (Louisville, KY). June 19, 1850. 3.

[32] Dykstra, 103.

[33] Soike, 46.

[34] Soike, 45; Dykstra, 105.  Actually, the “last” case under the 1793 federal fugitive slave law as probably Oliver et.al. v. Kauffman, which originated in Carlisle, PA in 1847 but was retried in federal court in 1852.

[35] 1850 US Census Slave Schedule, Ruel Daggs. Retrieved at file:///Users/todd.mealy/Desktop/1850%20Census%20Slave%20Schedules%20Ruel%20Daggs%20.pdf

[36] Lewis D. Savage. “Former Slaves, the Success Story of a Clark County Missouri Farm Family.” Keokuk Daily Gate City, Sam Hall Interview, August 4, 1956. Retrieved at https://connect.xfinity.com/appsuite/#!!&app=io.ox/mail&folder=default0/INBOX

The 1849 Canton Stampede

DATELINE: CANTON, MISSOURI, NOVEMBER 2, 1849

 

November 8, 1849

Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 8, 1849 (Chronicling America)

“We came nigh having a general stampede among the negroes in our county last night,” reported a correspondent from Lewis County, Missouri in November 1849. “About thirty-five of them banded together and provided themselves with arms, determined to fight their way out of the county.”[1]  In a story that was full of dramatic intrigue, unexpected violence, wholesale capture and then the tragic break up of several African American families, it is remarkable that this attempted Missouri slave stampede on the eve of the Compromise of 1850 is not better known, nor more frequently taught in American classrooms.

 

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

At the time, however, the failed escape of nearly three dozen enslaved people outside of Canton, Missouri was a national news story of considerable significance.  The initial garbled reports, passed from Quincy, Illinois via the Missouri Daily Republican, and which appeared all over the country, claimed as many as fifty armed runaways from “both sexes.”  “THE GREAT SLAVE STAMPEDE IN MISSOURI,” was how the North American and United States Gazette in Philadelphia labeled the tragic event.  William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist journal, The Liberator, naturally attempted to evoke even more outrage with its coverage:  “Another Chapter of Southern Atrocities and Horrors,” was its headline for the affair, which the newspaper also explicitly described as an attempted stampede.[2]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

Canton, Missouri in Lewis County was a small village situated along the northeast corner of the state and bounded by the free state of Iowa to the north and by the Mississippi river and the free shore of Illinois to the east.  White settlers from Virginia and Kentucky had first begun arriving in this region of Missouri during the 1820s and 1830s, bringing with them dozens of enslaved Africans to help develop the land for agricultural use.[3]

Lewis County was not plantation country. On the eve of the Civil War, only 19 slaveholders held more than ten slaves, and most of those had fewer than 14. In 1850, the county population included 1,206 enslaved people, 15 free blacks, and 5,357 whites.[4] The county’s largest slaveholder in 1850, Daniel Ligon, a Kentucky emigrant, owned 26 people. Other large slave holders of that era included E. W. Mitchell (17), James Miller (16), Eliza Morris (14), and J. W. Price (10).[5]  Manumissions were rare in Lewis County, and those few African Americans who were freed were supposed to receive a court-appointed “trustee” to oversee their affairs. The first regular slave patrols in the county had begun in 1836, but only for about 24 hours per month.[6]

In June 1849, then-US congressman James Green summarized a view of the enslaved black families no doubt shared by most of his Lewis County constituents. “Subordination in a greater or lesser degree becomes inevitable in the very nature of things . . .. [and] has resulted to the black in immense good, and incalculable benefit, both moral and physical.”[7]

Yet events in Canton on Friday, November 2, 1849, barely five months later, called into question this politician’s assumption that slavery was either inevitable or somehow good for the enslaved. The stampede began with a theft.  “A little before day on Friday morning last,” a newspaper recounted, “a negro man, belonging to James Miller, came into the house, ostensibly to make a fire. Before going out, Mr. Miller heard him step towards the gun rack, take something, and leave with caution.”[8]

John Ramsey, a guest in the Miller household that night, also claimed to have heard at least two wagons coming and going about this time, which was “unusual” before daybreak.  Ramsey was a neighbor of the Miller’s but staying with the family because he was soon planning to head out for California as part of that year’s “gold rush.”

The black man who had stolen the guns, called “Miller’s John,” was “very powerful [and] fierce as a grisly bear.”[9] An account written almost one hundred years later by W. K. Moore, the grandson of James Miller, identified John as one of two principal leaders of the stampede. The other, according to Miller, was Lin, an elderly woman owned by the McCutchans who worked in their kitchen. According to Moore’s recollection, John and Lin had been encouraging her ten-year-old grandson Henry to believe that he was capable of having prophetic visions.  One of these visions, according to Moore, was that all of the whites would be killed and sent to heaven, “except my mother,” then a small child, who was to be spared in order to become Henry’s wife.[10]

conjurer image

An enslaved conjurer (National Park Service)

After the theft of the firearms, Dave, an enslaved child owned by the Millers, was soon “pressed . . . into telling” the now-panicked slaveholder that African Americans belonging to the Millers, and two other neighboring families -the McKims and the McCutchans– were first planning to kill the whites in their homes, and then gathering all of the willing blacks in the county, before making an escape to Illinois and then on to Canada. According to Moore’s account, “Lin had already served coffee in the kitchen, after mixing it with gunpowder to make them brave and with some of her magic potions that were to render them invulnerable.”[11]

After learning about this gruesome plot, Miller alerted his neighbors and by daybreak 30 armed white men had tracked the fugitives to the McCutchan farm. “The negroes, amounting to between twenty and thirty, . . . had three guns, together with large clubs and butcher knives,” reported a local newspaper.[12] Beside those who had fled from Miller’s farm on the Sugar Creek, the group now included slaves owned by Judge William Ellis of Monticello, as well as Samuel McKim and James McCutchan, also of Sugar Creek near Canton.

As the pursuers approached, the escapees presented “an obstinate defense . . . [demonstrating] the most dogged and settled hostility, [and] peremptorily refusing to yield.” The flashpoint came when the slaveowners, “after waiting and reasoning . . . until all patience was exhausted,” began to move toward the slaves.[13] Following a yell, Moore recalled being told that, “Lin and John rushed forward.Miller's John dies John was armed with a sharp scythe blade bound to a short wooden handle, and Lin carried a bucket of boiling water, both dangerous weapons at close quarters. Two men raised their rifles and fired simultaneously, and John fell dead. Lin dropped her bucket and ran back to the others.”[14]

Following the death of their male leader, the freedom seekers initially refused to surrender. The Missouri Republican claimed that the standoff lasted four hours.[15]  But then, according to the most detailed newspaper account from Canton, the women “first gave up, and implored the men to do so likewise. Before the end of the time the men yielded, gave up their weapons, were bound and brought to Canton.”[16]

 

AFTERMATH

According to W.K. Moore, the Lewis County slaveholders quickly buried the body of “Miller’s John” in a woods near Sugar Creek, a small tributary west of Canton and several miles from the banks of the Mississippi River.  Moore claimed that as a young boy, he and his friends used to view that burial place “with eerie feelings.” Moore also recalled being fascinated as a child by a place called “Lin’s cave,” which was “a little mound back of a truck patch,” near the old Miller farm, where the cook Lin had reportedly kept her “roots and arbs” along “various trinkets” and “mysterious powders” that she had used for her conjuring.[17]

Benton headshot

Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton

The failed Canton slave stampede contributed in its own small way to the nation’s growing sectional tensions over slavery. It certainly occurred in the midst of that antebellum crisis. Just two months before the Canton stampede, the North-East Reporter had warned local masters to be on the alert for traveling northern Methodist preachers who might be “abolitionist emissaries . . . prowling wolves” to be driven out. Around the same time, the newspaper also attributed the escape of three slaves in Shelby County to the activities of US Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a free soil Democrat. Benton, according to the newspaper, might “at this very moment be concocting his hellish schemes, and persuading your negroes to leave you.”[18]

In the stampede’s aftermath, the Canton North-East Reporter quickly blamed the powerful Missouri senator, a recent convert to the anti-slavery movement. “When Benton came to the State last spring [on a speaking tour], all was peace—the negro was happy and contented with his master,” wrote the editors. “The Negro began to hope—became dissatisfied with his condition—began to plot to change it—and recent events are only some of the bitter fruits.”[19]

By contrast, the St. Louis Republican chose to focus most of its post-stampede ire on neighboring Illinois:  “Almost every day our slaves are induced, by the persuasions of Abolitionists, to abandon comfortable homes, and to entrust themselves to the tender mercies of pretended friends, who are sure to fleece them of all their money before they quit them. We published yesterday a telegraph dispatch from Quincy, Ill., announcing the stampede of fifty slaves, in one company, from the county of Lewis, and no one will doubt that they were aided in their escape by citizens of Illinois.”[20]

The Palmyra Weekly Whig was even more specific in its accusations, reporting just days after the incident that local residents had first noticed “a very suspicious looking craft” on the river just below Canton on Thursday, November 1st.  The newspaper claimed that the ferry boart, marked “U.S. Pounder,” had then quietly moved north of Canton on Friday evening but had since disappeared.[21]  The implication was that it had been part of the underground network to help spirit away the enslaved. Moore’s recollected account suggests another darker possibility.  His memory placed the small boat on the Mississippi River at Gregory’s Landing, about 14 miles north of Canton for several days before the attempted escape. “It was generally believed,” he wrote, “that men from the boat . . . prompted the plot in a cunning scheme to lure the Negroes on board the craft and, instead of freeing them, to ship them south to a slave market.”[22]

The only way to know for sure what was behind the Canton uprising would be to obtain testimony from the enslaved people themselves, but nothing has yet been recovered.  Nor do we even know the fate of figures such as Lin, or her grandson Henry.  The newspapers reported that the leaders of the revolt were all sold away to the Deep South, but otherwise there was no specific information about the African American families involved.

Timeline

There were notable changes to Missouri law and politics, however. In January 1850, Thomas Hart Benton was openly taunted about the episode on the Senate floor during run-up to the Compromise of 1850 debates.  Mississippian Henry S. Foote, an ardent pro-slavery southerner, called Benton “an indiscreet rhetorician” in the floor debates of January 16, 1850, blasting him for encouraging “the slave population” of Missouri “in twenties and forties” to “put themselves in full flight for the Father of Waters.”   When Benton then stormed out of the chamber, Senator Foote responded gleefully, “See, Mr. President, he flies as did those deluded sons of Africa among whom his eloquence is reported to have awakened a regular stampede.”[23] Historian Diane Mutti-Burke also notes that the events in Canton had an impact on state law.  “Acknowledging the potential for collective violence,” she writes, “Missourians enacted laws that made it illegal for slaves to congregate without a white person present, organized neighborhood slave patrols, and vigilantly watched for signs of trouble.”[24]  By 1853, Missourians had also created an active Anti-Abolition Society. About this same time, Lewis County instituted more aggressive slave patrols.

These and other efforts to deter slave stampedes had mixed results, however. In 1859, there was another Lewis County stampede that received widespread attention, this time a group of eleven freedom seekers from LaGrange.[25]  Yet the 1860 census listed only six fugitive slaves from Lewis County.  In the presidential election of that year, Lewis County voters also sought to sustain their peculiar institution: the Constitutional Union party of John Bell and the Southern Democrats led by John Breckinridge together attracted almost 75% of the vote. The eventual national winner, Abraham Lincoln of the anti-slavery Republican party, received only 48 votes—2% of Lewis County’s total.[26]  President Lincoln was still alive in January 1865 when Missouri abolished slavery.

 

FURTHER READING

The best primary sources for the Canton stampede come from contemporaneous newspaper accounts. The most complete report appeared in the Canton  North-East Reporter (microfilm only) on November 8, 1849 that was reprinted in the William Lloyd Garrison’s The Liberator under the headline “Another Chapter of Southern Atrocities and Horrors” and also in the Anti-Slavery Bugle on February 2, 1850. Other newspaper accounts from that fall and winter provide snippets of useful information, such as the names of the slaveholders and the number of fugitives. Numerous accounts use the term “stampede” to describe the affair.  There was also an important recollected account published in 1958 in the Missouri Historical Review. W. K. Moore’s “An Abortive Slave Uprising,” written 14 years earlier in 1944, offers a particularly vivid account from the slaveholder’s perspective. Moore was the grandson of James Miller, on whose farm the stampede began.  It is worth noting, however, that his narrative sometimes draws quite heavily upon the original newspaper account produced by the Canton North-East Reporter.

Secondary sources include a brief mention and useful context from Diane Mutti-Burke’s On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small-Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865 (2010) and also an important article by George R. Lee, “Slavery and Emancipation in Lewis County, Missouri,” Missouri Historical Review (April 1971), which provides a rich trove of background material on Lewis County.  Eugene Genovese also quoted from one of the stampede participants (by way of Moore’s posthumous recollection) in his book, From Rebellion to Revolution: Afro-American Slave Revolts in the Making of the Modern World (1979).  This passage is revealing for students of slave resistance and worth repeating in full here:  “Slave revolt leaders in the South had much less to fall back upon during the nineteenth century than their forerunners during the eighteenth or their counterparts in the Americas.  They were influenced by conjuring but were normally skeptical of its extreme and politically dangerous forms.  And they lived too close to their masters to deceive themselves.  As one rebel slave recruit in Missouri explained, ‘I’ve seen Marse Newton and Marse John Ramsey shoot too often to believe they can’t kill a nigger.’” (p. 48).

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 


[1] “The Lewis County Stampede of Negroes,” (St. Louis) Missouri Daily Republican, November 5, 1849.  Also reprinted in “Negro Stampede in Lewis County,” Glasgow Weekly Times, November 15, 1849.  The correspondent to the Republican wrote from Tully (adjacent to Canton) in Lewis County.

[2 St. Louis Missouri Daily Republican, November 2, 1849. “The Great Slave Stampede in Missouri,” Cleveland, OH Plain Dealer, November 6, 1849. Chicago Western Citizen, November 13, 1849.  “Slave Stampede and Resistance –Their Leader Killed,” Baltimore Sun, November 7, 1849. “Stampede Near St. Louis,” Plaquemine (LA) Southern Sentinel, November 14, 1849.  “Slave Stampede,” Fayetteville, NC North Carolinian, November 17, 1849. “The Great Slave Stampede in Missouri,” (Philadelphia) North American and US Gazette, November 22, 1849. “Another Chapter of Southern Atrocities and Horrors,” The Liberator, January 18, 1850.

[3] George R. Lee, “Slavery and Emancipation in Lewis County, Missouri,” Missouri Historical Review 65, no. 3 (April 1971), p. 295.

[4] Ibid., p. 305.

[5] Ibid., p. 303.

[6] Ibid., pp. 300-301.

[7] Canton North-East Reporter, June 21, 1849. Quoted in Lee, p. 302.

[8] Canton North-East Reporter, November 8, 1849, quoted in “The Great Slave Stampede in Missouri,” Anti-Slavery Bugle, 2 February 1850.

[9] Ibid., and W. K. Moore, “An Abortive Slave Uprising,” in Missouri Historical Review, Vol. 52, Issue 2, January 1958, pp. 123-26. Although not published until 1958, Moore’s account was written in 1944, a year before he died. Aside from his description of Lin and her activities, Moore’s account repeats almost word for word much of the account originally printed in the Canton North-East Reporter, November 8, 1849 and which was then reprinted in both The Liberator, January 18, 1850 and the Anti-Slavery Bugle, February 2, 1850.

[10 Moore.  Some of the early newspaper reports also identified “Miss Miller” (Moore’s grandmother) as the legal owner of John.  See Concord (NH) Independent Democrat, November 29, 1849.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Anti-Slavery Bugle.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Moore.  The contemporary newspaper account identify John’s shooters as Captain J.H. Blair and John Fretwell.  See The Liberator, January 18, 1850.

[15] St. Louis Missouri Daily Republican quoted in “Apprehension of Runaway Negroes,” National Anti-Slavery Standard, January 17, 1850.

[16] Anti-Slavery Bugle.

[17] Moore

[18] Lee, p. 310.

[19] Canton North-East Reporter, November 8, 1849 quoted in Lee.

[20] Quoted in “The Peculiar Institution: Apprehension of Runaway Negroes-Conduct of Abolitionists in Illinois,” National Anti-Slavery Standard, January 17, 1850.

[21] “Negro Stampede,” Palmyra Weekly Whig, November 8, 1849.

[22] Moore.

[23] Henry Foote quoted in Washington DC National Intelligencer, January 19, 1850.

[24] Diane Mutti-Burke, On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small-Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010), 186.

[25] “Negro Stampede,” Glasgow Weekly Times, November 17, 1859; “Negro Stampede,” Press and Tribune (Chicago, IL), November 17, 1859.  ‘”Stampede of Negroes from Lewis,” Louisiana Journal, 7 June 1860; Harriet C. Frazier, Runaway and Freed Missouri Slaves and Those Who Helped Them, 1763-1865 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company Inc., 2004), 102.

[26] Lee, p. 311.

The Harris Family and the Chicago Stampede

DATELINE: CHICAGO, APRIL 3, 1861

Shortly after 6:00 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, April 3, 1861, U.S. Deputy Marshal George L. Webb led an armed “posse” of six men up the stairs of a home at 251 South Clark Street in Chicago. Pounding on the door, Webb aroused a family of four freedom seekers, who had escaped from near St. Louis, Missouri about a month earlier––38-year-old “Onesimus” Harris, his 21-year-old wife Ann and two young children, George, aged four, and Charles, aged one. [1] As the frantic cries of “kidnapper” rang out in the early morning air, the marshal and his men quickly seized the three Harris children, who were rushed downstairs and forced into an omnibus waiting outside. Meanwhile, Harris and his wife fiercely resisted their would-be captors, giving Webb’s men “a lively time.” Yet they too were ultimately subdued. The “stout” Harris was “manacled, and his elbows tied behind his back,” before being “dragged down” the stairs into the same vehicle, while Ann Harris, “wrapped in a quilt for decency’s sake,” was hurriedly shuffled into the omnibus. [2]

Chicago

Views of Chicago, c. 1859

From Clark Street, the omnibus “whirled away” to the St. Louis, Alton and Chicago railroad depot. However, the freedom seekers’ cries had drawn attention to their plight, and a sizable group of African Americans quickly assembled and set out in pursuit, hoping to rescue the Harris family from the grasp of Federal authorities. Yet Webb’s superior, the new U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Illinois, Joseph Russell Jones, was prepared. Appointed to the post just weeks earlier by President Abraham Lincoln, who was also a personal acquaintance, Jones shocked many Chicagoans by his apparent “zeal” to return the family of freedom seekers to bondage. Waiting at the depot, Jones watched as the family was hustled out of the omnibus and onto a special train he had chartered, which departed at 6:30 a.m. Occurring during the first month of Lincoln’s administration, the case had multiple connections to the 16th president. The train from Chicago carried the Harris family to Springfield, Illinois––Lincoln’s hometown––where another Lincoln acquaintance, U.S. Commissioner Stephen Corneau, promptly remanded the family back into slavery on April 4. While it marked a cruel end to the Harris family’s quest for freedom, for many Northerners the case also raised larger questions about Lincoln’s anti-slavery credentials. [3]

 

STAMPEDES CONTEXT

Although newspapers did not call the Harris family’s escape a “stampede,” numerous papers did employ the term when describing the effect the family’s capture had on Chicago’s African American residents. In its initial report on the case, the pro-Republican Chicago Tribune informed readers of a “general stampede” among “the fugitive slaves harbored and residing in this city,” predicting that “within a day or two hundreds of them will have left for Canada.” The Tribune and at least one other paper also referred to the mass departure as a “colored exodus.” [4] Several days later, on April 9, the pro-Democratic Chicago Times ran a column detailing the “colored stampede,” sparked by the seizure of the Harris family. Estimating that several hundred “negro stampeders” had already left the city, the Times‘s anti-black editors expressed hope for “another stampede” to “rid us of the debris of the colored population.” [5]

April 9, 1861

Madison WI State Journal, April 9, 1861 (Newspapers.com)

In the following days and weeks, the term “stampede” was used repeatedly by newspapers throughout the North. The Wisconsin State Journal ran the headline, “Great Stampede of Fugitive Slaves,” while a Vermont serial reported a “Large Stampede of Slaves,” and the Washington, D.C.-based National Republican referred to “the stampede of negroes from Chicago.” Crucially, newspapers routinely conflated escaped slaves with free African Americans. A widely reprinted report claimed that “three hundred fugitive slaves, principally from Illinois” had passed through Detroit on their way to Canada, while another dispatch described a group of 106 “fugitive slaves” who reportedly left Chicago on April 7. [6]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

The Harris family had escaped sometime in March 1861 from St. Ferdinand Township, located on the northern outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri. Their bid for freedom may have been inspired by an impending sale, as the aging Missouri slaveholder who claimed Harris’s wife and young children, William Patterson, had died in May 1860 at the age of 77. In his will, Patterson bequeathed to his widow, 69-year-old Assenath Piggott Patterson––the daughter of an early settler in the St. Louis region––”all of my real estate and slaves.” That included three enslaved people, Onesimus Harris’s wife Ann, and their children George and Charles, [7]

Jacob Veale

St. Louis slaveholder Jacob Veale. (Find A Grave)

Assenath decided to move in with her daughter, Lydia “Liddie” Patterson, and her husband Jacob Veale, a 42-year-old English emigrant. Veale was also one the executors of his father-in-law’s estate, and held one enslaved person––38-year-old Onesimus Harris. While the move may have briefly brought all members of the Harris family under one roof, they knew all too well that estate sales often resulted in the separation of enslaved families. Assenath sought to do just that––at some point in the months following William Patterson’s death, she apparently attempted to sell Ann, George and Charles. [8]

The circumstances of the sale are unknown, but it was likely what prompted the four members of the Harris family to make a run for freedom in early March 1861. They reached Chicago, taking refuge with Ann’s mother, who lived on the third floor of a house at 251 South Clark Street. Yet unbeknownst to the Harris family, Jacob Veale and the Pattersons were in hot pursuit. [9]

Marshal Jones

U.S. Marshal Joseph Russell Jones (Patrick Montgomery Collection)

The Missourians headed to Springfield, Illinois, and obtained a warrant of arrest for the four freedom seekers from U.S. Commissioner Stephen A. Corneau, a Federal official tasked with enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. There was a US commissioner in Chicago at the time (Philip A. Hoyne) but neither he, nor any of the leading judicial or political officers of the city were then considered friendly to enforcement of the law.  Although Corneau was not necessarily pro-slavery, he was a conservative who abided by the rule of law.  He quickly issued his warrant to the new U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Illinois, Joseph Russell Jones. The 38-year-old Jones was a well-to-do businessman from Galena, Illinois, who had briefly served in the Illinois General Assembly at Springfield, where he had apparently met Abraham Lincoln. When the sitting U.S. Marshal resigned abruptly in early 1861, Lincoln appointed Jones to replace him. [10]

Jones was a Republican appointee, and later claimed that “painful as the duty was,” he felt bound by his oath “to execute a warrant for the arrest of a fugitive slave” as he would “any other process.” Well aware that Chicago’s African American community would resist any attempts to recapture the Harris family, Jones decided to seize the family “early in the morning, before there were many persons on the street.” The new marshal was well aware of the city’s track record on fugitive cases, as black Chicagoans had vigorously resisted the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law ever since its passage. Opposition to the law ran so deep that sometime the tables quickly turned and slave catchers in Chicago could easily find themselves charged with kidnapping. With this in mind, a cautious Jones held the warrants for several days, carefully planning how he would apprehend the Harris family and rush them out of the city to Corneau’s Springfield office before a rescue effort could be launched. [11]

Custom House office

Marshal Jones’s office was located in the Custom House, at the northwest corner of Dearborn and Monroe Streets. (Library of Congress)

While Jones set about chartering a private train and hiring an omnibus, he entrusted his 31-year-old deputy, George L. Webb, with organizing a posse to apprehend the freedom seekers. Jones had appointed Webb as his chief deputy just days earlier, and his first task on the job became ensnaring the Harris family. To do so, either Webb or Jones turned to a free African American named Hayes, an express wagon driver who lived nearby on Edina Place. Heading to 251 South Clark Street on April 2, Hayes “insisted [on] lodging at the house” even as residents expressed some unease about their new houseguest. Around 6:00 a.m. the next morning, April 3, Hayes descended the stairs, and unlocked the front door, allowing Deputy Marshal Webb and his posse of six armed men to storm up to the third floor and seize the four freedom seekers. [12]

Lincoln Pinkerton

Detective Allan Pinkerton poses alongside President Lincoln, 1862.

After the family had been captured and whisked away to Springfield, Hayes became the recipient of the local African American community’s ire. Hayes “got terribly pounded,” before darting into a second-hand clothing store and out the back door, beating a hasty retreat to his nearby home. By mid-morning, a large crowd had encircled his house, pounding on the front door and even “scaling the upper windows with a ladder.” An African American named John Johnson emphatically declared that Hayes “had informed, and he must be got out, dead or alive.” Hayes was ultimately rescued by a contingent of Chicago policemen, who arrived and formed a hollow square around the alleged informant, removing him to the safety of the armory. Seven African Americans (six men and one woman) were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. While the woman (whose name was not recorded) was subsequently released, six black Chicagoans were charged: John Johnson, Franklin Johnson, Charles Johnson, John Barriday, Abraham Thompson and William Lee. Their bail was paid by Allan Pinkerton, the Scottish-born anti-slavery activist and noted detective. In a trial held a week later, John Johnson was represented by abolitionist attorney Chancellor L. Jenks, though he lost the case and was fined $15. [13]

timeline

In the meantime, the Harris family was brought before Commissioner Corneau at Springfield. Not only was the hearing held in the new president’s hometown, but also Corneau and Lincoln were neighbors. Their Springfield homes were just three blocks apart, and the two had been friends and political allies since the mid-1850s. Yet in his role as commissioner, the 40-year-old Corneau had already heard two cases involving freedom seekers––one in 1857, and another in 1860––and both times had sided with the slaveholder. In a brief hearing on the morning of April 4, Corneau deemed the evidence provided by Veale and the Pattersons “indisputable,” and promptly remanded the family of four back into slavery. The captured freedom seekers left Springfield on the evening train, bound for St. Louis. [14]

 

AFTERMATH AND LEGACY

In the days following the rendition of the Harris family, many Northerners expressed shock and outrage that the four freedom seekers had been seized and returned to slavery under a new Republican administration. One of the city’s leading abolitionist lawyers, L.C.P. Freer, issued a call to “The Old Liberty Guard,” denouncing the new US marshal for “inaugurating a reign of terror among our colored population.”  The next day, the Chicago Tribune decried:  “We object to a Federal office holder under Abraham Lincoln surpassing in zealous man-hunting all his predecessors in office,” Local residents focused their ire on Marshal Jones, convening a mass meeting and demanding his removal from office. [15]

Chicago Post quoteYet other Northerners, desperate to avert a looming civil war, hailed Jones’s actions. “It is thus demonstrated that the law for the rendition of fugitive slaves can be executed, and that, too, by a Republican officer, in the city of Chicago,” touted the Chicago Post. “It will convince the people that President Lincoln intends to, and will, support the constitution and execute the laws.” [16]

Meanwhile, some sought to link the case and the “stampede” which followed more directly to Lincoln, accusing the new administration of harboring pro-slavery sentiments. A Buffalo, New York paper reminded readers that it was the arrest of the Harris family, by “the first U.S. Marshal appointed by Mr. Lincoln,” which sparked “a stampede among the negroes,” suggesting that “the Republican sympathy for the poor slave is all humbug when dollars and cents in good fat fees for catching runaways is in question.” Abolitionist George Bassett harangued the new president, holding him personally responsible for “capturing and returning the Harris family” and “the virtual expulsion of 500 fugitive slaves who had been unmolested under previous administrations.” It only served to prove, Bassett maintained, that the Republican party “was pre-eminently a slave-catching party.” [17]

The ultimate fate of the Harris family remains unknown. Ann, George and Charles were appraised at $1000, and apparently sold for $1,589.98. [18] The Federal officer responsible for their capture, Joseph Russell Jones, weathered the controversy over the case and and remained an influential figure, later serving as Minister to Belgium under President Ulysses S. Grant. [19]

The case’s most profound effect may have been the “stampede” of free African Americans and freedom seekers from Chicago. Following the Harris family’s recapture, rumors swirled that “several writs were in officer’s hands” for the apprehension of other freedom seekers, creating “a perfect stampede among the numerous fugitives resident here…. All through last week they left in parties of from four to twelve to fifteen,” detailed the Chicago Tribune. On the evening of Sunday, April 7 alone, over 100 free black residents (or perhaps former fugitive slaves) reportedly crowded into four chartered freight cars of the Michigan Southern Railroad, bound for Detroit and eventually Canada. Paying an average fare of $2 per person, each car was equipped with “a cask of water and substantial provisions, boiled beef, hams, beans, bread and apples.” Most of the participants in the “colored exodus” or “hegira” as the Tribune styled it (referring to Mohammed’s flight from Mecca to Medina), were “young men in their prime, as the class most obviously likely to run the risk of fleeing from slavery.” But there were others, too, whose plight evoked even more pathos, such as one elderly woman so ill that she had to be carried to the train “on a mattrass” [sic] and a “sick child … conveyed in the arms of its father.”  As a specially chartered train was preparing to depart the city, the Chicago Tribune reported that many women in the crowd were openly weeping. It was, the antislavery newspaper sadly concluded, “such an exodus as no city in the United States ever saw before.”[20]

Whether or not this stampede was a full-fledged reality, however, is not entirely clear.  The partisan newspapers may have exaggerated the rumors and reports of flight.  The moment of community-wide panic, even if utterly sincere, may also have subsided rather quickly.  We have not yet been able to determine who exactly among the city’s African Americans left Chicago in April 1861, and when, if ever, they may have returned.  The only certainty is that despite all of the fears and suspicions of the free black and anti-slavery community raised by the tragic Harris family rendition, the Lincoln Administration never again attempted to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law in Illinois.

1861 Harris Family Map

FURTHER READING

The original and most detailed accounts of the case were published by the Chicago Tribune (Newspapers.com). The first, on April 4, 1861, ran under the headline “Onesimus and his Family Sent Back.” The second column from the Tribune was published on April 6, under the provocative title “Man Hunting in Chicago.” Later, Marshal Jones defended his actions with a card published in the April 11, 1861 edition of the Tribune. The pro-Democratic Chicago Times also covered the case in detail, and its account was later reprinted in the New Lisbon, Ohio Anti-Slavery Bugle (Newspapers.com) on April 13, 1861.

Another description of the case in the Chicago Post––reprinted in the Baltimore Daily Exchange (Newspapers.com) on April 9––included one crucial new detail: the male freedom seeker was “called Harris, or Johnson.” While it was not uncommon for enslaved people to be identified by more than one name, three of the six black Chicagoans charged with disorderly conduct went by the surname Johnson. Given that the Harris family was known to be staying with maternal relatives, it is certainly possible that these three Johnson men were relatives of the freedom seekers.

Similarly, a story first reported in the Chicago Tribune on April 11, 1861, alleged that a professed abolitionist had duped Ann’s mother, identified as “Mrs. Johnson,” into mortgaging her “little home” to raise $150 in order to fund her daughter’s escape. She handed the money over to this “stranger,” who assured her it would be used to cover “services and expenses in running off” her daughter and enslaved family. When the Harris family arrived in Chicago, purportedly with help from this unidentified white man, he instructed them to stay indoors at the Johnson residence. Meanwhile, he returned to Missouri, alerted Federal officials to the whereabouts of the four freedom seekers, and pocketed a reward offered up by Veale and the Pattersons. The Tribune claimed that this man “is one of a regularly organised gang in St. Louis and Chicago who make a business of running off and then returning slaves, by the shuttle-like process making a very good thing of it. The principal operators are ex-policemen, and policemen high in favor at St. Louis.” The Buffalo, NY Morning Express (Newspapers.com) reprinted the story with a brief editorial comment on April 15, 1861.

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

 

[1] None of the newspaper articles covering the case identified any members of the Harris family by name, except for using “Onesimus” to denote the Harris male. Given that Onesimus is a runaway slave described in Paul 1:10, Onesimus was likely not the male Harris’s real name. (See “Onesimus and his Family Sent Back,” Chicago Tribune, April 4, 1861). Newspaper accounts were also conflicted over the number of children––some placed it at two, others at three. The names and ages of Ann, George and Charles come from the estate inventory of William Patterson, a Missouri slaveholder whose widow moved into the household of son-in-law Jacob Veale, who held “Onesimus” Harris, shortly before the escape occurred. Given the evidence, it appears likely that Ann, George and Charles were “Onesimus” Harris’s family members, and thus the freedom seekers involved in the case. (See William Patterson, Last Will and Testament, October 16, 1858, and Estate Inventory, August 12, 1861, Missouri, Wills and Probate Records, Ancestry).

[2] “Onesimus and his Family Sent Back,” Chicago Tribune, April 4, 1861; Chicago Post, quoted in “The Fugitive Slave Case in Chicago,” Milwaukee WI Sentinel, April 5, 1861; “Man Hunting in Chicago,” Chicago Tribune, April 6, 1861; “The Arrest of the Harris Family, A Card from U.S. Marshal Jones,” Chicago Tribune, April 11, 1861; “Five Slaves Carried Off––Africa in a Ferment,” Chicago Times, quoted in New Lisbon, OH Anti-Slavery Bugle, April 13, 1861; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, St. Ferdinand, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry.

[3] “U.S. Marshal,” Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1861; “Onesimus and his Family Sent Back,” Chicago Tribune, April 4, 1861; “Man Hunting in Chicago,” Chicago Tribune, April 6, 1861; “The Arrest of the Harris Family, A Card from U.S. Marshal Jones,” Chicago Tribune, April 11, 1861; “Five Slaves Carried Off––Africa in a Ferment,” Chicago Times, quoted in New Lisbon, OH Anti-Slavery Bugle, April 13, 1861; Jeffrey N. Lash, A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlburt, (Kent, OH and London: Kent State University Press, 2003), 63, [WEB]; Annual Report, For the Year Ending October 31, 1909, (Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1909), 215, [WEB]; “Insured in the Mutual for 60 Years,” Mutual Interests, 35:8 (March 1909): 29, [WEB]; Endorsement of Stephen A. Corneau, appearing in the Illinois Journal on April 26, 1855, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, [WEB].

[4] “Onesimus and his Family Sent Back,” Chicago Tribune, April 4, 1861; “The Colored Exodus!,” Chicago Tribune, April 9, 1861; “The Colored Exodus from Chicago,” Irasburgh, VT Orleans Standard, April 19, 1861.

[5] “The Colored Stampede,” Chicago Times, April 9, 1861, quoted in Detroit Free Press, April 10, 1861

[6] “Great Stampede of Fugitive Slaves,” Madison Wisconsin State Journal, April 9, 1861; Washington, D.C. National Republican, April 11, 1861; “Large Stampede of Slaves,” Hyde Park, VT Lamoille Newsdealer, April 12, 1861; “Negroes Leaving for Canada,” Buffalo, NY Daily Republic, April 9, 1861; “Fugitives from a Second Bondage,” Pittsfield MA Berkshire County Eagle, April 18, 1861.

[7] 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, St. Ferdinand, St. Louis, MO, Ancestry; William Patterson, Last Will and Testament, October 16, 1858, and Estate Inventory, August 12, 1861, Missouri, Wills and Probate Records, Ancestry; William Patterson, Find A Grave, [WEB]; Assenath Patterson, Find A Grave, [WEB].

[8] “Fugitives Remanded Back,” St. Louis, MO Democrat, April 5, 1861; 1850 U.S. Census, District 82, St. Louis County, MO, Family 1447, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, St. Ferdinand Township, St. Louis County, MO, Family 218, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, St. Ferdinand, St. Louis, MO, Ancestry; Carl William Veale, Patterson-Piggott Family of St. Louis County, Missouri, (Los Angeles: n.p., 1947), 1, [WEB]; William Patterson, Last Will and Testament, October 16, 1858, and Estate Inventory, August 12, 1861, Missouri, Wills and Probate Records, Ancestry; Jacob Veale, Find A Grave, [WEB]; Lydia Rogers Patterson, Find A Grave, [WEB].

[9] “Onesimus and his Family Sent Back,” Chicago Tribune, April 4, 1861; “Fugitive Slave Excitement in Chicago,” Chicago Post, April 5, 1861, quoted in Baltimore Daily Exchange, April 9, 1861.

[10] “Five Slaves Carried Off––Africa in a Ferment,” Chicago Times, quoted in New Lisbon, OH Anti-Slavery Bugle, April 13, 1861; “Resigned,” Chicago Tribune, March 5, 1861; “U.S. Marshal,” Chicago Tribune, March 15, 1861; “U.S. Marshal,” Chicago Tribune, March 28, 1861; 1860 U.S. Census, 1st Ward Galena, Jo Daviess County, IL, Family 34, Ancestry; Haplin and Bailey’s Chicago City Directory, for the Year 1861-62, (Chicago: Haplin & Bailey, 1861), 191; Lash, A Politician Turned General, 63; Charter, Constitution By-Laws, Annual Report, for the Year Ending October 31, 1909, (Chicago: Chicago Historical Society, 1909), 215, [WEB].

[11] “The Arrest of the Harris Family, A Card from U.S. Marshal Jones,” Chicago Tribune, April 11, 1861; 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), 165-167.

[12] “The Fugitive Slave Case in Chicago,” Milwaukee, WI Sentinel, April 5, 1861; “Fugitive Slave Excitement in Chicago,” Chicago Post, April 5, 1861, quoted in Baltimore Daily Exchange, April 9, 1861; “Man Hunting in Chicago,” Chicago Tribune, April 6, 1861; “The Arrest of the Harris Family, A Card from U.S. Marshal Jones,” Chicago Tribune, April 11, 1861; “Five Slaves Carried Off––Africa in a Ferment,” Chicago Times, quoted in New Lisbon, OH Anti-Slavery Bugle, April 13, 1861; Chicago Post, April 4, 1861, quoted in “Great Negro Excitement!,” Boston Liberator, April 26, 1861; “Appointment,” Chicago Tribune, April 1, 1861; House Executive Documents, Index to Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives for the First Session of the Forty-Fourth Congress, 1875-1876, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1876), 164-165, [WEB]; 1860 U.S. Census, Ward 1, Chicago, Cook County, IL, Family 214, Ancestry; “A Tribute to George L. Webb,” Woodstock, IL Sentinel, September 14, 1905.

[13] “The Sequel to the Harris Case,” Chicago Tribune, April 12, 1861; “Five Slaves Carried Off––Africa in a Ferment,” Chicago Times, quoted in New Lisbon, OH Anti-Slavery Bugle, April 13, 1861; Chicago Post, April 4, 1861, quoted in “Great Negro Excitement!,” Boston Liberator, April 26, 1861; The Chicago Legal News 35(1902-1905):439, [WEB]; Pinkerton later claimed that he had actively aided freedom seekers, writing in the 1880s: “I have assisted in securing safety and freedom for the fugitive slave, no matter at what hour, under what circumstances, or at what cost, the act was to be performed.” Allan Pinkerton, The Spy of the Rebellion; Being a True History of the Spy System of the United States Army During the Late Rebellion, (New York: G.W. Carleton, 1883), xxvi, [WEB].

[14] “Fugitives Remanded Back,” St. Louis, MO Democrat, April 5, 1861; Endorsement of Stephen A. Corneau, appearing in the Illinois Journal on April 26, 1855, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, [WEB]; 1850 U.S. Census, Springfield, Sangamon County, IL, Family 774, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Springfield, Sangamon County, IL, Family 1897, Ancestry; Stephen Augustus Corneau, Find A Grave, [WEB]; Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 1:206, 811; Blackett, The Captive’s Quest for Freedom, 159-160.

[15] L.C.P. Freer, “To the Old Liberty Guard,” Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1861.  “Man Hunting in Chicago,” Chicago Tribune, April 6, 1861; Weston A. Goodspeed and Daniel D. Healy, History of Cook County, Illinois, (Chicago: Goodspeed Historical Association, 1909), 1:419, [WEB].

[16] “The Fugitive Slave Case in Chicago,” Milwaukee, WI Sentinel, April 5, 1861.

[17] “Negroes Leaving for Canada,” Buffalo, NY Daily Republic, April 9, 1861; George W. Bassett, A Discourse on the Wickedness and Folly of the Present War, (n.p., 1861), 13, [WEB].

[18] William Patterson, Estate Inventory, August 12, 1861, Missouri, Wills and Probate Records, Ancestry.

[19] Joseph Russell Jones to Abraham Lincoln, January 7, 1863, Series 1, General Correspondence, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress, [WEB]; Charter, Constitution By-Laws, Annual Report, for the Year Ending October 31, 1909, 215, [WEB].

[20] “Departure of Fugitive Slaves for Canada,” New York Times, April 9, 1861; “The Colored Exodus!” Chicago Tribune, April 9, 1861.

Database Report –Historical Newspapers

March 31, 1863

Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1863 (Historical Newspapers)

Search Summary:

  • Search conducted by Alex Ghaemmaghami between July 8-15, 2019
  • Keywords: “stampede + slave,” “stampede + Missouri,” “negro stampede,” “exodus of negroes, stampeding, “freedom suits”
  • Total Relevant Articles: 26 (3 about Missouri)

Top Results:

  • “We learn from the Lagrange (Mo.) American, of the 12th That about a dozen ‘likely, intelligent and valuable slaves escaped from that city during last week, and are supposed to be now beyond reach of pursuit.” (“Negro Stampede,” Chicago Press and Tribune, November 11, 1859)
  • “The Canton, Lewis county, Mo., reporter, gives the following account of the recent great slave stampede there…” (“Another Chapter of Southern Atrocities and Horrors,” Boston Liberator, January 18, 1850)
  • “Some thirty or forty American citizens of African descent … quietly abolished themselves into Illinois.” (Hannibal, MO Courier, quoted in “Slave Stampede,” Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1861)
  • “It seems, from the information at Lexington, [KY] that Mr. Doyle has been the active agent in getting up the recent stampede among the negroes of Fayette county…. From this place, he made his escape, and next turns up at Lexington, engaged in the giant stampede of negroes from the interior of Kentucky.” (“Doyle, the Negro Abductor,” Pittsburgh, PA Daily Morning Post, August 21, 1848)

Select Images

General Notes
  • ProQuest Historical Newspapers is a subscription database available to Dickinson College students through the Waidner-Spahr Library. It is separate from ProQuest Civil War Era Newspapers.
  • Using the date range tool helped narrow the number of results drastically, as well as using quotation marks for key phrases and commas between key terms.
  • Many results detailing stampedes from Kentucky to Ohio

Most Relevant Coverage from ProQuest Historical Newspapers

  • MISSOURI: LaGrange, MO American (quoted in Chicago Tribune) and Hannibal, MO Courier (quoted in Chicago Tribune)
  • ILLINOIS: Chicago Tribune, 1848-1863
  • NEW YORK: New York Times, 1857-1863
  • PENNSYLVANIA: Philadelphia Inquirer, 1860-1863

Database Report- Google Books and Google Ngram Viewer

definition of stampede

Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanism, (1859) (Courtesy of Google Books)

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Dana Marecheau July 10-12, 2019.
  • Keywords: slave stampede, stampede of slaves, negro stampede, stampede of negroes, stampeding, stampede
  • Totals: 15 hits

Top Results

  • “He [John Brown] was particularly inquired of,” explained Andrew Hunter, a witness who testified before Congress on January 13, 1860, as part of the Harpers Ferry hearings, “… as to his intending to stampede slaves off, and he promptly and distinctly replies that that was not his purpose… He stated in substance, as I recollect, that his purpose in coming to Virginia was simply to stampede slaves, not to shed blood; that he has stampeded twelve slaves from Missouri without snapping a gun, and that he expected to do the same thing in Virginia, but only on a larger scale.” (The United States Senate, Senate Document, (1860) 130: 62) [WEB]
  • “From animals the term is transferred to men: … From information which has reached us, there would seem to have been a considerable stampede of slaves from the border valley counties of Virginia during the late Easter holidays.— (Balt.) Sun, Apr. 9, 1858.” (John Russel Bartlett, Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms, (1859), 445) [WEB]
  • “THE ABOLITION OF SLAVERY INAUGURATED— STAMPEDE OF CONTRABANDS.” (Life and Public Service of Major-General Butler… the hero of New Orleans, etc, (1864), 49) [WEB]
  • “It was not anticipated that the first movement would have any other appearance to the masters than a slave stampede, or local insurrection at most.” (James Redpath, The Public Life of Capt. John Brown, with an Auto-biography of His Childhood and Youth, (1860), 144) [WEB]
  • “John Brown conceived the idea that these mountain ranges, so broken, so wild, afforded an excellent pathway for a grand stampeded from the Slave States— a grand exodus into the Free States, and, through the latter, into Canada.” (British and Foreign Anti-slavery Society, British and Foreign Anti-slavery Reporter, (1860) 126) [WEB]
  • “The same Wild Tom [a freedom seeker originally from Charleston] had been seen, within a short time past, lurking about the neighborhood; and it was suspected that the late stampede had not taken place without his aid and his assistance.” (Richard Hildreth, Archy Moore, the White Slave: Or, Memoirs of a Fugitive, (1856), 294) [WEB]
  •  “We learn from the Fact that “still another slave stampede came off a few miles before Maysville on Wednesday night last. Five negroes— three of them very fair and delicate mulatto girls – succeeded in crossing the river. — All trace was lost a few miles back of Ripley. Brown county.” (Freemen’s Manual, (1853), 1:153) [WEB]
  • “SLAVE STAMPEDE. – The Cincinnati Commercial says there was a serious negro stampede from plantations sixty miles back of the river, in Kentucky, on Saturday night. Of eleven slaves who decamped five succeeded in crossing the Ohio, a few miles below this city, yesterday. Their pursuers were in town last night, but learning that the fugitives had got twelve hours.” (Freemen’s Manual, (1853), 1: 154) [WEB]
  • “NEGRO STAMPEDE. — Twenty- five negroes ran away from their masters, in Boone county, Kentucky, on the night of the 2d inst. Among those who have lost their servants are two ministers of the gospel… A STAMPEDE. — The “Underground Railroad” would seem to be in excellent order. A company of 29 slaves from Kentucky reached here on Monday evening last,  and were safely convey to the Canada side the next morning. They were all hale young men and women, none of them over 35 years of age, for whose recapture, we hear, liberal offers are proclaimed.” (American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, The Annual Report . . . of the American and Foreign Anti-slavery . . . with the Addresses and Resolutions, (1853), 144-145) [WEB]
  • Slave Stampede. — The slaves in Mason county, Va., are becoming migratory in their habits. Within the last fortnight eight have made their escape to parts unknown. —Ledger.” (The Friend, (1854), 27: 63) [WEB]
  • “Many of them who had fought at his side through Kansas held that what they should aim at ought to be a grand stampede of negroes; that getting together as man as they could – some hundreds or thousands— they should carry them across the frontier into Canada, only fighting when it was necessary to cover their retreat.” (The Baptist Magazine, (1860), 352) [WEB]
  • “The driver who marks it out, has to remain on the ground until it is finished, and has no interest in over-measuring it; and if it should be systematically increase very much, there is danger of a general stampede to the “swamp”— a danger the salve can always hold before his master’s cupidity.” (Fred. Law Olmsted, Our slaves states:, (1856), 435-436) [WEB]
  • “This is ‘the infected district”— the part of the body spiritual upon which the gangrene of slavery still lingers; and in this chapter we propose to show, that notwithstanding the stampede of slaveholders in 1845, we are now, as a Church, more deeply and criminally involved in slaveholding that at any former period of our history”. (Hiram Mattison, The Impending Crisis of 1860: Or, The Present Connection of the Methodist Episcopal Church with Slavery, and Our Duty in Regard to it, edition 4., (1859), 41) [WEB]
  • “So some say; while others believe that the “stampede” has been a very large one. The great phenomenon in this case is, the intense terror which existed at Washington, eighty mile off, and through slave States, when twenty-two men took possession of Harper’s Ferry on behalf of the negroes.” (Eneas Sweetland Dallas, Once a Week, (1859), 1: 488) [WEB]
  • “A negro stampede for Mexico, has been discovered at Lagrange, Texas.”(Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-room Companion, (1851), 1: 239) [WEB]

Selected Images 

 

  •  

General Notes

  • Google Books and Google Ngram Viewer are both free online databases available to the public.
  • Most of the hits in Google Books were reports from Kentucky.
  • In the Life and Public Service of Benjamin F. Butler, an autobiography of the Union Army general and politician Benjamin Butler, stampede of contraband appears to reference a slave stampede.
  • The 1853 Freemen’s Manual is an anti-slavery publication, affiliated with the Free Soil Democrats.
  • In Hiram Mattison’s The Impending Crisis of 1860, he uses stampede to describe a group of slaveholders.
  • The Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-room Companion (1861) was a magazine of illustrations founded by Frederick Gleason.

Database Report -Newspapers.com

November 18, 1859

Cleveland OH Daily Leader, November 18, 1859 (Newspapers.com)

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Cooper Wingert between June 28, 2019-July 16, 2019
  • Keywords: slave stampede
  • Totals: Approximately 600 hits, with concentrations of stampede attempts from Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland and Missouri.
  • NOTE: Due to extensive results, this search was stopped at December 1859.  We still need to complete the database report with the war years.

Top Results

  • “A regular stampede took place among the slaves of Mr. J. Mattingly, near St. Louis, on the night of the 13th inst. Seven of them made their escape.” (Marshall, TX Texas Republican, July 31, 1852)
  • Quoting the St. Louis Democrat, the Pittsburgh Gazette printed an article headlined “Stampede Among the Africans.” Noting that “some fifteen or twenty slaves departed this city [St. Louis] for the colder climates of the north,” the paper reported that the freedom seekers “probably decamped about midnight, having, under the permission of their owners to attend church, gathered themselves together and set out in a company. Heavy rewards have been offered by their owners, and officers are in close pursuit of them.” (St. Louis Democrat, quoted in “Stampede Among the Africans,” Pittsburgh, PA Gazette, October 30, 1854)
  • In late 1854, the Milwaukee Weekly Wisconsin reported that “the St. Louis papers are very much exercised over the frequent stampede of slaves, and their almost impossible recovery after they once get as far as Chicago….” (Milwaukee, Wi Weekly Wisconsin, December 20, 1854)
  • “In Missouri, surrounded as she is by free States, stampedes of slaves are of frequent occurrence. You cannot take up one of the city papers without seeing an advertisement with its accompanying reward for the recovery of runaway slaves.” (St. Louis Central Christian Advocate,  February 2, 1859, quoted in “Missouri and Slavery,” Chicago Tribune, February 9, 1859)
  • In November 1859, a Glasgow, Missouri paper reported a “negro stampede” of 11 enslaved people from La Grange, Missouri. “The fugitives stole a flat boat from this place, in which it is supposed they crossed the river.–The boat was caught at or near Quincy. If these slaves succeed in making a permanent escape, it will be the third or fourth successful stampede that has taken place from LaGrange in the past three of four months.” (“Negro Stampede,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 17, 1859)
  • Quoting from the Cincinnati Atlas, a Vermont serial published an article titled “Grand Stampede.” Noting that “between twenty and twenty-five negroes, belonging to different plantations in Kenton Co. Ky., across the river, left for parts unknown, via the state of Ohio.” (Cincinnati Atlas, quoted in “Grand Stampede,” Danville, VT North Star, May 17, 1847)
  • A Washington, D.C. paper reported that “a stampede of negro slaves took place at Maysville, Ky., a few days ago. They are gone to help to people the wilds of Ohio and Canada.” (Washington, D.C. Daily National Whig, May 26, 1847)
  • Reporting an escape of 20 enslaved people near Baltimore, the Charleston Courier related: “These stampedes are becoming every day occurrences.” (Charleston, SC Courier, quoted in New Orleans Weekly Delta, September 18, 1848)
  • An article titled “Stampede” in the Carlisle, Pennsylvania Herald reported “a great commotion among the slave owners of Maryland, in consequence of the large numbers of slaves who have seen proper to take ‘French leave’ of their masters, and emigrate into free states. The papers published in border counties come teeming full of advertisements offering rewards for runaways, and editorial notices of the absconding of whole gangs and families of slaves, who are seldom ever caught, and only heard of when safe far north of Mason & Dixon’s line…. Several instances have occurred lately, of gangs of slaves having run away in one night, and successfully got off, whose value would be from 5,000 to $8,000.” (“Stampede,” Carlisle, PA Weekly Herald, September 19, 1849)
  • While noting that the escape of a “troop of slaves from Kentucky into Ohio” would “be a source of great irritation in that part of the country,” a correspondent for the New York Times commented that “there have been more cases of such ‘stampedes,’ (to use a phrase imported from Mexico,) during the last two years, since the Fugitive act has been in existence, than ever before.” (“Washington,” New York Times, October 4, 1852)
  • Reporting that “several negro stampedes have recently taken place in different parts the State,” the Kentucky Yeoman noted “the negroes are running away in scores, assisted and urged on, doubtless, by northern abolitionists…. If they continue their negro-stealing and negro-harboring business at the present rate, and their orators are permitted to canvas Kentucky and preach their incendiary doctrines to our slaves, the result will ere long be terrible. The people of Kentucky will not quietly submit to such robberies.” (Kentucky Yeoman, “Negro Stampedes,” Huntsville, AL Democrat, October 21, 1852)
  • Grappling with the frequency of escapes, the Richmond Dispatch somewhat sarcastically proposed forming a “fugitive slave police” by commissioning “one or more small and fast-sailing vessels,” which would be stationed “near the Capes.” The paper groused that “one stampede of negroes, such as has lately occurred here in Richmond, costs more than the purchase, manning, and support of two such vessels for five years.” (Richmond Dispatch, quoted in Washington, D.C. National Era, “Fugitive Slave Police,” May 5, 1854)
  • “On Saturday night a serious stampede of slaves occurred in Richmond. Five likely and valuable slaves made off to parts unknown, one of them taking $1506 of his master’s money with him.” (Vicksburg, MS Vicksburg Daily Whig, February 13, 1855)
  • A parody “procession” or parade described by a Buffalo, New York newspaper included the “Editor of the Cincinnati Commercial, with a model of a cotton boat and a slave stampede.” (Buffalo, NY Daily Republic, July 3, 1855)
  • A New York Times column claimed that the “silent operations of the ‘Underground Railroad'” were exercising a “powerful effect in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and Kentucky,” where “stampedes have become more frequent than ever, and the border counties of the Slave States are fast losing their laboring population.” (“The Underground Railroad,” New York Times, November 30, 1855)
  • The Buffalo, New York Morning Express used the term “Servile Stampede” when reporting the escape of 11 enslaved people from Loudon County, Virginia. (“Servile Stampede,” Buffalo, NY Morning Express, September 23, 1856)
  • In December 1856, the Baltimore Sun used the terms “stampede” and “insurrection” interchangeably. While noting “the arrest of two negro men suspected of plotting an insurrection among the blacks,” the paper suggested that “it would be well for the organized patrol parties to be vigilant, lest a ‘stampede’ in some quarter might take place.” (“An Excitement,” Baltimore Sun, December 6, 1856)
  • In June 1857, a Mississippi paper reported a “negro stampede” consisting of “no less than thirty-one negroes” who had “disappeared from the neighborhood of Fort Adams within the past month. They have either run away or been stolen.” (Natchez, MS Courier, quoted in “Negro Stampede,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 27, 1857)
  • The Carlisle Herald reported a “stampede” of “eleven runaway slaves, from Carroll county, Maryland” who “passed through the principal street of Carlisle. Their masters were here on Monday in hot pursuit.” (“Stampede of Slaves,” Carlisle, PA Weekly Herald, October 7, 1857)
  • The Washington, D.C. Evening Star noted “a stampede of slaves took place from this city on Saturday night. From the number that is missing, it is thought that they were taken away in some northern vessel.” (Washington, D.C. Evening Star, July 28, 1859)
  • In the immediate wake of John Brown’s October 1859 Harpers Ferry raid, many papers reported the incident as an attempted stampede. “The idea was to hold the town long enough to concentrate the negroes by hundreds and thousands from miles around,” reported a Connecticut paper, “and then, when retreat became necessary, make a grand stampede across the Maryland line into Pennsylvania.” (Hartford, CT Courant, October 19, 1859)

Select Images

 

General Notes

  • Newspapers.com is a subscription database.
  • Stampedes could also head for destinations to the south. “Texas negroes, of late, are in the habit of running off to Mexico in droves,” reported a Pennsylvania paper, “tempted thither by wandering tribes of women, wandering about like gypsies. So it is said. The slaveholders, however, are organizing, to prevent a continuance of the stampede.” (Towanda, PA Bradford Reporter, October 28, 1854)
  • Likewise, a Washington, D.C. serial reported “a stampede of fifteen slaves” from Key West, Florida. “A small sail boat, belonging to the Sand-Key Lighthouse, with a month’s supply of provisions for the keeper and assistants on board, was taken by the negroes, and in it they were able to elude their pursuers. It is thought they have gone to Nassau.” (Washington, D.C. Evening Star, February 18, 1858)
  • The term was also used to describe the “stampede” of slaves being sold farther south to preclude escape attempts. A Kansas newspaper detailed “a perfect stampede of slaves from Western Missouri, their masters selling them off South, or removing with them to that section.” (“Personal,” Lawrence, KS Western Home Journal, November 18, 1858)
  • Describing the sale and relocation of many enslaved Missourians to locations in the deep South, a Pennsylvania paper noted that “there are upwards of four hundred slaves leaving Missouri every week, nearly all of whom go south.” Styling it “The Missouri Stampede,” the serial noted that “this movement in the slave market is occasioned partly by the high prices obtained, and partly by causes having no reference to prices.” (“The Missouri Stampede,” Gettysburg, PA Adams Sentinel, October 10, 1859)

Most Relevant Coverage from Genealogy Bank Database

  • MISSOURI:  Glasgow Weekly Times – 1848-1859
  • ILLINOIS:  Chicago Tribune – 1849-1859
  • MARYLAND:  Baltimore Sun – 1847-1859
  • NEW YORK: Buffalo Morning Express – 1847-1859
  • VIRGINIA:  Richmond Dispatch – 1852-1859

Database Report- Quincy Whig

 

Canton Stampede

Quincy IL Whig, November 6, 1849 (Courtesy of Quincy Historical Newspaper Archive)

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Dana Marecheau July 2-3, 2019.
  • Keywords: slave stampede, stampede, stampede of slaves
  • Totals: 8 hits

Top Results

    • “We find the following telegraphic despatch in the St. Louis Republican of Saturday last.– We had not before heard of this “stampede,” although Lewis county lies nearly opposite this: Quincy, Nov, 21. NEGRO STAMPEDE. – About fifty negroes, (men, women, and children,) with teams, owned by Miss Militer, McKim and McCutchin, of Sugar creek, and William Ellis of Monticello, Lew county Mo.’ started for parts unknown about one o’clock last night.” (Quincy IL Whig, November 6, 1849)
    • “We are getting a little tired of this disposition of our Missouri friends to lose their equilibrium, and charge that every slave stampede that takes places originates in this city.” (“Across the River,” Quincy IL Whig, July 7, 1854)
    • “We have been told that a few persons in Quincy, construe an editorial in our Daily of Friday last into something like an intimation that we would  justify lawless attacks upon abolitionists, by way of retribution for their supposed connexion with slave stampedes the other side of the river.” (“Editorial Misrepresentation,” Quincy IL Whig, February 12, 1853)
    • “The Muscatine Journal, speaking of a recent Slave Stampede in Northern Missouri and an unsuccessful effort to overtake the fugitive, says…” (“The Underground Railroad,” Quincy IL Whig, September 11, 1854)
    • “Another cause operating powerfully is the insecurity of this chattelized property. In Missouri, surrounded as she is by free States, stampedes of slaves are of frequent occurrence. You cannot take up one of the city paper without seeing an advertisement with its accompanying rewards for the recovery of runaway slaves.” (“Missouri and Slavery,” Quincy IL Whig, March 15, 1859)
    • “It appears by advice from Fortress Monroe that there is likely to be a stampede of slaves through Virginia.” (“Telegraph Notice,” Quincy IL Whig, June 1, 1861)
    • “We have been very anxious to know, upon what authority out Missouri neighbors charge that slave stampedes originate in Quincy.” (“Slave Stampede,” Quincy IL Whig, August 5, 1854)
    • “Stampede of Slaves from South Carolina.” (“Southern Conciliation,” Quincy IL Whig, March 30, 1861)

General Notes

  • The Quincy Historical Newspaper Archive is a free database comprised of newspapers published in Illinois from 1835 through May 1926.
  • When conducting the search, the word “stampede” by itself did not provide any relevant hits.
  • The term “slave stampede” provided the most relevant hits in the Quincy Historical Newspaper Archive. 

John Todd and Iowa’s Underground Railroad

The diminutive town of Tabor, Iowa in western Iowa served as a critical junction for freedom seekers on the Underground Railroad and abolitionists keen to end slavery on the western frontier. James Patrick Morgans’ biography of John Todd and the Underground Railroad (2006) not only focuses on Todd’s life story, but also offers valuable background on the antislavery networks that existed across Iowa.   Morgan does not use the word “stampede” when referring to escapes of multiple enslaved people, however the book recounts several notable instances of group escapes.

Tabor quickly became known as a hospitable place for freedom seekers. Todd and his town co-founders George Gaston and Samuel H. Adams, (all of whom were abolitionists), offered their time and resources to aid formerly enslaved people fleeing from Missouri.[1]

Map, Iowa

Map of Fremont County, Iowa, 1858 (House Divided Project)

The town also served as a safe haven for antislavery warriors from Kansas territory, such as John Brown and James Lane. In effect, Tabor became their forward operating base. The settlement was close enough to Kansas that they could raid from it, but far enough away, that if things went poorly, they could also retreat to it.  Brown even sent one of his injured sons back to Tabor to receive medical attention during the worst of the Bleeding Kansas period. For a period of time, Todd’s family also stored 200 Sharps rifles for Brown. Those rifles were later shipped to Virginia and used in the Harper’s Ferry Raid.[2]

The first major group escape featured in Morgans’ book occurred in 1848 when nine enslaved people fled north from Missouri in search of freedom. Their intended destination was the Quaker town of Salem, Iowa. Ruel Daggs, the slaveholder, sent a large posse of slave catchers after them, however, and there was soon a physical confrontation and legal showdown in Salem.

Morgans discusses the legal and political repercussions of the case in some detail. In June, 1850, he local court in Burlington, Iowa decided that the Iowa residents aiding the escape were responsible for Daggs’ monetary loss and therefore required to reimburse him $2,900. The fines were never paid, however.[3].

Portrait

Augustus Caesar Dodge (House Divided Project)

The Daggs Case was one of the last cases litigated under the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law. In the fall of 1850, after almost a year of debate, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 passed through Congress to shore up the 1793 law as part of the Compromise of 1850.[4] During the debates, Augustus Caesar Dodge, a United States Senator from Iowa, bragged that Iowa had a perfect record of compensating slave owners for their escaped slaves, citing the Daggs case as an example.  James Todd was a vehement critic of Dodge’s and used his platform in Tabor to actively work against what he considered to be the senator’s pro-slavery leanings. [5]

Another group escape featured in this book occurred on Independence Day. On July 4th, 1854, fellow Tabor abolitionists Gatson and Adams helped five enslaved people flee from their Mississippi owner. The three adults and two children were led across the Nishnabota River on a fallen cottonwood tree and on to the next Underground Railroad station in Quincy, Iowa. When the slaveholder realized his slaves had made an escape to freedom, he rounded up a group of slave hunters. John Todd and some allies in Tabor not only assisted in the escape of the freedom seekers, but also then hindered the progress of the slave hunters by infiltrating their group. According to Morgans, some of the Tabor abolitionists volunteered to search the areas where they knew the freedom seekers to be hiding but then falsely reported that they were nowhere to be found. Despite some close calls, the escapees successfully made their way across Iowa, and eventually to Canada where they could not be captured.[6]

Engraving

Effects of the Fugitive Slave Law” (House Divided Project)

In fall of 1857, three armed, male freedom seekers on their way to Tabor and eventually to Canada were spotted by slave hunters south of Brownsville in the Nebraska Territory. A fight broke out between the groups. One of the slave hunters was killed while one of the escapees was badly injured and taken into custody. The injured slave survived his wounds and stood on trial in Brownsville but was acquitted of all charges. The two other escapees found their way to Iowa where they were shortly captured by another slave posse.[7]

John Brown (House Divided)

On December 20, 1858, John Brown and some of his men conducted a raid into Missouri to free a group of enslaved people. A slaveholder, David Cruise, was killed during the raid, but eleven enslaved people (eventually twelve, after a birth en route) successfully fled with Brown’s group to Kansas, then north to Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and then eventually to Detroit, Michigan and Canada. The dramatic escape was applauded by abolitionists, but the killing of Cruise was controversial.  Some citizens of Tabor adopted a resolution proclaiming,“…while we sympathize with the efforts for freedom, nevertheless, we have no Sympathy with those who go to Slave States, to entice away slaves, & take property or life when necessary to attain that end.”[8] 

Morgans’ also details a group escape that took place in January 1859, when twelve slaves were captured near Holton, Kansas while attempting to cross into Iowa. Dr. John Doy, an Underground Railroad conductor who aided the escape was sentenced to five years in a Missouri jail. Kansas abolitionists soon freed him, however, in a shocking and successful rescue from St. Joseph, Missouri.[9]

Another major group escape occurred in March of 1860. Four, armed, male freedom seekers fleeing from the Cherokee Nation in modern-day Oklahoma made their way north to Iowa on their way to Canada and freedom. Upon hearing of the arrival of the escapees to Iowa, Gaston and others brought them into Tabor . Unfortunately, the conductors and escapees were discovered leaving Tabor and then consequently imprisoned. The conductors aiding them were given a trial date two days later, and the freedom seekers were imprisoned at an undisclosed location. Yet, in a surprising turn in events, the Tabor abolitionists discovered the location of the escapees, and as soon as the conductors were cleared of charges relating to aiding fugitive slaves, the men of Tabor found and released the four men from Oklahoma. In the end, all four freedom seekers successfully made it to Canada in a success for them and the abolitionist movement in Tabor.[10]

Morgans’ biography of John Todd serves as an excellent investigation into the mostly successful abolitionist network in Tabor, Iowa during the 1850s. Although many people in this region were opposed to their radical ideas, the abolitionist movement nevertheless conducted several liberation operations that involved helping large groups of freedom seekers avoid capture.

 

[1] James Patrick Morgans and John Todd, John Todd and the Underground Railroad: Biography of an Iowa Abolitionist (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006), 54.

[2] Morgans, 8.

[3] Morgans, 63.

[4] Library of Congress, “District Court of the United States for the Southern Division of Iowa, Burlington, June term, 1850 : Ruel Daggs, vs. Elihu Frazier,” Library of Congress, accessed July 2, 2019, [WEB].

[5] Morgans, 61.

[4] Morgans, 8-10.

[5] Morgans, 78.

[6] Morgans, 8.

[7] Morgans, 78.

[8] Morgans, 127-129.

[9] Morgans, 78.

[10] Morgans, 12-13.