Author Archives: Cooper Wingert

The 1862 Loutre Island Stampede

DATELINE: NOVEMBER 1862, GASCONADE BRIDGE, HERMANN, MO

Runaways Union lines

Enslaved people seeking refuge behind Union lines (House Divided Project)

In November 1862, Union soldiers guarding a vital bridge crossing at Hermann, Missouri opened their lines to allow “a stampede of slaves” from nearby Loutre Island to pass through. Once behind Union lines, the group of enslaved Missourians believed they had finally realized their hard-won freedom. So did the Union soldiers who greeted them, however curtly. The officer on duty, Capt. Bathasar Mundwiller of the Fourth Missouri Infantry, was short on rations and had “no work for them,” so he ordered the freedom seekers out of his camp, assuring them they could find work throughout Union-controlled Gasconade county, where “no one could interfere with them.” [1]

Comforting as Mundwiller’s words may have been, the status of the thousands of enslaved men, women, and children flocking to Union encampments across the country was anything but settled.  Despite federal legislation that protected these runaways or “contrabands,” as they were called during wartime, and despite the recent announcement of President Abraham Lincoln’s impending Emancipation Proclamation, many Missouri slaveholders refused to relinquish their claims to lucrative human property without a fight. They still asserted that the Union’s various antislavery policies did not change anything for “loyal” slaveholders from states like Missouri which had rejected secession.  On Wednesday, November 19, 1862, three defiant slaveholders thus clattered across the Gasconade bridge and had local authorities arrest four of the freedom seekers from Loutre Island. [2] Yet as they would soon discover, recapturing runaways  was no simple task in Gasconade county, home to a sizable community of German emigrants who were not shy about expressing their anti-slavery views. The events that followed reveal how enslaved Missourians’ pursuit of freedom collided with new legal and political developments to help shift the balance of power in wartime Missouri.

 

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

An initial dispatch fired off by a local citizen to Union authorities reported that “a stampede of slaves had taken place from beyond the river.” Subsequently his letter, including its mention of a “stampede,” was reprinted in the St. Louis Missouri Democrat, the New York-based National Anti-Slavery Standard and Douglass’ Monthly. The same letter also served as the basis for a brief report about the same “stampede of slaves” published by the New York Tribune in early December. President Abraham Lincoln may well have perused one of those many press reports. Just weeks later in January 1863, Lincoln privately told two Republican senators that “the negroes were stampeding in Missouri.” Whether or not Lincoln had specifically called to mind the Loutre Island escape, the episode was part of the growing tide of “stampedes” in late 1862 that informed the president’s strategy to push for compensated emancipation in Missouri. [3]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

Mundwiller headshot

Capt. Bathasar Mundwiller of Company E, Fourth Missouri Infantry, ordered the freedom seekers from Loutre Island to find work in Gasconade county (Geni)

The enslaved people who made their way behind Union lines in November 1862 had escaped from Loutre Island, a narrow strip of fertile bottomland situated directly across the Missouri river from the town of Hermann. Unfortunately, neither local presses nor Union officers bothered to record any details about the freedom seekers, even such basic markers as how many individuals crossed the Gasconade bridge and filed into Captain Mundwiller’s camp.

What is clear is that these unnamed refugees from slavery fled the farms of three slaveholders, widely-reputed to be Confederate sympathizers. Two escapees were claimed by Isaac Hale Talbot, whose family had lived on Loutre Island for decades. On the eve of the war, Talbot held as many as 26 people in chains, and his loyalties became suspect during the summer of 1862, when he attempted to avoid compulsory service in Missouri’s enrolled militia by fleeing to Canada or Europe. Union authorities caught up with him, however, detaining Talbot in a St. Louis prison cell for the better part of a month. The other slaveholders were Elizabeth Clark, a suspected secessionist who had laid claim to nine enslaved people in 1860, and a man identified only as Martin. [4]

Gasconade map

Gasconade county, Missouri (House Divided Project)

By the fall of 1862, most enslaved people throughout war-ravaged Missouri, and indeed much of the south, had come to recognize that the surest path to freedom, unpredictable as it was, lay behind Union lines. The enslaved men and women living at Loutre Island would have been well aware of the Union outpost located just miles south at Hermann. They might also have had an inkling about the reception that awaited them. After all, the ranks of the Fourth Missouri Infantry, which was posted at Gasconade bridge, were filled with German immigrants, a burgeoning population within the state ever since the late 1840s.  Many Germans had fled their homeland following the failed liberal revolution of 1848.  For this reason, many of the new German immigrants tended to hold more anti-slavery views than most native-born southern whites. Moreover, Gasconade county itself was home to a large number of European-born residents, also more likely to be sympathetic to the freedom seekers. Writing to a St. Louis-based German-language newspaper shortly after the escape, one local resident declared that “Hermann’s free Germans” did not want their county turned into “a slave hunting area.” [5]

pull quote storm jailOn November 19, not long after Captain Mundwiller permitted the freedom seekers to pass through his lines and ordered them to find work, slaveholders Isaac Talbot, Elizabeth Clark, and Martin travelled to Hermann and sought out the town’s justice of the peace, a Dutch immigrant named John B. Miché. He refused to arrest the freedom seekers under state laws, as the slaveholders insisted he do. Backed by several of the town’s prominent German residents, Miché reasoned that because the state had been under martial law since August 1861, “the matter belonged before the Federal authorities.” Back in St. Louis, the German Westliche Post thundered its approval of Miché’s actions, praising his adherence “to the existing laws of war and his duty as a Republican.” Undeterred, around a week later the slaveholders cajoled another justice of the peace, a German-born man named Karl Sandberger, to issue the warrants and arrest four freedom seekers, who on Tuesday, November 25 found themselves behind bars at the Gasconade county jail. The news “passed through town and surroundings like wildfire,” wrote one observer, and Hermann’s German population quickly mobilized in protest. By that afternoon, a large crowd had congregated outside the jail, uttering “threats and curses” at the slaveholders and vowing that the captives “should be freepeople” in the morning, “whether by legal means or by storming… [the] jail.” [6]

1862 map stampede curtis Loutre Island

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

Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, commander of the Department of the Missouri (House Divided Project)

In the meantime, a concerned German editor and activist named F.A. Nitchy had written to Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis, then commander of the Union’s Department of the Missouri, which was headquartered in St. Louis at the northwest corner of Fourth Street and Washington Avenue. Explaining the situation, Nitchy asked Curtis to vindicate Justice Miché’s decision. The afternoon mail brought a dispatch from Curtis, who affirmed that Miché “did right in withholding his warrant,” and advised him to “arrest and bring before [a] Provost Marshal these slaveholders, if they occasion any more trouble.” Hearing this, Nitchy and others scrambled to find a U.S. provost marshal. When none could be found, they followed up with General Curtis by telegraph, pleading with the department commander to appoint a local Gasconade county man, C.C. Manwaring, as acting provost marshal for the region. Their choice made sense. Manwaring after all was a leading local voice advocating for some form of emancipation in Missouri. Days earlier, he had been elected to represent Gasconade county in the Missouri State House, where in 1863 he would serve on a committee that recommended a statewide convention to consider eliminating slavery. [7]

As they awaited further word from Curtis, Hermann’s angry citizenry had settled on a plan to “abstain from any violence until nine o’clock at night,” when they apparently meant to storm the jail and rescue the captive freedom seekers. With the hour rapidly approaching and no word yet from department headquarters, tensions rose to a fever pitch, and local residents began to arm themselves with “weapons and crushing tools.” Just around 9 pm, Manwaring’s appointment arrived via telegraph, and the new acting provost marshal immediately released the four freedom seekers. [8]

timeline Loutre Island stampede

 

AFTERMATH AND LEGACY

By running to Union lines, the enslaved Missourians had not only forced the issue of their own freedom, but also prodded Union officials to take additional action to ensure that recent legislation from Washington was being effectively implemented. After all, their escape came on the heels of three critical new developments in federal policy. First in March 1862, Congress passed the revised Articles of War, prohibiting Union soldiers from returning runaways to their slaveholders. Then in July, Congress approved the Second Confiscation Act, authorizing Union forces to liberate enslaved people of any “disloyal” persons as “captives of war,” declaring them “forever free.” Finally in September, President Lincoln publicly unveiled his Emancipation Proclamation, set to take effect on January 1, 1863, promising to liberate all slaves in areas of rebellion and not under Union control. Acting Provost Manwaring had to consider all of these new developments as he sat down in late November and laid out his justifications for “turning them loose.” First, he argued, the group had come within the lines of the Fourth Missouri and “placed themselves under the protection of Capt. Mundweller.” Manwaring reasoned that because the revised Articles of War made it clear that Union soldiers were to have no part in returning runaways, once the freedom seekers had entered Mundwiller’s lines they could not be forcibly re-enslaved. Manwaring then proceeded to describe the slaveholders, taking pains to demonstrate that each were known to be Confederate sympathizers. This was crucial, as the Second Confiscation Act allowed the armies to liberate runaways from disloyal persons, even if they were resident in a loyal state –like Missouri. [9]

Although Manwaring’s legal justifications held up, concerns lingered about how to safeguard the many other runaway bond people who claimed freedom under the Second Confiscation Act. Having learned a lesson from the events at Hermann, F.A. Nitchy and other Republicans urged Union higher-ups to make it clear that the authority to determine who was a loyal or disloyal slaveholder under the law rested with the Union army, and it alone. They hoped to prevent slaveholders from scouring the countryside until they found a local official willing to aid them, and instead force white southerners to deal directly with the Union army. One month later on December 24, Curtis issued General Orders No. 35, which provided that all provost marshals within the Department of the Missouri must “protect the freedom and persons of all such captives of emancipated slaves, against all persons interfering with or molesting them.” Should any slaveholders like Talbot, Clark, and Martin dare to come behind Union lines and try to re-enslave escapees, the order stipulated, provost marshals were to arrest them on the spot. The orders also instructed provost marshals to issue “certificates of freedom” to all enslaved people who had gained their liberty under the Second Confiscation Act. Soon after, enslaved people throughout Missouri who blazed paths to Union lines were receiving those certificates. In February 1863, two enslaved men, Henry and Henderson Bryant, escaped from Boone county and made their way behind Union lines at Jefferson City, where they obtained certificates of freedom. [10] Through their actions, the enslaved individuals who launched the Loutre Island stampede prompted Union officials in Missouri to expand the protections offered freedom seekers under the Second Confiscation Act, helping to loosen slaveholder’s grip and pave the way for slavery’s destruction in the state.

 

FURTHER READING

The most detailed accounts of the Loutre Island stampede are found in the correspondence between Nitchy, Manwaring and General Curtis. These documents are reprinted in the edited compilation Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation. The St. Louis Missouri Democrat reprinted excerpts of Nitchy’s correspondence, with additional commentary, while the German-language Westliche Post, also of St. Louis, ran an eyewitness account penned by a German resident of Hermann. [11]

Despite contemporary news coverage, the episode has been largely overlooked by historians. However, scholars have written about Curtis’s General Orders. No. 35 and the controversy those new guidelines stirred back in Washington. Leslie Schwalm situates the orders within the broader context of Curtis’s appointment as department commander in September 1862. Once in charge, she notes, Curtis began a vigorous push “to ensure the widest possible application” of the Confiscation Acts. General Orders No. 35 marked the culmination of Curtis’s efforts, though President Lincoln, fearful Curtis might be going too far and antagonizing slaveholding Missouri Unionists, urged the department commander to “keep peace” and mollify his orders. [12] Joseph Reidy traces Curtis’s campaign to broadly implement the Confiscation Acts back even further. Starting in February 1862, while commanding Union troops near Helena, Arkansas, Curtis had been issuing certificates of freedom to runaways, though as Reidy observes, with mixed results. In a theatre of war where Union units moved frequently and in unpredictable ways, those certificates could either be worthless, or even backfire should Confederate troops overtake certificate-bearing freedom seekers. [13]

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

[1] C.C. Manwaring to Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, November 26, 1862, in Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Thavolia Glymph, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland (eds.), Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985-2013) series 1, vol. 1, book 1, 439-440.

[2] “Slave Catching at Hermann,” St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 29, 1862.

[3] F.A. Nitchy to Curtis, November 19, 1862, in Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, series 1, vol. 1, book 1, 438-439; “Slave Catching at Hermann,” St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 29, 1862; “Reported Capture of a Supply Train,” New York Tribune, December 5, 1862; “Slave-Catching Under Difficulties,” New York National Anti-Slavery Standard, December 13, 1862; “Slave-Catching Under Difficulties,” Douglass’ Monthly, January 1863, 775. On Lincoln’s comments, see this post.

[4] Isaac H. Talbot to Provost Marshal of St. Louis, September 25, 1862, and Talbot to Col. W.L. Lovelace, September 25, 1862, Union Provost Marshals’ File of Papers Relating to Individual Civilians, 1861-1867, RG 109, National Archives, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Loutre Township, Montgomery County, MO, Ancestry; Manwaring to Curtis, November 26, 1862, in Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, series 1, vol. 1, book 1, 439-440.

[5] “Die Freibeit triumpbirt!” St. Louis, MO Westliche Post, December 3, 1862 (translated using GoogleTranslate); Regina Donjon, German & Irish Immigrants in the Midwestern United States,1850-1900 (London: Palsgrave MacMillan, 2018), 187-188; Bathasar Mundwiller, Find-A-Grave, [WEB]; On German immigrants and slavery, see Kristen Layne Anderson, Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth Century America (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2016).

[6] “Slave Catching at Hermann,” St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 29, 1862; “Die Freibeit triumpbirt!” St. Louis, MO Westliche Post, December 3, 1862 (translated using GoogleTranslate); 1870 U.S. Census, Hermann, Gasconade County, MO, Ancestry

[7] “Slave Catching at Hermann,” St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 29, 1862; Nitchy to Curtis, November 19, 1862, in Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, series 1, vol. 1, book 1, 438-439; “Missouri Legislature,” St. Louis MO Republican, December 1, 1862; Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Missouri at the First Session of the Twenty-Second General Assembly (Jefferson City, MO: n.p., 1863) 243-256, [WEB]. For the location of Curtis’s headquarters (the present-day site of the Missouri Athletic Club), see Official Register of Missouri Troops for 1862 (St. Louis: Adjutant General’s Office, 1863), 115 [WEB]. In May 1864, Manwaring was murdered by Confederate guerrillas. See “A Guerrilla Raid,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, reprinted in Chicago Tribune, May 18, 1864.

[8] “Slave Catching at Hermann,” St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 29, 1862; “Die Freibeit triumpbirt!” St. Louis, MO Westliche Post, December 3, 1862 (translated using GoogleTranslate).

[9] Manwaring to Curtis, November 26, 1862, in Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, series 1, vol. 1, book 1, 439-440; James Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States (New York: W.W. Norton, 2013), 210, 226-236.

[10] Nitchy to Curtis, November 19, 1862, and General Orders No. 35, in Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, series 1, vol. 1, book 1, 439-443; The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891), series 1, vol. 34, pt. 4, 191, [WEB].

[11] Nitchy to Curtis, November 19, 1862, Manwaring to Curtis, November 26, 1862, and General Orders No. 35, issued December 24,1862, in Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, series 1, vol. 1, book 1, 439-443; “Slave Catching at Hermann,” St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 29, 1862; “Die Freibeit triumpbirt!” St. Louis, MO Westliche Post, December 3, 1862 (translated using GoogleTranslate).

[12] Leslie A. Schwalm, Emancipation’s Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 55.

[13] Joseph P. Reidy, Illusions of Emancipation: The Pursuit of Freedom and Equality in the Twilight of Slavery (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019), 84.

Darrel Dexter – Bondage in Egypt (2011)

escaping enslaved people

A group of freedom seekers escape during the night. (House Divided Project)

A group of 14 enslaved Missourians escaped from St. Louis in early January 1850, traversing the frigid waters of the Mississippi river to reach free soil in Illinois. On the morning of January 16, however, eight of the escapees––two disabled men, one able-bodied man, three women and two children––were overtaken north of Springfield, Illinois by Constable Strother G. Jones and a posse of white men, eager to claim the hefty $2,400 reward offered for their recapture. What followed was a series of surprising twists and turns. Outside of Springfield, one-legged captive Hempstead Thornton swung his crutch and knocked Jones and two white accomplices unconscious, enabling the other seven freedom seekers to bolt. Five were recaptured, but escaped once again (this time for good) in the predawn hours of January 17. All but Thornton, that is, who gained his freedom not by physically eluding his captors, but rather in court. In a sweeping decision handed down months later, the Illinois Supreme Court not only declared Thornton to be free, but also struck down the state’s 1819 law providing for the recapture of runaway bond people. [1]

Hempstead Thornton’s oft-overlooked legal victory is one of many such court cases explored in Darrel Dexter’s richly detailed study, Bondage in Egypt (2011). Dexter, who teaches high school in southern Illinois, pored over court records, contemporary newspapers, and recollected accounts to reconstruct the struggle over slavery in “Egypt,” the moniker commonly applied to the southern counties of the state. He traces chattel slavery’s origins in the region back to 1720, when Jesuit missionaries imported more than two dozen enslaved Africans into French-controlled Kaskaskia. Slavery remained a legally sanctioned institution in Illinois throughout the 18th century, even after the territory’s incorporation into the nascent United States. [2]

Congress’s adoption of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 seemingly barred slavery from the region, though a critical loophole allowed French citizens to continue to observe “their laws and customs now in force among them.” This provision was quickly construed by slaveholding Illinoisans as a protection for slavery. Slaveholders pushing a loose interpretation found a reliable ally in the Northwest Territory’s first governor, Arthur St. Clair, who insisted that the ordinance “was intended simply to prevent the introduction of other” enslaved people, not outlaw bondage altogether. St. Clair’s logic, argues Dexter, “established the Northwest Ordinance as a governmental plan that did not call for the immediate abolition of slavery in the territory,” and paved the way for a later territorial governor, William Henry Harrison, to pass an 1803 law sanctioning term slavery. Couched in the language of indentured servitude, the statute stipulated that any African-descent person who entered the territory could be bound to service, creating a system that in practice “was little different than chattel slavery in the South,” writes Dexter. The ensuing decades, moreover, saw an influx of white emigrants from Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. The growing numbers of pro-slavery southerners, coupled with Egypt’s geographic location, hemmed in as it was by slaveholding Missouri to the west and slaveholding Kentucky to the south, transformed Egypt into a “quasi slave state,” Dexter claims. Slaveholders’ power over early Illinois politics was so entrenched, he maintains, that soon after attaining statehood, the Illinois legislature passed a law in 1819 calling for the arrest of any black person who was not carrying free papers. [3]

The end of term slavery in Illinois only came following a constitutional ban in 1848. By that time, the fertile border region was intensely divided over slavery. Most white Illinoisans living in Egypt found slavery to be anathema, but were also virulently racist and shuddered at the prospect of freed African Americans migrating to their state. Three years after the Illinois Supreme Court freed the Missouri runaway Thornton and overturned the 1819 law, the legislature passed a new statute barring the entry of free blacks. Through his detailed account of Illinois’s lengthy but often forgotten relationship with slavery, as well as the anti-black sentiments harbored by many white residents in Egypt, Dexter provides crucial context to understanding the social and political climate encountered by enslaved Missourians and Kentuckians as they wound through southern Illinois in their quest for freedom. [4]

boat escape

Enslaved people escaping by boat. (House Divided Project)

Dexter devotes three lengthy chapters to examining the runaway bond people who passed through Egypt, as well as the black and white anti-slavery activists in the region who aided freedom seekers. In doing so, Dexter recounts a number of group escapes, though he does not use the term “stampede” to describe the mass flight of enslaved people. An 1835 case saw seven enslaved people escape from a U.S. army officer stationed in St. Louis, only to be recaptured in Illinois, along with two white men who reportedly assisted them, both of whom were hauled across the Mississippi and severely beaten by an anti-abolitionist mob. [5] Nearly a decade later in 1844, four enslaved people escaped from slaveholder James Bissell in St. Louis, successfully making their way to Chicago. There, the city’s abolitionist newspaper, the Western Citizen, openly mocked Bissell’s relentless attempts to re-enslave his erstwhile human property. The paper addressed a mocking communique to inform Bissell that “John and Lucy have arrived safely here, via the underground railroad.” [6] Sometime around 1849, John and Lucinda Henderson, along with their two children, escaped from St. Louis, spurred by news of an impending family separation. The family of four were helped across the Mississippi by a white woman named Susan Yates, then moved on foot to Alton, Illinois, where black activists helped them reach Chicago. [7] Around the same time, the January 1850 escape of some 14 enslaved people from St. Louis was labeled a “slave stampede” at the time by Springfield papers, though Dexter does not use the term. Instead, he primarily focuses on the case’s broader legal ramifications, highlighting the subsequent ruling of the Illinois Supreme Court. [8]

Randolph 1857 map

Located directly across the river from Ste. Genevieve, Randolph county, Illinois was the site of two violent clashes between freedom seekers and slave catchers in the late 1850s. (House Divided Project)

Bondage in Egypt also examines two largely overlooked group escapes from eastern Missouri during the late 1850s, both of which culminated in violent confrontations. In June 1857, four enslaved people escaped from Iron Mountain in St. Francois county, Missouri, but were overtaken by a posse of white men at Gravel Creek Bridge, located near the riverside town of Chester, Illinois. In a pair of violent clashes, two of the freedom seekers were killed, one severely wounded and recaptured, while one managed to successfully escape. A pro-slavery mob afterwards decapitated the corpse of John Scott, one of the slain escapees. Two white Illinoisans, who had opened fire on the enslaved Missourians, were charged with manslaughter, but later acquitted in 1861. [9]

Little more than two years later in September 1859, five enslaved people escaped from Fredericktown, Missouri, but were pursued by a sizable group of Missourians, who intercepted the freedom seekers at Gravel Creek Bridge (the site of the 1857 conflict). In the ensuing fight, one enslaved man was killed, while the other four escaped, though at least two were wounded in the fray. However, local authorities in Illinois arrested a white Missourian for murder, prompting a mob of upwards of 50 angry southerners to cross the Mississippi in protest. The stand-off did not escalate into outright violence, though pro-slavery Missourian responded by charging two Fredericktown residents with slave stealing under a Missouri statute. [10]

Dexter’s book is an invaluable repository of information regarding slavery in Illinois itself, but it is the volume’s robust trove of insights on Missouri freedom seekers that are of especial interest to this project. Bondage in Egypt harnesses newspaper accounts and court records to shine a light on little-known group escapes from eastern Missouri, revealing critical new details about the mass flights from bondage which contemporaries so often styled “slave stampedes.”

 

[1] Darrel Dexter, Bondage in Egypt: Slavery in Southern Illinois (Cape Girardeau, MO: Center for Regional History, Southeast Missouri State University, 2011) 271-274.

[2] Dexter, 14-17, 24-25.

[3] Dexter, 14-17, 48-50, 69-71, 248.

[4] Dexter, 10-11,17.

[5] Dexter, 259-260.

[6] Dexter, 318.

[7] Dexter, 330. According to Dexter, the same Susan Yates may have also been convicted of “enticing” another bond person away in 1844.

[8] Dexter, 273-274. On contemporary newspapers’ use of the word stampede when describing the January 1850 escape, as well as the episode’s intriguing connections to future president Abraham Lincoln, see this post.

[9] Dexter, 313-315.

[10] Dexter, 285. Also see “A Batch of Runaway Negroes––Excitement in Randolph County, Ill.,” St. Louis, MO Republican, October 8, 1859. The report in the St. Louis Republican describes the group of five freedom seekers as part of a larger “batch” of “ten or fifteen slaves” who had escaped from the vicinity of Fredericktown, and had “stirred up considerable feeling in that part of this State.” The account also noted that the five escapees Dexter refers to had “joined some of those who had previously escaped” from Fredericktown, and were “furnished with fire-arms.”

The 1863 Hannibal Stampede

DATELINE: NEAR FALL CREEK, ILLINOIS, MARCH 23, 1863

Enslaved people escaping

Freedom seekers set out for Union lines. (House Divided Project)

On Monday, March 23, 1863, Wash Minter and around 20 to 25 other freedom seekers who fled slavery in a “stampede” from Hannibal, Missouri, were plodding their way towards Quincy, Illinois. Having successfully crossed the Mississippi River and already traversed several miles through southern Illinois, on the rain-soaked, “almost impassable” road to Quincy, the large group of runaways ran head first into a delegation of fiercely anti-black Democrats from the neighboring town of Fall Creek, Illinois. As it happened, this contingent of white “farmers and workingmen” were bound for a countywide Democratic meeting in Quincy, where later that evening they would pronounce themselves in favor of preserving the Union, but emphatically “opposed to a war for the freedom of the negro.” [1]

Crossing paths with a group of enslaved people capitalizing on the chaos of war to seize their own freedom, these northern Democrats reacted violently. One of the runaways, Wash Minter, later recounted how the “gang of ruffians,” as he called the Democrats, disarmed and robbed the exhausted freedom seekers, many of whom were women and children. [2] Coming just months after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, this tense encounter between freedom seekers and anti-black Democrats along the muddy road to Quincy laid bare how enslaved people’s own determined footsteps towards freedom were upending slavery, much to the discomfort of some white northerners.

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

Multiple newspapers throughout the country used the term “slave stampede” to describe the mass escape of enslaved people from Hannibal in late March 1863. Quoting from a report in the Hannibal North Missouri Courier, the Chicago Tribune ran the headline “Slave Stampede,” while the Saint Joseph, Missouri Weekly Herald used the title “Slave Stampede from Hannibal.” The same report was reprinted by newspapers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Atchison, Kansas in April 1863. [3]

MAIN NARRATIVE

Wash Minter and the 20 to 25 other enslaved people who took flight from Hannibal in March 1863 were claimed by four prominent slaveholders from the riverside town in northeastern Missouri. Minter, and possibly his enslaved family members, were held by a 40-year-old well-to-do widow named Sarah Carter. Although his age is unclear, Minter was familiar to many readers in Quincy, having worked for years as a porter at the popular Planter’s House in Hannibal. He was likely hired out (or rented) to work at the hotel, and apparently used the opportunity to earn some of his own wages. Quincy’s Democratic organ, the Herald, later sniped that Minter “can hardly be considered a contraband” (the term commonly applied to enslaved people who crossed into Union lines) “as he has had the use and profit of his own labor for some time past.” [4]

Hannibal riverside view

Hannibal, Missouri, c. 1857. (House Divided Project)

The names of Minter’s fellow escapees are unknown, though five fled from another prominent Hannibal slaveholder, 46-year-old Gilchrist Porter. A native Virginian and former congressman from Missouri, Porter was then serving as a judge for the state circuit court. [5] Two more bond people escaped from miller Brison Stillwell, also aged 46, who was then serving as mayor of Hannibal. [6] Rounding out the group of freedom seekers were some 15 enslaved people who left the home of Robert F. Lakenan, a 43-year-old attorney. [7]

With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, white Missourians found themselves deeply divided about the future of their state. While many, such as Robert Lakenan, declared their support for the Confederacy, other slaveholding residents emerged as staunch Unionists. [8] Hannibal’s Judge Gilchrist Porter was among the latter, though along with many other Missouri Unionists, he looked to the U.S. government as the surest source of protection for his enslaved property. In February 1863, on the heels of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Porter fired off a letter to his congressman, but intended for Lincoln’s eyes, in which he complained loudly about “the injury to loyal [slave] owners” brought about by the Union army’s presence and U.S. policies. [9]

Disconcerting as the chaos of war proved for anxious slaveholders like Judge Porter, that very uncertainty offered enslaved Missourians like Wash Minter and his family a glimmer of hope, albeit a very murky one. Enslaved men and women attentively monitored the rapidly changing circumstances war had wrought, eavesdropping on the conversations of their nervous enslavers, and gleaning information via the proverbial grapevine, as free African Americans and other bond people swapped news and stories. In war-torn Missouri, border state slavery, which had long seemed precarious, increasingly unravelled before disgruntled slaveholders’ eyes, as enslaved men and women looked to the Union army as a source of potential liberation. [10]

The path to freedom became somewhat clearer in July 1862, when Congress passed the Second Confiscation Act. The new law freed any enslaved people held by disloyal masters (even if that disloyal slaveholder resided in a Union state, such as Missouri). In practice, it meant that if enslaved people could reach Union lines and persuade northern soldiers that their masters were traitorous Confederates, they could gain their freedom. As historian Diane Mutti Burke observes, most northern soldiers within the Department of the Missouri took enslaved people’s word at face value, and were loath to return escapees, even to slaveholders who professed themselves loyal Unionists. Northern soldiers’ willingness to turn a blind eye to legal niceties reflected both the rank and file’s growing disdain for the institution of slavery, as well as pressing practical needs. Two years into a grueling civil war, freed people––both men and women––were proving themselves vital to the functioning of U.S. armies, finding work as laborers, teamsters, cooks, laundresses and nurses. [11]

Porter headshot

Hannibal slaveholder and Unionist Gilchrist Porter complained to Lincoln about the effects the Emancipation Proclamation was having on the ground in Missouri. (Find A Grave)

Writing in February 1863, slaveholder Gilchrist Porter seethed that Union officers “seem to have deemed it their duty to get possession of as many slaves as possible––& to take special pains to inform them that their being employed in Government service, even so short a time, entitles them to their freedom.” Yet even when northern soldiers scrupulously followed the letter of the law, only freeing people held by disloyal masters, the presence of Union forces still had a destabilizing effect on slavery throughout Missouri. Many enslaved men and women held by loyal masters “are strongly tempted to escape… beyond the limits of the State,” Porter warily observed, “as many of them hereabouts have done.” As he scribbled off his note to Lincoln, Porter reflected anxiously on his own holdings in mobile human property. “Before the rebellion broke out I owned & still own 11 slaves,” he added. Scarcely a month later, five of those enslaved people would strike out for their freedom, realizing Porter’s worst fears. [12]

Given the circumstances, the “slave stampede” that followed in late March 1863 came as little surprise to Porter and the rest of Hannibal’s slaveholding elite. The 20 to 25 enslaved men, women and children who crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois perhaps sought freedom and employment behind Union lines, or as Porter outlined, simply decided to capitalize on the upheaval brought about by the war to effect their escape. Minter, for one, undoubtedly had the promises of the Second Confiscation Act in mind. He made a point of telling the editor of the Quincy Whig that he and his fellow escapees fled from disloyal masters who “had deserted them for situations in [Sterling] Price’s [Confederate] army.” [13]

Once on the Illinois side of the river and en route to Quincy, on Monday, March 23, the group encountered the violent gang of Democrats. Although the freedom seekers were “armed to the teeth with revolvers, &c.,” the group numbered many women and children, and even some of the men, like Wash Minter, were balancing their weapons in one arm and their infant children in the other. The mud-spattered, weary group made an easy target for racially-motivated violence, and as Minter later narrated to the Quincy Whig, the band of 15 armed Democrats seized their weapons and snatched around $40 from the freedom seekers, except for Minter. When one of the Illinoisans pointed a pistol at his head and demanded he turn over his weapons, Minter “told them they were welcome to his weapons,” which he “only carried… to defend his property.” Yet when the white men came for his cash, Minter defiantly replied “that they couldn’t have that without killing him first.” Though the Fall Creek delegates reportedly pried upwards of $40 from the other escapees, Minter retained his money, holding steadfast to his newly-realized freedom. [14]

Quincy’s Democratic paper, the Herald, ran the initial story of the scuffle, putting a positive spin on the Fall Creek Democrats’ disarming of the “n––r revolution.” The editors eagerly portrayed the group of heavily armed African Americans traversing the southern Illinois countryside as symptomatic of the perils that “abolition-‘republican’ party” policies posed to white racial hierarchy. When the Quincy Whig responded with an interview of Wash Minter and the freedom seekers’ side of the story, the Herald thundered back, dismissing Minter’s claims that the escapees fled from disloyal masters. With the exception of Lakenan, the Democratic press noted, Carter, Porter and Stillwell were all loyal Unionists, undercutting the escapees’ claims to obtain their freedom behind Union lines. [15]

AFTERMATH AND LEGACY

The ultimate fate of Wash Minter and his 20 to 25 compatriots is unknown, though it appears their determined “stampede” from Hannibal successfully secured their freedom. No reports of their recapture circulated, and it is unlikely that Union soldiers would have returned the group of runaways, even in light of the Herald‘s assertions that many had fled from loyal Unionist slaveholders. Yet the newly freed people still faced the daunting tasks of finding food, shelter, and employment. Likely in search of employment, the group lingered around Quincy throughout late March, long enough for the Herald to denigrate their “conduct” and claim that the freed men and women “are now the cause of much excitement and ill-feeling.” With no sympathy for their plight, the paper pointedly asserted that the black Missourians had “forsaken good homes and kind treatment, only to receive the ‘cold shoulder’ from their abolition seducers, and become a burden to themselves and the community in which they intended to locate.” [16]

FURTHER READING

The March 26, 1863 edition of the Hannibal North Missouri Courier reported a stampede of “some thirty or forty American citizens of African descent, owned in and around this city.” However, reports from the two rival Quincy presses provided more detailed descriptions of the escapees, including the Quincy Whig‘s interview with Wash Minter. Those reports suggest that the group numbered around 20 to 25. The most precise account of the freedom seekers actually comes from the Democratic Herald, which identified the affected slaveholders, in the process arriving at a total of 23 enslaved people. [17]

To date, the Hannibal “stampede” for freedom has not been featured in any scholarship.

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

[1] “Arming the Negroes—‘whither are we Tending?'” and “Democratic Mass Meeting,” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, March 24, 1863; “Arming the Negroes–‘Whither Are We Tending?'” Quincy, IL Whig, March 28, 1863; “Slave Stampede,” Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1863.

[2] “Arming the Negroes—‘whither are we Tending?'” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, March 24, 1863; “Arming the Negroes–‘Whither Are We Tending?'” Quincy, IL Whig, March 28, 1863; “The Whig’s N–rs,” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, quoted in St. Louis, MO Republican, March 31, 1863.

[3] “Slave Stampede,” Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1863; “Slave Stampede from Hannibal,” Saint Joseph, MO Weekly Herald, April 2, 1863; “Slave Stampede from Hannibal,” Lancaster, PA Inquirer, April 6, 1863; “Slave Stampede from Hannibal,” Atchison, KS Freedom’s Champion, April 11, 1863.

[4] “The Whig’s N–rs,” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, quoted in St. Louis, MO Republican, March 31, 1863; Sarah Carter, “a highly respectable lady,” was the widow of Jesse Carter, who “has been in his grave for years,” noted the Quincy Herald, at least prior to 1860. By the eve of the war, the widowed Carter was living near Hannibal with her son Timoleon. She was identified as the slaveholder of Wash Minter by a column in the Quincy Herald, though the slave schedule in the 1860 U.S. Census lists only three enslaved women held by her, 64, 50 and 40 years in age respectively. See 1850 U.S. Census, Miller Township, Marion County, MO, Family 588, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Miller Township, Marion County, MO, Family 419, Ancestry; 1870 U.S. Census, Miller Township, Marion County, MO, Family 57, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Ward 4, Hannibal, Marion County, MO, Ancestry.

[5] “The Whig’s N–rs,” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, quoted in St. Louis, MO Republican, March 31, 1863; History of Marion County, Missouri (St. Louis, E.F. Perkins, 1884), 2:613-614, [WEB]; 1860 U.S. Census, 3rd Ward, Hannibal, Marion County, MO, Family 1258, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Ward 3, Hannibal, Marion County, MO, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB].

[6] “The Whig’s N–rs,” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, quoted in St. Louis, MO Republican, March 31, 1863; 1860 U.S. Census, 3rd Ward, Hannibal, Marion County, MO, Family 1158, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Ward 3, Hannibal, Marion County, MO, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB].

[7] “The Whig’s N–rs,” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, quoted in St. Louis, MO Republican, March 31, 1863; 1860 U.S. Census, 3rd Ward, Hannibal, Marion County, MO, Family 1149, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Ward 3, Hannibal, Marion County, MO, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB]; The most detailed description of the group of freedom seekers, which was provided by the Quincy Herald, identified two escapees from Lakenan and 15 from Mayor Stillwell. However, given that Lakenan held exactly 15 bond people, and Stillwell claimed five, according to the 1860 U.S. Census, it is likely the paper confused the number of escapees from each slaveholder.

[8] “The Whig’s N–rs,” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, quoted in St. Louis, MO Republican, March 31, 1863; also see Diane Mutti Burke, On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865 (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010), 268-281.

[9] Gilchrist Porter to John B. Henderson, February 11, 1863, Series 1, General Correspondence, Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress, [WEB].

[10] Mutti Burke, On Slavery’s Border, 279-285.

[11] Mutti Burke, On Slavery’s Border, 285-287.

[12] Porter to Henderson, February 11, 1863, Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress, [WEB].

[13] “Arming the Negroes–‘Whither Are We Tending?'” Quincy, IL Whig, March 28, 1863.

[14] “Arming the Negroes—‘whither are we Tending?'” and “Democratic Mass Meeting,” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, March 24, 1863; “Arming the Negroes–‘Whither Are We Tending?'” Quincy, IL Whig, March 28, 1863; “The Whig’s N–rs,” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, quoted in St. Louis, MO Republican, March 31, 1863.

[15] “Arming the Negroes—‘whither are we Tending?'” and “Democratic Mass Meeting,” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, March 24, 1863; “Arming the Negroes–‘Whither Are We Tending?'” Quincy, IL Whig, March 28, 1863; “The Whig’s N–rs,” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, quoted in St. Louis, MO Republican, March 31, 1863.

[16] “The Whig’s N–rs,” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, quoted in St. Louis, MO Republican, March 31, 1863.

[17] “Slave Stampede,” Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1863; “Arming the Negroes—‘whither are we Tending?'” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, March 24, 1863; “Arming the Negroes–‘Whither Are We Tending?'” Quincy, IL Whig, March 28, 1863; “The Whig’s N–rs,” Quincy, IL Daily Herald, quoted in St. Louis, MO Republican, March 31, 1863.

The 1856 St. Louis Stampede

DATELINE: ST. LOUIS, JULY 14, 1856

On Monday night, July 14, 1856, a group of eight to nine enslaved Missourians set out on their quest for freedom. Leaving the farm of slaveholder Robert Wash, a 65-year-old retired judge who resided on the outskirts of St. Louis, this contingent of freedom seekers charted an unknown course to liberty. Yet while the freedom seekers’ exact path is difficult to ascertain, the motivations underlying their “stampede” for freedom are somewhat easier to deduce. The group of escapees comprised a family unit––”a man and wife, three sons, two daughters, and the wife’s sister,” as reported in the St. Louis Republican. The freedom seekers may have been spurred to action by Wash’s declining health in the summer of 1856––he would die just months later, in November. Likely fearing separation at an estate sale, they chose to strike out to gain their freedom and preserve their family. [1]

These freedom seekers, whose names are unknown, may have joined with three other enslaved Missourians, held by prominent St. Louis citizen John O’Fallon. The trio had escaped from O’Fallon “a few nights previous” to July 14, and the city’s leading papers instantly suspected that the two group escapes were connected. “Several other slaves are supposed to be in their company on the underground track,” noted the editors of the Republican. Baffling St. Louis’ coterie of elite slaveholders, the freedom seekers also undoubtedly conjured memories of a pair of similar “stampedes” that had occurred less than two years before, in October and November 1854. Those large group escapes had involved enslaved men and women claimed by Robert Wash’s neighbor, Richard Berry, and his brother, Martin Wash. [2] Coming in their wake, the July 1856 stampede further unsettled slaveholders, while demonstrating the precarious nature of slavery along the Missouri-Illinois border.

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

At least two initial reports from St. Louis newspapers classified the July 1856 escapes as a “stampede.” Just days after the escapes, the St. Louis Republican and Leader both ran brief reports entitled “Slave Stampede,” while the St. Louis Democrat employed a variant of the term, headlining their column “Exodus of Slaves.” Over the following weeks, at least four other newspapers throughout the country picked up the story, each utilizing the term “stampede.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune and New York-based National Anti-Slavery Standard ran the headline “Slave Stampede at St. Louis,” while the Burlington, Iowa Hawk-Eye and New Lisbon, Ohio Anti-Slavery Bugle reprinted reports from the St. Louis Leader under the title “Slave Stampede.” [3]

MAIN NARRATIVE

O'Fallon photo

Colonel John O’Fallon, a prominent St. Louis resident and slaveholder. (Find A Grave)

The 11-12 freedom seekers who escaped from St. Louis in July 1856 were claimed by two influential and well-to-do residents of the city. Colonel John O’Fallon, a 64-year-old veteran of the War of 1812, was also the nephew of acclaimed explorer William Clark. O’Fallon had first settled in St. Louis in 1818, where he started a trading business. However, the bulk of his wealth came as a result of his first marriage to Harriett Stokes, whose family owned a large amount of valuable real estate near St. Louis. Over the ensuing decades, O’Fallon established himself as one of the leading citizens of St. Louis, exerting a prominent presence in banking and railroading endeavors, as well as philanthropic pursuits (he was noted for his support of the nascent Washington University). O’Fallon had a residence and office in downtown St. Louis, as well as a property outside town. Yet his immense fortune and reputation was maintained and bolstered through the labor of enslaved men and women. In 1830, O’Fallon laid claim to 33 enslaved people, and by the time of the 1850 Census, he held some 42 enslaved people. [4]

Born in Virginia in 1790, Robert Wash had settled in St. Louis in the wake of the War of 1812––around the same time as O’Fallon. After serving as U.S. District Attorney in the Monroe administration, Wash was appointed to the Missouri Supreme Court in 1825, serving until 1837. Like O’Fallon, he too was a savvy investor, and his real estate speculations won him a “large fortune,” estimated at $100,000 in the 1850 Census. As a result, Wash was able to enjoy a comfortable retirement in his “commodious home” and farm just outside of St. Louis, where in 1850 he held 32 enslaved people, ranging in age from (reportedly) 103 to a one-year-old infant. [5] 

Moreover, both O’Fallon and Wash were unabashedly pro-slavery. O’Fallon headed the city’s Anti-Abolitionist Society, while Judge Wash had earned a reputation during his time on the bench for dissenting in freedom suits. O’Fallon’s identity as a slaveholder had already been brought to the attention of Northern readers some nine years prior to the 1856 stampede, when Missouri freedom seeker William Wells Brown mentioned an enslaved person sold by “Colonel John O’Fallon, who resided in the suburbs” in his widely circulated 1847 Narrative. Brown also noted that O’Fallon’s brother, Benjamin O’Fallon, kept “five or six” dogs “to hunt runaway slaves with.” [6]

Wash engraving

Retired judge and slaveholder Robert Wash lived on the outskirts of St. Louis. (Missouri Historical Society)

While both men had likely read reports in St. Louis papers about the pair of stampedes that had rocked the city less than two years earlier, Robert Wash had numerous personal connections to the November 1854 stampede. His friend and neighbor, Richard Berry, had fumed as five enslaved people claimed by him fled in the stampede, while his older brother, Martin Wash, reported the escape of two enslaved people from his farm. [7] Given that the trio of slaveholders lived in close proximity to one another on the outskirts of St. Louis, it is possible that the family of enslaved Missourians who left Wash’s farm in 1856 were related to part of the group of 17 freedom seekers who escaped in November 1854.

What remains clear is that “a few nights” after the escape of three enslaved people from John O’Fallon’s residence, on Monday night, July 14, the family held by Wash left the retired judge’s farm and set off for “parts unknown.” Considering that Wash had already drafted his will several years prior, and appears to have been in declining health by the summer of 1856, the fear of separation at an estate sale may have prompted the family’s escape. The following day, a reward of $1,500 was posted for the “apprehension of eight negroes,” while multiple St. Louis papers acknowledged rumors that “several other slaves” had joined the “stampede.” Meanwhile, unwilling to recognize the agency of the enslaved to forge their own paths to freedom, the St. Louis Democrat pointed figures at “Underground railroad agents” who “are said to have assisted” the freedom seekers. [8]

AFTERMATH AND LEGACY

After the initial flurry of reports, St. Louis papers made no further mention of the July 1856 stampede. While the ultimate fate of the 11-12 freedom seekers is unclear, no news of their recapture appeared in the columns of Missouri papers. If the family of eight held by Robert Wash had indeed feared an estate sale was imminent, their suspicions were well-founded. Just four months after the stampede, Wash died on the day after his 66th birthday. [9]

In the meantime, John O’Fallon remained one of St. Louis’s most recognized citizens, and still held 38 enslaved people as of the 1860 Census. As the Civil War engulfed Missouri and the entire nation, O’Fallon emerged as an avowed Unionist. He even grew close to Union Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, during the general’s brief stint in St. Louis in 1861. In his memoirs, Sherman recalled O’Fallon as a “wealthy gentlemen who resided above St. Louis.” The pair, remembered Sherman, took daily walks “up and down the pavement” outside the general’s office as they “deplored the sad condition of our country, and the seeming drift toward dissolution and anarchy.” O’Fallon lived to see the end of the war––and the end of slavery in Missouri––before his death in December 1865, at the age of 74. [10]

FURTHER READING

Initial reports published in the St. Louis Democrat and Republican offer the most detailed information about the July 1856 stampede. However, various papers offered conflicting identities of the affected slaveholders, with the Democrat apparently mistaking Robert Wash for a “Major West,” while the Republican and St. Louis Leader both named “John O’Fallon jr” as the other slaveholder. Given that O’Fallon’s son, John Julius O’Fallon (sometimes referred to as “John O’Fallen, Jr.” during the 1860s) was 16 at the time of the escapes, it is strains credulity to believe he was the slaveholder involved. [11]

The July 1856 stampede has received little attention from scholars, until Richard Blackett’s The Captive’s Quest for Freedom (2018). Blackett briefly discusses the escape in the context of a rising trend of group escapes in the region during the mid-1850s. [12]

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

[1] “Exodus of Slaves,” St. Louis Democrat, July 16, 1856; “Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Republican, July 16, 1856; Robert Wash, Will and Probate Records, June 21, 1852, Case 3752, Missouri Wills and Probate Records, 1766-1988, Ancestry.

[2] “Exodus of Slaves,” St. Louis Democrat, July 16, 1856; “Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Republican, July 16, 1856; Wash, Will and Probate Records, June 21, 1852, Missouri Wills and Probate Records, Ancestry.

[3] “Exodus of Slaves,” St. Louis Democrat, July 16, 1856; “Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Republican, July 16, 1856; “Slave Stampede at St. Louis,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 23, 1856; “Slave Stampede,” New Lisbon, OH Anti-Slavery Bugle, August 2, 1856; “Slave Stampede,” Burlington, IA Hawk-Eye, August 6, 1856; “Slave Stampede at St. Louis,” New York National Anti-Slavery Standard, August 9, 1856.

[4] Morrison’s St. Louis Directory (St. Louis: Missouri Republican Office, 1852), 191, [WEB]; Kennedy’s Saint Louis City Directory (St. Louis: R.V. Kennedy, 1857), 167, [WEB]; Richard Edwards and M. Hopewell (eds.), Edwards’s Great West and her Commercial Metropolis (St. Louis: Edward’s Monthly, 1860), 79-82 [WEB]; Walter B. Stevens, St. Louis: The Fourth City, 1764-1909 (St. Louis: S.J. Clarke, 1909), 1076, [WEB]; Eric Sandweiss (ed.), St. Louis in the Century of Henry Shaw: A View beyond the Garden Wall (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2003), 119 [WEB]; 1830 U.S. Census, St. Louis Township, St. Louis, MO, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, District 82, St. Louis Wards 2 and 4, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry;  Find A Grave, [WEB].

[5] 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, District 82, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry; J. Thomas Scharf, History of Saint Louis City and County (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883), 2:1471, [WEB]; Find A Grave, [WEB]; Horace W. Fuller (ed.), The Green Bag: A Useless but Entertaining Magazine for Lawyers (Boston: Boston Book Company, 1891) 3:168, [WEB].

[6] William Wells Brown, Narrative of William W. Brown, A Fugitive Slave (Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1847), 22, 42, [WEB]; Louis S. Gerteis, Civil War St. Louis (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2001), 22; Kenneth Clarence Kaufman, Dred Scott’s Advocate: A biography of Roswell M. Field (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1996),144; Harriet C. Frazier, Slavery and Crime in Missouri, 1773-1865 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001), 55, [WEB]; Harriet C. Frazier, Runaway and Freed Missouri Slaves and Those Who Helped Them, 1763-1865 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004), 55; Edlie L. Wong, Neither Fugitive Nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 138-140; Kelly Marie Kennington, In the Shadow of Dred Scott: St. Louis Freedom Suits and the Legal Culture in Antebellum America (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2017), 1-4.

[7] Wash, Will and Probate Records, June 21, 1852, Missouri Wills and Probate Records, Ancestry; “Another Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, November 30, 1854; “What is to Be Done Now!,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, December 10, 1854; 1850 U.S. Census, District 82, St. Louis County, MO, Family 1121, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, District 82 St. Louis County, MO, Family 1246, Ancestry; Richard Berry was named the administrator of Robert Wash’s estate in a will made out in 1853, and Martin Wash was a witness.

[8] “Exodus of Slaves,” St. Louis Democrat, July 16, 1856; “Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Republican, July 16, 1856.

[9] Find A Grave, [WEB].

[10] 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, St. Louis Township, St. Louis County, MO, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB]; William Tecumseh Sherman, Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman (New York: Library of America, 1990), 1:187, [WEB]; One of O’Fallon’s sons, John O’Fallon, Jr., delivered a “powerful and eloquent speech” at a neighboring Jefferson County, MO Union Meeting held in January 1861. See “Jefferson County Union Meeting,” St. Louis Democrat, January 29, 1861.

[11] “Exodus of Slaves,” St. Louis Democrat, July 16, 1856; “Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Republican, July 16, 1856; “Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Leader, quoted in New Lisbon, OH Anti-Slavery Bugle, August 2, 1856.

[12] Richard 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), 139.

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 Harris Family and the 1861 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 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

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

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 -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)

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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

The 1852 Ste. Genevieve Stampede

DATELINE: STE. GENEVIEVE, SEPTEMBER 4, 1852

On the night of September 4, 1852, two groups of freedom seekers set out from eastern Missouri. Apparently coordinating their escapes, a group of five men named Bernard, Edmund, Henry, Joseph and Theodore left the riverside town of Ste. Genevieve. At the same time, three others –Isaac, Joseph and William (or “Bill”)– departed from the Valle Lead Mines, located some thirty miles to the west in adjacent Jefferson County, Missouri. Joining together along the way, the eight enslaved men, ranging in age from 18 to 40 and equipped with firearms, crossed the Mississippi River, heading straight for the town of Sparta, Illinois, widely reputed as a haven for freedom seekers. Although a group of Missourians were soon in hot pursuit, one Illinois editor doubted they would succeed. The freedom seekers, he noted, were all “young men,” who would be difficult to track down and recapture. [1]

Yet it was not Missourians who ultimately foiled the eight men’s quest for freedom, but rather a handful of southern Illinois residents who responded to the tempting $1,600 reward offered for their return. Word of the “Ste. Genevieve fugitives” spread fast throughout southern Illinois, so much so that when three of the freedom seekers (Bernard, Joseph and Theodore) ventured into Alton, Illinois in search of food on or around September 17, they were promptly seized by a trio of local residents. The remaining five freedom seekers lingered in the area, but the pangs of hunger drove them to search for food as well. On September 20, while looking for provisions near Jerseyville, Illinois, some 20 miles north of Alton, one of the escaped bondsmen encountered a local named Ely B. Way, who offered to “assist them” and invited them to his house for a meal. However, Way and his neighbor –William A. Scott, a justice of the peace for nearby Delhi, Illinois– had other plans in mind. Way  managed to secure the freedom seekers’ weapons, and once the five men were ensconced within his home, he captured them.  According to one news report, “Scott, armed with a gun, and Way with a knife, re-entered and frightened them into an immediate surrender.” The Ste. Genevieve “stampede” for freedom thus came to an abrupt and cruel end. [2]

1852 Map

STAMPEDES CONTEXT

Although often overlooked, the Ste. Genevieve stampede is featured in Richard Blackett’s recent book, The Captive’s Quest for Freedom (2018). Blackett opens his chapter on Missouri and Illinois with a description of the September 1852 escape, using the case to highlight what he considers to be the frequency and significance of group escapes from that area. The recurring group escapes along the Missouri-Illinois border, Blackett writes, generated considerable angst and consternation among Missouri slaveholders, as they seemed to reveal “a level of planning and coordination” among enslaved people that was especially worrisome in the eyes of slaveholders. [3]

While Blackett does not specifically label the group escape from Ste. Genevieve a “stampede,” multiple newspapers at the time did. The St. Louis-based Missouri Republican not only ran an ad offering a hefty reward for the freedom seekers’ return, but also took the additional step of drawing its readers attention to the offer with the news item entitled: “Negro Stampede–Large Reward.” [4] Across the border in Illinois, the Alton Weekly Telegraph reported on the case under the headline “Slave Stampede.” [5] In the meantime, other papers throughout the region churned out reports about the case, with at least two serials–the Louisville, Kentucky Daily Courier, and the Wheeling, Virginia Daily Intelligencer–referring to the escape as a “slave stampede.” [6]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE 

Valle house photo

The house of Felix Valle in downtown Ste. Genevieve, MO. (Library of Congress)

The eight enslaved men who launched the Ste. Genevieve stampede in September 1852 were claimed by six different slaveholders, though all were connected by the Valle Lead Mines, situated along the southern border of Jefferson County, Missouri. The owners of the mines, the Valle family, had wielded influence in the region for some time, tracing their lineage back to a French colonial officer who served as commandant of Ste. Genevieve during the mid-1700s. The family also had a lengthy relationship with slavery, with enslaved labor recorded at Valle-owned lead mines in the area as early as 1757. The Valle Mines near Ste. Genevieve opened during the mid-1820s and quickly became lucrative, churning out an average of 1,500 tons of lead per year. [7] By 1852, the mines were under the principal ownership of Felix Valle, a 52-year-old Ste. Genevieve native. Two of his nephews, 39-year-old Amadee Valle, a prominent lawyer in St. Louis, and 34-year-old Neree Valle, a merchant based in St. Louis, were also involved with the family mining operation. [8]

However, only three of the freedom seekers who escaped in September 1852 (Isaac, Joseph and Theodore) were actually held by members of the Valle family. Felix Valle, who still resided in Ste. Genevieve, held Isaac, in his mid-30s, and the younger Joseph of the group, aged about 22-24, while Neree Valle laid claim to 25-year-old Theodore. Most (if not all) of the other escapees were apparently hired out (or “rented”) to work at the Valle Lead Mines. [9]

slave quarters photo

The slave quarters at the Felix Valle House, Ste. Genevieve, MO, photographed in 1986 by Jack Boucher. The two enslaved men held by Felix Valle, Isaac and the younger Joseph, likely lived here before their escape in 1852. (Library of Congress)

Those additional freedom seekers included 26-year-old Bernard and 18-year-old Henry, who were claimed by local pro-slavery politician Lewis V. Bogy, then a candidate for a Missouri congressional seat; Edmund, among the oldest of the group at roughly 37-40 years of age, who was held by William Skewes, an English emigrant who served as superintendent of the Valle Mines; William, or “Bill,” about 23 years old, who was claimed by Jonathan Smith, a slaveholder who resided near Valle Mines; and the older Joseph, around 27 at the time of the escape, who was held by Antoine Janis, a Ste. Genevieve slaveholder who laid claim to 13 other enslaved people. [10]

Although it remains unclear if any of the eight men were related to one another, most had likely grown up around the Ste. Genevieve area, among slaveholding families with Francophone roots.  At least six of the eight freedom seekers were fluent in both English and French. Yet however they came to know one another, whether through longstanding family ties or after being hired out at the Valle Mines, by the evening of September 4, 1852 these eight enslaved men had joined forces for their daring escape plot. That night, William, Isaac and the younger Joseph–the three men then at the Valle Mines–headed east, linking up with the other five freedom seekers who set off from the vicinity of Ste. Genevieve. [11]

Crossing the Mississippi River, the eight men made for Sparta, Illinois, where they hoped to find local anti-slavery activists. However, despite its reputation as a refuge for runaway slaves, a party of Spartan residents reportedly attempted to seize the group of freedom seekers, though the eight men were able to escape into the woods outside of town. They continued northward, perhaps in search of the rural black community of Rocky Fork, another well known haven for escaped bondsmen. Whether they ever reached Rocky Fork remains unclear. In the two weeks following their escape from Ste. Genevieve, the freedom seekers journeyed as far north as Alton, Illinois, located just across the river from St. Louis. [12]

Blackett pull quoteMeanwhile, back in St. Louis, Amadee Valle received the unwelcome news that eight enslaved men working at his family’s highly profitable Jefferson County lead mines had “run off.” On September 9, Valle headed to the city’s police office, where at his behest Lt. Charles W. Woodward and five St. Louis police officers were dispatched to recapture the fugitive slaves. It was likely also Amadee Valle who passed on word of the escape to two of the city’s most widely circulated papers. On September 10, the St. Louis News informed its readers of the escape, while the affected slaveholders took out an ad in the Missouri Republican, which first appeared on September 11, offering a staggering $1,600 reward for recapture of the eight freedom seekers. Four days later, the Valles placed another ad in the paper, dropping slaveholders Antoine Janis and Jonathan Smith from the signatories on the reward, which was reduced to $750. This time, the Valles offered a prediction of the freedom seekers’ likely route: “It is supposed they will make for Chicago by way of Sparta, Illinois.” [13]

Woodward and his five Missouri policemen failed to catch up with freedom seekers, who continued north, arriving in the neighborhood of Alton, Illinois. However, after nearly two weeks on the run, the group was in desperate need of food. Hoping to find provisions, three of the freedom seekers, Bernard, the younger Joseph and Theodore, entered Alton on or around September 17. However, three Alton residents who had apparently learned of the reward quickly seized the men. The captors, named Lane, Meld and Moore, were described by the St. Louis Missouri Republican as “citizens of Alton,” though one of the men may have been a local constable. A man named William C. Moore served as justice of the peace in neighboring Brighton, Illinois (some 12 miles distant from Alton), though it remains unclear if he was the same Moore involved in the case. [14]

1852 timelineOn September 18, Lane, Meld and Moore brought the three freedom seekers to St. Louis, where they were placed in the St. Louis County jail. While an Alton newspaper wondered aloud “what proportion will be awarded for this partial capture,” the remaining five freedom seekers–Edmund, Henry, Isaac, the older Joseph and William–decided not to take their chances, and headed some twenty miles farther north, reaching the vicinity of Jerseyville, Illinois. Still in need of provisions, one of the men ventured out, reaching the home of Ely B. Way near Jerseyville. Way, a 28-year-old laborer, was then hosting his neighbor, 29-year-old William A. Scott, justice of the peace in the nearby town of Delhi. When the freedom seeker tried to order food for himself and four others, Way and Scott “instantly suspected” that this man was one of the “Ste. Genevieve fugitives.” [15]

Eager for the reward, Way and Scott quickly retired to another room, “to consult on the best means of apprehending them.” While both men hailed from free states–Way from either Indiana or Ohio, and Scott from Illinois–Scott’s parents were both born in slaveholding states (his father in Tennessee, and his mother in Missouri). Together, they crafted a plan to seize the fugitives and claim the hefty reward for themselves. When they emerged, Way duplicitously “told the negro to go after his companions and they could all have a meal at his house,” and even promised to “assist them to escape.” While the freedom seeker went to relay the message to his four compatriots, who were concealed in a woods nearby, the “preparation for supper commenced” at the Way house. In setting their trap, Way and Scott took extra precautions, “removing from the room every chair, stick, &c. which could be used as a weapon.” [16]

When the five freedom seekers showed up at the Way house, Way managed to get hold of their firearms, still acting the part of a sympathetic farmer. No sooner had the five disarmed fugitives entered the dining room than Justice Scott charged in, brandishing a gun, and together with Way, who suddenly produced a knife, demanded their “immediate surrender.” Ensnared in a well laid trap, the freedom seekers were in no position to resist. [17]

Likely traveling by wagon overnight to Alton, on the morning of September 21, Way, Scott and the five captured freedom seekers boarded the steamer Altona, bound for St. Louis. The roughly hour-long journey down the Mississippi from Alton to St. Louis must have been agonizing for Edmund, Henry, Isaac, Joseph and William, who faced grim prospects as recaptured runaways. Arriving in St. Louis, the five men were quickly handed over to local authorities, where they were reunited with Bernard, the younger Joseph and Theodore in a Missouri prison cell. While a St. Louis paper triumphantly announced the capture of “the remainder of the batch of nine negroes who ran away from Ste. Genevieve county,” Way and Scott collected their reward, which according to an Alton paper totaled $1,000. [18]

 

AFTERMATH AND LEGACY

After their recapture and confinement in the St. Louis County prison, the eight freedom seekers disappear from the historical record. While three of the men claimed that they were actually from St. Louis, their contention fell on deaf ears. “We suppose they are all from the mines,” confidently asserted the Missouri Republican. [19] More likely than not, most (if not all) of the eight freedom seekers were sold for their part in the widely publicized stampede.

The enslaved men held by Felix Valle, Isaac and the younger Joseph, were among those who may have been sold following the escape. While Valle still held five enslaved people in 1860, none match the ages of Isaac and Joseph. Shortly before his death in 1877, Valle bequeathed sums of $300 to three freed people, named Basil, Jabette and Madeline, “formerly slaves owned by me.” Isaac and Joseph, however, were not mentioned. [20] Valle’s home in Ste. Genevieve, where he likely held the two freedom seekers, was later preserved as a Missouri State Historic Site.

His nephew, the St. Louis lawyer Amadee Valle, continued to wield influence over the coming decades. As the sectional conflict intensified, Amadee emerged as a border state Republican, elected in 1860 to represent St. Louis’s Fourth Ward on the city council. A firm supporter of the Union War effort, he was listed among an “executive committee of gentlemen” helping to plan the St. Louis-based Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair in 1864. Although a member of the Missouri state legislature during the war, Valle apparently never publicly articulated his thoughts on slavery and emancipation, and was not present at the state constitutional convention which abolished slavery in January 1865. Yet he remained influential in Republican circles for years to come. During the 1870s, a Republican operative informed then-President Ulysses S. Grant that Valle “is well calculated to speak for the old French people” of Missouri. Valle was a prominent resident of St. Louis until his death in 1890. [21]

bogy photo

Lewis Bogy, Missouri slaveholder and politician. (Library of Congress)

For Lewis Bogy, the slaveholder who claimed Bernard and Henry, 1852 was a doubly frustrating year. The Ste. Genevieve stampede had occurred during the midst of a hotly contested congressional election that pitted Bogy against longtime Missouri senator Thomas Hart Benton. Ironically, just months before the stampede, Bogy had delivered a speech blasting Benton for opposing the Compromise of 1850 and for seeking to amend the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, which Bogy claimed “has healed the dissension existing throughout the United States.” Bogy narrowly lost the election, but was later elected to the U.S. Senate, serving from 1873 until his death in 1877. [22]

 

 

FURTHER READING

The St. Louis Missouri Republican (Genealogy Bank) ran the first ad offering a reward for the eight freedom seekers, and also termed the escape a “negro stampede.” The Alton Weekly Telegraph (Newspapers.com) reported on the case throughout September 1852, including detailed articles surrounding the separate captures of the freedom seekers in Alton and near Jerseyville.

The Ste. Genevieve escape has not received much attention in recent scholarship, until Richard Blackett’s The Captive’s Quest for Freedom, which profiles the escape, although without referring to it as a stampede.

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

[1] “Sixteen Hundred Dollars Reward!!” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 11, 1852; “Seven Hundred and Fifty Dollars Reward,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 15, 1852; “Slave Stampede” Alton, IL Weekly Telegraph, September 17, 1852; “Arrest of the Other Ste. Genevieve Fugitive Slaves,” Alton Weekly Telegraph, September 24, 1852.

[2] “Five Fugitive Slaves Arrested,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 22, 1852; “Fugitive Slave,” Alton Weekly Telegraph, September 24, 1852; “Arrest of the Other Ste. Genevieve Fugitive Slaves,” Alton Weekly Telegraph, September 24, 1852; “Slaves Run Off,” St. Louis News, September 10, 1852, quoted in New York Tribune, September 21, 1852; St. Louis Republican, September 19, 1852, quoted in “Fugitive Slaves Arrested,” Wilmington, NC Tri-Weekly Commercial, September 30, 1852; Illinois State Gazetteer and Business Directory, for 1858 and 1859, (Chicago: George W. Hawes, 1859), 339, [WEB]; 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), 137-139.

[3] Blackett, The Captive’s Quest, 137-140, 234, 393.

[4] “Negro Stampede–Large Reward,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 11, 1852.

[5] “Slave Stampede,” Alton Weekly Telegraph, September 17, 1852.

[6] “Slave Stampede,” Louisville Daily Courier, September 20, 1852; “Slave Stampede,” Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, September 30, 1852.

[7] Walter B. Stevens, St. Louis: History of the Fourth City, 1763-1909, (Chicago: S.J. Clarke, 1909), 661, [WEB]; Mary Louise Dalton, “Notes on the Genealogy of the Valle Family,” Missouri Historical Society Collections 2:7 (October 1906): 78, [WEB]; R.V. Kennedy, Kennedy’s Saint Louis City Directory, for the Year 1857, (St. Louis: R.V. Kennedy, 1857), 224, [WEB]; R.A. Campbell, Campbell’s Gazetteer of Missouri, (St. Louis: R.A. Campbell, 1875), 499, [WEB]; History of Southeast Missouri, (Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1888), 204, [WEB]; Valle Mining Company Records, Finding Aid, State Historical Society of Missouri, [WEB]; Carl J. Ekberg, Colonial Ste. Genevieve: An Adventure on the Mississippi Frontier, (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996), 150; “Ste. Genevieve, Jean Baptiste Valle House for sale,” Flat River, MO Daily Journal, November 16, 2002.

[8] Morrison’s St. Louis Directory, for 1852, (St. Louis: Missouri Republican Office, 1852), 263, [WEB]; R.V. Kennedy, Kennedy’s Saint Louis City Directory, for the Year 1857, (St. Louis: R.V. Kennedy, 1857), 224, [WEB]; Bonnie Stepenoff, From French Community to Missouri Town: Ste. Genevieve in the Nineteenth Century, (Columbia and London: University of Missouri Press, 2006), 38; Paul Beckwith, Creoles of St. Louis, (St. Louis: Nixon-Jones, 1893), 18, [WEB]; Laws of the State of Missouri, Passed at the Regular Session of the 21st General Assembly, (Jefferson City, MO: W.G. Cheeney, 1861), 58, [WEB]; Dalton, “Notes on the Genealogy of the Valle Family,” 65, [WEB]; 1850 U.S. Census, Ste. Genevieve Township, Ste. Genevieve County, MO, Family 71, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, 4th Ward, St. Louis, MO, Family 674, Ancestry.

[9] “Sixteen Hundred Dollars Reward!!” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 11, 1852; “Seven Hundred and Fifty Dollars Reward,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 15, 1852; “Slaves Run Off,” St. Louis News, September 10, 1852, quoted in New York Tribune, September 21, 1852; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Ward 2, St. Louis, MO, Ancestry; “Death of Amadee Valle–History of His Life,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 30, 1890.

[10] “Sixteen Hundred Dollars Reward!!” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 11, 1852; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, District 42, Jefferson County, MO, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Beauvais, Ste. Genevieve, MO, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Ste. Genevieve Township, Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri, Family 307, Ancestry; L.U. Reavis, Saint Louis: The Future Great City of the World, (St. Louis: C.R. Barns, 1876), 425-426, [WEB]; “Died,” Ste. Genevieve Fair Play, June 17, 1893.

[11] “Sixteen Hundred Dollars Reward!!” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 11, 1852.

[12] “Slaves Run Off,” St. Louis News, September 10, 1852, quoted in New York Tribune, September 21, 1852; Blackett, The Captive’s Quest, 137-140, 152.

[13] “Sixteen Hundred Dollars Reward!!” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 11, 1852; “Seven Hundred and Fifty Dollars Reward,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 15, 1852; “Slaves Run Off,” St. Louis News, September 10, 1852, quoted in New York Tribune, September 21, 1852; Morrison’s St. Louis Directory, for 1852, 283, [WEB].

[14] St. Louis Republican, September 19, 1852, quoted in “Fugitive Slaves Arrested,” Wilmington, NC Tri-Weekly Commercial, September 30, 1852; “Fugitive Slave,” Alton Weekly Telegraph, September 24, 1852; “Fugitive Slaves,” New Orleans Crescent, September 27, 1852; Illinois State Gazetteer and Business Directory, for 1858 and 1859, 335, [WEB]; Blackett, The Captive’s Quest, 137-139.

[15] St. Louis Republican, September 19, 1852, quoted in “Fugitive Slaves Arrested,” Wilmington, NC Tri-Weekly Commercial, September 30, 1852; “Fugitive Slave,” Alton Weekly Telegraph, September 24, 1852; “Five Fugitive Slaves Arrested,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 22, 1852; “Arrest of the Other Ste. Genevieve Fugitive Slaves,” Alton Weekly Telegraph, September 24, 1852; Illinois State Gazetteer and Business Directory, for 1858 and 1859, 339, [WEB];History of Greene and Jersey Counties, Illinois, (Springfield, IL: Continental Historical Company, 1885), 336, [WEB]; “Scott’s Hotel,” Alton Telegraph, September 22, 1848; 1850 U.S. Census, Township 7, Jersey County, Illinois, Families 46 and 170, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Jerseyville, Jersey County, Illinois, Family 102, Ancestry; 1880 U.S. Census, Piasa Township, Jersey County, Illinois, Family 248, Ancestry; 1855 Illinois State Census, Township 7, Jersey County, Ancestry; William A. Scott, Find A Grave, [WEB].

[16] “Five Fugitive Slaves Arrested,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 22, 1852; “Arrest of the Other Ste. Genevieve Fugitive Slaves,” Alton Weekly Telegraph, September 24, 1852; Way’s place of birth was listed as Ohio in the 1850 Census, but Indiana in the 1860 Census. See 1850 U.S. Census, Township 7, Jersey County, Illinois, Family 46, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Jerseyville, Jersey County, Illinois, Family 102, Ancestry. For Scott’s parentage, see 1880 U.S. Census, Piasa Township, Jersey County, Illinois, Family 248, Ancestry.

[17] “Five Fugitive Slaves Arrested,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 22, 1852; “Arrest of the Other Ste. Genevieve Fugitive Slaves,” Alton Weekly Telegraph, September 24, 1852.

[18] E.W. Gould, Fifty Years on the Mississippi; or Gould’s History of River Navigation, (St. Louis: Nixon-Jones, 1889), 674, [WEB]; “Five Fugitive Slaves Arrested,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 22, 1852; “Arrest of the Other Ste. Genevieve Fugitive Slaves,” Alton Weekly Telegraph, September 24, 1852.

[19] “Five Fugitive Slaves Arrested,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 22, 1852.

[20] 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Ste. Genevieve, Ste. Genevieve County, MO, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Valle Township, Jefferson County, MO, Ancestry; Felix Valle, Last Will and Testament, April 5, 1877, Missouri, Wills and Probate Records, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB]; Also see the slave schedule for Antoine Janis, who owned 18 slaves in 1860. See 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Saline Township, Ste. Genevieve County, Ancestry.

[21] “Fourth Ward Free Democratic Meeting at Gamble Market Square,” St. Louis Missouri Democrat, July 25, 1860; Announcement of the Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair, john D. McKown Papers, State Historical Society of Missouri, [WEB]; The Miscellaneous Documents of the House of Representatives, Printed During the First Session of the Thirty-Eighth Congress, 1863-’64, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1864), 110, [WEB]; The New Constitution of the State of Missouri, (St. Louis: McKee, Fishback and Company, 1865), [WEB]; Chauncey I. Filley to Ulysses S. Grant, October 25-26,1875, in John Y. Simon (ed.), The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, (Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2003), 26:359; “Death of Amadee Valle–History of His Life,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 30, 1890; Find A Grave, [WEB].

[22] Reavis, Saint Louis, 425-432; Speech of Col. Lewis V. Bogy, the Democratic Nominee for Congress, in the First District, (St. Louis: St. Louis Times Office, 1852), 10, [WEB].

 

John Doy’s Forgotten 1859 Capture and Rescue

DATELINE:  LAWRENCE, JANUARY 25, 1859

Slave catchers apprehend Doy

John Doy and 13 freedom seekers are apprehended by slave catchers, January 25, 1859. (Le Tour du Monde, 5 [1862], HathiTrust)

In the early morning hours of January 25, 1859, three white abolitionists, two free blacks and a group of 11 Missouri freedom seekers left Lawrence, Kansas on a dangerous mission. Led by self-anointed “Doctor” John Doy, an Englishman who had recently settled in the Kansas  Territory, the African Americans were attempting to reach at least Iowa, where they would be safer from the roving bands of slave catchers and kidnappers that were then terrorizing the territory’s black residents. Traveling in two covered wagons—one driven by Doy’s 25-year-old son Charles, and the other by 23-year-old Wilbur F. Clough, the son of a local pastor—the group crossed the Kansas River and headed north towards Oskaloosa, Kansas. Leaving nothing to chance, the three women and two children in the group were concealed within the wagons, while Dr. Doy rode on horseback and the eight men walked behind, on lookout for any potential threats. About 12 miles north of Lawrence, Doy believed “the road was clear,” and directed the men to climb into the wagons “as we had quite a long descent before us, and would go down it at a brisk pace.” [1]

But then suddenly a posse of “ten to fifteen men, fully armed and mounted” rushed out from a nearby ravine, ordering the group to halt. Within the covered wagons, the freedom seekers could neither fully see the events unfolding outside, or defend themselves from the approaching slave catchers. When Doy demanded that the armed men produce their “process,” or paperwork attesting that those within the wagons were escaped slaves, a Kansas resident named Hiram C. Whitley gruffly pressed his revolver to the Englishman’s head, and bellowed, “Here it is.” In a matter of hours, the freedom seekers’ trek towards safer soil had been transformed into a horrific ordeal. [2]

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

While subsequent newspaper accounts did not explicitly label Doy’s group escape from Kansas as a “stampede,” presumably because the actual escapes from Missouri enslavement had occurred in pairs and smaller groups in serial fashion.  Yet, in the days and weeks following the larger group’s capture in Kansas, at least two Missouri papers complained about the growing frequency of slave stampedes along the border. The editors of the St. Louis Central Christian Advocate likely had the recent Doy episode in mind when acknowledging on February 2 that “stampedes of slaves are of frequent occurrence.” [3] Likewise, the St. Louis News complained that “slaveholders on the border are beginning to suffer severely from the constantly occurring stampede of slaves.” While not directly mentioning Doy, the paper’s description of a “stampede” closely mirrored the details of the the recent case. Missouri slaves, the paper contended, “are enticed in gangs of dozens and scores, by sympathizers, into Kansas, kept concealed in that territory for a time, and then sent toward Canada, through Iowa.” [4]

Brown photo

In December 1858, abolitionist John Brown led a raid into Vernon County, Missouri. (House Divided Project)

The capture of Doy’s group also came at a moment of especially heightened tensions along the Kansas-Missouri border. Just a month earlier, on December 20, 1858, the notorious abolitionist John Brown, had led an armed band on a raid into Vernon County, Missouri, that eventually freed 11 enslaved people (twelve, if you count a baby born en route). Yet when the party reached Kansas soil, their progress had initially been slowed by the chilly prairie winter, and they remained near Lawrence, Kansas well into January. [5]

Although a number of free African Americans and freedom seekers had settled near Lawrence by 1859, the frequent forays of kidnappers into Kansas made their status increasingly tenuous. Even as white anti-slavery settlers denounced these “high-handed crimes” and called for more “energetic legislation” to protect their African American neighbors, Lawrence’s black residents increasingly were taking matters into their own hands. [6]

Two of these black men from the troubled territory, Wilson Hays, originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and Charles Smith, from Brownsville, Pennsylvania, worked as cooks at the Eldridge House, a hotel in Lawrence. They probably joined Doy as fellow armed agents helping him with the relocation of the recently enslaved Missourians, or perhaps as part of a general contingent of free blacks seeking refuge in Iowa (as Doy himself later claimed disingenuously in his 1860 memoir). As Hays and Smith left no accounts offering their own perspectives, the truth remains uncertain. [7]

MAIN NARRATIVE

Regardless, the main body of the group consisted of 11 escaped slaves, including 10 from western Missouri aMap Freedom Seekersnd one from Leavenworth, Kansas on the border. At least six of the freedom seekers were from Kansas City and the surrounding area: Dan Bright, Ben Logan, Bill Riley, Abe Robey, Catherine West, and an unidentified child. Another enslaved woman, Melinda Wilson, hailed from nearby Clay County, Missouri, while the wife of Bill Riley (whose name was not recorded) came from farther east in Lexington, Missouri. Elsewhere, a man named Dick Newman had fled bondage from nearby Weston, Missouri, while Ranson Winston had escaped from St. Clair County, some distance to the south. The group was rounded out by Mary Russell, an enslaved woman who had escaped from Leavenworth, Kansas. The English-born Doy had spent several years in Rochester, New York, before relocating to Kansas. Regarded as a man of “considerable intelligence,” Doy was also a watercure (hydropathy) practitioner, and after settling in Kansas during the mid-1850s, he began signing his name “John Doy M.D.” [8]

Doy photo

A detail of abolitionist John Doy, 1859. (Kansas Memory)

In agreeing to help conduct the group to safety, Doy was also relying upon a verbal agreement with John Brown that the two groups of freedom seekers would set off together, sharing an “escort” of about ten armed men. However, the plan quickly went awry. Despite Doy’s “earnest remonstrances,” Brown demurred on his original promise, insisting that he needed “the whole of the escort” to protect his own group, especially after Missouri’s infuriated governor placed a $3,000 reward on his head. According to Doy, a remorseful Brown later expressed his regret over the decision, which left Doy’s group completely unprotected. [9]

Quickly overwhelmed on January 25th, Doy’s group had little choice but to surrender when the band of slave catchers suddenly encircled their two wagons on the road north of Lawrence. With pistols drawn, the slave catchers tied up the freedom seekers “one by one,” before turning the wagons around and beating a hasty retreat for Missouri soil. Passing near Easton and Leavenworth, the Doy entourage was taken at gunpoint to the Rialto Ferry, and then across the Missouri River to Weston, Missouri. Once on the Missouri shore, they were pilloried and jeered by a raucous pro-slavery mob. Doy, forced to ride through the crowd on horseback, recalled that “my coat was nearly torn from my back; the skirts and sleeves were rent in pieces, and divided among the mob as relics of a ‘live abolitionist.’” While Doy listened to the deafening chants of “Hang him!” echoing through the air, the 13 black men, women and children were placed in a wagon and driven to a building in Weston, where they were held for the night. [10]

Although Clough, one of the white abolitionists who had driven the second wagon, was soon released, after two nights in Weston, Doy and his son were removed to a jail in nearby Platte City. In a letter penned to a Lawrence newspaper, Doy vividly described the conditions of the windowless, “iron box, or metallic coffin, in which we eat, sleep, and are shown to persons, who, with a candle, take a view of the ‘two live Abolitionists.’” [11]

1859 Doy map

Yet while Doy suffered in a Missouri prison, the African Americans captured with him faced a more frightful fate. Elated at the capture of Doy’s group, the Weston Argus had published an extra edition on January 26 to chronicle “the most gallant achievement and effective vindication of our rights ever since the war upon slave property has been inaugurated.” Denying agency to the 13 freedom seekers, the Argus asserted that they had been “stolen” by “three white conductors,” who were now in custody. The paper published the names and descriptions of 10 African Americans, identifying the alleged owners of 8 of the captives. [12]

capture notice newspaper

The Weston, MO Argus trumpeted the capture of Doy and the 13 freedom seekers in an extra edition printed on January 26, 1859. (The Liberator, February 18, 1859)

From the two free African Americans seized with the group—Wilson Hays and Charles Smith—Doy learned that the other freedom seekers “had been taken away forcibly or prevailed on to choose masters.” Most, it appears, were sold to the Deep South within days of the group’s capture. The “thirteen negroes recently captured,” reported a St. Louis paper, were placed on board a steamboat “bound for the New Orleans market, a point that has no connection with the Underground Railroad—as yet.” And even though Hays and Smith continued to insist that they were free, on February 3 the slave catcher Jake Hurd entered the Platte City jail and “whipped them most unmercifully to make them confess that they were slaves.” Unable to extract a confession, Hurd and another man, George Robbins, nonetheless handcuffed the two men and took them to Independence, Missouri. While Smith managed to escape and apparently returned home to Pennsylvania, Hays was reportedly sold for $1,000. [13]

timeline doy

Another freedom seeker, 35-year-old Bill Riley, also made a successful break for freedom. Imprisoned in the Platte County jail along with Doy, Riley took hold of a fireplace poker from a nearby stove and succeeded in “burning out an iron bar from the logs in which it was fastened across the window.” Doy and his son were “shut up in an iron cage within the general enclosure,” and could not join Riley in his escape. After walking 10 miles, Riley reached the Missouri River, where he utilized the “floating cakes of ice” left by the frigid February weather to reach a small island the middle of the river, hiding “in the young cottonwoods” for two days and nights. After another dash over the “running ice” to the Kansas shore, Riley trod the remaining “35 or 40 miles” to Lawrence, where he arrived on February 23, making contact with local abolitionists who helped to conceal him. [14]

In the meantime, Doy was bracing for the legal consequences. His lawyers managed to move the site of the impending trial to St. Joseph, Missouri, where they hoped to draw a more impartial jury. The initial trial in late March resulted in a hung jury or mistrial, and Missouri prosecutors subsequently released Charles Doy. However, authorities continued with their efforts to convict the elder Doy, and succeeded at a second trial held in June 1859. Doy was then convicted of “seducing” one of the freedom seekers, Dick Newman, and sentenced to five years of hard labor. Prosecutors claimed that Doy had actually crossed the border into Missouri and “abducted” Dick. Doy’s defense countered that Dick had a pass from his slaveholder permitting him to attend a dance in Kansas. Dick, who when captured “had nothing with him but a bundle of clothing and his wife’s miniature with a lock of her hair,” was not allowed to testify under Missouri law. [15]

St. Joseph engraving

St. Joseph, Missouri in 1861. (House Divided Project)

While Doy filed an appeal, a contingent of Lawrence abolitionists decided to take matters into their own hands. On July 23, as Doy awaited transportation to the state penitentiary in Jefferson, a Kansas man named Silas S. Soule visited the beleaguered abolitionist, slipping him a note that simply read, “Be ready at midnight.” Soule was part of a group of 10 Kansas abolitionists (including Charles Doy), who by that evening had stealthily moved into St. Joseph. As promised, around midnight two men arrived at the jail, under the guise of locking up a horse thief, who appeared to be shackled at the wrists. Yet when the jailer allowed them to enter, the purported horse thief suddenly “freed his wrists from his bonds,” while another man aimed a revolver at the jailer’s chest. “We’ve come to take Dr. Doy home to Kansas, and we mean to do it,” one of the abolitionists bellowed out. “So you’d best be quiet.” Two days later, on July 25, the group arrived back in Lawrence to a triumphant reception. [16]

Doy prison rescue

Abolitionists from Lawrence, KS, rescue John Doy from his prison cell in St. Joseph, MO. (Le Tour du Monde, 5 [1862], HathiTrust)

Whitley engraving

A free-stater, Hiram C. Whitley had joined the group of kidnappers and put a revolver to Doy’s head during the capture of his group on January 25, 1859. (Andreas, History of Kansas [1883], HathiTrust)

Although Doy’s safe return was a source of celebration amongst Lawrence’s tightly knit abolitionist community, many were convinced that Doy had been “betrayed by a professed friend,” resulting in the group’s capture back in January. [17] “There were only ten men who knew when these people were to start,” noted Mary Brown, the daughter of a Lawrence pastor, “one of those ten must have told the Missourians all about their plans.” [18] Hiram Whitely, the Kansas man who had aimed a revolver at Doy, was suspected of having masterminded the betrayal. After skipping town, Whitley made the mistake of returning to Lawrence in August 1859, where he was spotted on the street by Doy and forced to give his own confession at gunpoint. In a surprising turn, Whitley then implicated a New Hampshire emigrant named J.J. Hussey, a former Free State advocate who had fallen on hard times and collaborated with the Missourians in exchange for a reward. It was Hussey who had apparently enlisted the help of Whitley and James Garvin, Lawrence’s Democratic postmaster, and tipped off the slave catchers as to the route of Doy’s party. [19]

pull quoteThroughout the polarized nation, the reaction to Doy’s dramatic rescue was mixed. With sectional attitudes over slavery hardening, many Northern newspapers greeted Doy’s deliverance with ecstatic headlines. “Never was a man more unfairly convicted and unjustly sentenced that Dr. Doy,” concluded the Cleveland Leader, predicting that “his rescue from the fangs of slavery will gratify many.” [20]  Yet such sentiments were by no means unanimous, with the Brooklyn Daily Eagle condemning the “feeling of gratification” at the escape of a “convicted felon.” [21] Meanwhile, Missouri papers such as the Hannibal Messenger fumed at the escape of “the negro thief.” [22] While no retaliation or punishment ever materialized for the rescuers, a Kansan named Joseph Gardner, later feared for his safety. Writing in May 1860, Gardner reported rumors that a group of Missourians were plotting “to come and make war upon my house,” after learning that “one of the Doy rescuers is harboring fugitives.” [23]

AFTERMATH AND LEGACY

Later, in the aftermath of John Brown’s ill-fated Harpers Ferry raid in October 1859, many newspapers drew connections between Doy and Brown. While noting that the rescue of Doy was still “so fresh in the recollection of all readers,” an Indiana paper incorrectly but confidently concluded that Brown had been behind the daring rescue of his one-time associate. [24] Moreover, the memory of Doy’s months-old rescue led many to speculate that a similar effort was in the works to save Brown from the noose. In November 1859, rumors swirled that Doy himself was rounding up a posse “for the purpose of rescuing Old Brown from prison.” Ultimately, no such feat was undertaken, and the famous abolitionist was hanged in December. [25]

While Doy went on to publish his Narrative (1860), vividly describing his imprisonment and rescue, the fate of the freedom seekers who accompanied him remains unclear. While most of the 13 African American men, women and children captured with Doy likely found themselves on the much-dreaded journey down the Mississippi to New Orleans, at least two men managed to escape this fate. Charles Smith, the free African American cook from Pennsylvania, apparently escaped and returned home. [26]

Bill Riley also escaped in mid-February, though the 35-year-old freedom seeker remained apprehensive about the fate of his wife, whom he suspected had been returned to her slaveholder in Lexington, Missouri. Riley and his wife had escaped bondage in Missouri around September 1858. They joined Doy’s group in hopes of reaching “a freer soil in British dominion,” in the words of Lawrence abolitionist Ephraim Nute, who sheltered the freedom seeker. While Nute helped Riley move to another safe location later in March 1859, it was without his wife. For Riley, his hard-fought freedom had come at a terrible cost. [27]

In the months after his dramatic rescue, Doy, now a fugitive himself, settled in Battle Creek, Michigan. After Missouri abolished slavery in January 1865, Missouri’s Republican Governor Thomas Fletcher officially pardoned the fugitive abolitionist on February 11, 1865. Yet it would not be Doy’s last brush with the law. In 1869, the self-anointed doctor was convicted of carrying out an abortion on a woman in Battle Creek. Facing jail time, Doy allegedly consumed a “large dose of morphine.” The former abolitionist was found lifeless in his bed on the morning of June 8, 1869, his death widely reported as a suicide. [28]

 

FURTHER READING

Doy published his own Narrative (1860) detailing his capture and rescue, and James B. Abbott, leader of the 10-man rescue party, later gave a widely reprinted address about the incident. Doy’s account is not entirely credible, however, since he claims repeatedly that all of the African Americans in his entourage were free, not enslaved. As the case unfolded in 1859, both Kansas and Missouri newspapers devoted considerable space in their columns to covering the failed escape and subsequent rescue, especially the Lawrence Republican (Newspapers.com). Correspondence between Lawrence abolitionists concerning their reactions to Doy’s capture and rescue, as well as information about the fate of freedom seeker Bill Riley, is available through Kansas Memory.

Recent scholarship has also touched on Doy’s capture and rescue. In her work On Slavery’s Border (2010), Diane Mutti Burke places the Doy case in the context of other “slave-stealing” episodes dating back to the early 1840s, arguing that by casting blame on white abolitionists as the instigators of slave escapes, Missouri slaveholders could avoid grappling with the reality of enslaved peoples’ discontent and innate desire for freedom. Lowell Soike’s Busy in the Cause (2014) focuses on the recurring and often violent clashes over slavery in the region, spotlighting Brown’s 1858 raid into Vernon County, Missouri, and linking that episode with Doy’s subsequent capture. Kristen Epps’s Slavery on the Periphery (2016) instead emphasizes the porous nature of the Kansas-Missouri border, observing that all of the freedom seekers Doy attempted to lead to safety had already crossed the border into Kansas.

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

ENDNOTES

[1] Julia Louisa Lovejoy to Mr. Editor, February 28, 1859, in “Letters of Julia Louisa Lovejoy, 1856-1864,” The Kansas Historical Quarterly 16, no. 1 (February 1948): 48-53; John Doy, The Narrative of John Doy, of Lawrence, Kansas (New York: Thomas Holman, 1860), 23-24, [WEB]; Lowell J. Soike, Busy in the Cause: Iowa, the Free-State Struggle in the West, and the Prelude to the Civil War (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2014), 102-103; 1850 U.S. Census, Wakarusa, Township, Douglas County, Kansas, Family 408, Ancestry.

[2] Doy, Narrative, 25-26; “From Our Kidnapped Friends in Missouri,” Lawrence Republican, February 17, 1859; Mary Brown to William Brown, January 30, 1859, Kansas Memory, [WEB].

[3] “Missouri and Slavery,” St. Louis Central Christian Advocate, February 2, 1859, quoted in Chicago Tribune, February 9, 1859.

[4] St. Louis News, quoted in Chambersburg, PA Franklin Repository, February 23, 1859.

[5] Epps, 125, 129-132; Soike, Busy in the Cause, 95-104.

[6] “Kidnapping a Felony,” Lawrence Republican, January 20, 1859; Doy, Narrative, 23, 126; Soike, Busy in the Cause, 102.

[7] Doy, Narrative, 23, 126; David Fiske, Solomon Northrup’s Kindred: The Kidnapping of Free Citizens Before the Civil War (Santa Barbara, CA Praeger, 2016), 80-81; Kristen Epps, Slavery on the Periphery: The Kansas-Missouri Border in the Antebellum and Civil War Eras (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2016), 140-141.

[8] Soike, Busy in the Cause, 100-102; Doy, Narrative, 123; “Thirteen Negroes Captured in Kansas,” Weston, MO Argus, January 26, 1859, quoted in The Liberator, February 18, 1859; Lovejoy to Mr. Editor, February 28, 1859, in “Letters of Julia Louisa Lovejoy, 1856-1864,” 49-52; John Doy to Strong, October 19, 1854, Kansas Memory, [WEB]; “Dr. Doy of Kansas,” New York Times, March 18, 1859, [WEB]; “Who and What is John Doy?,” St. Joseph, MO Weekly West, July 31, 1859; Ephraim Nute to Unidentified, February 14, 1859, Kansas Memory, [WEB]; Nute to Franklin B. Sanborn, March 22, 1859, Kansas Memory, [WEB]; Soike, Busy in the Cause, 102; Harriet C. Frazier, Runaway and Freed Missouri Slaves and Those Who Helped Them, 1763-1865 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004), 152-159; David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 280.

[9] Doy, Narrative, 123; Epps, Slavery on the Periphery, 140-141; also see Diane Mutti Burke, On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865 (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010), 176-177.

[10] Doy, Narrative, 27-42.

[11] “From Our Kidnapped Friends in Missouri,” Lawrence Republican, February 17, 1859.

[12] “Thirteen Negroes Captured in Kansas,” Weston, MO Argus, January 26, 1859, quoted in The Liberator, February 18, 1859.

[13] Doy, Narrative, 50-52; St. Louis Democrat, quoted in Nashville Union and American, February 10, 1859; Nute to Unidentified, February 14, 1859, Kansas Memory, [WEB]; “From Kansas,” New York Times, September 2, 1859; Fiske, Solomon Northrup’s Kindred, 80-82.

[14] Nute to Unidentified, February 24, 1859, Kansas Memory, [WEB]; Nute to Franklin B. Sanborn, March 22, 1859, Kansas Memory, [WEB]; Doy, Narrative, 52-53; Epps, Slavery on the Periphery, 129.

[15] Doy, Narrative, 76-77, 88-89, 105-107; “The Trial of Dr. Doy and Son at St. Joseph,” Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1859, [NEWSPAPERS.COM]; “The Doy Trial at St. Joseph,” Chicago Tribune, April 1, 1859, [NEWSPAPERS.COM]; Frazier, Runaway and Freed Missouri Slaves, 157.

[16] Doy, Narrative, 107-115; James B. Abbott, “The Rescue of Dr. John W. Doy,” in Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society 4 (1888): 312-323, [WEB]; “Dr. Doy and His Rescuers,” St. Joseph, MO Herald, February 11, 1883; “Rescue of Dr. Doy,” Lawrence, KS Journal, July 20, 1907.

[17] Nute to Unidentified, February 14, 1859, Kansas Memory, [WEB].

[18] Mary Brown to William Brown, January 30, 1859, Kansas Memory, [WEB].

[19] “From Kansas,” New York Times, September 2, 1859; Doy, Narrative, 26, 124-126; Whitley later headed the Secret Service under the Grant administration from 1869-1875. See A.T. Andreas, History of the State of Kansas (Chicago: A.T. Andreas, 1883), 862.

[20] “Rescue of Dr. Doy–Particulars,” Cleveland Leader, July 27, 1859.

[21] “Rejoicing over the Ecape of a Convicted Felon,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 2, 1859.

[22] “John Doy Rescued from the St. Joseph Jail,” Hannibal Messenger, July 27, 1859.

[23] Joseph Gardner to George L. Stearns, May 29, 1860, Kansas Memory, [WEB].

[24] “The Late Movements of Ossawatomie Brown,” New Albany, IN Daily Ledger, October 27, 1859.

[25] Cincinnati Commercial, quoted in “Proposed Rescue of Old Brown,” Alexandria, VA Gazette, November, 11, 1859.

[26] Doy, Narrative, 50-52; St. Louis Democrat, quoted in Nashville Union and American, February 10, 1859; Nute to Unidentified, February 14, 1859; “From Kansas,” New York Times, September 2, 1859; Fiske, Solomon Northrup’s Kindred, 80-82

[27] Nute to Unidentified, February 24, 1859, Kansas Memory, [WEB]; Nute to Franklin B. Sanborn, March 22, 1859, Kansas Memory, [WEB]; Doy, Narrative, 52-53; Epps, Slavery on the Periphery, 129.

[28] “Our Missouri Letter,” Chicago Tribune, February 18, 1865; “Michigan,” Chicago Tribune, June 9, 1869; “Suicide,” Lawrence, KS Journal, June 17, 1869; Paola, KS Miami County Advertiser, June 19, 1869; “Dr. Doy Dead and Buried,” Topeka, KS Kansas Weekly Commonwealth, February 24, 1870; Find A Grave, [WEB].