Tag Archives: 1850s

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)

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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

Database Report –Historical Newspapers

March 31, 1863

Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1863 (Historical Newspapers)

Search Summary:

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

Top Results:

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

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

Most Relevant Coverage from ProQuest Historical Newspapers

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

Database Report- Google Books and Google Ngram Viewer

definition of stampede

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

Search Summary

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

Top Results

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

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General Notes

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

Database Report -Newspapers.com

November 18, 1859

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

Search Summary

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

Top Results

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

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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].

 

Mary Meachum and the St. Louis Stampede of 1855

DATELINE:  ST. LOUIS, MAY 21, 1855

On Sunday night, May 21, 1855, a group of about eight or nine freedom seekers set out across the Mississippi River near St. Louis on a skiff designed to take them over to the free state of Illinois. They had met under the cover of darkness at the home of Mary Meachum, a leader in St. Louis’ black community and one of the likely masterminds behind the escape. According to some newspaper reports, two other local black organizers of the nighttime expedition were Isaac Breckenridge and Julia Burrows. Some accounts also identify unnamed white antislavery activists and a black guide from Illinois named “Freeman” meeting the freedom seeking group on the other side of the river.  Regardless, word had gotten out about the escape and armed police agents along with slave catchers were waiting for the fugitives on the Illinois shore. The confrontation quickly turned into a firefight, and at least five of the freedom seekers were taken back to St. Louis in chains.  Within a few days, authorities had also arrested Breckenridge, Burrows and Meachum.[1]

Meachum arrest

St. Louis Democrat reprinted in Milwaukee (WI) Daily Free Democrat, May 26, 1855

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

News of the dramatic flight and altercation was reported in the St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican the next day. “SLAVES CAPTURED,” crowed the pro-slavery newspaper, ending a lament that not all of the “scoundrels” were captured. At least two other newspapers, the Thibodeaux Minerva in Louisiana and the Chicago Tribune reprinted the same article in the following weeks.[2] The event was first referred to as a stampede on May 26, when the Milwaukee (WI) Daily Free Democrat wrote a short story about the escape and titled it “Stampede,” and then again on May 31 when the Glasgow (MO) Weekly Times published its own article entitled “Slave Stampede.”[3] The local section of the Daily Missouri Republican sporadically reported on the criminal proceedings for the three Underground Railroad operatives over the following months, but the story appears to have disappeared from coverage elsewhere.

MAIN NARRATIVE

The arrest of Mary Meachum, one of the agents who was presumably behind the stampede, was big news within her community. After 40 years in St. Louis, Mary held a number of prominent roles. She and her late husband, John Berry Meachum, were both formerly enslaved, and they dedicated their lives to helping the free and enslaved black people of St. Louis. Mary and John had founded one of the first black churches in the city, the African Church of St. Louis, as well as a school in for free and enslaved blacks, where they taught religious and secular studies, as well as trades like carpentry. They also “purchased” their own slaves, presumably so that they could work legally toward their own freedom. In secret, the Meachums had also served as agents of the Underground Railroad, planning and orchestrating escapes for their own students and members of the congregation. Historian Richard Blackett notes that runaway slave advertisements in St. Louis during the 1850s “frequently mentioned that slaves disappeared on Sunday evenings following the end of church services.”[4]  When John Meachum died in 1854, Mary continued both their legal and illegal work on her own, until she was caught in May 1855.

 

Not much is known about the two other free blacks who helped Meachum. An 1860 census reveals that one of them, Isaac Breckenridge, moved to St. Louis from North Carolina with a woman, likely his wife, named Fanny. Whether or not the Breckenridges were born free or enslaved is unknown, but by 1855, they were free and working in the city as whitewashers.  So was Julia Burrows or Burrowes, who lived on [5]

Even though it ultimately failed, the group escape of May 21 must have been carefully planned. Meachum, Burrows, and Breckenridge were the only agents arrested the night of the escape, but the May 22 Daily Missouri Republican article repeatedly claimed that other “white cowardly agents” had managed to escape the slave-catching posse by fleeing into the woods. Of course, it was also possible that Meachum, Burrows, and Breckenridge were the only ones behind the escape, but that the pro-slavery journalists were simply unable to believe that a few people of color could hatch such an ambitious escape scheme.

Whatever the number of people involved, the entire group met at Mary Meachum’s home somewhere on 4th street, and then fled to a skiff located “a short distance above Bissell’s Ferry” that they used to cross the Mississippi.  Across the river, a wagon was already waiting to take the escapees further north to Alton and then to Chicago, where they would be safer from slave catchers.

 

Map of Missouri-Illinois border.

Location of escape party’s departure on the night of May 21, 1855. Today, it is the site of the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing. Map courtesy of the National Parks Service.

Two of the enslaved men split from the escape party before crossing the river, choosing to leave and avoid recapture, but the six remaining slaves and three free blacks crossed the river successfully, only to come face to face with two slaveholders and a police officer. When the fugitive men and women faced their captors, two shots were fired, and one man immediately fled and avoided capture. The remaining five, two men and a woman named Esther with her two children, were caught. They, along with Mary Meachum, Judah Burrows, and Isaac Breckenridge, were returned to St. Louis in chains.[6]

After being held in the St. Louis jail for weeks, Meachum, Burrows, and Breckenridge each individually faced a trial by jury for “enticing away slaves,” although many of the details of their cases, including the entirety of Burrows’, are lost. The Daily Missouri Republican reported that an “Isaac (colored)” pled not guilty during his arraignment” on May 25 and began his trial on July 20, and arrest records reveal that his case was dropped at the decision of the state prosecutor, although his reasoning remains a mystery.[7] Census records indicate that Breckenridge and his wife were living free in St. Louis in 1860.[8]

Mary Meachum’s case is equally as mysterious. On July 16 her attorney filed a motion to quash her indictment, and on July 19 Mary’s charges were also dropped and she was set free to continue her life as a free woman in St. Louis.[9]  She continued to lead and serve her local community, appearing in papers again in 1864 as the president of the Colored Ladies Soldiers’ Aid Society, which provided resources and care black soldiers and enslaved people who had escaped during the war. [10] Mary died in 1869, leaving behind two children, William and John.[11]

 

AFTERMATH AND LEGACY

As for the five enslaved men, women, and children who were caught during the night of the escape, they were returned to their owners in St. Louis and punished for their insubordination. Esther, the mother who tried to flee with her children, was separated from her family and sold downriver for her

Image of Henry Shaw

Henry Shaw, slaveholder of Esther and her children and prominent St. Louis businessman. Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

punishment by her owner Henry Shaw, a prominent St. Louis businessman.[12] Shaw was born in England and migrated to Missouri in 1819. Amassing significant wealth as a business owner selling tools and cutlery in the growing town, Shaw became one of the largest landowners of St. Louis. He developed a number of parks, acquiring a lasting reputation as a philanthropist. In 1993, a star was dedicated on the St. Louis Walk of Fame for Henry Shaw’s foundation of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Shaw had owned several slaves at a time since 1828.[13] Esther likely worked as a servant in his household. When she took her two sons with her on the disastrous escape mission in 1855, they were around six and eight years old. Most accounts report that Shaw stopped owning slaves after 1856, but slave census records indicate he still owned eight slaves in 1860, including a twelve year old boy who may have been Esther’s elder son.[14]

 

Clipping from a flyer for Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration.

Celebration flyer. Courtesy of Great Rivers Greenway.

The Meachum escape has been well commemorated in St. Louis. One hundred and fifty years later, the spot where the escape group left Missouri’s shore became an historic site on the Mississippi River Waterfront Trail and a stop on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Named the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing, the site houses both public art and a community building. Every spring since 2005, the Annual Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration commemorates the freedom attained by some, and the suffering faced by others as a result of this failed escape.  The annual commemoration includes music, games, history lessons, competitions and a reenactment the events of the night May 21.[15] 

Picture of a mural

Mural at the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing site. Courtesy of Google Maps.

FURTHER READING

Some historians disagree over how to characterize John Meachum’s role in the antislavery movement. Lea VanderVelde suggests in Redemption Songs: Suing for Freedom before Dred Scott (2014) that freedom suits filed against Meachum undertaken by an enslaved woman named Judy Logan indicate that he may not have always been so eager to “free” the enslaved people whom he had purchased. The woman’s complaints against Meachum and his refusal to grant her freedom, juxtaposed with the dozens of other enslaved folk that Meachum purchased and ultimately freed, raise questions about what the man was really like. For further reading about John Meachum, see also R.J.M. Blackett, The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery (2018).

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES


ENDNOTES

[1] “Slaves Captured,” St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican, May 22, 1855, p. 3: 2.  The St. Louis Democrat was the only newspaper source that actually identified Isaac Breckinridge and Jordan (or perhaps Judah) Burrows (or perhaps Burroughs) as being arrested along with Mary Meachum in a report from May 23 that was reprinted in “Stampede,” Milwaukee (WI) Daily Free Democrat, May 26, 1855. The information about “Freeman” appeared in the St. Louis Weekly Pilot, which mistakenly claimed t that he had been fatally wounded during the firefight; see “Killed,” St. Louis Weekly Pilot, May 26, 1855 and the correction to the rumor (actually from the day before) in “Humbug,” St. Louis Missouri Daily Republican, May 25, 1855.  Special thanks to former Missouri Department of  Natural Resources historian and researcher Kris Zapalac whose unpublished paper, “Mary Meacham Crossing Site,” for the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom helped to bring the confusing coverage and still unanswered questions about “Freeman” to our attention.

[2] “Slaves Captured,” Thibodeaux Minerva (Thibodeaux, LA), June 2, 1855; “Slaves Captured,” Chicago Tribune (Chicago, IL), May 25, 1855.

[3] “Stampede,” Daily Free Democrat (Milwaukee, WI), May 26, 1855; “Slave Stampede,” Glasgow Weekly Times (Glasgow, MO), May 31, 1855.

[4] R.J.M. Blackett, The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 143.

[5] 1860 US Federal Census, St Louis Ward 3, St Louis (Independent City), Missouri; Roll M653_655, p163.

[6] “Slaves Captured,” Daily Missouri Republican, May 22, 1855.

[7] “Criminal Court,” Daily Missouri Republican, May 25, 1855; “Criminal Court,” Daily Missouri Republican, July 20, 1855. ARREST FILE

[8] 1860 US Federal Census, p163.

[9] “Criminal Court,” Daily Missouri Republican, July 19, 1855. ARREST FILE

[10] Romeo, Sharon E., “Freedwomen in Pursuit of Liberty: St. Louis and Missouri in the Age of Emancipation,” PhD thesis, University of Iowa (2009), 45.

[11] “Mary Meachum,” Find A Grave Index, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/89994519/mary-meachum.

[12] Andrew Hurley, “Narrating the Urban Waterfront: The Role of Public History in Community Revitalization,” The Public Historian 2, no 28 (2006): 34.

[13] Joseph Schuster, “Our Mission and History,” Missouri Botanical Garden, [WEB]. “Henry Shaw,” St. Louis Walk of Fame, [WEB]

[14] 1860 US Census Slave Schedule, St. Louis County, page 3.

[15] Hurley, 33.

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].

Database Report- St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican

Newspaper clipping from St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican

St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican, February 22, 1862 (Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society)

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Amanda Donoghue and Cooper Wingert from April 8 to May 1, 2019
  • Keywords: slave stampede, stampede of slaves, negro stampede, negro exodus
  • Total: 26 (including five episodes from Missouri)

Top Results

  • “We noticed last week that a sort of stampede had taken place among the blacks, in the neighborhood of Dover, and that it was suspected that white men were concerned in inducing slaves, in that locality to leave their masters.” (“Runaways,” St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican, September 28, 1854)
  • “We learn that between thirty and forty slaves, in the counties of Boone, Callaway, St. Charles and Montgomery, Missouri, have lately run away from their masters. The names and descriptions of the runaways are in the hands of the police in this city.” (“Stampede of Slaves,” St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican, February 22, 1862)
  • “We saw five runaway slaves taken to the calaboose yesterday evening by persons who had taken them…The secessionists have charged that the purpose of this war was to free the negroes, and have talked so much about it, that it is no wonder their negroes leave them. They may blame themselves for the present stampede among slaves.” (“Runaway,” St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican, September 20, 1861)
  • “But the successful arrest and extradition of no less than five fugitives on the third, opened their eyes to new danger…At one time they believed the Marshal had in his hands fifteen additional warrants for fugitives; at another, the story was that there were six hundred Missourians in the city looking for their lost negroes. Indeed, such has been the terror among fugitives during the last three or four days, that in every strange face they beheld a slave owner and in every lamp-post an officer. The stampede for Canada became general, with all who could get away.” (St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican, April 9, 1861)

Select Images

General Notes

  • The St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican was published in St. Louis Missouri from 1854 to 1859. It is available in a searchable format in the State Historical Society of Missouri’s digital collections.
  • In addition the the article shown above about “Old Brown of Ossawatomie,” the paper published a number of other articles about John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.
  • “Thatcher’s letter” is the publication of a letter written by Lawrence Thatcher of Memphis to John Brown, but it was intercepted by the government on the way to Harper’s Ferry.
  • Not all papers digitized on the website are accurately searchable, so other articles about stampedes published by this paper may exist.