Tag Archives: violence

Database Report –Palmyra Whig

Missouri Stampede article

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

Search Summary

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

Top Results

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

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General Notes

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

Database Report –19th Century US Newspapers

Slave Stampedes Article

The Liberator, June 10, 1853 (Courtesy of 19th-Century US Newspapers)

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Cooper Wingert during week of Nov. 26-30, 2018
  • Keywords:  slaves and stampede(s) (both singular & plural) and stampeding, but found * (stamped*) didn’t work so well (too many false positives on the word, “stamped”), plus variants including negro, servile, fugitive, and exodus
  • Totals:  About 160 hits with concentrations reported from Kentucky, northern Virginia, Maryland and eastern Missouri.

Top Results

  • “Slaves are running away from Missouri, at the present time, in battalions,” reported the Alton (IL) Telegraph in the spring of 1853. Situated just miles from Missouri’s eastern border, the paper’s readers were already quite familiar with the term “Slave Stampedes,” which was the headline used for this and countless other articles. (Alton Telegraph, quoted in The Liberator, June 10, 1853)
  •  A correspondent for the London Times took special note of the term, writing that stampede was “a word which the Americans have borrowed from their prairies, and applied most expressively to a general rush of negroes from slavery.” (London Times, June 19, 1861, quoted in “English Speculation on the War and its Issue,” New York Herald, July 2, 1861)
  • Under the headline, “NEGRO STAMPEDE,” The Cleveland Daily Herald  reported (in its entirety) on November 19, 1859:  “The Chicago Journal says that on Thursday evening, the 17th inst., the underground railroad arrived there with thirty passengers, five from the vicinity of Richmond, Va., twelve from Kentucky, and thirteen from Missouri.  They are now all safe in Canada.  The thirteen from Missouri were sold to go down the river, the very day they started. A stalwart six-footer and a Sharp’s rifle were the only guides.” (Cleveland Daily Herald, November 19, 1859).
  • The Democratic New York Herald once wrote of “servile stampedes,” while a Cincinnati newspaper describing the movements of Kentucky slaves used the terms “stampede” and “negro exodus” interchangeably. (“The South and Southern Safety–A New Presidential Programme,” New York Herald, December 4, 1859; “Kentucky Negro Exodus,” Daily Cleveland Herald, June 6, 1864)
  • Many hits contained only brief mentions, such as an Ohio newspaper’s succinct remark that “stampedes of slaves, from Mason and Nicholas counties, Ky. seem of common occurrence.” (“Items,” The Daily Scioto Gazette, Chillicothe, OH, May 8, 1851)
  • Then there was a New Hampshire newspaper, which in August 1850 ran a short article entitled “Slave Stampedes.” For a New England audience that was perhaps unfamiliar with the term, the editor conveniently took the time to offer up a definition: “an uprising and fleeing from bondage of a large number of slaves.” (“Slave Stampedes,” New Hampshire Statesman, Concord, NH, August 30, 1850)
  • As early as 1849, newspapers began using the headline “Another Slave Stampede,” underscoring just how common stampedes were (see Mississippi Free Trader and Natchez Gazette, December 15, 1849).  A decade later, the editor of the Charleston Mercury underscored this point, writing that stampedes described slaves who escaped “in startling numbers” on a near “daily” basis. “They go off, one, two, three, or a dozen at a time.” (“Slavery in Kentucky,” Charleston Mercury, May 10, 1858). These types of headline and comments reappeared straight through into the Civil War “Almost every day we hear of a new stampede of slaves in our county,” groused an editor from Port Tobacco, Maryland in September 1863. “Indeed, so frequent have they become of late, that no surprise or comment is excited hereby.” (Port Tobacco Times, quoted in “”Emancipation in Maryland,” Milwaukee Daily Sentinel, September 17, 1863).

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General Notes

  • 19th-Century Newspapers is a subscription database from Gale available to students only through the Dickinson College Library Database Finder
  • The term took on a new life in the wake of John Brown‘s failed Harpers Ferry insurrection in October 1859. No less than 11 stampede-related articles dealt with Harpers Ferry. Barely a week after the botched uprising, the Democratic New York Herald published a batch of correspondence between Brown and fellow abolitionists, which was quickly picked up and reprinted by other papers. Among the correspondents was an English-born abolitionist named Hugh Forbes, a one-time ally of Brown who ultimately backed out of the plot. The search engine picked up on Forbes’s plan to instigate “a series of stampedes of slaves,” which he predicted would each “carry off in one night, and from the same place some 20 to 50 slaves.” (“News and Further Developments,” Newark Advocate, Newark, OH, November 4, 1859) In the wake of Harpers Ferry, slave stampedes were closely linked with other revolutionary acts, often appearing in conjunction with words such as insurrection, revolt and rebellion. A Jackson, Mississippi paper closely associated the term with armed revolt, complaining of “slave insurrections or slave stampedes.” (“Abolitionism of 1835 and of 1859,” Semi-weekly Mississippian, Jackson, MS, December 27, 1859) Similarly, citizens of Madison County, Kentucky, expressed suspicion that abolitionists were creeping into their community, “exciting insurrection and getting up stampedes among the slaves.” (“The Disturbances in Madison County, KY.,” Bangor Daily Whig & Courier, Bangor, ME, April 12, 1860)
  • The coming of the Civil War saw a similar spike in usage, as countless Northern papers speculated on the war’s impact on Southern slaves. Many articles used the term “general stampede,” predicting that such “a general stampede” of slaves would occur “as the war is carried into the enemy’s country, and slavery will abolish itself.” (Springfield Republican, quoted in “Let us Learn to Wait,” New Hampshire Statesman, November 30, 1861) Even in the Confederacy’s capital, a Richmond paper admitted that the presence of “a Yankee army creates as complete a stampede among negroes as the approach of a locomotive among cattle.” (Richmond Dispatch, September 22, 1862, quoted in Philadelphia North American and United States Gazette, October 3, 1862)

Most Relevant Coverage from 19th-Century US Newspapers

  • MISSOURI: Missouri Courier, Hannibal, MO – 1849-1853 (Democratic, pro-slavery)
  • MISSOURI:  St. Louis Missouri Republican (but with major gaps) (Democratic, pro-slavery)
  • ILLINOIS:  None from period 1840 – 1860
  • MASSACHUSETTS: The Liberator, Boston, MA – 1852-1862 (anti-slavery)
  • NEW YORK:  New York Herald  – 1861 (Democratic, pro-slavery)
  • OHIO:  Cleveland Herald – 1848-1863 (Whig and Republican, anti-slavery)

Steven Lubet – Fugitive Justice (2010)

Joshua Glover headshot

Joshua Glover, a fugitive slave from St. Louis, was rescued from Federal custody in 1854. (House Divided Project)

On March 10, 1854, a group of slave catchers burst into a rural Wisconsin home and seized a fugitive slave. Their captive, a man named Joshua Glover, had escaped from St. Louis, Missouri two years prior. Detained overnight in a Milwaukee prison, local abolitionists sounded the alarm and by morning Glover had a sizable crowd of supporters anxiously monitoring his fate. As the hours wore on, the crowd decided to take justice into their own hands, launching an all-out assault on the prison door with “planks, axes, &c.” Plowing through, they placed Glover in a carriage and whisked him away to safety. [1]

Yet the case was far from over. Accused of aiding Glover’s escape, Wisconsin abolitionist Sherman Booth was put on trial for violating the controversial Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, a case that ultimately worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. While Chief Justice Roger Taney upheld Booth’s conviction, it was clear that there were significant chinks in the law’s armor, especially when the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the Fugitive Slave Law was unconstitutional, a “crowning, if fleeting achievement” for abolitionists. [2]

Sherman Booth headshot

Wisconsin abolitionist Sherman Booth was tried for his alleged involvement in Glover’s escape. (House Divided Project)

Glover’s escape and Booth’s subsequent trials are among the many cases profiled by legal historian Steven Lubet in his book, Fugitive Justice (2010). Lubet’s book focuses in on three prominent cases involving the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850; the trial following the Christiana Riot in September 1851, the rendition of Anthony Burns in 1854, and finally the Oberlin Rescue of 1858, to show the evolution of abolitionist legal tactics during the 1850s. Over the course of the decade, Northern lawyers moved from pointed, technical arguments to moral appeals to a higher law. This tidal shift in legal resistance, Lubet argues, reflected changing attitudes among the Northern public towards slavery. By the late 1850s, abolitionist lawyers were willing to openly challenge the morality of the Fugitive Slave Law as well as slavery itself, an indication, Lubet tells us, of the Northern public’s growing anti-slavery impulse. In doing so, Lubet challenges the principal argument of Stanley Campbell’s book, The Slave Catchers (1970), which held that the Fugitive Slave Law was faithfully and effectively enforced. Through these cases and they way they were adjudicated, Lubet chronicles the mounting public discord against the law. [3]

Gunfire Christiana

On September 11, 1851, African-Americans opened fire on Maryland slave owner Edward Gorsuch and his posse, in what is known as the Christiana Riot. (House Divided Project)

The first trial Lubet profiles came in the aftermath of the Christiana Riot in September 1851. The violent encounter actually stemmed from a group escape of four fugitives from the Maryland plantation of slaveholder Edward Gorsuch. Four of Gorsuch’s slaves, Noah Davis, Noah Buley and George and Joshua Hammond, had run away together in November 1849. This could be considered a slave stampede, though Lubet does not use the term. He does, however, speculate on their motives for escape, positing that the bondsmen had been stealing grain from Gorsuch, and perhaps ran away for fear that their theft had been discovered. [4]

Castner Hanway old

Castner Hanway, the key defendant in the Christiana trial, shown here later in life. (House Divided Project)

Nearly two years later, Gorsuch and a posse traveled to Christiana, in southern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, expecting to easily seize the fugitives. However, similar to other slave stampedes, the encounter quickly turned violent and took on a revolutionary meaning. Gorsuch’s four fugitives, joined by other local African-Americans, armed themselves and fought back, killing Gorsuch in the fray. Yet the ensuing trial (which is Lubet’s primary focus) did not revolve around who had shot Gorsuch, but rather Castner Hanway, a local miller who had rode to the scene of the conflict shortly before the first blood had been spilt. Among more than 30 others charged with treason for failing to “aid and assist” in recapturing the fugitives, Hanway was the first defendant placed on trial. His chief defense lawyer, Lancaster Congressman and noted abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, made a tight, unprovocative argument for Hanway’s innocence. The strategy worked, and Hanway was acquitted, though his victory was not a repudiation of the law, writes Lubet, but rather a technical argument for the innocence of a specific individual, aided by the shaky credibility of one of the prosecution’s key witnesses. [5]

Anthony Burns engraving

To considerable fanfare and outrage, fugitive slave Anthony Burns was remanded to slavery from Boston in 1854. (House Divided Project)

Lubet highlights two more cases, though both revolved around individual fugitives rather than group escapes. The first is the rendition of Anthony Burns in 1854, a fugitive slave who was seized in the streets of Boston. In a departure from Stevens’s technical defense, Burns’s defense lawyers argued that U.S. Commissioner Edward G. Loring had “ample room” to “interpret” the law, and rule in Burns’s favor. However, their efforts fell on deaf ears, and Loring declared that Burns was a fugitive and remanded him to slavery. [6]

The next landmark case involved an enslaved man from Kentucky, John Price, who had escaped to Oberlin, Ohio in 1856. He was captured by a slave catcher in 1858, only to be rescued by angry Oberlin residents. Although Price reached safety in Canada, a grand jury subsequently indicted 37 men for violating the Fugitive Slave Law, including 25 students, faculty and alumni of the prominently anti-slavery Oberlin College. In a contrast to both the Christiana and Anthony Burns cases, defense lawyers for the Oberlin activists would present what Lubet calls “the first forthright invocation of higher law in a U.S. Courtroom.” Only two defendants were actually brought to trial, and while both were convicted, their sentences were relatively light, especially that of Charles Langston, a black Oberlin graduate who boldly used his sentencing hearing to give vent to the higher law argument. The judge, Hiram Willson, practically “apologized” to Langston for enforcing the unpopular law, sentencing him to just 20 days in prison and a fine of $100. Lubet terms it “one small victory for the higher law,” asserting that although only partially successful in the courtroom, the higher law argument “helped to create an unbridgeable gap between the free states and the slave power.” [7]

Sabine office building

Syracuse abolitionists stormed the second-story office of U.S. Commissioner Joseph Sabine in the first attempt to free Jerry, a Missouri fugitive. (House Divided Project)

Fugitive Justice makes a few references to Missouri escapes, including a brief allusion to John Brown’s December 1858 “raid” into western Missouri that helped free 11 enslaved people. Lubet discusses in considerably more detail the cases of St. Louis fugitive Joshua Glover and an even more famous Missouri runaway, William McHenry, commonly known as “Jerry.” He had escaped from Missouri and made his way to the abolitionist stronghold of Syracuse, New York. There, Jerry seemed to adjust well to freedom, working as a cooper. However, in October 1851 a slave catcher and U.S. marshals seized Jerry and brought him before U.S. Commissioner Joseph Sabine. Syracuse’s abolitionist populace was outraged, and stormed Sabine’s office, and later a jail, in order to free Jerry. While Jerry reached safety in Canada, indictments came down for 26 Syracuse men, resulting in just one conviction. Instead of treason, those involved in the “Jerry Rescue” were only charged with interfering with the law and assault. Lubet speculates that Federal officials were not eager to embark upon another difficult and time-consuming treason case in the “heartland of abolitionism,” where they were unlikely to prevail. [8]

The term slave stampede does not appear in Lubet’s book, nor does the concept of mass escapes. Fugitive Justice primarily covers legal cases that unfolded in Northern courtrooms, documenting the fallout from escapes, rather than the escape effort itself. Still, Lubet offers important insight into how fugitive slaves and their abolitionist allies constructed and evolved their legal defense strategies to align with changing public opinion in the North.


[1]  Milwaukee Sentinel, quoted in, “Great Excitement–Arrest of a Fugitive Slave,” Frederick Douglass’ Paper, March 24, 1854; Steven Lubet, Fugitive Justice: Runaways, Rescuers, and Slavery on Trial (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 305-307.

[2] Lubet, 305-307.

[3] Lubet, 2-3, 5-6.

[4] Lubet, 55.

[5] Lubet, 57-64, 77, 91-131.

[6] Lubet, 190, 221-223.

[7] Lubet, 3, 6, 159, 232-239, 245-247, 250-254, 294-298, 327.

[8] Lubet, 86-90, 254, 305-307, 316.

Stanley Harrold – Border War (2010)

Christiana riot

Fugitive slaves fire upon a posse of whites. (House Divided Project)

Armed with “pistols and tomahawks,” a group of 10 freedom seekers refused to surrender to their white pursuers. It was late May 1845, and they had been overtaken by 8 white men near Smithsburg, Maryland. Ordered to halt, the fugitives instead “drew themselves up in battle order,” and “immediately commenced an attack upon the whites, felling several of them to the earth.” What followed was a “desperate contest,” in which two enslaved people were recaptured, and three white men were severely wounded. Bloodied but still defiant, the remaining fugitives continued northward towards freedom. [1] 

This and numerous other bloody episodes are recounted in Stanley Harrold’s invaluable book, Border War (2010). As its title suggests, Harrold’s work chronicles the struggles over slavery along the North-South border in the decades leading up to the Civil War. Harrold contends that disputes over slavery were magnified in these contentious border regions, where the possibility of slave escapes was the highest. He recites a long string of armed conflicts between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces that escalated to a fever pitch by the 1850s. Harrold argues that these violent borderland encounters spurred on the secessionist movement much farther away, asserting that “fear in the Lower South of losing the Border South was a major cause of the Civil War.” [2]

For the scope of this project, Harrold’s focus on armed conflict is especially important. Not only does he dismantle the stereotype of passive, non-violent abolitionists, but he applies the same lens to escaping slaves, whom he insists were far from “peaceful.” Fugitives, he adds, “often carried weapons and fought masters who pursued them.” [3]


Wartime image depicting a freedom seeker resisting a white slaveholder. (House Divided Project)

In reframing escaping slaves as aggressive actors, Harrold makes an important contribution to our understanding of slave stampedes, even though he generally avoids the term. Still, Harrold documents multiple “mass-escapes,” which he notes “could appear much like [a] revolt,” and often ended in bloodshed. The first case he mentions comprised a group of 70-80 enslaved men from southern Maryland, partially armed, who defiantly headed northward in July 1845. They were eventually overtaken by a large posse of over 300 whites, who quickly shot and wounded nine of the escaped slaves and recaptured the remaining fugitives. While only two slaves faced legal consequences (including one fugitive who was sentenced to death), most were sold to the Deep South as punishment for their involvement. [4]

Harrold continues by detailing a similar escape in Kentucky in 1848, which involved anywhere from 40-70 enslaved men, fully equipped with “guns, pistols, knives and other warlike weapons.” The fugitives “fortified” their overnight encampment near the Ohio River, where they were ultimately attacked in what was described by newspaper reports as a “battle,” that resulted in the death of one slave and one white man. Surrounded, the fugitives surrendered, but in this instance Kentucky officials brought over 40 of the escapees to trial. A white college student who had accompanied them was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor at the state penitentiary, while three slaves identified as leaders in the effort were convicted and hanged. Most, however, would be returned to their slave owners, who could dole out punishment as they saw fit. [5]

Yet what Harrold describes as the “most influential mass-escape attempt” occurred in the shadow of the nation’s capitol in April 1848. Orchestrated by abolitionist newspaperman William L. Chaplin and a free black man named Daniel Bell, the pair arranged for 77 slaves in Washington, D.C. to board a boat which they had chartered and sail down the Potomac River toward freedom. However, the party encountered winds and was soon overtaken by a pursuing ship and easily recaptured. Known as the Pearl escape (after the name of the escapees’ vessel), the incident became an instant political lightning rod, infuriating pro-slavery politicians. [6]


Future congressman Thomas Lilbourne Anderson decried the effects of slave stampedes at an 1853 anti-abolition meeting in Palmyra, MO. (Library of Congress)

Border War‘s coverage of Missouri is relatively light, though Harrold does reference an important pro-slavery meeting held at Palmyra in Marion County, near the Illinois border. The gathering came on the heels of a recent stampede, in which around 11 enslaved people had escaped from Marion County across the border into Illinois. A local Missouri politician, Thomas L. Anderson, accused abolitionists of orchestrating the stampede and others like it.  Using rhetoric that underscored the chilling effect such escapes had on local slave owners, Anderson estimated that stampedes cost fellow slaveholders “eight or ten thousand dollars worth” of enslaved property “at a time.” [7]

While mass escapes and their often violent nature are clearly a recurring concept in Border War, the actual term “slave stampede” appears just twice. In one instance, he uses the term to refer to the mass escapes which became increasingly common in the early 1850s, briefly noting examples in Maryland and Kentucky, as well as a group of some 70 fugitives who made their way through Illinois in August 1853. Later in the book, Harrold quotes a Baltimore editorialist, writing in the midst of the “Secession Winter” of 1860-1861, who cautioned that Maryland’s border state status made leaving the Union a particularly precarious prospect. If the state seceded, he predicted, “then will commence the stampede” which would effectively end slavery in “less than six months.” [8] As a whole, however, Harrold’s book adds immense value to our understanding of slave stampedes, demonstrating that mass escapes were frequently violent, and often took on a revolutionary meaning. 


[1] “Runaway Negroes–A Battle with the Whites,” Boston Daily Atlas, June 2, 1845.

[2] Stanley Harrold, Border War: Fighting Over Slavery before the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 1-13.

[3] Harrold, 14.

[4] Harrold, 36, 129-131.

[5] Harrold, 131.

[6] Harrold, 131-133.

[7] Harrold, 161-162; Benjamin G. Merkel, “The Underground Railroad and the Missouri Borders, 1840-1860,” Missouri Historical Review 37:3 (April 1943): 278, [WEB].

[8] Harrold, 145-146, 199.