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Slave Stampedes as Mobile Insurrections

This online research journal represents a joint effort by the National Park Service (NPS) Network to Freedom and the House Divided Project at Dickinson College to address the phenomenon of group escapes from slavery.  Our initial regional focus has been on the Missouri borderlands during the antebellum and wartime period. We are now also beginning a second phase looking at the Kentucky borderlands. Contemporaries almost always called these group escapes, “slave stampedes.”  Yet that term rarely appears in modern-day studies of the Underground Railroad or resistance to slavery.  Even the idea of large groups of freedom seekers moving defiantly together toward attempted self-liberation seems almost impossible many teachers and students to accept.  Yet stampedes happened –sometimes quite frequently– and we need to try to understand what these revolutionary episodes meant to Americans in that era.

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

At this online research journal, we will continue to post examples of the historical material that we are turning up in our digital and archival searches about the phenomenon.  This is truly a team effort, involving faculty and students, with significant input from our outside academic experts. Eventually, our findings will form the basis of an online report with various multi-media maps and tools, and a freely accessible database designed to provide an array of resources for anyone who wants to learn more about this important subject.  For now, however, please consider this site as a kind of open historical laboratory.  We are trying to share our progress as it develops, seeking your input and assistance whenever it might be helpful.


The 1861 Camp Nevin Stampede


US general riding horse

Brig. Gen. Alexander McDowell McCook (Library of Congress)

US general Alexander McDowell McCook hardly knew what to do about the enslaved people making a beeline for his camp from all over central Kentucky. Freedom seekers had been “a source of annoyance” to the general ever since he pitched camp along the banks of the Nolin River some 10 miles south of Elizabethtown, but the number and frequency of escapes seemed to be increasing daily. “Ten have come into my Camp within as many hours,” McCook reported on November 5, “and from what they say, there will be a general Stampeed of slaves from the other side of Green River.” Enslaved Kentuckians had been emboldened to run to US army lines by news of the federal government’s various new antislavery policies. But McCook’s primary concern remained keeping Kentucky in the Union, and for the time being that meant conciliating slaveholders. Instead of receiving the freedom seekers per War Department policy, McCook proposed “to send for their master’s and diliver [sic] the negro’s to them on the out-side of our lines.” [1] Group escapes forced otherwise reluctant US generals like McCook to take action and address slavery, though not always the type of action enslaved people wanted. In the critical border state of Kentucky, the official response of US military and civil authorities throughout the fall of 1861 continued to tilt in favor of conciliating slaveholders.map, color, red arrows showing escape


In an internal report to his superior officer on November 5, US general Alexander McCook described the growing pattern of group escapes and expressed concern that his camp would soon be overrun by “a general Stampeed of slaves.” [2] Contemporary newspapers described the series of escapes to Camp Nevin, but so far no articles have been identified which refer to the escapes as a stampede.



When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the slave state of Kentucky officially remained neutral. But after Confederate forces disregarded neutrality and entered the state in September, US forces responded by moving into position in northern and central Kentucky.

As soon as US forces entered the state, enslaved Kentuckians wasted little time running to US lines, encouraged by the federal government’s new antislavery policies. In May, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler declared enslaved people who ran to his lines at Fort Monroe, Virginia to be “contraband of war,” and refused to return them to their Confederate slaveholders. The contraband decision applied to enslaved people fleeing Confederate territory, but lawmakers in Washington soon expanded the scope of federal antislavery policies to include the border states as well. On July 9, House Republicans affirmed in a non-binding resolution that “it is no part of the duty of the soldiers of the United States to capture and return fugitive slaves.” [3] Less than a month later, Congress passed the First Confiscation Act. The law did not explicitly free anyone, but authorized US armies to seize any enslaved people forced by their slaveholders to labor for the Confederacy. It remained less clear how to distinguish which enslaved people had been forced to labor for the Confederacy. On August 8, Secretary of War Simon Cameron instructed US generals to receive all enslaved people, regardless of whether their enslavers were loyal or disloyal, while promising that the federal government would eventually compensate loyal slaveholders. [4]

But most US generals remained concerned that Kentucky might still secede and took pains not to alienate slaveholders in the state, even if that meant flouting federal antislavery policies. “It is absolutely necessary that we shall hold all the State of Kentucky,” insisted the US Army’s new general-in-chief, George B. McClellan, in early November, and “that the majority of its inhabitants shall be warmly in favor of our cause.” To that end, McClellan issued strict orders forbidding US generals from interfering with Kentucky’s “domestic institutions,” a familiar euphemism for slavery. [5]

headshot Sherman, beard, collar up

Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman (House Divided Project)

Even before McClellan’s instructions, most US generals in Kentucky were already taking care not to interfere with slavery. From his headquarters in Louisville, Brig. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman repeatedly returned freedom seekers who reached his lines throughout October. When an enslaved man escaped from neighboring Spencer County into Sherman’s camp, Sherman saw that the man was turned over to local authorities in Louisville. [6] Several days later, two slaveholders complained to Sherman that soldiers belonging to the 19th Illinois Infantry were sheltering freedom seekers in their camp. Sherman promptly reprimanded the regiment’s commander, Col. John B. Turchin. “My orders are that all negroes shall be delivered up on claim of the owner or agent,” Sherman reiterated. As far as Sherman was concerned, “the laws of the state of Kentucky are in full force,” which meant that “negroes must be surrendered on application of their masters or agents or delivered over to the sheriff of the County.” [7] 

Civil authorities at the federal, state, and local levels agreed with Sherman that the federal government’s antislavery policies did not change anything for slaveholders in a loyal state like Kentucky. State and local slave codes remained in force, as did the federal 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. When an enslaved man escaped from Louisville and crossed the Ohio River into southern Indiana, slaveholder E.L. Huffman turned to federal civil authorities in Indiana to recapture and return the freedom seeker under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. On Friday, October 11, the U.S. marshal for Indiana, D.G. Rose, captured the freedom seeker. U.S. Commissioner Reginald H. Hall, a Democrat from southern Indiana, held a brief rendition hearing and promptly remanded the man to slavery under the federal law. Louisville newspapers praised the federal civil officials who had “faithfully and fearlessly execute[d] the laws of the United States” and “defend[ed] the rights of Kentucky.” [8] In the meantime, state authorities worked to limit the war’s destabilizing impacts on slavery by discouraging US soldiers from assisting freedom seekers. The Kentucky state assembly in session at Frankfort weighed a proposal to punish any US military personnel “who shall aid, assist, encourage, or attempt to authorize a slave to escape” with a minimum one-year sentence in the state penitentiary. [9] 

US camp, soldiers and cannon

An artist for Harper’s Weekly depicted General McCook’s headquarters at Camp Nevin, located about 10 miles south of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. (House Divided Project)

From his advanced position at Camp Nevin, US general Alexander McCook followed the lead of Sherman and civil authorities by assisting slaveholders seeking to recapture freedom seekers. When slaveholder Rebecca Hill from nearby Elizabethtown showed up at McCook’s headquarters on October 15 grumbling that his soldiers were harboring an enslaved man, McCook promptly ordered his camp provost marshal, Capt. Orris Blake of the 39th Indiana Infantry, to “make diligent search for a negro boy.” [10] Had the number of freedom seekers remained relatively low and infrequent, McCook might have continued to placate disgruntled slaveholders who one-by-one appeared at his camp by simply ordering the provost marshal to conduct a sweep of the camp. 

quote, blue outline, plain textBut enslaved Kentuckians had other ideas and kept running to Camp Nevin in mounting numbers throughout late October and early November 1861, carefully couching their statements to US officials in the language of the First Confiscation Act. Well aware that the recently passed law authorized US armies to seize enslaved people forced to labor for the Confederacy, freedom seekers repeatedly told US officials that their slaveholders had joined the Confederate army and forced them to transport supplies to Confederate troops or otherwise aid enemy forces. On November 4, McCook reported the arrival of six freedom seekers who informed him that their “masters have run away and joined the southern army.” [11] By the time McCook sat down to write a follow-up report to Sherman the next day, the number of freedom seekers had swelled to 10. This group had crossed the Green River on Sunday night, November 3 and covered some 50 miles to reach Camp Nevin by Tuesday, November 5. “They state the reasons of their running away,” McCook recorded, “there [their] masters are rank Secessionists, in some cases are in the rebel army,” and that “their master’s [sic] had notified them to be ready to go south with them on Monday Morning [November 4].” The freedom seekers also told McCook that many more enslaved people were preparing to escape, prompting the exasperated US general to predict  that “there will be a general Stampeed of slaves from the other side of the Green River.” [12] That prophecy seemed to be fulfilled on Thursday, November 8, when another “batch of eight slaves” arrived at Camp Nevin, having escaped “from the Green River country or beyond.” At least “one or two” of those eight freedom seekers had previously escaped to Camp Nevin, only to be returned to slavery. For the time being, McCook turned all the freedom seekers over to Provost Marshal Blake, “who is as yet sorely puzzled to know what to do with them,” according to a report in the Louisville Courier. [13] timeline grey background, black text, blue bordersThe growing trend of group escapes presented a problem for McCook, not because he secretly sympathized with slaveholders, but because the large number of freedom seekers within his camp seemed to confirm white Kentuckians’ suspicions that the US army intended to interfere with slavery. “The subject of Contraband negros is one that is looked to, by the Citizens of Kentucky of vital importance,” McCook began his November 5 report to Sherman. If the freedom seekers “be allowed to remain here,” McCook worried, “our cause in Kentucky may be injured.” Pro-secessionist Kentuckians “bolster themselves up, by making the uninformed believe that this is a war upon African slavery.” McCook had “no great desire to protect [Kentucky’s] pet institution Slavery” and made clear that he was “very far from wishing these recreant masters in possession of any of their property.” But keeping Kentucky in the Union took precedence over all else. To assure white Kentuckians that the US army’s presence did not portend general emancipation, McCook proposed “to send for their master’s and diliver the negro’s [sic] to them on the out-side of our lines.” [14]



General Sherman agreed that the US military’s interests lay in conciliating Kentucky slaveholders. On November 8, Sherman ordered McCook to return the freedom seekers. “We have nothing to do with them [enslaved people] at all and you should not let them take refuge in Camp,” Sherman advised. “It forms a source of misrepresentation by which Union men are estranged from our Cause.” [15] The ultimate fate of the freedom seekers remains unclear. Although Sherman clearly directed McCook to return them, no record survives. Some of the freedom seekers may have eluded recapture with help from free Black servants working for the US army or enlisted men sympathetic to their plight. 

For his part, General McCook seemed willing to return freedom seekers well into the spring of 1862, even after US forces had made inroads into the Confederate state of Tennessee. A Nashville, Tennessee paper praised McCook’s “courteous and gentlemanly” treatment of slaveholders, which “acquit the Federal army and its officers of conniving at the escape of slaves.” Antislavery papers did not see it that way and attacked General McCook for his conciliatory approach to slaveholders. The Liberator reprinted the Nashville paper’s glowing report on McCook under the damning headline, “How General McCook Conciliates the Rebels.” Massachusetts senator Henry Wilson read the Liberator’s searing critique on the Senate floor in May while concluding that McCook was among the “generals at the West who think they do their duty best when they serve slavery.” [16]



The correspondence between McCook and Sherman is reprinted in Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation. [17] Although McCook biographer Wayne Faneburst discusses the group escapes to Camp Nevin and the negative reputation McCook gained among antislavery circles for his willingness to return freedom seekers, few scholars of wartime emancipation have taken notice of the stampede. [18]



[1] Alexander McDowell McCook to William Tecumseh Sherman, November 5, 1861, Camp Nevin, Ky., RG 393, pt. 1, entry 3534, box 1, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC, excerpted in Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation ser. 1, vol. 1, 519-520.

[2] McCook to Sherman, November 5, 1861, RG 393, pt. 1, entry 3534, box 1, NARA, excerpted in Freedom, ser. 1, vol. 1, 519-520.

[3] Cong. Globe, 37th Cong., 1st Sess., 32; James Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012), 112-113.

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

[5] George B. McClellan to Don Carlos Buell, November 7, 1861, Washington, DC, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891), ser. 2, vol. 1, 776-777.

[6] Louisville, KY Courier, October 12, 1861, p3, c2.

[7] William T. Sherman to John B. Turchin, October 15, 1861, Louisville, Ky., OR, ser. 2, vol. 1, p. 774Sherman to McCook, November 8, 1861, Louisville, Ky., excerpted in Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation ser. 1, vol. 1, 519-520.

[8] “Fugitive Slave Returned from Indiana,” Louisville, KY Courier, October 15, 1861, p2, c3; “Fugitive Slave Returned,” Louisville, KY Daily Democrat, October 15, 1861, p2, c1.

[9] “Kentucky Legislature,” Louisville, KY Courier, September 30, 1861, p3, c3.

[10] Special Order No. 4, October 15, 1861, Camp Nevin, Ky., RG 393, pt. 2, entry 6465, vol. 149/246DO, NARA.

[11] McCook to Sherman, November 4, 1861, quoted in Wayne Fanebust, Major General Alexander M. McCook, USA: A Civil War Biography (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012), 70.

[12] McCook to Sherman, November 5, 1861, RG 393, pt. 1, entry 3534, box 1, NARA, excerpted in Freedom, ser. 1, vol. 1, 519-520.

[13] “Contrabands,” Louisville, KY Courier, November 12, 1861, p3, c1.

[14] McCook to Sherman, November 5, 1861, RG 393, pt. 1, entry 3534, box 1, NARA, excerpted in Freedom, ser. 1, vol. 1, 519-520.

[15] Sherman to McCook, November 8, 1861, Louisville, Ky., excerpted in Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation ser. 1, vol. 1, 519-520.

[16] “How General McCook Conciliates the Rebels,” Boston Liberator, April 11, 1862, p3, c2; Cong. Globe, 37th Cong., 2nd Sess., 1893. For other allegations that McCook was overly sympathetic to slaveholders (some of which were made by his political enemies), see Faneburst, Major General Alexander M. McCook, 70-71. 

[17] McCook to Sherman, November 5, 1861, RG 393, pt. 1, entry 3534, box 1, NARA, excerpted in Freedom, ser. 1, vol. 1, 519-520; Sherman to McCook, November 8, 1861, Louisville, Ky., also excerpted in Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation ser. 1, vol. 1, pp. 519-520. McCook’s letter and Sherman’s response are also reprinted in OR, ser. 2, vol. 1, 776-777.

[18] Faneburst, Major General Alexander M. McCook, 70-71. 

Colorizing Historic Illustrations from Still’s Underground Railroad (1872)

By Forbes

At the House Divided Project , we are starting to colorize the dozens of richly engraved illustrations by John Osler and other artists which first appeared in William Still’s Underground Road (1872).  Most of these scenes depict dramatic Underground Railroad escapes documented in the antebellum records of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee.  Over the years, we’ve experimented with several other colorizing projects, including most notably for the Dickinson & Slavery initiative.  This current effort with Still’s famous illustrations is designed to support our work with the National Park Service Network to Freedom.


Henry “Box” Brown (1849), colorized by Forbes (House Divided Project)

When in the process of colorizing, sometimes you will encounter historic illustrations which were not created to look fully realistic and which require a different approach to colorizing than with historic photographs.  One way to colorize such images is to use brighter colors and less subtle tint differences; more like a cartoon or graphic novel than an attempt at realism.  This post contains directions concerning how best to complete this process.

Cambridge MD (1857), colorized by Gabe Pinsker (House Divided Project)

How to Colorize Using the Editing Software ‘GIMP’

  1. Open GIMP on your computer, then click the word “File” in that window’s upper left corner.  Select “Open”, and then select the file you wish to colorize.
  2. In the same line of options from which you selected “File”, look for “Layer”.  Click on that word, and then select “New Layer…” from the drop-down menu.
  3. When you click “New Layer…”, a window should open, and the lowest option on the window should be labeled “Fill with”.  Select “Transparency”.  Make sure that the “Opacity” option is at 100, and then click “OK”.
  4. Select the Paintbrush tool out of the grid of possible tools in the upper left corner of the screen.  A small window should pop up, titled “Tool Options”.  (If this window does not show up, see step 4a.)  In that window, there will be a section titled “Mode” which should be clickable.  Open its drop-down menu, scroll to “Hard light”, and select that option.(4a. To access “Tool Options” (if it does not pop up automatically when you begin to use the Paintbrush), click on “Windows” in the menu bar at the top of the page.  Hover your mouse over “Dockable Dialogues”, and you should see “Tool Options” at the top of the drop-down menu that appears.  Click “Tool Options”.  A window in which you can adjust opacity levels, brush size, and other metrics as you please should open.)
  5. Now you can begin colorization!  Below the paintbrush icon in the corner of the screen, there will be two squares: one black and one white.  Click on the square to the left and on top of the other.  This allows you to select a specific color using various scales, and then use that color on your illustration.
  6. After you pick a color, click and drag on top of the illustration, and color should appear and follow underneath your mouse.  It should not remove the picture’s details from view; it will just color over them.  If the brushstrokes are too opaque or unable to be seen, that can be fixed in the “Tool Options” window.
  7. If a color you have chosen does not show up optimally, it is possible to edit.  In the same line of options as “File” and “Layer” is a “Color” option.  Click on that to open a drop-down menu, and then select “Hue Saturation”.  Once you click that option, a window with several scales inside of it should show up.  “Hue”, “Lightness”, and “Saturation” can be changed to modify the color of your selection.

The 1848 Lexington Stampede


The sound of spirituals and dancing startled the white residents in Lexington, Kentucky from their sleep on Saturday night, August 5, 1848. Enslaved Kentuckians had gathered from miles around to hold another religious meeting just outside town. Annoyed but not alarmed, Lexington slaveholders did their best to ignore the festivities. But this occasion was different. When the services concluded, more than 40 enslaved men “arrayed in warlike manner,” armed themselves with “guns, pistols, knives and other warlike weapons,” and started north from Lexington along the Russell Cave Road. An Irish immigrant and professed ally of the freedom seekers, Edward J. “Patrick” Doyle, led the group towards the Ohio River. Newspapers in Kentucky and across the nation quickly labeled the mass escape attempt a “slave stampede.” [1] Perhaps more than any other single episode, the Lexington stampede helped define the powerful new “slave stampede” metaphor as an escape involving large numbers of heavily armed freedom seekers––what many pro- and antislavery readers alike understood as a form of mobile insurrection.custom map with counties shaded different colors



stampede headline all caps

“Stampede Among the Negroes,” Lexington (KY) Atlas, August 8, 1848 (Lexington Public Library)

In August 1848, the “slave stampede” metaphor was barely a year old. Editors for the Lexington Atlas thought the term well-suited to describe the mass escape from their community and ran the headline “Stampede Among the Negroes” on Tuesday, August 8. Other papers in Kentucky and across the nation followed suit. Over 40 articles nationwide referred to the escape as a “stampede,” with some newspapers styling it the “great slave stampede” or “the giant stampede of negroes from the interior of Kentucky.” [2]


Edward J. “Patrick” Doyle had a checkered past by the time he suddenly appeared in Lexington, Kentucky during the summer of 1848. An Irish immigrant in his early 20s, Doyle had been expelled for bad behavior from the St. Rose Priory in Springfield, Kentucky, and again from the St. Thomas Seminary in Bardstown. Doyle then vocally renounced his Catholicism, claimed that vengeful Catholics had tried to murder him, and secured admission to Centre College in Danville, Kentucky by assuring school officials that he was a sincere Protestant convert. Academics were the least of Doyle’s troubles, however. Doyle’s criminal record was extensive. Authorities in Louisville had arrested him for trying to sell free Black Ohioans into slavery. Only weeks before Doyle arrived in Lexington in 1848, officials in Frankfort had jailed him on theft charges. Historian James Prichard has concluded that at his core, Doyle was an opportunist “willing to play both sides of any controversy if it lined his pockets.” [3]

But none of that was known to enslaved people near Lexington, Kentucky who saw Doyle as a potential liberator. Soon after Doyle arrived in Lexington, he began approaching enslaved residents and offering to guide them to freedom––for a fee. “A man named Doyle came to me and told me that he would pilot me across the Ohio river for $100,” recalled Harry Slaughter, then 32-years-old and enslaved near Lexington. Slaughter had extra motivation. The rest of his family and his girlfriend were free, and Slaughter “wanted to marry my sweetheart as a free man and not as a slave.” [4]

Kentucky slaveholder and antislavery politician Cassius M. Clay (Library of Congress)

Doyle and enslaved Kentuckians like Slaughter managed to assemble a large group of freedom seekers to make a dash for the Ohio River. The enslaved came from the households of some of Lexington’s most prominent residents, including Jack, an enslaved man who escaped from prominent Kentucky politician and gradual emancipation advocate Cassius M. Clay. Reports placed the total number of freedom seekers anywhere from 40 to 80. For its part, the Lexington Atlas calculated that 66 freedom seekers had escaped. Harry Slaughter remembered that the group consisted of “Doyle and forty-five of us negroes.” What is clear is that the escape was carefully planned down to the pretext and the day of the week. Leaders of the escape correctly assumed that assembling for a religious meeting would allay any suspicions local whites might have about such a large gathering of enslaved people, and also that by leaving on a Saturday night their absence would go mostly unnoticed by slaveholders until Monday. [5]

Traveling all night Saturday, hiding during the daylight hours, and traveling again all night Sunday, the freedom seekers covered 25 miles from Lexington to Ruddells Mills undetected. The runaways fed themselves on ears of corn gathered along the way. But on Monday morning, August 7, local residents caught wind of the mass escape quietly passing through their neighborhood. Two young boys spotted the freedom seekers concealed in the woods near Ruddells Mill and rushed to notify local authorities. Around the same time, two freedom seekers (who were not identified by name) enslaved by Lexington lawyers T. Scott and B. Gratz strayed from the group in search of food and walked right into slaveholders in nearby Claysville. The two captives eventually admitted that there were “between 40 and 70 negroes… in the neighborhood, concealed in the woods,” which was “the first intimation the people of Harrison [county] had of the stampede.” To make matters worse for the freedom seekers, large crowds had already assembled at local polling places for that day’s gubernatorial election. Voters quickly mobilized in pursuit of the runaways. [6]

The freedom seekers and a slave-catching posse clashed twice on Monday evening, August 7, and both times the freedom seekers beat back their would-be captors and wounded pursuers. The first fight began around 7 pm, when Claysville physician Dr. B.F. Barkley and his posse of 10 men overtook the freedom seekers who were “encamped and fortified” northeast of Claysville on the Germantown road.  Heavily armed and outnumbering their pursuers, the freedom seekers opened fire and forced Barkley’s ten men to retreat. One shot struck Harrison County resident and Mexican War veteran Charles H. Fowler in the left kidney, badly wounding him. [7]

Minutes later, 10 more Harrison County residents arrived and Barkley made a second attempt to subdue the freedom seekers. Once again, the freedom seekers repulsed the assault and wounded yet another pursuer, peppering Joseph Duncan’s hat with bullet holes and then shooting his horse out from under him, “throwing him in the midst of the negroes.” Duncan used his revolver at close range and “succeeded in fighting his way through them,” though not before a freedom seeker knocked out a tooth. Still outnumbered, Duncan and the rest of Barkley’s posse retreated for a second time. “They [the freedom seekers] appear determined to fight for every inch of ground,” concluded the pursuers, “and are commanded by a white man or more.” Pursuers reported that Doyle “encouraged the blacks to rally and fire, at all times, when our boys would come on them.” [8]

But the freedom seekers had lost the advantage of secrecy, and soon would lose their advantage in numbers too. As reports of the stampede and fighting spread, Kentucky militia general Lucius Desha mobilized several hundred men from Harrison and Bracken counties to surround the freedom seekers and block their path to the Ohio River. Meanwhile, Cynthiana residents informed Lexington slaveholders by express dispatch that “your negroes are supposed to be surrounded” near the Harrison-Bracken county line and requested that the city send a “fresh set of men immediately, say 50 or 100, well armed.” To make the point abundantly clear, Cynthiana residents added tersely: “Send all you can and speedily, or all will be lost…. Come if you want any of your negroes. We have not time to say more.” Within hours of the dispatch reaching Lexington, authorities called a public meeting and quickly raised “fifty or sixty armed men.” [9]


By Tuesday, August 8, the stampede had lost its momentum and its leader. “Doyle left us early in the day,” recalled freedom seeker Harry Slaughter, “and we were without a leader.” As pursuers closed in, “the men scattered in all directions.” Slaughter and Shadrack stuck together and “determined to get to the Ohio river, if possible.” The two men crossed into Bracken County and were approaching the Licking River near Milford when pursuers overtook them. “We plunged in and swam and waded across,” but a posse of a dozen men quickly surrounded them, subduing Shadrack while Slaughter continued to resist. “I cried out in a loud voice: ‘I will not be taken! The man that kills me is my friend! I had rather die here and now than go back to slavery!'” Slaughter had thrown away his bowie knife “for fear that I might kill one of them,” but proudly remembered that “I fought them for five minutes with my first” before finally surrendering. In addition to Slaughter and Shadrack, vigilant whites had captured nine to 10 freedom seekers by Tuesday night, and around 40 by Wednesday evening (20 confined in the Claysville jail, and another 19 in Brooksville). [10]

The most anticipated capture came on Tuesday, when a scouting party apprehended Doyle  about eight miles north of Claysville along Drift Run. The captors “were with great difficulty restrained from hanging the prisoner on the spot,” but General Desha intervened and had Doyle brought before local authorities in Claysville and then moved to the county jail in Cynthiana. There, a crowd of “several hundred” threatened to storm the jail, chanting “Kill him! Shoot him!! Burn him!!” Fearing that angry residents might make good on their threats, Dr. Barkley returned that night and quietly transferred Doyle from Cynthiana to the Lexington jail. [11]



pull quote bolded with source citation at bottom indentedTo slaveholders, the mass escape had looked alarmingly like a mobile insurrection. Decades later, freedom seeker Harry Slaughter would insist the stampede was not an insurrection, although he acknowledged the freedom seekers’ intention to defend themselves with force if necessary. “The movement was afterwards referred to as an ‘insurrection,’ but it was misnamed,” Slaughter explained. “We did not intend to fight unless attempts were made to capture us, but we pledged ourselves that if we were overtaken by white men and they made an effort to capture us we would fight as long as possible.” Slaughter’s distinction between defensive and offensive violence did not resonate with white Kentuckians. The criminal charges eventually brought against Doyle and Slaughter accused them of leading “a great multitude of negro slaves… arrayed in warlike manner, that is to say with guns, pistols, knives and other warlike weapons… [to] most wickedly, maliciously, rebelliously and feloniously… make public insurrection.” [12] In fact, the most enduring impact of the escape may well have been to help define the new “slave stampede” metaphor as a form of mobile insurrection.

In the short term, white Kentuckians hoped to set an example with Doyle. A Maysville, Kentucky journalist thought that the “fate of Doyle may teach others… that Kentucky is a dangerous soil for Abolitionist[s] to tread upon.” Following a preliminary hearing on August 17, a grand jury in Fayette County indicted Doyle for enticing slaves and inciting insurrection. Lexington politician, future U.S. vice president, and future Confederate John C. Breckenridge served as Doyle’s defense counsel. To be sure, Breckenridge remained firmly proslavery. Doyle’s conviction was certain, and Breckenridge’s presence as Doyle’s attorney merely reflected Lexington elites’ desire to demonstrate respect for law and order over vigilante violence. Doyle plead guilty on October 9 and Judge Walker Reid sentenced him to 20 years in the state penitentiary, where he died in 1863. [13]

Few abolitionists mourned Doyle’s fate. Just several years earlier, antislavery activists had rallied behind Calvin Fairbanks and Delia Webster, abolitionists who had also been convicted in Kentucky (not for inciting insurrection but rather for helping freedom seekers escape in violation of the state’s slave stealing statutes). But most antislavery newspapers viewed Doyle as an opportunist rather than a committed antislavery activist. An antislavery paper in Ohio sniped that Doyle had been “caught in his own trap” and suspected that if Doyle had succeeded, “his design was to betray them [the freedom seekers] to the kidnappers and secure the reward for their recapture.” In the words of one antislavery editor, “we feel much less pity for him than for the innocent men who trusted him as their friend.” [14] 

Doyle’s conviction was certain, but the fate of the freedom seekers who trusted him was still very much up in the air. Rather than prosecute all the freedom seekers, Bracken County authorities singled out seven alleged ringleaders they believed had helped Doyle orchestrate the stampede: Harry Slaughter (held by Richard Pindell), Shadrack (held by Thomas Christian), Jack (held by politician Cassius M. Clay), Bill Griffin (held by John Chism), Presley Coleman (held by John Wardlow), Anderson (held by Alexander Prewett), and Jasper (held by Samuel R. Bullock). A grand jury indicted the seven men for assault with intent to kill Charles Fowler (the badly wounded posse member) and on insurrection and rebellion charges. Following a three-day trial that spanned from August 30 to September 1, jurors acquitted Jack, Bill Griffin, Anderson, and Jasper on both counts, but convicted Slaughter, Shadrack, and Presley Coleman for conspiracy to insurrection and rebellion. The court sentenced the three enslaved men to hang. [15]

outdoor scene, black and white photograph

Slave sale at the Cheapside auction block in the public square at Lexington, Kentucky (Explore KY History)

Slaveholders secured gubernatorial pardons for all three condemned men, though the assumption was that the rebellious men who had escaped the gallows would be sold to the Deep South as a warning to other enslaved people. That was the fate that seemed to be in store for Harry Slaughter. After Slaughter received his pardon, his slaveholder Sidney Edmiston moved him from the Bracken County prison to Pullum’s slave pen in Lexington, where he remained for “a month or more.” But Slaughter eventually persuaded Edmiston to allow him to purchase his freedom. “I immediately borrowed the money and married my sweetheart,” Slaughter recalled. The fate of Shadrack, Presley Coleman, and the countless other freedom seekers never charged with crimes but returned directly to their slaveholders remains unclear, though few were likely as fortunate as Slaughter. In December, a Memphis, Tennessee newspaper hinted that most of the recaptured freedom seekers had been sold south as punishment for their participation in the stampede. [16]

As the trials unfolded, Lexington slaveholders gathered to debate what had gone wrong. Two public meetings held at the Court House on Monday, August 14 and Saturday, August 19 debated and recommended multiple proposals to city, county, and state authorities. Lexington slaveholders asked city officials to “organize a force that will suppress the flocking of slaves to the City without such written permissions form their owners,” and outlined a county-sponsored slave patrol to prevent “nocturnal gatherings” such as the one that had precipitated the stampede. Meanwhile, slaveholders suggested that the state legislature both enact new restrictions on free African Americans residing in the state and a new state tax to deter “peddlers and itinerant vendors” from traveling the countryside and having contact with enslaved people. In September, the Fayette County Court acted upon the committee’s recommendation and took steps to create a new patrol by dividing the county into “suitable districts.” [17] 

The Lexington stampede also figured in arguments both for and against gradual emancipation during Kentucky’s 1849-1850 constitutional convention. A Tennessee editor noted with concern that many Kentucky slaveholders already were selling enslaved people farther south, including “when a stampede of 70 or 80 negroes takes place in Kentucky, and are recovered, they are at once handcuffed and sent South.” Later in July 1849, a supporter of gradual emancipation cited the ”slave stampede in Fayette last year” to insist the non-slaveholding whites had a right to weigh in on the future of slavery in the state. “Some 70 or more negroes ran away and passed through portions of three or four large slaveholding counties, and could not be arrested until they got among the non-slaveholders of Bracken county,” he reminded readers. [18]



The Lexington Atlas provided the most detailed contemporary reports about the escape and pursuit. [19]  Harry Slaughter’s 1897 interview with the New York Sun, which billed him as the “last survivor of the 1848 ‘Insurrection,'” remains the only extant account from a freedom seeker’s perspective. [20]

Scholars have discussed the mass escape attempt, but not in connection with the “stampede” metaphor. Historian J. Winston Coleman used court records to reconstruct the details of the escape in his study, Slavery Times in Kentucky (1940). Herbert Aptheker drew on Coleman’s research and situated the escape as an insurrection in his landmark study, American Negro Slave Revolts (1943). In a pair of articles (1998 and 2000), historian John Leming, jr. concluded that the Lexington episode was the “largest single slave uprising in Kentucky history.” In a forthcoming essay in Gerald Smith’s edited volume Slavery and Freedom in the Bluegrass State (2023), historian James Prichard emphasizes Doyle’s dubious past while also expertly documenting the legal fallout from the escape for Doyle and the captured freedom seekers. [21]


[1] Lexington (KY) Atlas, “Stampede Among the Negroes,” August 8, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “For the Lexington Atlas,” August 10, 1848; Maysville (KY) Campaign Flag, “The runaway slaves again,” August 18, 1848; Omaha (NE) World-Herald, “Free Negro For 46 Years: Last survivor of the 1848 ‘Insurrection’ Tells of Attempt to Escape,” August 16, 1897; Indictments, Bracken County (KY) Circuit Court, August 29, 1848, typescript copies in box 1, folder 8, J. Winston Coleman papers, University of Kentucky. The Slave Stampedes on the Southern Borderlands project would like to thank James Prichard of Lexington, Kentucky for sharing information from his extensive files and his forthcoming essay on the escape, which will be published in the edited volume Slavery and Freedom in the Bluegrass State (University of Kentucky Press, 2023).

[2] Articles that reference the escape as a stampede include: Lexington (KY) Atlas, “Stampede Among the Negroes,” August 8, 1848; Louisville (KY) Daily Courier, “Stampede Among the Negroes,” August 9, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “Abolition–Runaways–Public Meeting–Great Excitement–Threats of Vengeance,” August 10, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, August 11, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “The Runaway Negroes,” August 11, 1848; Louisville (KY) Daily Courier, “Abolition – Runaways – Public Meeting,” August 11, 1848; Louisville (KY) Daily Courier, August 12, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, August 12, 1848; Buffalo (NY) Commercial, “The Kentucky Runaways,” August 14, 1848; Louisville (KY) Daily Courier, “Doyle – The Negro Abductor,” August 14, 1848; New York (NY) Evening Post, “Stampede Among the Negroes,” August 15, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “Public Meeting,” August 15, 1848; Louisville (KY) Daily Courier, August 16, 1848; New York (NY) Daily Herald, “Stampede Among the Negroes,” August 16, 1848; Buffalo (NY) Commercial, “The Runaway Slaves,” August 16, 1848; New York (NY) Evening Post, “The Runaway Slaves,” August 18, 1848; Cleveland (OH) Herald, “The Absconding Slaves,” August 19, 1848; Baltimore (MD) Sun, “The Kentucky Slave Stampede,” August 19, 1848; Buffalo (NY) Daily Republic, “Kentucky Run-Away Slaves,” August 19, 1848; Fayette (MO) Boon’s Lick Times, “Stampede Among the Negroes,” August 19, 1848; Pittsburgh (PA) Daily Morning Post,”Doyle, The Negro Abductor,” August 21, 1848; Middlebury (VT) Galaxy, “Slave Stampede in Kentucky,” August 22, 1848; Boston (MA) Weekly Messenger, “The Runaway Slaves,” August 23, 1848; Baltimore (MD) Sun, “Kentucky Slave Stampede,” August 23, 1848; Vidalia (LA) Concordia Intelligencer, “Negro Stampede in Kentucky,” August 26, 1848; New Orleans (LA) Crescent, August 28, 1848; Brooklyn (NY) Evening Star, “The Kentucky Slave Stampede,” September 12, 1848; Boston (MA) Liberator, “The Kentucky Slave Stampede,” September 22, 1848; Hallowell (ME) Maine Cultivator and Hallowell Gazette, “The Kentucky Slave Stampede,” October 14, 1848; Baltimore (MD) Sun, “Conviction of Doyle in Kentucky,” October 17, 1848; Alexandria (VA) Gazette, “Doyle Sentenced in Kentucky,” October 18, 1848; Windsor (VT) Journal, October 20, 1848; Sunbury (PA) American, October 21, 1848; Buffalo (NY) Courier, October 21, 1848; Camden (SC) Weekly Journal, October 25, 1848; New Orleans (LA) Crescent, October 27, 1848; Mobile (AL) Alabama Planter, “Conviction of Doyle in Kentucky,” October 30, 1848; Dubuque (IA) Weekly Miners Express, November 14, 1848; New Lisbon (OH) Anti-Slavery Bugle, “Caught in His Own Trap,” November 17, 1848; Louisville (KY) Daily Democrat, “Slavery Emancipation in Kentucky,” December 7, 1848; Louisville (KY) Examiner, “To the Citizens of Jefferson County,” July 28, 1849.

[3] Louisville (KY) Daily Courier, “Doyle – The Negro Abductor,” August 14, 1848; Louisville (KY) Daily Courier, August 16, 1848; James Prichard, “‘This Priceless Jewell–Liberty!:’ The Doyle Conspiracy of 1848,” lecture at Filson Historical Society, Lexington, KY, recorded July 30, 2021.

[4] Omaha (NE) World-Herald, “Free Negro For 46 Years: Last survivor of the 1848 ‘Insurrection’ Tells of Attempt to Escape,” August 16, 1897.

[5] Indictments, Bracken County (KY) Circuit Court, August 29, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “Stampede Among the Negroes,” August 8, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “For the Lexington Atlas,” August 10, 1848.

[6] Lexington (KY) Atlas, “The Runaway Negroes,” August 11, 1848; Omaha (NE) World-Herald, “Free Negro For 46 Years: Last survivor of the 1848 ‘Insurrection’ Tells of Attempt to Escape,” August 16, 1897.

[7] Lexington (KY) Atlas, “The Runaway Negroes,” August 11, 1848

[8] Lexington (KY) Atlas, “Abolition–Runaways–Public Meeting–Great Excitement–Threats of Vengeance,” August 10, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “The Runaway Negroes,” August 11, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, August 12, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, August 15, 1848; Maysville (KY) Campaign Flag, “The runaway slaves again,” August 18, 1848. Slaughter recalled that Doyle “left us early in the day” but was most likely referring to Tuesday. See Omaha (NE) World-Herald, “Free Negro For 46 Years: Last survivor of the 1848 ‘Insurrection’ Tells of Attempt to Escape,” August 16, 1897.

[9] Lexington (KY) Atlas, “Abolition–Runaways–Public Meeting–Great Excitement–Threats of Vengeance,” August 10, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “The Runaway Negroes,” August 11, 1848; Maysville (KY) Campaign Flag, “The runaway slaves again,” August 18, 1848.

[10] Omaha (NE) World-Herald, “Free Negro For 46 Years: Last survivor of the 1848 ‘Insurrection’ Tells of Attempt to Escape,” August 16, 1897; Lexington (KY) Atlas, August 10, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “Abolition–Runaways–Public Meeting–Great Excitement–Threats of Vengeance,” August 10, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “The Runaway Negroes,” August 11, 1848; Lewis Collins, History of Kentucky (Covington, KY: Collins, 1874), 2:57.

[11] Lexington (KY) Atlas, “The Runaway Negroes,” August 11, 1848; Maysville (KY) Campaign Flag, “The runaway slaves again,” August 18, 1848.

[12] Omaha (NE) World-Herald, “Free Negro For 46 Years: Last survivor of the 1848 ‘Insurrection’ Tells of Attempt to Escape,” August 16, 1897; Indictments, Bracken County (KY) Circuit Court, August 29, 1848.

[13] Maysville (KY) Campaign Flag, “The runaway slaves again,” August 18, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, August 18, 1848; Indictments, Bracken County (KY) Circuit Court, August 29, 1848. For more on Doyle’s trial, see Prichard, “‘This Priceless Jewell–Liberty!:’ The Doyle Conspiracy of 1848,” lecture at Filson Historical Society, Lexington, KY, recorded July 30, 2021.

[14] New Lisbon (OH) Anti-Slavery Bugle, “Caught in His Own Trap,” November 17, 1848; Philadelphia (PA) Freeman, “A Martyr, Or A Judas?,” December 21, 1848.

[15] Indictments, Bracken County (KY) Circuit Court, August 29, 1848; Prichard, “‘This Priceless Jewell–Liberty!:’ The Doyle Conspiracy of 1848,” lecture at Filson Historical Society, Lexington, KY, recorded July 30, 2021.

[16] Omaha (NE) World-Herald, “Free Negro For 46 Years: Last survivor of the 1848 ‘Insurrection’ Tells of Attempt to Escape,” August 16, 1897. On the pardons, see Prichard, “‘This Priceless Jewell–Liberty!:’ The Doyle Conspiracy of 1848,” lecture at Filson Historical Society, Lexington, KY, recorded July 30, 2021. In the context of debates about gradual emancipation and the future of slavery in Kentucky, the Louisville Democrat commented: “Already, when a stampede of 70 or 80 negroes takes place in Kentucky, and are recovered, they are at once handcuffed and sent South.” See Memphis (TN) Herald, quoted in Louisville (KY) Daily Democrat, “Slavery Emancipation in Kentucky,” December 7, 1848.

[17] Lexington (KY) Atlas, “For the Lexington Atlas,” August 10, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “For the Lexington Atlas,” August 11, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, August 10, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “Public Meeting,” August 15, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “Meeting in Fayette,” August 21, 1848; J. Winston Coleman, Slavery Times in Kentucky (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press), 95-96. Lexington slaveholders even suggested that county courts be allowed to offer rewards for detecting white Underground Railroad agents.

[18] Memphis (TN) Herald, quoted in Louisville (KY) Daily Democrat, “Slavery Emancipation in Kentucky,” December 7, 1848; Louisville (KY) Examiner, “To the Citizens of Jefferson County,” July 28, 1849.

[19] Lexington (KY) Atlas, “Stampede Among the Negroes,” August 8, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “Abolition–Runaways–Public Meeting–Great Excitement–Threats of Vengeance,” August 10, 1848; Lexington (KY) Atlas, “The Runaway Negroes,” August 11, 1848.

[20] Omaha (NE) World-Herald, “Free Negro For 46 Years: Last survivor of the 1848 ‘Insurrection’ Tells of Attempt to Escape,” August 16, 1897.

[21] Coleman, Slavery Times in Kentucky, 88-92; Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943), 338;John Leming, jr., “Bracken County and The Great Slave Escape of 1848,” Northern Kentucky Heritage 5, no. 2 (Spring/Summer 1998): 32-38; Leming, “The Great Slave Escape of 1848 Ended in Bracken County,” The Kentucky Explorer (June 2000): 25-29; James Prichard, forthcoming essay in Gerald Smith (ed.), Slavery and Freedom in the Bluegrass State: (Re)-visiting My Old Kentucky Home (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2023).

The 1856 Hannibal Stampede


Black preacher

An African American preacher holds services on a South Carolina plantation, as depicted by the Illustrated London News, December 5, 1863 (National Humanities Center)

Late on Sunday night, October 19, Reverend Isaac McDaniel, a free and widely traveled African American preacher, stole a horse and carriage, and then “stole” his family and friends from Hannibal slaveholder John Bush. With McDaniel at the helm, the wagon carrying an enslaved man, two enslaved women, and three young enslaved children bounded out of Missouri and into Illinois. Railing against this latest “stampede,” Missouri’s proslavery presses called not for heightened surveillance of the enslaved population, but rather for even stricter control over the state’s free African American residents. As slaveholding authorities had long feared, McDaniel and other mobile free Black Missourians forged antislavery networks across state lines that helped facilitate group escapes. [1]



stampede missouri

“Another Stampede,” Palmyra, MO Whig, October 23, 1856 (SHSMO)

Initial reports from two Marion County newspapers, the Hannibal National Democrat and Palmyra Whig, described the escape as a “stampede.” The latter report was reprinted by the St. Louis Missouri Republican. Across the river in Illinois, the Quincy Whig situated the “Negro Stampede” as yet another of “those stampedes” from Marion County that had become frequent during the mid-1850s. [2]



Like other free African Americans in Missouri, Isaac McDaniel lived under the state’s repressive Black codes. Well aware that free Black communities aided freedom seekers along the Underground Railroad, slaveholders had tightened the state’s Black codes beginning in the 1830s to counteract growing antislavery sentiment in the North and mounting escapes. In 1835, Missouri legislators required free Blacks who wanted to remain in the state to register for freedom licenses with county clerks. Then in 1843, proslavery lawmakers passed even harsher legislation to “more effectually… prevent free persons of color from entering this State.” The new law forced free Blacks to post a bond ranging from $100 to $1,000 to vouch for their “good behavior,” and also provide “one or more securities,” usually in the form of white neighbors who would serve as character references and occasionally put their own money on the line. [3]

Marion Co MO

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

Not much is known about Isaac McDaniel, except that by the early 1850s he had obtained his freedom license and secured the trust of enough white neighbors to put up a bond for his “good behavior,” joining a small free Black community in Marion County that numbered only 76 people in 1850. McDaniel established himself as a Methodist preacher, canvasing Marion County and preaching to enslaved laborers. Importantly, as he spread the gospel, McDaniel also came into close contact with enslaved Missourians across the northeastern corner of the state. [4]

Freedom license in hand, McDaniel started traveling extensively throughout the North. Reports placed the itinerant preacher in Cincinnati and Chicago, both home to sizable free Black communities that were defying the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act and continuing to assist freedom seekers on the Underground Railroad. According to one source, McDaniel also visited Canada West (modern day Ontario), home to many freedom seekers who had fled the United States.  [5]

But McDaniel kept coming back to Missouri, despite its severe Black codes. That was because his wife, 32-year-old Mary, and their five-year-old son, Daniel, were enslaved by John Bush at his farm about four miles northwest of Hannibal, along the road to Palmyra. The 57-year-old Bush was a well-to-do slaveholder who held five people in bondage at the time of the 1850 census, including another family––32-year-old Anthony, his wife, 34-year-old Eliza, and their children, eight-year-old Margaret and six-year-old Lewis. With the addition of Isaac and Mary’s son Daniel sometime in 1850 or 1851, Bush enslaved at least six people by October 1856. Negotiating with his wife’s slaveholder, McDaniel arranged to purchase their freedom with money he had saved up during his travels. The date was set for Tuesday, October 21, when McDaniel would buy his wife and child out of slavery. [6]

The money never changed hands. McDaniel may never have intended to pay Bush, using the agreement as an excuse to keep visiting Mary and Daniel, or to forestall a potential sale to the Deep South slave markets. Or perhaps the other family Bush enslaved might have pleaded with McDaniel not to leave them behind. Either way, on Sunday night, October 19, McDaniel crept into Bush’s stable, took his horse and carriage, and helped six people exit slavery––his own wife and son, and Anthony, Eliza, and their two children, Margaret and Lewis. [7]

stampede timeline



When slaveholder John Bush awoke to find his six enslaved people missing, he frantically offered up a reward of $600 dollars for their recapture, which he later raised to $1,000. The horse and carriage were eventually recovered, but McDaniel and the six freedom seekers were long gone. Given McDaniel’s extensive contacts in Illinois, the editor of the Palmyra Whig concluded that there was “no doubt” that the two families were well on their way to Canada. The ultimate fate of McDaniel and the two families remains unclear, though no reports exist to suggest the freedom seekers were ever recaptured. [8]stampede map


McDaniel’s involvement led many local slaveholders to conclude that the state’s oppressive Black codes were not tough enough. The Palmyra Whig decried the “great danger and extreme foolishness” of allowing free Blacks “in the disguise of preachers, to perambulate the country at will,” and urged even stricter measures to control the mobility of free Black Missourians. The focus on blaming free Blacks marked a noticeable shift from earlier efforts to explain away stampedes as the work of white Northerners. After 11 freedom seekers escaped from near Palmyra in 1853, slaveholders accused their Illinois neighbors of “enticing” enslaved people to escape and even read a white Methodist preacher out of the county because of his antislavery views. It had become slaveholders’ “usual” explanation, observed the Quincy, Illinois Whig, whenever “negroes run away from their master, in Marion county, to accuse citizens of Quincy with running them off.” [9]

anderson headshot

Missouri congressman Thomas L. Anderson offered a $1,000 reward for McDaniel’s capture. (Library of Congress)

But as escapes continued at a steady clip throughout the mid-1850s, Missouri slaveholders looked not just to outside actors, but placed increased scrutiny on the activities of free Blacks working to undermine slavery from within. (Just two years earlier, St. Louis police arrested another itinerant free Black preacher, Hiram Revels, for being in the state without a license. And even more recently in May 1855, authorities thwarted an attempted stampede organized by free Blacks in St. Louis.) Thomas Anderson, the local politician who in 1853 proposed that Missourians “suspend all business and intercourse” with Illinois residents, now focused his wrath on Missouri’s free African American populace, offering up a $1,000 reward of his own for the capture of Isaac McDaniel. [10] Ultimately, the 1856 Hannibal Stampede may not have resulted in the stricter Black codes local slaveholders were clamoring for, but it was part of a broader shift in the attitudes of slaveholders and authorities across Missouri, who regarded free Black populations with increasing suspicion and hostility.



Most of the details about McDaniel’s life, which are admittedly sparse, come from scattered references in reports in the Hannibal National Democrat and Palmyra Whig. Both accounts were authored by proslavery editors who had nothing but contempt for McDaniel and other free Blacks, but each provides valuable, albeit brief glimpses into McDaniel’s extensive travels and  connections across the Missouri-Illinois borderlands. [11]

There is also uncertainty about the identities of the two freedom seeking families. The Hannibal National Democrat published the names of all the freedom seekers, including two mothers, but did not specify which woman–Mary or Eliza–was married to McDaniel. It was most likely Mary, because the paper appeared to list the freedom seekers as family units, and Anthony, Eliza, and their two children were grouped together, with Mary and Daniel afterwards. Census records help corroborate some of the details about the freedom seekers, but also raise additional questions. Starting in 1850, Congress instructed census takers to record the ages and gender of enslaved people, but not to take down the names of those enslaved people, deeming their names to be “no useful information.” Based on the names and ages reported by the Hannibal National Democrat, Anthony, Eliza, and Margaret appear to be three of the five enslaved people Bush held as of the 1850 Census. At the time of the census, Eliza was likely pregnant with Lewis, and Mary pregnant with Daniel. But two other enslaved people who appear on the 1850 Census, a 20-year-old Black male and 10-year-old Black female, do not match any of the known freedom seekers, making it possible that Bush enslaved as many as eight people in 1856. [12]

To this point, scholars have not directly addressed the 1856 Hannibal Stampede. Still, Richard Blackett’s The Captive’s Quest for Freedom (2018) offers useful context by demonstrating how the subversive activities of free Black Missourians struck a nerve with slaveholders during the 1850s. Similarly, Kristen Epps’s Slavery on the Periphery (2016) highlights the centrality of slave mobility to slavery’s spread–and undoing–in western Missouri. Around the same time as slaveholders in western Missouri grew concerned about the mobility of enslaved people, enslavers in northeastern Missouri were becoming more wary of mobile free Blacks like Isaac McDaniel. [13]




[1] “Negro Stampede,” Hannibal, MO National Democrat, October 23, 1856, [WEB]; “Another Stampede,” Palmyra, MO Whig, October 23, 1856, [WEB].

[2] “Negro Stampede,” Hannibal, MO National Democrat, October 23, 1856; “Another Stampede,” Palmyra, MO Whig, October 23, 1856; “Another Stampede,” St. Louis, MO Republican, October 28, 1856; “Negro Stampede,” Quincy, IL Whig, November 1, 1856.

[3] Revised Statutes of the State of Missouri, 1840 (St. Louis: Chambers, Knapp, and Co., 1840), 413-417, [WEB]; Laws of the State of Missouri, Passed at the First Session of the Twelfth General Assembly (Jefferson City, MO: Allen Hammond, 1843), 66-68, [WEB]; Harrison Trexler, Slavery in Missouri, 1804-1865 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1914), 67-70, [WEB]. Some scholars have conflated the two laws, and mistakenly claimed that the 1835 statute required a bond, when the requirement of a bond was not in the original 1835 law, but added by its 1843 successor. See Lorenzo J. Greene, Gary R. Kremer, and Antonio F. Holland, Missouri’s Black Heritage (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1980), 64, [WEB]; Kristen Epps, Slavery on the Perihpery: the Kansas-Missouri Border in the Antebellum and Civil War Eras (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2016), 81-82. For the best account on freedom licenses in eastern Missouri, see Ebony Jenkins, “Freedom Licenses in St. Louis City and County, 1835-1865,” NPS, [WEB].

[4] “Another Stampede,” Palmyra, MO Whig, October 23, 1856, [WEB]. It is unclear if McDaniel was ever enslaved or born free. The Palmyra Whig alluded to the fact that McDaniel “succeeded a few years since in getting control of his own actions,” but this appears to be in reference to obtaining a freedom license and securities to vouch for his conduct. On the free Black population of Marion County, see Seventh Census of the United States (Washington: Robert Armstrong, 1853), 655, [WEB]. Reports all agreed in their identification of McDaniel as an itinerant Methodist preacher, but besides these brief mentions no other available records shed light on his religious work.

[5] The Palmyra Whig mentions McDaniel’s reported trips to Canada. The Hannibal National Democrat only mentions that McDaniel was “well known” in Illinois, Cincinnati and “other points in Ohio.” See “Negro Stampede,” Hannibal, MO National Democrat, October 23, 1856, [WEB]; “Another Stampede,” Palmyra, MO Whig, October 23, 1856, [WEB].

[6] “Negro Stampede,” Hannibal, MO National Democrat, October 23, 1856, [WEB]; “Another Stampede,” Palmyra, MO Whig, October 23, 1856, [WEB]; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Miller Township, Marion County, MO, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Miller Township, Marion County, MO, Family 522, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB]. For the location of slaveholder John Bush’s farm, see “Big and Curious Radish,” Hannibal, MO Messenger, November 1, 1859.

[7] “Negro Stampede,” Hannibal, MO National Democrat, October 23, 1856, [WEB]; “Another Stampede,” Palmyra, MO Whig, October 23, 1856, [WEB].

[8] “Not Yet Caught,” Hannibal, MO National Democrat, October 30, 1856; “Negro Stampede,” Hannibal, MO National Democrat, October 23, 1856, [WEB]; “Another Stampede,” Palmyra, MO Whig, October 23, 1856, [WEB].

[9] “Negro Stampede,” Quincy, IL Whig, November 1, 1856, [WEB];  “Another Stampede,” Palmyra, MO Whig, October 23, 1856, [WEB]. During the winter of 1853-1854, some local slaveholders did blame free Blacks for the rising number of group escapes, but their comments were largely drowned out by accusations leveled against white Illinois residents. See “Marion Association,” Palmyra, MO Whig, January 5, 1854; “Complaints of the People,” and “Marion Association,” Hannibal, MO Courier, January 12, 1854. Also see the post on the 1853 Palmyra Stampede.

[10] “Not Yet Caught,” Hannibal, MO National Democrat, October 30, 1856. On Anderson’s earlier attempt to embargo Illinois, see see “Speech of Thomas L. Anderson, Esq.,” Quincy, IL Whig, February 6, 1854.

[11] “Negro Stampede,” Hannibal, MO National Democrat, October 23, 1856, [WEB]; “Another Stampede,” Palmyra, MO Whig, October 23, 1856, [WEB].

[12] “Negro Stampede,” Hannibal, MO National Democrat, October 23, 1856, [WEB]; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Miller Township, Marion County, MO, Ancestry. By 1860, Bush enslaved one person, a 18-year-old Black female, who does not match any of the known freedom seekers or the five individuals enumerated in the 1850 census. See 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Miller Township, Marion County, MO, Ancestry. On the debates over including enslaved people’s names in the census, see Cong. Globe, 31st Cong., 1st. sess, 672, [WEB]. North Carolina senator George Badger mocked, “What do you want of such names as Big Cuff and Little Cuff?”

[13] 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),142-145, see post; Epps, Slavery on the Periphery, see post.

Selected Articles from MHR (Part 1)

Atherton, Lewis E. “Life, Labor, and Society in Boone County, Missouri, 1834-1852, As Revealed in the Correspondence of an Immigrant Slave Owning Family from North Carolina.” Part 1. Missouri Historical Review 93 (Oct. 1998): 49-73. [WEB]

Hamm, Thomas.  “A Quaker View of Black St. Louis in 1841.” Missouri Historical Review 98 (Jan. 2004): 115-120. [WEB]

Hurt, R. Douglas.  “Planters and Slavery in Little Dixie.” Missouri Historical Review 88 (July 1994): 397-415. [WEB]

Merkel, Benjamin G. “The Underground Railroad and the Missouri Borders, 1840-1860.” Missouri Historical Review, 37 (April 1943): 271-85. [WEB]

Roberts, Anna K. “Crossing Jordan: The Mississippi River in the Black Experience in Greater St. Louis, 1815–1860.” Missouri Historical Review 113 (Oct. 2018): 22-40. [WEB]

Willoughby, Robert J. “‘I’ll Wade in Missouri Blood’: Daggs v. Frazier: A Case of Missouri Runaway Slaves.”  Missouri Historical Review 99 (Jan. 2005): 115-138. [WEB]


Atherton, Lewis E. “Life, Labor, and Society in Boone County, Missouri, 1834-1852, As Revealed in the Correspondence of an Immigrant Slave Owning Family from North Carolina.” Part 1. Missouri Historical Review 93 (Oct. 1998): 49-73. [WEB]

Atherton includes letters written by members of the slave owning Lenoir family who emigrated to Boone County, Missouri from North Carolina. Atherton suggests that accounts from this family are representative of property-owning families who moved west in search of economic prosperity. He prefaced the letters by explaining that these documents, while important for historical analysis, should not always be taken at face value because they provide subjective accounts of their experiences. The letters provided were written by members of the Lenoir family who moved to Missouri to family members who remained home in North Carolina. In these letters, they described the current state of affairs in Missouri with regard to the agricultural and commercial markets, the slave market, the cholera outbreak, education, and even the general scenery and the people they befriended.

There is no mention of slave stampedes or any group escape and slavery is only really mentioned in the letters when they refer to buying or selling slaves for agricultural work or to make a profit.

Hamm, Thomas.  “A Quaker View of Black St. Louis in 1841.” Missouri Historical Review 98 (Jan. 2004): 115-120. [WEB]

In “A Quaker View of Black St. Louis in 1841,” Thomas D. Hamm provides accounts from Quaker Minister Gershom Perdue’s journal, in which he documents his travels to other Quaker Settlements in Ohio and black churches in St. Louis, Missouri. Perdue’s journal entries indicate his concern for African Americans, which is consistent with Quakers more generally at this time. At Quaker Friends meetings, they discussed the issues facing African Americans and established a “Committee on Concerns of People of Color” that provided financial support for freedom seekers. Perdue specifically describes encounters with John Berry Meachum, the African American minister of the “Baptist Church for Colored People” in St. Louis.  In 1848, Meachum brought Perdue along with his family to his church and Perdue describes feeling warmly welcomed by the “dispised people” there.  From this point on, Perdue became interested in learning more about Meachum’s background. He discovered that Meachum was born enslaved, but paid for his freedom and eventually paid for the freedom of his entire family with money he saved from working.  He bought freedom for 20 other enslaved African Americans and provided them with work so that they could eventually pay him back.  Perdue also provided an account of how Meachum’s Baptist church in St. Louis began. It first started in 1818 as a day school that required the permission of slaveholders for their slaves to attend. It evolved into an independent organization and by 1827, they built their own meeting house and no longer required supervision by white slaveholders. Perdue died in New Martinsburg, Ohio in 1885.

There was no mention of a stampede or any variant, nor does he describe any group escapes.

Hurt, R. Douglas.  “Planters and Slavery in Little Dixie.” Missouri Historical Review 88 (July 1994): 397-415. [WEB]

Hurt examines the institution of slavery in the Little Dixie counties as an economic institution as opposed to a cultural or social institution. Specifically, he explains how agriculture and the commercial markets were essentially dependent on slave labor. Planters and slaveowners relied on their bondsmen for agricultural labor and domestic work. Booms in certain crops like hemp and tobacco motivated slaveholders to purchase more bondsmen which led the prices to rise as slave labor was viewed as less expensive and more efficient than hiring wage laborers. Hurt argues that the institution of slavery played a role in the development of Missouri’s capitalist economy. Essentially, it was a way of life in Little Dixie from the perspective of slave owners who viewed it as an economic necessity.

There was no mention of stampedes or any group escapes. 

Merkel, Benjamin G. “The Underground Railroad and the Missouri Borders, 1840-1860.” Missouri Historical Review, 37 (April 1943): 271-85. [WEB]

In “The Underground Railroad and the Missouri Borders,1840-1860,” Benjamin G. Merkel highlights prominent Underground Railroad agents and groups that were typically involved as well as common routes that ran through the Missouri borderlands. He indicates that specific Underground Railroad lines within the state were elusive, as the operators did not document them for fear of potentially incriminating themselves. Merkel also identifies certain abolitionist institutions, like the Mission Institute in Quincy, which greatly assisted the anti-slavery movement. He describes specific towns like Quincy, Salem, Tabor and Sparta that were “hotspots” for abolitionist activity and how residents of these areas provided aid for freedom seekers. He provides examples of specific efforts made by abolitionists to convince bondsmen to escape, some of which were successful and some of which were not. He also provides specific examples of individual and group escapes, both successful and unsuccessful.

Merkel does not use the word “stampede” or any variant, but he does describe multiple group escapes. He discusses an escape in 1848, in which 9 slaves escaped from Ruel Daggs’s farm in Clark County. The freedom seekers travelled to Iowa, but were located by two pro-slavery Missourians in Salem. There, they were brought before a judge in a Quaker settlement and the Quakers who were involved in Underground Railroad activity helped them escape. Merkel also describes a presumably successful group escape from Palmyra in 1853 in which 11 freedom seekers crossed the river at Quincy in pursuit of freedom in Canada.  Merkel explained how after this escape, an anti-abolition organization called the Marion Association had politician Thomas L. Anderson speak in Palmyra about legislative ways to prevent these escapes. Both of these group escapes were covered by the House Divided Project as the 1848 Daggs Farm Escape and the 1853 Palmyra Stampede. Merkel discusses another group escape in 1858, in which one freedom seeker was ushered through Galesburg to Canada. He returned back to Missouri in order to pick up 9 other freedom seekers.  A total of 5 or 6 arrived in Galesburg and presumably made it to Canada. 

Roberts, Anna K. “Crossing Jordan: The Mississippi River in the Black Experience in Greater St. Louis, 1815–1860.” Missouri Historical Review 113 (Oct. 2018): 22-40. [WEB]

Roberts discusses how for enslaved people in Missouri, crossing the Mississippi River was an important step toward obtaining some degree of freedom and finding a better life. She points out that the river served as a symbolic representation of freedom with religious undertones, alluding to the River Jordan. Although it was represented this way, Roberts indicates that most times this did not ring true, as African Americans who crossed the river into the free state of Illinois still faced discrimination in the form of legal and institutional restrictions as well as prejudice in their informal interactions with white residents. Essentially, it did not matter that legally, Illinois was not a slave state because they still treated African Americans as such. In some cases, bondsmen and women may have had more luck obtaining privileges in Missouri than they would have if they crossed the river into the free state of Illinois. She explains several ways in which abolitionists and free Blacks tried to combat this oppression on both sides of the river, including building illegal schools and churches and through missionaries who came to St. Louis to share their faith-based messages. She also discusses other options for enslaved people such as bringing their cases to the St. Louis courts, like Dred Scott did, and self-purchasing. But, she highlighted how these options were not accessible to all slaves, so crossing the Mississippi river was often the most plausible option. 

Roberts never uses the word “stampede” or any variant, but she did describe some group escapes. She mentions a group escape in 1842 in which five enslaved people, a woman and her three children and 16 year old Caroline Quarrlls, escaped on a steamboat in between St. Louis and Alton. She discusses another group escape in May of 1855 in which Mary Meachum, a free Black named Isaac, and 8 or 9 freedom seekers including Esther Shaw and her two kids crossed the Mississippi and were captured. She also describes when Bill Williams, a very experienced Underground Railroad operative, helped deliver three freedom seekers to Illinois in 1847 and briefly mentions how in 1854, a free Black man from Alton helped 15 freedom seekers across the river and to Chicago. 

Willoughby, Robert J. “‘I’ll Wade in Missouri Blood’: Daggs v. Frazier: A Case of Missouri Runaway Slaves.”  Missouri Historical Review 99 (Jan. 2005): 115-138. [WEB]

Willoughby provides details of the group escape from Ruel Daggs’s farm in Clark County, Missouri that ultimately led to the federal court case of Daggs v. Frazier. He gives detailed accounts of both legal counsels’ cases and cites specific arguments they each made. In addition, he provides context for the hostile political climate in Iowa and Missouri during the time of this case. Specifically, there was debate over the Compromise of 1850 and and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 that made slavery a highly contested issue in each state.

Willoughby does not use the word stampede or any variant, nor does he describe any group escape other than the Daggs Farm Escape. The only other mention of any other case important to the development of the Fugitive Slave Act was the 1842 Prigg v. Com. of Pennsylvania.

Selected Articles from MHR (Part 2)

Christensen, Lawrence O. “Black Education in Civil War St. Louis.” Missouri Historical Review 95, no. 3 (April 2001): 302-16. [WEB]

Fellman, Michael.  “Emancipation in Missouri.” Missouri Historical Review 83 (Oct. 1988): 36-56 [JSTOR], [WEB].

Frizzell, Robert W. “Southern Identity in Nineteenth-Century Missouri: Little Dixie’s Slave-Majority Areas and the Transition to Midwestern Farming.” Missouri Historical Review 99 (April 2005): 238-260. [WEB]

Lee, George R. “Slavery and Emancipation in Lewis County, Missouri.” Missouri Historical Review 65, no. 3 (April 1971): 294-317. [WEB]

Naglich, Dennis. “The Slave System and the Civil War in Rural Prairieville.” Missouri Historical Review 87 (April 1993): 253-73. [WEB]

Strickland, Arvarh E. “The University of Missouri—Columbia History Department: Training Scholars in the Black Experience.” Missouri Historical Review 95 (July 2001): 413-430. [WEB]


Christensen, Lawrence O. “Black Education in Civil War St. Louis.” Missouri Historical Review 95, no. 3 (April 2001): 302-16. [WEB]

Black education after the Civil War was a struggle for all those involved. The key providers were the Western Sanitary Commission, the American Missionary Association (AMA), Catholic Churches and subscription teachers.

The AMA and the Western Sanitary Commission were providing free schools by hiring teachers and providing resources. In an effort to provide maximum help and streamline resources, the Western Sanitary Commission, the AMA and other black ministers came together to form a temporary board in 1863. Missouri did not lift its ban on African American education until 1865; the board was supposed to be the interim substitute until the Missouri State Assembly created something concrete. But with all this consolidation, the new board suffered financially and had to temporally close its doors in February and March in 1865. Fortunately, they received aid from the state that allowed them to start up again by the end of the year. But they continued to struggle. The first problem was that attendance was not constant. Some children were so poor that they could not come to school because they lacked proper clothing and shoes for the winter. Another problem that discouraged parents was its inability to hire a black teacher or superintendent.

Subscription offered the representation that parents craved. One of them was notably run by Hiram R. Revels, an ordained African Methodist Episcopal minister who later became a Mississippi senator in 1870. He was joined by three women, Jospehine Bailey, Virginia Green and Georgia L. Buckner, and they operated alongside the free schools run by the board. They were partly kept alive because of the well-to-do black population that existed and their preference for a black educator.

Before these efforts, education of African Americans was not an uncommon sentiment, especially in a time when it was heavily discouraged. John Berry Meachum, a black minister, organized a school in his basement in the late 1820s and in 1845, St. Louis Catholics had school for black girls. Then there was a state law in 1847 that prevented the education of African Americans. Even then, the Sisters of Mercy opened a school in 1856 which also eventually closed. A decade later, the opposition to education was very much the same, even from Union members and abolitionists. White AMA teachers described St. Louis “as a hostile work environment” and teachers were forced to teach and work in horrible conditions.

There was no mention of a stampede or any variant, or any group escapes.

Fellman, Michael.  “Emancipation in Missouri.” Missouri Historical Review 83 (Oct. 1988): 36-56 [JSTOR], [WEB].

This article gives a summary on how the views on slavery changed for those in Union Army and the reaction to this change by slaveholders. The Civil War led to an abhorrence of slavery by those in the Union army. Other than a small German community in Missouri, slavery was “an organic” part of Missouri society and the state economy had come to depend on the free labor it provided (More information on this German community and their relationship to slavery can be found here). But as free African Americans began to participate in guerrilla warfare and provide valuable information to the Union Army, the support for slavery began to wane for the Unionists. In exchange of information, they were ready to protect and prevent previous enslavers  from getting back their slaves. An example was the Unionist commander, John C. Fremont, who emancipated the slaves before Lincoln. He was asked to rescind his proclamation and ultimately, he stepped down from his positiion. Still, the efforts of men like Fremont were helpful in seeing the humanity of the freed people and this visibility allowed freed African American certain liberties they were denied before.

These new liberties involved the plundering of slaveholders’ properties with the backing of the Union army. In a letter written to the St. Louis district attorney, white people “shuddered over negro insurrection and terrible outrages of negro freedom.” This “shuddering of the negro freedom” led to an increased presence of lynching of freed people to restrict their liberties. Black women were even more vulnerable, as they were constanlty being sexually assualted and puninshed for the actions for the men in the army. This violence gradually helped enforce the system of segregation that took after the war was over.

While it mentions ex-bondsmen going back to destroy their slaveholders’ properties, there was no mention of a stampede or any group escapes. 

Naglich, Dennis. “The Slave System and the Civil War in Rural Prairieville.” Missouri Historical Review 87 (April 1993): 253-73. [WEB]

Dennis Naglich  provides a chronological narrative of slavery in Prairieville. The arrival of Virginia emigrants in the 1830s introduced Prairieville to the slavery. The most prominent among them were the Merriweather Lewis and Davis families. Living on the borders on Lincoln and Park, they grew tobacco, corn and raised livestock. It was important to have different crops because while tobacco, was very profitable, it fluctuated within each season and required special care.

Slave labor made Prairieville one of the richest neighborhoods. In fact, between the years of 1850 and 1860, where the value of land more than doubled. This profitability required that slaveholders adopt several practices to keep their enslaved in check. Some enslavers employed overseers, who were sometimes sons of the slaveholders. As to how these overseers worked, the article informs us that a “measured brutality often provided the only means by which an overseer could effectively do their job.” Some slaveholders were more lenient and allowed married bondsmen to live next to each other. An example is Elizabeth Lewis who left specific instructions in her will to allow her enslaved to choose their masters to make sure that families remained in the same vicinity after she passed.

But this was not freedom; escapes and stampedes occurred but they were rare. According to the article, this was because it was difficult to cross the Mississippi River into Illinois. There was no guarantee that the bondsmen would meet someone willing to help reach their freedom.  Because of this, bondsmen like Y.W. Moeseby was unsuccessful in his quest for freedom. He was able to cross the river but was caught when he reached Pleasant Hill, Illinois. There was also the incident of Resin MacKay, who was accused and convicted of murdering his slaveholder. He was hanged and the local newspaper described his death, “a spectacle so novel in its character to our county”

Fortunately for the enslaved, the Civil War loomed near and freedom was at hand. When it became clear that the Union army was against slavery, the enslaved began to walk off their slaveholders’ properties to join the war. Some enlisted in the Union army and provided valuable information to help with the guerrilla war. These walkouts were not always successful. Two freedom seekers, Aron Mitchell and Alfred, were recaptured. Aaron received some lashing and Alfred was shot in the heart. According to the article, women also bore some of the brunt when their men walked off to join the army. They were beaten, assaulted and were threatened with the safety of their children. To make matters worse, the army did not always provide the protection it promised. In Louisiana, ex-bondsmen did the back-breaking labor of digging trenches and were subjected to unsanitary condition and inadequate diet. This led to most succumbing to disease and ultimately death.

Lee, George R. “Slavery and Emancipation in Lewis County, Missouri.” Missouri Historical Review 65, no. 3 (April 1971): 294-317. [WEB]

The following article presents an overview of slavery in Lewis County, Missouri. It relies for evidence on wills, public records, newspapers and informational interviews with descendants of slaveholders in the county. Slaveholders began to steadily arrive in the early 1800s, starting with the arrival of Reason Bozarth in 1819.  During this time, manumissions were rare but once given, freedmen needed a trustee to ensure their freedom.   The article discusses the 1849 slave stampede that happened on the McCutchan farm involving their slave Lin, and another named John who belonged to James Miller. This “slave uprising” as it was termed in the newspaper, had gathered slaves from various farms including Judge William Ellis and Samuel McKim. Surrounded by thirty white men, they did not have a chance. John was shot and everyone surrendered.

Runaways from different counties counties also posed a threat. In 1853, four freedom seekers from Marion County were stopped and arrested as they tried to buy food. In 1854, there was also the arrest of two other freedom seekers, one from Howard County and the other from Tully. After these two incidents, anti-abolition sentiment rose up and it led to the Anti-Abolition Society being formed in 1853.

The article continues to describe how conditions for the enslaved changed during wartime. In 1864, restrictions on manumissions were removed and in 1865 slave clauses were repealed altogether.

Strickland, Arvarh E. “The University of Missouri—Columbia History Department: Training Scholars in the Black Experience.” Missouri Historical Review 95 (July 2001): 413-430. [WEB]

Historian Arvarh Strickland from the University of Missouri-Columbia’s History Department summarizes the list of dissertations and theses on the black American experiences between 1910 to 1994. Below are the titles of theses and dissertations produced:

1910:  The influence of slavery on Missouri politics and the features of “the Western Abolitionists.”

1920: “Missouri and the Extension of Slavery, 1840-1850”

1930: The Social and Economic status of the Enslaved; “Social and Economic Aspects of Plantation Slavery;” the Extension of suffrage to African American in both the South and the North after Emancipation; and Imperialism in tropical Africa.

1940: “British Travellers’ Versions of American Negro Slavery;” “An Appraisal of the Historical Value of Negro Slave Narratives;” and “A History of Slavery in Cole County, Missouri” from 1820 to 1860.

1950: The ‘Invisible Empire’ and Missouri Politics: The Influence of the Revived Ku Klux Klan in the Election Campaign of 1924 as Reported in Missouri Newspapers” and “The Effect of Radical Reconstruction Upon Education in Arkansas”


  • “The English View Negro Slavery, 1660- 1770;” “Desegregation of the United States Armed Forces, 1939-1953;” “The Development of More Open Racial and Ethnic Relations in British Honduras During the Nineteenth Century;” “A History of the Missouri Negro Press” in1876 to 1966; and “The Little Rock Central Desegregation Crisis of 1957,”
  • Donnie Bellamy, first black recipient, and wrote about “Slavery, Emancipation and Racism” He began his work in 1967 and he received his degree in 1971.

1970: Thesis on the slave schedules, slave sales, hiring of the enslaved, slave values and enslave families in Boone County; “Slavery in Callaway County, Missouri: With Primary Emphasis on the Period 1845-1855;” Slavery in Missouri River Counties, 1820-1865;” “The Desegregations of the University of Missouri: A Policy Study;” “Black Suffrage in Missouri, 1865 – 1877;” “Black St. Louis: A Study in Race Relations 1865-1916;” Study of Africans Americans in Boone County; A study on the relationship of African Americans and political machines in St. Louis and Kansas; Dissertation on the Little Rock desegregation; “The Development of the Anti-Lynching Reform Movement in the United States, 1883-1932;” and “The Associated Negro Press: A Medium of International News and Information 1919-1967.”

1980 – 1994: “The Slavery Debate in Missouri, 1831-1855;” “Their Place in Freedom: African American Women in Transition from Slavery to Freedom, Cooper County, Missouri 1865-1900;” Aunt Jemima Explained: The Old South, the Absent Mistress, and the Slave in a Box;” “Columbia CORE and the Campaign to Integrate Public Accommodations;” The Making of a Student Activist: The Story of James Henry Rollins;” “A Study of Civil Disorder in Kansas City, Missouri, Following Martin Luther King’s Assassination;” “Darwinism and Race in Jamaica, 1859-1900;” “Birmingham Miners Struggle for Power, 1894-1908; and ” “Nathan B. Young and the Development of Black Higher Education;” “The Bottom of Heaven: A Social and Cultural History of African Americans in Three Creeks, Boone County, Missouri;” “School Desegregation in Kansas City, Missouri, 1954-1974;”

1994: “Intertwining Paths: Respectability, Character, Beauty, and the Making of Community among St. Louis Black Woman 1900-1920”

There was no mention of dissertations concerning stampedes or any variants, or any group escapes 

Frizzell, Robert W. “Southern Identity in Nineteenth-Century Missouri: Little Dixie’s Slave-Majority Areas and the Transition to Midwestern Farming.” Missouri Historical Review 99 (April 2005): 238-260. [WEB]

Frizzell uses the changes in Little Dixie before and after the Civil War to represent Missouri’s struggle with a midwestern and southern identity. Little Dixie is a microcosm of Missouri’s identity politics. Just like other parts of Missouri, Little Dixie’s southern influences is seen in its use of slave labor to produce cash crops such as tobacco. Howard and Callaway, two towns in the county, became one of the highest produces of tobacco.

After the war, Little Dixie and much of the state began to have an economic downturn. Firstly, the war reduced the labor supply because enslaved people escaped to fight the war and never came back. Additionally, during the guerrilla attacks on both sides, property was being destroyed and confiscation of lands was affecting the status of wealth in the county. Tobacco, the chief produce, along with other products such as hogs, hemp decreased as there was not enough labor to grow them.

After the war, farmers began to focus on less-labor intensive crops like oats and wheat to stay afloat. Large farms were divided and there was more dependence on the agricultural technology to work the land.  To assert their freedom, Blacks moved out of former rural slave-majority areas. Unfortunately, they were relegated to working as laborers, farmhands and household servants. Most of them did not own land; in fact, only 2 out of the 126 black families owned property. Without its slave labor to grow crops like tobacco, Little Dixie, and in a larger context Missouri, according to the article, shed its southern identity and became a midwestern state.

There was no mention of a stampede or any variant, or any group escapes.

The 1861 Springfield Stampede



lane CDV

Union general James Lane. (Library of Congress)

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

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



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



fremont headshot

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

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

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

union camp

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

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

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

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

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


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

Springfield sketch

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

The “great stampede” of more than 150 African Americans occurred the next evening, on November 8. But on the night of Lane’s speech five enslaved people escaped from the Berry household, within earshot of the Union general and undoubtedly encouraged by the tone of his remarks. Rumor among Union soldiers had it that Lane personally encouraged their escape. “When Lane left Springfield he actually had his men steal… two negroes from that family,” one Union soldier wrote home, having heard that “five of his men were caught… packing these negroes and their traps in a wagon to convey them away.” Whether Lane directly or indirectly encouraged the people enslaved by the Berry family to escape, his hosts had had enough. Olivia Berry and her daughters, despite their likely Confederate sympathies, had stepped outside to listen to Lane’s speech. When they returned later that evening, they were “astounded to find that all the negroes in the family had embraced the opportunity afforded by their brief absence to run away!” The next morning the women fumed at “the melancholy necessity of preparing their own breakfast.” Furious at their uninvited guest, the Berry women refused to serve Lane breakfast the following morning. [12]

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

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



Crossing Rappahannock

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

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

fisher headshot

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

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

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

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

mcculloch headshot

Confederate general Benjamin McCulloch. (House Divided Project)

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

ware headshot

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

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



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

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

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




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

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

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

[4] “Important from Missouri,” New York Tribune, November 18, 1861; “Gen. Lane and His Solution of the Negro Question,” New York World, November 19, 1861.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[12] H.H. Moore diary entries for November 7-8, 1861, quoted in Benedict, Jayhawkers, 293, n10. On rumors that Lane may have encouraged the Berry family’s enslaved people to run away, see EC. Hubbard to Dear Brother, January 18, 1862, E.C. Hubbard Letters, Chicago History Museum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1849 St. Louis Stampede



enslaved people boat escape

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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

1849 St. Louis

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

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

stampede map

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

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

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

McConnel portrait

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

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

Brown image

Former Illinois Supreme Court justice Thomas Browne (Illinois Courts)

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

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



ad steamboat

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

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

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

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



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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fugitive Slave Laws


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

Video Resources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources


Jireh Platt UGRR Diary, 1848-1859

Jireh Platt Diary

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


platt headshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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