Author Archives: Amanda Donoghue

How to Colorize Images in Photoshop

Images are a powerful way to connect to the past. Illustrations and photographs can put
faces and places to names, or give the minute but extremely significant human detail to
historical narratives that may otherwise be bland or irrelevant to people today.

Cons of Colorizing
Some argue that colorization of photos is historical blasphemy. Without knowing exactly what color a city bus was in 1950 or the precise shade of a person’s skin color, adding color to black and white photographs is “misleading” and ruins the integrity of the image. Proponents of photo colorization argue that colorized photographs are not supposed to replace the original or tell a new historical narrative, but that they are meant to provide an interpretation of the image that can make historical photographs—and their stories—more fresh and accessible for people who would otherwise be uninterested in a distant, black and white past.
Not to mention, colorizing historical photos doesn’t have to be completely without historical integrity. Large colorizing projects like the Smithsonian’s America in Color series involved hours of research to identify the accurate colors for buildings, people, clothing, and other objects that appeared in their historical photographs and film.

How to Colorize Using Adobe Photoshop
Doing anything in Photoshop can seem a daunting task to any beginner to the program, but colorizing can be a simple, albeit long process given a working understanding of a few of the program’s tools and functions.

Before you begin, you must select and prepare your image. It is important to select good quality image with high resolution (referring to the number of pixels in the image) and as little grain (spots in the image) or color/fading as possible. The better the quality of the image, the better the finished product will be.

  • Some steps can be taken to improve the image’s quality using Photoshop: From the menu bar at the top, select Image, then Adjustments. If there is any color in the image, like in the example below, select Black and White to remove any extra color that would interfere with the colorization. Altering the brightness, contrast, and exposure can also fix blurriness or too much brightness in an image.

screenshot of Photoshop for colorizing tutorial



Colorize using layers:

Colorizing an image with layers is best for large areas with little variation in color, or as a first step to adding color to your image.

1. First, select the area of the image that you want to color. There are three tools that you can use to make a selection: the regular marquee tool, the lasso tool, and the quick selection tool. The quick selection tool is the optimal choice for creating a layer to colorize; all you need to do is click and drag the mouse in the area you want to color. The quick selection tool will follow the mouse and select all the similar-colored parts of the image. If the area you are colorizing has significant variation in color/shade, the quick selection tool might not select areas that you want, or include areas that you don’t. To erase parts of your selection, press the ALT key on your keyboard, and click and drag the mouse over the area.

screenshot of Photoshop for colorizing tutorial


screenshot of Photoshop for colorizing tutorial2. Create a new layer. Once your selection has been made, click the tool at the bottom right corner to “create a new fill or adjustment layer.” From the list, select Solid Color, and choose the color that you want to add to your image.

screenshot of Photoshop for colorizing tutorial

screenshot of Photoshop for colorizing tutorial

3. Edit the layer. Right now, the color you just added is completely covering the image. From the drop down menu indicated below, you can change this to make the color blend in more realistically. There are many options to choose from, but Overlay is usually the best. Other options that can work, depending on the brightness/quality of the image, are Lighten, Darken, and Color. You will need to take some time here to see which looks best, and to perfect your color by double clicking on the square of color next to your new layer, and altering it to your liking.

screenshot of Photoshop for colorizing tutorial


screenshot of Photoshop for colorizing tutorial

screenshot of Photoshop for colorizing tutorial

Colorize using paintbrush: Colorizing with paintbrush is better for small details, or adding detail to an already colored layer.

1. Select the Brush tool. Just like with layers, you can choose how the brush adds color to the image by changing the settings in the menu bar along the top. By clicking on the size icon, you can adjust the size and blurriness of the brush tool. From the Mode menu, you can alter the blending of the color into the image; you will want to select from the same options as before: Overlay, Lighten, Darken, and Color. The last important tool in this menu is the opacity tool: this can increase or decrease the transparency of your color, which is helpful if the color is showing up too strongly in the image.

screenshot of Photoshop for colorizing tutorial


screenshot of Photoshop for colorizing tutorial2. Choose your color by selecting “set foreground color” at the bottom-right hand corner of your screen.

screenshot of Photoshop for colorizing tutorial

4. When you are ready, click and drag to brush color onto your image. This allows you more precision and detail than the layers method, but will take more time if you are coloring a large area.

5. If you make a mistake, use the history tool to remove any alterations you made. This tool works the same as the brush tool; just click and drag over the area you want to correct, and it will be reverted to its original state.

screenshot of Photoshop for colorizing tutorial


How to Layer Images in Photoshop or Microsoft Word

Example collage of photographs of Dickinson College staff

Images add detail and visual interest to any multimedia project, but layering multiple images in a collage can create a story all on its own. Even better, it’s very easy to do on any photo editing software, or even Microsoft Word.

How to Layer in Photoshop

1. Once you open Photoshop, select Create New… to start a new project. A window will appear in which you can name your new project and set the size and resolution of your collage. Set the size to your desire, likely based on the size and number of images you wish to include in the collage, and set the resolution to 720 ppi. When you are ready, click

screenshot of Photoshop for collage tutorial2. Next, you need to add the images you selected for your collage. To do so, it is easiest to
directly drag and drop the images into the new Photoshop project. Once your images are
downloaded to your computer, open your computer’s File Explorer, minimize the screen,
and click and drag each image into the Photoshop window. Adding the images this way
sets them as Smart Objects, which allows them to be resized and edited later on. You will
also notice that each new photo added creates a new layer in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen. Make sure that the Background layer is selected before you click
and drag a new image, otherwise Photoshop will not accept it.

screenshot of Photoshop for collage tutorial


screenshot of Photoshop for collage tutorial3. Once all your images are added, you will want to edit and move them to create your
collage. To change which images are “on top” (covering others it overlaps with) and
which are “on the bottom” (covered up by other overlapping images) click and drag the
layers on the lower right-hand corner of the screen.

4. To move an image, make sure that the Move tool is selected from the left side of the
screen, and then either click on the image directly or its corresponding layer to select a
single image. Once the image is selected, you can click and drag to move it around on
your screen.

screenshot of Photoshop for collage tutorial

5. To change the size or rotation of the images you have added, select the image and then
click Edit-Free Transform (keyboard shortcut: Ctrl + T) in the menu on the top of your screen. Free transform allows you to resize, move, and rotate your image by clicking and dragging the boxes in each four corners. Use the Move tool and Free Transform to set up the collage the way you
want it.

screenshot of Photoshop for collage tutorial

6. If you change your mind about the images you added, you can add more in the same way
you added them originally, or you can delete them by selecting their corresponding layer
and clicking delete on your keyboard.

7. There are some additional tools in Photoshop that allow you to further improve your

a. Use the Text tool to add a title, a quote, or text information to your collage.

screenshot of Photoshop for collage tutorial

b. To add preset shapes, right click on the Rectangle Tool on the left side of your
screen, and choose Custom Shape Tool. Use the menu that appears along the top
of the screen to set the color, size, and outline thickness of your shape, and then
choose from the shape menu that appears by clicking the drop-down arrow on the
right-hand side of the menu. Click and drag to add the desired shape to your

screenshot of Photoshop for collage tutorial

screenshot of Photoshop for collage tutorial screenshot of Photoshop for collage tutorial

c. Use the Eraser tool if you want overlapping images to blend/fade into one
another. Before you are able to use the eraser tool, Photoshop will prompt you
that the image will need to be rasterized if you wish to use it. This means that the
image will no longer be a smart object, so make sure you have set the size of the
image to your liking before this step, as it will not easily resize after it is
rasterized. If you are ready, click OK, and then click and drag the eraser tool over
an image (make sure its corresponding layer is selected, otherwise nothing will
erase) to erase part of it.

screenshot of Photoshop for collage tutorial screenshot of Photoshop for collage tutorial

8. Once your collage is finished, select File–Save to save it to your computer.

How to Layer Images in Microsoft Word

Not everyone has Photoshop, but it is possible to create collages of images on more common
software, such as Microsoft Word.

1. Once you open Microsoft Word, click Insert–Pictures from the menu at the top of your
screen. From the window that opens, select the images you want in your collage and click

screenshot of Word for collage tutorial

2. Once your images are inserted, you will notice that instead of layering on top of one
another, they are next to each other, or perhaps each is on their own line. To fix this,
select an image, and then from the Picture Tools menu at the top of the screen, click
Wrap Text–In Front of Text. This will allow the images to layer and overlap. Follow
the same steps with each image.

screenshot of Word for collage tutorial

3. Now, you can click and drag your images wherever you want on the page to create your
collage. To resize or rotate an image, select it and then click and drag on the circles at
each corner.

4. If you want the images to overlap one another in your collage, you will need to set which
one is layered “on top” of the surrounding overlapping images. To do this, right-click on
an image; in the menu that appears, you will see “Bring to Front” and “Send to Back.”
Click Bring to Front if you want the image to be overtop of the others, or select Send to
Back if you want it to be behind overlapping images.

screenshot of Word for collage tutorial

5. In Word, you can also add shapes, text, or WordArt to your collage within the Insert
menu on the top of your screen.

screenshot of Word for collage tutorial

6. You can also edit each image by playing around with the tools in the Picture Tools menu
that appears when you select an image. Most of these tools deal with filters or color
corrections, and can be altered to change the style/tone of your collage. You can also add
borders to your images to differentiate them within the collage.

screenshot of Word for collage tutorial

7. Once you have completed your collage, select File–Save to save the finished product to
your computer.

How to Animate in Adobe Premiere

How to Animate Images in Adobe Premiere

Images are an essential part of multimedia history projects—but what if you could make those images move? In Adobe Premiere, images can be animated in a variety of different ways to add interest to your blog post, web page, or video. Below are instructions on how to pan & zoom an image and to create moving arrows on a map. However, given a basic understanding of the functions of Adobe Premiere, the options to animate are limitless.

How to Pan & Zoom

1. To start, first open Adobe Premiere and select New Project. Then, upload the image you want to animate by double-clicking the box in the bottom right-hand corner to “Import media to start.”

screenshot of Adobe Premiere animation tutorial

2. Once your image has been uploaded, click and drag it to the Sequence Timeline.

screenshot of Adobe Premiere animation tutorial

3. Now, click on the clip that has been added to your timeline, and you will see a new panel appear in the top left corner under Effect Controls.

screenshot of Adobe Premiere animation tutorial

4. Effect Controls is where you create animation sequences. Motion controls the movement, size, and location of the image—this is the tool you will use to pan & zoom. Click the drop arrow next to Motion, and a list containing Position, Scale, Rotation, Anchor Point, and Anti-Flicker will appear. Click on the “toggle animation” circles next to Position and Scale to turn on animation for those tools. To move the image, click and drag the blue numbers to the right of Position. The first number controls horizontal motion, and the second number controls vertical motion. To zoom in or out of the image, click and drag the blue number next to Scale.

screenshot of Adobe Premiere animation tutorial

5. Next, you will need to set the keyframes for your animation. When you selected toggle animation, a keyframe automatically appeared wherever you had stopped on your timeline. To add more keyframes, drag your timeline forward a few seconds, and then click and drag on the blue numbers next to Position and Scale to move/zoom your image to the desired point. A new keyframe at the new time will automatically be added.

screenshot of Adobe Premiere animation tutorial

6. Keep moving the timeline forward and adding new keyframes to your liking. The keyframes can be moved along the timeline by clicking and dragging. You can also delete a keyframe by clicking on it and selecting Delete on your keyboard. To view your progress, look to the window on the right-hand side of your screen entitled Program, and select the triangle play button. Lastly, to shorten or lengthen the entire duration of the clip (how long you want the animation to last in total), click and drag the edge of your clip in the window at the bottom of your screen.

screenshot of Adobe Premiere animation tutorial

NOTE: This process of toggling animation and adding keyframes is the basic function for all types of animation in Premiere, so once you understand how it works for pan & zoom, you can apply it to the other types of animation in Effect Controls. 


How to Animate Arrows on a Map

Maps make historical narratives much more accessible, and including moving arrows can add clarity and interest.

1. Before you begin in Premiere, you first will need two images: one of the map you want to use, and one with arrows added in. To add arrows onto the map, you can use Photoshop, Paint, Word, or any basic image editing software. To learn how to add and layer shapes to your image, view this tutorial.

2. Once you have your images of the map with and without arrows, upload both of them to Premiere by double-clicking “Import media to start” in the bottom left-hand corner. Next, drag the images over to your Sequence Timeline to the right. You will need the map WITHOUT arrows to be on top of the map with arrows, as seen below. 

screenshot of Adobe Premiere animation tutorial

3. Next, click on the clip of your map without arrows, and you will see a list of animation tools appear in the top-left window titled Effect Controls. Select the drop down arrow next to Opacity, and a new list will appear.

4. To animate the arrows in your map to appear, you will need to add a Mask to your image. To add a mask, select either the oval, square, or pen tools shown under Opacity. All three of these tools create masks: the circle tool creates a oval-shaped mask, the rectangle tool creates a rectangular mask, and the pen tool allows you to create a custom-shape mask. For the purposes of this project, you can choose either the oval or rectangular mask, as those two are the more simple options. Once you select a mask, a new menu will appear underneath titled Mask (1). The Mask will render your entire image transparent, except for the area included within the shape of the mask. So, to make your map have an arrow appear, you will have to first cover the arrow with the mask, and then animate it to move away and slowly uncover the image (of the same map WITH the arrow) beneath.

screenshot of Adobe Premiere animation tutorial




screenshot of Adobe Premiere animation tutorial5. To start the animation, set your initial keyframe by making sure the animation for Mask Path is toggled, and drag the mask to completely hide the arrow. Once the animation is toggled on, the keyframe will automatically appear.

screenshot of Adobe Premiere animation tutorial

6. Next, just as with pan & zoom, move your timeline forward a few seconds, and then drag the mask to reveal the beginning of your arrow. A new keyframe will automatically appear at the new time. Continue with this process until the arrow is completely uncovered by the mask and visible.

screenshot of Adobe Premiere animation tutorial


7. As with all forms of animation in Premiere, you can move, delete, and edit the keyframes by clicking on them. To view your progress, watch the video in the window on the right entitled Program. Once you are finished, save your animation as a Premiere project, and then export it into whatever format (video, gif, etc.) you prefer.

screenshot of Adobe Premiere animation tutorial

John Todd and Iowa’s Underground Railroad

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

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

Map, Iowa

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

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

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

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


Augustus Caesar Dodge (House Divided Project)

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

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


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

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

John Brown (House Divided)

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

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

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

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


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

[2] Morgans, 8.

[3] Morgans, 63.

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

[5] Morgans, 61.

[4] Morgans, 8-10.

[5] Morgans, 78.

[6] Morgans, 8.

[7] Morgans, 78.

[8] Morgans, 127-129.

[9] Morgans, 78.

[10] Morgans, 12-13.


Mary Meachum and the St. Louis Stampede of 1855



On Sunday night, May 20, 1855, a group of about eight or nine freedom seekers set out across the Mississippi River near St. Louis on a skiff designed to take them over to the free state of Illinois. Hours earlier, they had met under the cover of darkness at the home of Mary Meachum, a leader in St. Louis’ black community and one of the likely masterminds behind the escape. According to some newspaper reports, two other local black organizers of the nighttime expedition were Isaac Breckenridge and Julia Burrows. Some accounts also identify unnamed white antislavery activists and a black guide from Illinois named “Freeman” meeting the freedom seeking group on the other side of the river. Regardless, word had gotten out about the escape and armed police agents along with slave catchers were waiting for the freedom seekers on the Illinois shore. In the predawn hours of Monday morning, May 21, the confrontation quickly turned into a firefight, and at least five of the freedom seekers were taken back to St. Louis in chains.  Within a few days, authorities had also arrested Breckenridge, Burrows and Meachum.[1]

Meachum arrest

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


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


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


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

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

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

Map of Missouri-Illinois border.

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

Two of the enslaved men, 22-year-old Ben and another unidentified individual, split from the escape party before crossing the river. Ben had fled from slaveholder H.H. Cohen’s residence along the Clayton Road, a short distance outside of the city, while the other freedom seeker was claimed by Sheriff Turner Maddox. Their decision likely spared them from a cruel fate. As the six remaining escapees reached the Illinois shore, they came face to face with two slaveholders and a police officer. Two shots were fired, and one freedom seeker, possibly 20-year-old Jim Kennerly, immediately dashed into the woods and avoided capture. The other five, two men, and a woman named Esther with her two children, were captured and returned to St. Louis in chains. [6]

1855 timeline

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

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



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

Image of Henry Shaw

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

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

However, another person enslaved by Shaw apparently managed to elude captors. That man, 20-year-old Jim Kennerly, may well have been the sixth person aboard the boat alongside Esther and her children, who sprinted to freedom when the firefight erupted. Regardless of whether that individual was Kennerly, what is clear is that days later, Shaw was still searching for his runaway bondman. On May 25, the slaveholder filed a notice with the editorial office of the Missouri Republican, offering a $300 reward for Kennerly’s recapture. There are no records to indicate the freedom seeker was ever brought back to St. Louis. Likewise, 22-year-old Ben and the unidentified enslaved man claimed by Sheriff Maddox also apparently evaded recapture, and by all indications made their way to freedom. [15] 

Clipping from a flyer for Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration.

Celebration flyer. Courtesy of Great Rivers Greenway.

The Meachum escape has been well commemorated in St. Louis. One hundred and fifty years later, the spot where the escape group left Missouri’s shore became an historic site on the Mississippi River Waterfront Trail and a stop on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Named the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing, the site houses both public art and a community building. Every spring since 2005, the Annual Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration commemorates the freedom attained by some, and the suffering faced by others as a result of this failed escape.  The annual commemoration includes music, games, history lessons, competitions and a reenactment the events of the night May 21.[16] 

Picture of a mural

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


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




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

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

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

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

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

[6] “Slaves Captured,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, May 22, 1855; “One Hundred Dollars Reward,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, May 24, 1855; “$300 Reward,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, May 27, 1855. Morrison’s St. Louis Directory (St. Louis: Missouri Republican Office, 1852), 51, [WEB]; Kennedy’s Saint Louis City Directory (St. Louis: R.V. Kennedy, 1857), 48, 139, [WEB]; The identification of Ben comes from a $100 reward posted by slaveholder H.H. Cohen in the Missouri Republican on May 24 (noting that Ben had escaped on “Sunday evening last,” May 20), and the paper’s own reporting that “a negro belonging to Mr. Cohen” had joined the party but did not cross the river with the remainder of the group. See “One Hundred Dollars Reward,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, May 24, 1855. Of the six runaways who remained in the boat, at least three were claimed by slaveholder Henry Shaw (Esther and her two children), one held by stable keeper John F. Thornton, and another held by a slaveholder named McElroy from St. Louis county. The sixth person, described only as “another negro man, who crossed at the same time” may well have been Jim Kennerly. Soon after the stampede, slaveholder Henry Shaw advertised a $300 reward for Kennerly’s recapture, noting that he had escaped from Shaw’s “country residence” near St. Louis on Sunday, May 20. See “$300 Reward,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, May 27, 1855. For the identification of Thornton as the slaveholder, see Morrison’s St. Louis Directory, 255, 257, [WEB].

[7] “Criminal Court,” Daily Missouri Republican, May 25, 1855; “Criminal Court,” Daily Missouri Republican, July 20, 1855. Isaac Breckinridge, cases 135 and 135, St. Louis Criminal Court Record Book 8 (May 24, 1855), Missouri State Archives –St. Louis, MO.  Special thanks to Michael Everman.

[8] 1860 US Federal Census, p163.

[9] “Criminal Court,” Daily Missouri Republican, July 19, 1855. Mary Meachum, cases 137 and 138, St. Louis Criminal Court Record Book 8 (May 25, 1855; July 16, 1855; July 19, 1855), Missouri State Archives –St. Louis, MO.  Special thanks to Michael Everman.

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

[11] “Mary Meachum,” Find A Grave [WEB]

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

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

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

[15] “One Hundred Dollars Reward,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, May 24, 1855; “$300 Reward,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, May 27, 1855.

[16] Hurley, 33.

Database Report- St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican

Newspaper clipping from St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican

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

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Amanda Donoghue and Cooper Wingert from April 8 to May 1, 2019
  • Keywords: slave stampede, stampede of slaves, negro stampede, negro exodus
  • Total: 27 (including five episodes from Missouri)

Top Results

  • “We noticed last week that a sort of stampede had taken place among the blacks, in the neighborhood of Dover, and that it was suspected that white men were concerned in inducing slaves, in that locality to leave their masters.” (“Runaways,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 28, 1854)
  • In October 1856, the editors of the Missouri Republican reprinted a column entitled “Another Stampede” originally published by the Palmyra Whig. The piece complained that “a sort of regular recruiting duty imposed on the local press of this portion of Missouri, of late, is the chronicling of frequent departures of slaves for parts unknown.” The most recent “stampede” involved a free African-American named Isaac McDaniel, who “stole not only his wife, but some four or five other slaves in the neighborhood” of Hannibal, Missouri. McDaniel’s party also “stole a horse and buggy belonging to his wife’s master,” to effect their escape. (“Another Stampede,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, October 28, 1856, quoting the Palmyra, MO Whig.)
  • “We learn that between thirty and forty slaves, in the counties of Boone, Callaway, St. Charles and Montgomery, Missouri, have lately run away from their masters. The names and descriptions of the runaways are in the hands of the police in this city.” (“Stampede of Slaves,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, February 22, 1862)
  • “We saw five runaway slaves taken to the calaboose yesterday evening by persons who had taken them…The secessionists have charged that the purpose of this war was to free the negroes, and have talked so much about it, that it is no wonder their negroes leave them. They may blame themselves for the present stampede among slaves.” (“Runaway,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, September 19, 1861)
  • “But the successful arrest and extradition of no less than five fugitives on the third, opened their eyes to new danger…At one time they believed the Marshal had in his hands fifteen additional warrants for fugitives; at another, the story was that there were six hundred Missourians in the city looking for their lost negroes. Indeed, such has been the terror among fugitives during the last three or four days, that in every strange face they beheld a slave owner and in every lamp-post an officer. The stampede for Canada became general, with all who could get away.” (St. Louis Missouri Republican, April 9, 1861)

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General Notes

  • The St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican began publishing in St. Louis Missouri in the 1830s, but it is available digitally from 1854 to 1873. It is accessible online through the State Historical Society of Missouri’s digital newspaper collection
  • In addition the the article shown above about “Old Brown of Ossawatomie,” the paper published a number of other articles about John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.
  • “Thatcher’s letter” is the publication of a letter written by Lawrence Thatcher of Memphis to John Brown, but it was intercepted by the government on the way to Harper’s Ferry.
  • Not all papers digitized on the website are accurately searchable, so other articles about stampedes published by this paper may exist.

Database Report- Charleston Courier

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Amanda Donoghue from March 4 – March 8, 2019
  • Keywords: stampede, stampeded, stampeding, various combinations of synonyms of stampede + slave (slave + exodus, slave + escape, etc.)
  • Total: 1 hit (but outside time frame)

Top Results

  • “One thousand negro men stampeded from their employers in Georgia in spite of contracts, and crops are consequently precarious.” (“Gleanings,” Charleston MO Charleston Courier, May 18, 1866)

Selected Images

Clipping of article from Charleston Courier

Charleston MO Charleston Courier, May 18, 1866

General Notes

  • The Charleston Courier was a newspaper run from 1859 to 1875 out of Charleston, MO in Mississippi County. It is accessible online through the State Historical Society of Missouri’s digital newspapers collection
  • While the May 1866 article is outside the project timeline, its usage of the word “stampede” in reference to free black sharecroppers, rather than escaping slaves, suggests staying power for the term.
  • In addition to the article search, I tested the accuracy of the database website’s text search function. Using the website’s advanced search, which allows users to search within specific newspapers, I searched for pre-selected terms found in a random selection of articles to check that each article was presented in the results of the search. Overall, it seemed that the function correctly found all the articles that contained the search terms.

Database Report- Boonville Weekly Observer

Article clipping from Boonville Weekly Observer

Boonville MO Boonville Weekly Observer, December 13, 1856

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Amanda Donoghue from March 4 – March 8, 2019
  • Keywords: stampede, stampeded, stampeding, various combinations of synonyms of stampede + slave (slave + exodus, slave + escape, etc.)
  • Total: 1 hit

Top Results

  • “The free negroes at [Murfreesboro], Tenn, took a compulsory stampede from that place last week. Their depredations had become insufferable to the citizens, and their pernicious influence among the slave population made them a serious grievance. Self-preservation compelled the whites to stringent measures to get rid of them, and a general stampede ensued during last week.” (Boonville MO Boonville Weekly Observer, December 13, 1856)

General Notes

  • Boonville Weekly Observer was a newspaper run from 1854 to 1856 out of Booneville, MO in Cooper County, and is accessible online through the State Historical Society of Missouri’s digital newspapers collection
  • The December 1856 article on Murfreesboro, TN featured above was originally printed in the New York Herald, explained in this post.
  • An 1855 issue of this paper uses the word “stampede” to describe a forced migration of Kickapoo Native Americans (Boonville MO Boonville Weekly Observer, September 22, 1855)

Database Report: Black Abolitionist Papers and Black Abolitionist Archive

Stampede article, Weekly Anglo-African, October 7, 1859

Weekly Anglo-African, October 7, 1859

Search Summary

  • Search conducted by Amanda Donoghue on Dec. 20
  • Keywords:  stampede, exodus, group slave escape, Missouri escape
  • Total results: Black Abolitionist Papers (BAP) = 6, Black Abolitionist Archive (BAA) = 1


  • “A Cincinnati paper of the 28th ult says: A stampede of slaves took place on the evening of the 27th-the whereabouts of several of the fugitives having been discovered here, officers at noon today proceeded to make arrests-upon approaching the house where the slaves were secreted, the latter fired, wounding two or three spectators, but not severely. One slave woman, finding escape impossible, cut the throats of her children, killing one instantly, and severely wounding two others: six of the fugitives were apprehended, and eight are said to have escaped.” (Editorial, Provincial Freedom, Toronto, February 2, 1856)
  • “A number of fugitives, I have been informed-fifteen in number-have just passed through from Detroit into Canada. Quite a stampede.” (Our Detroit Letter,” Weekly Anglo-African, New York, NY, October 7, 1859, Black Abolitionist Papers)
  • On Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry: “It seems to have been at the outset, an attempt to procure a large stampede of slaves, and to have grown, by force of circumstances, into an invasion of these United States and of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” (“The Emeute at Harper’s Ferry,” Weekly Anglo-African, New York, NY, October 22, 1859, Black Abolitionist Papers)
  • “A colored man named Harris, and his wife and two children were arrested here this morning, on a warrant issued by the United States Commissioner Conneau, and sent by special train to Springfield, where they will be examined tomorrow. The man is claimed by Mr. Patterson, of St. Louis County, MO” (“A Carbonari Wanted,” Weekly Anglo-African, New York, NY, April 13, 1861, Black Abolitionist Archive)
  • “[In 1843] Our next undertaking was a regular stampede from Maryland. We met at Banning’s Bridge, and mustered seventy strong at starting, but through some misunderstanding the wrong road was taken, and consequently they were tracked, and after a severe encounter, with the loss of three killed and many wounded, they were forced to surrender to superior numbers, who were well armed. When the return caravan passed through Washington a perfect panic prevailed among the slaves; and of the free colored people there were many who left for fear of the threats which were being made against them carried out.” (“Recollections from the Underground Railroad,” The Elevator, San Francisco, CA, September 22, 1865, Black Abolitionist Papers)
  • BAP includes excerpts from Martin Delany’s unfinished novel Blake (1859, 1861-62) that includes a reference at the beginning of chapter 30 to slave stampedes:  “The absence of Mammy Judy, Daddy Joe, Charles, and little Tony, on the return early Monday morning of Colonel Franks and lady from the country, unmistakably proved the escape of their slaves, and the further proof of the exit of ‘squire Potter’s Andy and Beckwith’s Clara, with the remembrance of the stampede a few months previously, required no further confirmation of the fact, when the neighborhood again was excited to ferment.” [NOTE:  Delany serialized Blake at first in the Afro-American Magazine in 1859 –that was the version contained within BAP]

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General Notes

  • Black Abolitionist Papers (BAP) is a subscription Pro-Quest database that is available to Dickinson College students.  Black Abolitionist Archive (BAA) is available to the public for free through University of Detroit Mercy [WEB].
  • BAP is the larger, more comprehensive collection (over 15,000 items), but BAA director, Roy Finkenbine, was part of the editorial team at BAP, which includes a printed five-volume collection as well as a microfilm series (and now database).  BAP includes black abolitionist newspaper editorials, speeches, meeting and convention materials, and selective private correspondence. BAA offers about 800 published speeches and selected newspaper articles.  
  • Five articles were found using the term “stampede” to refer to the “colonization” movement of free blacks moving to Haiti or Africa to escape the risk of being enslaved or re-enslaved.

Missouri Slave Stampedes Crossing State Borders: The Underground Railroad in Western Illinois by Owen Muelder

In Peoria County, Illinois in the 1850s, many enslaved people escaping from their slaveholders stopped to seek shelter in Brimfield’s Congregational Church, which was under the ministry of “violent

Brimfield Congregational Church Drawing

Brimfield Congregational Church (Brimfield Union Church)

abolitionist” J. E. Roy. According to Illinois historian Owen Muelder, one episode even involved “a party of 11 freedom seekers, who had fled from Palmyra, Missouri, carrying along “a crippled woman whom the others carried in a sheet, tied at the corners and suspended on a pole.”[1] If nothing else, this remarkable incident demonstrates the importance of looking beyond the state’s borders when examining the experiences of escaped Missouri slaves.

In The Underground Railroad in Western Illinois, Muelder, who is the director of Knox College’s Galesburg Colony Underground Railroad Freedom Center, presents a thorough overview of the major agents and activities of the Underground Railroad (UGRR) network in the “military tract” region of Western Illinois. Each chapter, organized based on the different counties of the region, is filled with stories quoted directly from original sources. In sharing these stories exactly as they were told from the voices of the abolitionist agents themselves, Muelder helps readers to “visualize more fully” the lives and stories of runaway slaves, many of which originated from Missouri, “in the late 1840s and 1850s in their valiant bid for freedom from bondage.”[2]

According to Muelder, everyone –including slaves, slaveholders, and abolitionists– was aware of the importance of the borderland between enslaved Eastern Missouri and Western Illinois. In fact, Illinois abolitionists frequently took advantage of this proximity, leading to the concentration of UGRR agents who were “eager to liberate slaves from across the river” in towns right along that border, such as in Quincy.[3] According to abolitionist Hiram Mars, Quincy abolitionists would even go as far as actually crossing the state line to seek out slaves and convince them to escape.[4]

Many of the abolitionists who risked traveling into Missouri to guide freedom seekers across the Mississippi River were themselves once escaped slaves. Throughout his text, Muelder makes reference to the ubiquitous figure of “Charlie,” an escaped Missouri slave who spent his whole life traveling in and out of slave states along the UGRR. According to numerous sources presented by Muelder, Charlie helped Missouri slaves escape along the UGRR to the Illinois counties of Plymouth, McDonough, Knox, and Stark.[5] Little is known of Charlie’s actual life and most of what is known is impossible to corroborate, but the popular narrative is that after Charlie escaped his enslavement, he returned to seek out and rescue his wife only to find that she had already been sold away. Charlie then spent years helping countless other enslaved families escape, perhaps always still searching for his wife.[6] It is possible that this story has been romanticized over the years, but nonetheless it underscores the important role that previously escaped slaves often played on the UGRR.

Charlie was certainly not alone. Chapman’s History of Knox County, Illinois describes an 1858 stampede in which “a colored man was taken through [Galesburg] to Canada, who shortly afterward found his way back to Missouri and started with nine other slaves for the land of freedom, but reached Galesburg with only five or six. With these it is presumed he got safely through to Canada.”[7] This important fact about the nature of slave stampedes, that some of them may have been initiated and led by former slaves still in hiding, emphasizes a critical aspect of the network that was essential to enabling larger group escapes.

[1] Owen Muelder, The Underground Railroad in Western Illinois (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2008), 93.

[2] Galin Berrier, “The Underground Railroad in Western Illinois,”  Annals of Iowa 67:2 (2008): 225.

[3] Muelder, 35.

[4] Muelder, 8.

[5] Muelder, 55-56, 69-71, 112, 136.

[6] Muelder, 136.

[7] Muelder, 110-111.