Author Archives: Cooper Wingert

The 1848 Lexington Stampede

DATELINE: AUGUST 5, 1848, LEXINGTON, KY

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 CONTEXT

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]

MAIN NARRATIVE

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]

timeline

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]

 

AFTERMATH

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]

 

FURTHER READING

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

DATELINE: OCTOBER 19, 1856, NEAR HANNIBAL, MO

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 CONTEXT

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]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

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

 

AFTERMATH

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.

 

FURTHER READING

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]

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

[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.

The 1861 Springfield Stampede

PRINTABLE NARRATIVE

DATELINE: NOVEMBER 7, 1861, SPRINGFIELD, MO

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.

 

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

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]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

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]

timeline

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] 

 

AFTERMATH

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]

 

FURTHER READING

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]

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

[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

PRINTABLE NARRATIVE

DATELINE: OCTOBER 27, 1849, ST. LOUIS

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.

 

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

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]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

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]

 

AFTERMATH

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]

 

FURTHER READING

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.

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

 

[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.

The 1853 Palmyra Stampede

PRINTABLE NARRATIVE

DATELINE: OCTOBER 29, 1853, PALMYRA, MO

road to liberty

“The Road to Liberty,” unknown artist, ca. 1857. (Schomburg Center, New York Public Library)

“Within a month past, there has been a great stir, advertising, telegraphing, and hunting property from Missouri,” the Mendon, Illinois abolitionist Jireh Platt confided to his diary in December 1853. “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.” [1]

The daring escape Platt described had been set in motion little more than a month earlier, on Saturday night, October 29, 1853. Fleeing from a series of farms and homes clustered around the border town of Palmyra, Missouri, 11 freedom seekers–men, women, and children among them–charted a course across the moonlit Mississippi River to Quincy, Illinois. Not stopping, they plodded on an additional 12 miles, reaching the town of Mendon, Illinois before daybreak the next morning. [2]

Situated mere miles from the Illinois border and free soil, slaveholders throughout Marion county, Missouri found themselves constantly combatting escapes. But this latest episode proved “more alarming in extent.” As the Palmyra Whig attested days later, “there must have been a full and perfect understanding among these several servants,” who left the farms and residences of six different enslavers at the same time. Visions of enslaved people seizing their freedom in concert unnerved Missouri slaveholders, though most contended that the root of the problem lay not inside slaveholding households, but rather in outside agitation. Antislavery preachers and abolitionist operatives, they insisted, were responsible for the mounting number of escapes. Thus in the weeks and months following the nighttime exodus, slaveholders in Marion county mounted an aggressive campaign to “close our doors against abolition and free soil influences.” [3] Slaveholders’ frenzied efforts to clamp shut their doors triggered a months-long war of words with their Illinois neighbors and church officials, revealing how coordinated group escapes inflamed political tensions over slavery on the eve of the Civil War.

 

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

Even before the Palmyra escape took place, slaveholders in Missouri already felt under siege in 1853, as a mounting number of “stampedes” occurred throughout the state. Back in May, a widely-circulated report from the Alton, Illinois Telegraph headlined “Slave Stampedes,” announced that “slaves are running away from Missouri, at the present time, in battalions.” It thus comes as little surprise that the term was used to describe the group flight from Palmyra mere months later. While initial reporting from the Palmyra Whig did not employ the word “stampede,” in mid-November the neighboring Hannibal Courier situated the escape within “several stampedes among the negroes” that had occurred recently. Around the same time, the Boston Herald summarized a bulletin about the episode originally published in the Chicago Tribune, affixing the new headline, “A Stampede.” As controversy over the escape escalated throughout the winter, the Quincy, Illinois Whig employed the term on multiple occasions while defending its residents from allegations of “their supposed connexion with slave stampedes from the other side of the river.” Still later in February 1854, the Palmyra Whig referred to the October escape as the “recent stampede of negroes.” [4]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

Marion Co MO

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

Although their actions made headlines, the names of the 11 enslaved Missourians who struck out for freedom do not survive. They were claimed by six slaveholders from Palmyra and adjoining Fabius township, at the northeastern corner of Marion county. Six of the freedom seekers–a man, a woman, and four children, likely a family–fled from slaveholder Albert Gallatin Johnson’s farm some nine miles north of Palmyra. Their flight may have been motivated by their enslaver’s future plans. When he put his farm up for sale in May, Johnson had announced his intention of relocating to Texas. The family of six probably feared forced removal to the Deep South, or worse yet, being separated at the auction block. [5] Four other enslaved people, apparently all men, escaped from the Fabius township farms of slaveholders Rufus Mathews, Jeremiah K. Taylor, Caleb Taylor, and a female slaveholder identified only as Mrs. Hopkins. [6] Rounding out the group of escapees was an eleventh freedom seeker, an enslaved man who escaped from the Palmyra home of prominent slaveholding lawyer John T. Redd. [7]

Living on adjoining farms, or perhaps even members of the same extended family, these 11 enslaved people knew one another well. After what must have involved considerable planning and coordination, they slipped away on Saturday night, October 29, reaching Mendon, Illinois in the predawn hours of Sunday, October 30. Once their absence was noticed, Marion county slaveholders scrambled to action. On Monday afternoon, October 31, a large posse of white Missourians headed to Quincy in pursuit, but the freedom seekers were long since gone. Nonetheless, when the Palmyra Whig went to press on Thursday, November 3, its editors still thought it possible that the freedom seekers “may all be secured and returned to their masters.” [8]timeline

Even as they sought to track down the runaways, slaveholding Missourians were quick to accuse white abolitionists of having masterminded the escape. The Palmyra Whig postulated that “some person or persons well acquainted with the best mode of effecting the escape of fugitives” had been involved. Residents in Fabius township singled out Quincy, Illinois, “a city containing some of the vilest abolition thieves in the Mississippi valley.” Some 20 miles to the southeast, editors of the Hannibal Courier concurred, pronouncing it “our opinion that the emissaries of negro-stealing societies are prowling about the country, exciting the slave population to insubordination, and enticing them away from their masters.” Further to the west, the Paris, Missouri Mercury agreed that the runaways must have been “assisted by white friends.” [9]

To be sure, slaveholders often blamed white activists for “enticing” enslaved people to escape, even when they had no evidence to back up those charges. Reared in proslavery logic, many white southerners imagined that enslaved people (whom they considered an inferior race) would not choose to seek out liberty on their own, or be capable of escaping without outside help. Some scholars have argued that white southerners’ obsession with antislavery “emissaries” bordered on a “conspiracy theory,” allowing slaveholders to maintain that enslaved people themselves were not resisting, and the only source of unrest originated from outside actors. But while that might hold true in the Deep South, the historian Stanley Harrold cautions that in border slave states like Missouri, concerns about antislavery activists were by no means unfounded. In 1841, to name just one example, three students from Quincy had crossed the river to Marion county in an abortive attempt to help runaways. They were captured, denounced by a Palmyra prosecutor as “notorious land pirates,” and each sentenced to lengthy spells in the Missouri State Penitentiary. Indeed, while it remains unclear if the 11 freedom seekers had help from the very outset, they likely did obtain aid from a network of abolitionists soon after crossing into Illinois. [10]

platt brothers

Standing, left to right: Luther H. Platt and Jeremiah E. Platt; seated, L to R: Henry Dutton Platt and Enoch Platt (Kansas History; image also published and figures identified in Mendon Dispatch Times, November 26, 1931)

There was a well-established Underground Railroad “route” running from Quincy to Mendon, the very route the freedom seekers were known to have taken. About one mile west of Mendon was the farm of abolitionist Jireh Platt, who logged details about the escape in his diary in December 1853. Decades later in 1896, his son Jeremiah Evarts Platt revealed more about the assistance the Platt family likely gave to the Palmyra freedom seekers, writing that “eleven slaves came along at one time some of them women.” Platt recalled that he and his relatives concealed the freedom seekers under hay in “two tightly covered wagons.” It was “not practicable” to stop at Plymouth, some 30 miles to the northeast and traditionally the next place of refuge for escapees, so Platt drove for some 60 miles in the direction of Chicago, returning home a full four days later. Jeremiah believed that he was “about 17 years old” at the time of the escape described, which would place the incident in the early 1850s. Although written decades apart, together these two remarkable sources strongly suggest that the Platt family helped the Palmyra freedom seekers on their quest for liberty. [11]

platt headshot

Abolitionist Jireh Platt lived on a farm near Mendon, Illinois. His son, Jeremiah, may have helped the Palmyra freedom seekers. (Photo has been lightened, original at Kansas Memory)

Meanwhile, slaveholders Albert Johnson and Rufus Mathews offered up a sizable $3,000 reward, even telegraphing ahead to where they correctly suspected the runaways were headed–Chicago. However, the city was a center of opposition to the recently-passed 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the editors of the Chicago Tribune (a Free Soil newspaper) refused to even run the enslavers’ ad. “No one need apply,” the Tribune mocked, unless prepared to “sell his soul, for ‘thirty pieces.'” On November 16, a group of white Missourians arrived in Chicago in pursuit, distributing handbills that prominently announced the $3,000 reward. But the Chicago Tribune ridiculed them the very next day, announcing that the slaveholders were “too late.” Already about a week prior, the the 11 freedom-bound Missourians had reached Chicago and departed for Canada. [12]

After crossing into Canada, at least some of the freedom seekers chose to settle in Chatham, Ontario, a thriving Black community and home to many freedom seekers from the United States. In 1854, some white Palmyra residents visited Chatham and recognized the men “that run off last fall,” who they did not identify by name, except to say that they were formerly enslaved by Caleb Taylor and John Redd. According to the white Missourians, the freedom seekers gave them a “cordial greeting,” all while insisting they “were not willing to return.” The freedom seekers seemed at ease talking to white men from the community they had so recently escaped from, because they knew that Canadian authorities had long refused to extradite American freedom seekers. So long as they remained on Canadian soil, their freedom was secure. [13]

 

AFTERMATH

Panicked slaveholders convened at Palmyra on Monday, November 7 to form the Marion Association, a proslavery vigilance group. Declaring that “by the action of the Abolitionists, our rights and property are eminently endangered,” the Association outlined a system for a new slave patrol. For a fee of five dollars, slaveholders could join the organization, which would keep a detailed description of their human property on file, and promised to immediately pursue any freedom seekers. [14]

Anderson photo

Thomas L. Anderson later served as a congressman from Missouri from 1857-1861, part of the American or Know-Nothing Party. (Library of Congress)

After several meetings in November, the Marion Association invited Thomas L. Anderson, a local Whig politician, to speak at a December 24 gathering. Before “one of the largest audiences” ever assembled in the county court house at Palmyra, Anderson invoked biblical justifications for slavery, while denouncing “fanatics” from Quincy, whom he alleged “have for some time carried on a secret intercourse with our slaves.” Anderson knew of what he spoke. In May 1848, an enslaved woman he held named Hannah Coger had escaped from his residence in Marion county and traveled through Quincy, before reaching the Platte farm in Mendon. In his diary, abolitionist Jireh Platte recorded Coger’s arrival on May 19 and her backstory–Coger had apparently been trying to purchase her freedom, and was only $100 shy of doing so before she bolted to Illinois. [15]

But now on Christmas Eve 1853, Anderson addressed the latest stampede from Marion county. A few weeks prior, he bellowed, “from twelve to fifteen thousand dollars worth of slave property has been clandestinely removed from our midst.” Almost as galling, Anderson added, was that local slaveholders had been “laughed pull quote andersonat, ridiculed and insulted, for making legal and constitutional efforts to capture the flying refugees”–apparently referring to the Chicago Tribune‘s sardonic refusal to publish Johnson and Mathew’s reward notice, and mocking remarks about the pursuers being “too late.” Anderson, who in 1856 would be elected to represent northeastern Missouri in Congress, concluded by suggesting that local residents “suspend all business and intercourse” with their Illinois neighbors. [16]

Anderson’s fiery speech electrified his white listeners, but he was not the first proslavery Missourian to suggest severing ties with Illinois. In mid-November, the anonymous correspondent “Marion” called upon Missouri residents to resolve “neither to buy or sell to any citizen of Illinois and of Quincy in particular,” and “have no intercourse with them till they put down negro-stealing.” The Quincy Whig thundered back, unconvinced that “any citizen of Quincy had anything to do with the recent negro stampede.” Behind the volley of accusations was the reality that frequent stampedes had jarred many Missouri slaveholders into a siege mentality. “Almost every man in Northern Missouri can attest,” read a column in the Hannibal Courier, “the public mind is kept in a constant state of fermentation and nervous irritability.” Convinced that outside emissaries were behind the October stampede and similar escapes, slaveholders sought to insulate their farms, households, and human property from contact with northerners. [17]

Accordingly, slaveholders’ next order of business was to expel Rev. William Sellers, a northern Methodist minister. In 1844, the Methodist Church fractured into northern and southern wings over clashing teachings about slavery. When Sellers, a member of the northern branch who was known for his antislavery sentiments, announced that he would preach in Fabius township, local whites erupted in outrage. A committee of five–among them Caleb Taylor, one of the slaveholders impacted by the October stampede–tried to meet with Sellers and “ascertain his views upon the subject of slavery.” When Sellers demurred, a public meeting was held on February 18, 1854, at the Union School house in Fabius township. Although the presiding elder of the church, J.H. Dennis, appeared and lobbied for “religious toleration,” local slaveholders blasted the church for “their unholy crusade upon our rights,” and Sellers for attempting to “create disaffection among our slaves.” They warned that any northern Methodist “preaching or teaching in this community” would be greeted as “unfriendly to our best interests, and as a disturber of the peace.” [18]

stampede map red arrows

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

FURTHER READING

The most detailed report of the escape was published by the Palmyra Whig on November 3. Subsequently, minutes from the Marion Association’s meetings, as well as editorials, were printed in editions of the Palmyra Whig, Hannibal Courier, and Quincy Whig. [19]

Although many members of the Marion Association, as well as local presses, readily leveled blame at white abolitionists for the escape, other members pointed the finger at free African Americans. At a January 2, 1854 meeting held at Palmyra, the Marion Association sought to clamp down on the presence of free African Americans in the state. They urged Missouri lawmakers to make it illegal to manumit a bond person, unless they were transported to the West African colony of Liberia. The Hannibal Courier reported on proceedings approvingly, imploring readers to be cognizant of the “example and corrupting influence of the free negroes that we permit to remain among us.” [20]

Benjamin Merkel’s 1943 essay “The Underground Railroad and the Missouri Borders, 1840-1860” was among the first scholarly works to mention the October 1853 escape. Merkel read Hannibal and Palmyra papers, and suggested that the freedom seekers were “probably assisted by abolitionists.” [21] More recently, Stanley Harrold’s Border War (2010) indirectly refers to the escape while reporting on Thomas Anderson’s thundering antiabolitionist speech at Palmyra. Harrold situates the proslavery gathering within the broader context of what many in the Border South perceived as “assaults on its economic, social, cultural, and racial status quo.” [22] Richard Blackett’s The Captive’s Quest for Freedom (2018) notes the episode and the increased “vigilance” practiced by slaveholders in its wake. Blackett contends that proslavery vigilance groups, such as the Marion Association, succeeded in quelling the number of escapes from the Palmyra region. Reports of escapes from Marion county “ceased for a while,” he observes, until spiking again during the summer of 1857. [23]

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

[1] According to son Henry Dutton Platt, his father Jireh maintained both a a “diary & farm record” and a “blue book,” the latter which contained “vastly more” details, though its whereabouts remains unknown. Henry Platt wrote Underground Railroad historian Wilbur Siebert drawing excerpts from Jireh Platt’s diary and farm book. He said the entry for December 1853 quoted above only identified the month (December) and not the year, but it appears  clear from the context that it was written in 1853. See Henry Dutton Platt, “Some Facts about the Underground Railroad in Ill.,” Wilbur H. Siebert Underground Railroad Collection, Ohio History Connection, [WEB].

[2] “Runaway Negroes,” Palmyra, MO Whig, November 3, 1853, reprinted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 7, 1853.[WEB]

[3] “Runaway Negroes,” Palmyra, MO Whig, November 3, 1853, reprinted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 7, 1853 [WEB];”Public Meeting,” Palmyra, MO Whig, February 23, 1854. 

[4] “Slave Stampedes,” Alton, IL Telegraph, May 23, 1853, quoted in Boston Liberator, June 10, 1853; “Negro Stealing,” Hannibal, MO Courier, November 10, 1853; “A Stampede,” Boston Herald, November 15, 1853; “The Feeling Across the River,” Quincy, IL Whig, December 2, 1853; “Misrepresentation,” Quincy, IL Whig, December 12, 1853; “Prompt Proceedings,” Palmyra, MO Whig, February 23, 1854.

[5] “Farm For Sale,” Palmyra, MO Whig, May 26, 1853; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Fabius Township, Marion County, MO, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Fabius Township, Marion County, MO, Family 167, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB]. The editors of the Palmyra Whig drew additional attention to Johnson’s advertisement, praising his land as “one of the most desirable farms in the county.” For the number of enslaved people who escaped from each slaveholder, see the original Palmyra Whig report, “Runaway Negroes,” Palmyra, MO Whig, November 3, 1853, reprinted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 7, 1853.

[6] 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Fabius Township, Marion County, MO, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Fabius Township, Marion County, MO, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Fabius Township, Marion County, MO, Family 130, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB]. The Palmyra Whig alluded that the individual enslaved by Mrs. Hopkins had been residing with a John Gwynn of neighboring Lewis county, likely meaning that they had been hired out (or rented) to Gwynn. Evidently this individual journeyed south from Lewis county on Saturday, October 29, to join the group somewhere in Fabius township.

[7] 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Palmyra, Marion County, MO, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Palmyra, Marion County, MO; 1850 U.S. Census, Palmyra, Marion County, MO, Family 320, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB].

[8] “Runaway Negroes,” Palmyra, MO Whig, November 3, 1853, reprinted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 7, 1853 [WEB].

[9] “Runaway Negroes,” Palmyra, MO Whig, November 3, 1853, reprinted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 7, 1853 [WEB]; “Negro Stealing,” Hannibal, MO Courier, November 10, 1853; Paris, MO Mercury, quoted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 16, 1853; “Public Meeting,” Palmyra, MO Whig, February 23, 1854.

[10] The historian Larry Gara was among the first to argue that southern fears of an extensive Underground Railroad network stretching deep into slave territory were wildly exaggerated. See Larry Gara, The Liberty Line: The Legend of the Underground Railroad (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 1961), 18, 84-87, [see post]. On the “conspiracy theory” line of thinking, see John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 274-279. For Harrold’s historiographical intervention, see Stanley Harrold, Border War: Fighting Over Slavery before the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 42, and for the July 1841 episode, 50-52, [see post]. The three abolitionist students involved in the 1841 incident (James Burr, George Thompson, Alanson Work) later authored a memoir Prison Life and Reflections: Or, A Narrative of the Arrest, Trial, Conviction, Imprisonment, Treatment, Observations, Reflections, and Deliverance of Work, Burr and Thompson… (Hartford, OH: A. Work, 1850), [WEB].

[11] Jeremiah Evarts Platt to Wilbur Siebert, March 28, 1896, Siebert Collection, Ohio History Connection, [WEB]. Also see letters and essay from his brother, Henry Dutton Platt, also written to Siebert. Henry Dutton Platt to Wilbur Siebert, March 20, 1896, Siebert Collection, Ohio History Connection, [WEB]; Henry Dutton Platt, “Some Facts about the Underground Railroad in Ill.,” Siebert Collection, Ohio History Connection, [WEB]. See post on Siebert’s work.

[12] “Clear the Track! The Train is Coming,” Chicago Tribune, November 7, 1853 [WEB]; “Too Late,” Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1853, quoted in Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 24, 1853; “Abolitionism in Missouri,” Chicago Tribune, November 22, 1853. Unfortunately, the Tribune‘s decision not to publish the ad (which according to the editors contained a “full description of each passenger”) means that there is no known record of the names of the 11 freedom seekers.

[13] “To the Eds. of the Missouri Whig,” Palmya, MO Whig, December 7, 1854. On Canadian authorities’ refusal to extradite fugitive slaves, see Gordon Barker, The Imperfect Revolution: Anthony Burns and the Landscape of Race in Antebellum America (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2010), 92-97. Writing to the Palmyra Whig, the white correspondent (identified as “A.F.J.”) added that the freedom seekers’ “appearances did not indicate as good health, nor was their clothing as good as the generality of slaves in Missouri,” adding that “they wept like infants at their recollection of home.” Free Black settlements in Canada were by no means unvisited by hardship, though slaveholders routinely exaggerated the poverty and precarious lives of freedom seekers in the British provinces to deter other enslaved people from escaping.

[14] “Abolitionism in Missouri,” St. Louis, MO Republican, November 15, 1853; Quincy, IL Whig, November 21, 1853 [WEB]

[15] “T.L. Anderson, Esq.,” Hannibal, MO Courier, December 29, 1853; Henry Dutton Platt, “Some Facts about the Underground Railroad in Ill.,” Siebert Collection, Ohio History Connection, [WEB].

[16]  For a complete transcript of Anderson’s speech, see “Speech of Thomas L. Anderson, Esq.,” Quincy, IL Whig, February 6, 1854. Also see the entry for Anderson in the Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress. Anderson’s charge that “from twelve to fifteen thousand dollars worth of slave property has been clandestinely removed from our midst” comes from the Quincy Whig‘s February 6, 1854 transcript of the speech. Other sources (such as Stanley Harrold’s Border War) report a slightly different version, with Anderson saying that abolitionists carried “off eight or ten thousand dollars… [of human property] at a time.” This account comes from a 1943 article by Benjamin Merkel, who quoted from the Hannibal Whig Messenger of December 15, 1853 (before Anderson’s December 24 address had taken place). According to the Library of Congress, the Hannibal Whig Messenger is available on microfilm at the Hannibal Public Library and State Historical Society of Missouri. See Benjamin G. Merkel, “The Underground Railroad and the Missouri Borders, 1840-1860,” Missouri Historical Review 37:3 (April 1943): 278, [WEB]; Harrold, Border War, 162.

[17] “Non-Intercourse,” Quincy, IL Whig, November 28, 1853; “The Feeling Across the River,” Quincy, IL Whig, December 2, 1853; “Misrepresentation,” Quincy, IL Whig, December 12, 1853; “The Underground Railroad Again,” Quincy, IL Whig, December 20, 1853; Another anonymous contributor, “Fabius,” declared the Quincy Whig‘s denial to be a “lie, black and foul,” while continuing to scold Illinoisans for “stealing our property.” In its November 28 weekly edition, the Quincy Whig had reprinted the Chicago Tribune‘s mocking article, which apparently enraged the anonymous correspondent Fabius, who called it “that infamous thing.”

[18] “Prompt Proceedings,” and “Public Meeting,” Palmyra, MO Whig, February 23, 1854; History of Marion County, Missouri (St. Louis: E.F. Perkins, 1884), 1:318-320, [WEB]; Lucas P. Volkman, Houses Divided; Evangelical Schisms and the Crisis of the Union in Missouri (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 94. On Sellers, also see Minutes of the Missouri Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held in Hannibal, Missouri, March 28th to April 2nd, 1888 (Kirksville, MO: Journal Printing House, 1888), 13, [WEB].

[19] See esp. “Runaway Negroes,” Palmyra, MO Whig, November 3, 1853, reprinted in St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 7, 1853 [WEB]; “Negro Stealing,” Hannibal, MO Courier, November 10, 1853; “Marion Association,” Hannibal, MO Courier, January 12, 1854; “Public Meeting,” Palmyra, MO Whig, February 23, 1854.

[20] “Marion Association,” Palmyra, MO Whig, January 5 1854; “Complaints of the People,” and “Marion Association,” Hannibal, MO Courier, January 12, 1854.

[21] Merkel, “The Underground Railroad and the Missouri Borders, 1840-1860,” 278.

[22] Harrold, Border War, 161-162.

[23] Richard J.M. Blackett, The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 140.

Slave Stampedes and German-Language Newspapers

Sklaven Stampede German

St. Louis MO Mississippi Blätter (Westliche Post), August 26, 1860 (Newspapers.com)

“Ein Sklaven-Stampede” –– German for “A Slave Stampede” –– was the headline in the Westliche Post on August 26, 1860. Among the most influential German-language newspapers in Missouri, the St. Louis-based organ provided its readers with a detailed account of the latest “stampede” of enslaved people from the city. By and large, the Post’s rendering of the escape hewed closely to the timeline of events already circulated by one of the city’s leading English-language organs, the St. Louis News.  Five enslaved people––a 60-year-old woman, her two sons, a daughter, and another young woman––had “suddenly disappeared” from the farm of slaveholder Edward Bredell, who was absent visiting the east at the time. But while St. Louis’s English-speaking journalists readily leveled blame at “some Abolitionist,” who must have “induced” the five freedom seekers to escape, the Post struck a different tone. “Of course,” the German paper added with an air of derision, “the ‘abolitionists’ are accused of having seduced the escaped.” [1]

The Post’s remark betrayed some of the critical differences in thought between German-born Missourians and their native-born white counterparts, differences that flared into the open when it came to the subject of slavery. As it were, German emigrants tended to embrace more anti-slavery views, many of them having fled from failed liberal revolutions in Europe during the late 1840s. To be sure, not all Germans arriving in Missouri became abolitionists, and substantial cleavages of conservative emigrants would go on to advocate for more conservative approaches to emancipation and African American recruitment during the Civil War. On the whole, however, it was clear that German-born Missourians were less invested in slavery, with emigrants flocking in large numbers to support the Free Soil wing of the Democratic party, and later the anti-slavery Republican party. [2] Accordingly, the primary source materials they left behind offer important insights –– and different perspectives –– into the struggle over slavery in the Missouri borderland.

As Missouri’s German-speaking population soared during the late 1840s and 1850s, a number of German-language newspapers quickly cropped up. In St. Louis, where many emigrants settled, the two major German-language organs were the Anzeiger des Westens (Free Soil Democratic) and its rival the Deutsche Tribüne (Whig/Free Soil Democratic). By decades’ end, the Westliche Post (Republican) had supplanted the now-defunct Tribune, competing with a number of other religious-specific journals also published in German. [3] Outside of the city, smaller-run German-language papers were also established in Gasconade county and St. Charles. Many of these papers have been digitized and incorporated into databases already examined by this project, including GenealogyBank and Newspapers.com. However, scouring German-language sources invites an array of challenges, especially for researchers not fluent in German. Below readers will find some helpful search tips about how we approached the voluminous archive of German-language newspapers, ranging from search queries to translating sources, as well as a breakdown of relevant results for the group escapes on our project timeline.

 

SEARCH TIPS

  • USE SURNAMES. Often one of the few constants in reporting from English-language sources to their German-language counterparts were the surnames of enslavers. Searching for the surname of a particular slaveholder affected by an escape often generated results.
  • COMMON PHRASES. It quickly became apparent that German-language papers in Missouri used several terms when referring to the escapes of enslaved people These included “Entflohen” (German for “Escaped”) and “Sklaven” (German for “slaves”).

 

TRANSLATION TIPS

  • LOOK FOR OCR. Many databases, including both GenealogyBank and Newspapers.com, offer both clipping services (digital image captures) and OCR text (optical character recognition). OCR-produced transcriptions can be rough, but when used in combination with the original image and an online translator, can produce decent results.
  • GOOGLE TRANSLATE. While it is not without flaws, GoogleTranslate offers the best way to quickly get a sense of what an article in another language is about. Simply copy and paste the OCR text into GoogleTranslate. For best results, review the OCR text with the original image, and try to correct any obvious errors. Then, let GoogleTranslate do the work, and you should have a transcription which, though by no means perfect, is mostly readable.

 

COVERAGE OF STAMPEDES IN GERMAN-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPERS

1852 Ste. Genevieve Stampede

St. Louis Anzeiger des Westens, September 11, 1852

Anzeiger Sept 11 1852

St. Louis MO Anzeiger des Westens, September 11, 1852 (Newspapers.com)

ESCAPED SLAVES. The day before yesterday, Mr. Amadee Valle of this city received the news that 9 of his Negroes, who worked in his mines in St, Genevieve County, escaped and [illegible] across the Illinois river. At Sparta, the citizens made an attempt to arrest them, but the [illegible] escaped to the nearby forest. It is said that whites persuaded to escape and offered the means to do so. After the police were informed of the incident, Lieutenant Woodward and 6 other police officers left for Illinois to [illegible].

St. Louis Anzeiger des Westens, September 15, 1852

St. Louis Anzeiger newspaper

St. Louis MO Anzeiger des Westens, September 15, 1852 (Newspapers.com)

SLAVE HUNTING. We reported before one [illegible], [illegible] Lieutenant Woodward in escort from several police officers [illegible] Sparta would have left to collect some fleeing slaves from St. Genevieve County. Police officials leaned back from their unsuccessful expedition last Sunday. It appears that the policemen here had left under the erroneous promise that they had been given by the news, that the Negroes were protected by 2 to 300 people in a church in Sparta. On the way, however, he was already driving them, [illegible] a gentleman who was interested in capturing the slaves and who had traveled ahead, according to rumor that a large division of the St. Louis Police would arrive to arrest the Negroes. The same, of course, would have to be warned: [illegible] flee. Arriving in Sparta, the police officers found a number of people from this State who came there with the same intentions as the police officers. At the same time [illegible] was told that the slaves went to Eden, a [illegible] of Abolitionism, about two miles from Sparta, almost a week earlier. The police officers [illegible] then went to Eden, where they learned that the slaves had already left this place several days before. Regardlss of the [illegible] bay horses and gave themselves all to find the trail of the refugees. …. [illegible] no difficulty [illegible] in Sparta nor in Eden.

St. Louis Anzeiger des Westens, September 22, 1852

German paper image

St. Louis MO Anzeiger des Westens, September 22, 1852 (Newspapers.com)

Five Negroes, who escaped from this State, were [illegible] the steamer Altona  were [illegible] into prison. The [illegible] caught 15 miles behind Alton in the following way: Mr. A.A. Scott, the owner of the Delphi hause in that county happened to be in the house [illegible] when a Negro came to the house [illegible] four of his comrades who were close [illegible] ordered a dinner. Mr. Scott introduced Way to teh fact that a number of [illegible] had fled from St. Genevieve and both are planning a plan to catch them. They asked the Negro to fetch his companions for dinner. While he was gone, they removed all the chairs and what [illegible] could have been used as a weapon from the room. The Negroes came to the table, they had 3 shotguns, which they left in the anteroom. These were thrown up by Scott and Way and the [illegible], the former armed with his own rifle, the latter armed with a knife, into the room, and he asked the Negroes to cross over. This happened and the prisoners were bound here with the altona.  The names of the slaves are: Henry, property of Col. Bogy; Isaac, property of Mr. Valee; Edmund, slave of Mr. [Illegible], Joseph, slave of Mr. Jannis; William, slave of Smith. They are all young people with over Edmund who was about [illegible] years old––1 to catch the negroes, the last price of 1000 was immediately paid to the third party. The day before yesterday $200 was caught [illegible] …

 

1854 St. Louis Stampedes

St. Louis Anzeiger des Westens, December 1, 1854

German newspaper

St. Louis MO Anzeiger des Westens, December 1, 1854 (Newspapers.com)

Escaped. Over the past week, more than twenty slaves have escaped from various parts of St. Louis County and the city. The owners of the Negroes suspect that Abolitionists, [illegible] should now be here, have a hand in the process. Three of the last run away, Negroes belong to Mr. Richard Berry, one Mr. Martin Wash sen., A fifth, Mr. Martin Wash jr.

 

 

1858 Vernon County Stampede

St. Louis Westliche Post, January 25, 1859

German paper image

St. Louis MO Westliche Post, January 25, 1859 (Newspapers.com)

…From Kansas. Leavenworth, Jan. 19. From various notes in your journal, I see that you have been wrongly reported about the unrest that has taken place in the southern part of this territory. They seem to think that the people who have joined Montgomery are nothing more than a gang of muggers. This is by no means the case, on the contrary, those men only came together to protect each other against attacks by the Proslavery Party. Governor Medary, who was initially very antagonistic to Montgomery and Consorten, now admits himself that, insofar as he has carefully examined the matter, he is convinced that Montgomery is never different than when it is to defend a life or its neighbors was necessary, acted… John Brown freed Missouri 11 Negroes a few days ago with several of his friends….

 

 

John Doy’s Forgotten 1859 Capture and Rescue

St. Louis Westliche Post, March 3, 1859 (erroneous reporting that abolitionist John Doy and son had been lynched by a pro-slavery mob)

German paper image

St. Louis MO Westliche Post, March 3, 1859 (Newspapers.com)

Outrageous murder of two Free Statesmen from Kansas by the thugs. The villains on the western border seem to want to conjure up the scenes of the bloody civil war with all vigor. If the message below is confirmed, we can look forward to the repetition of bloody abominations within a short time. Our readers remember that some time ago a well-known Free State official, Dr. Doy gathers his son near Topeka, Kansas, captured by a group of Missouri intruders, and has been towed to [illegible]… his fearful break, which made him so dangerous in the eyes of the Missouri, was to help fleeing slaves to freedom. Doy and his son were kept in the Jail of Platte, thirty miles below St. Joseph, Missouri. St. Joseph is now reported on February 27th: An express courier arrived here from Platte today, with the news that Doy and his son, near Topeka, Kansas, had arrived a few weeks ago from. Proslavers were drafted new because they were charged with escaping Missouri negroes who had been lynched the night before. The mob is said to have been more than 300 men strong. The iail was stormed and the son was forced to drive the cart up to 2 miles outside the city, where both were hung from a tree. Old Doy pleaded for his life, but the dehumanized gang didn’t hear him. The son was hanged first. In Platte there is great excitement because of these events…. We still want to give up hope that the reports are over, when the worst seems to be the worst from the side of the Gran. But if the news is confirmed, the response from the Free State of Kansas will not be long in coming, and [illegible] who will be avenged.

St. Louis Westliche Post, August 3, 1859 

German paper image

St. Louis MO Westliche Post, August 3, 1859 (Newspapers.com)

Dr. Doy and the mood in St., Joseph. ‘The Kansas newspaper contains an editorial correspondence from St. Joseph from 2f. July, in which [illegible] St. Joseph, Mo., July 27. That Dr. Doy was freed from the high Jail in one of those nights, as described in the knights and robber stories of [illegible]… with hair-raising imagination, is the readers of [illegible]… But it could be there at that moment, which constitutes the outflows of an excitement caused by the liberation of Doy [illegible] the ranks of the slave keeper party….

 

 

1860 St. Louis Stampede

St. Louis Mississippi Blatter [Sunday edition of Westliche Post ], August 26, 1860

A Slave Stampede. Within a few days, five slaves suddenly disappeared [illegible] Edward Bredell [illegible] farm on the Clayton Road, 6 miles from town. The refugees consist of a woman, her two sons and a daughter, resp. 7, 12 and 21. [Illegible] girl who is closely related to the family. One of the sons was his driver and enjoyed his trust. Mr. Bredell is visiting the east and the slaves are under the overseer. The old woman designed the whole escape plan. She asked the overseer for permission to visit a female [child?] that was granted to her. When the slaves were gone, the overseer became suspicious and went to the neighbors’ house. The slaves are all gone and have escaped any [illegible]. Of course, the “abolitionists” are accused of having seduced the escaped. It is not in doubt that Mr. Bredell’s slaves are well treated;  years ago he emancipated 30 to 40 slaves in Baltimore, which he would have acquired by inheritance.

 

1862 Loutre Island Stampede

St. Louis Westliche Post, December 3, 1862

German newspaper image

St. Louis MO Westliche Post, December 3, 1862 (Newspapers.com)

(For the “Westl. Post”.) From Hermann. Freedom triumphs! Probably never [illegible], dear editorial staff, I was so proud of our Hermann [illegible]. As we spoke, wrote and voted, so did we now we have also acted and our bold word has been gloriously sealed by the male act. But to the point. Known to you, escaped from Loutre Island, opposite us, in Montgomery County,  many slaves after this side of the [illegible] and found a lodging [illegible] as freelance workers with farmers in our neighborhood, not unfamiliar to you, several of their previous owners tried to convince our good squire John B. Miche to issue a warrant last week, in order to snatch their black property from us M. duly trumped them according to the existing laws of war and his duty as a Republican, and let them go their own way with a fervent and vengeance. Yesterday the gentlemen succeeded [illegible] Negro warrants from a German peace judge, his name is Karl Sandberger, to receive warrants and the deputy sheriff immediately caught four young negroes and put them in the county jail. But now the people rose in fine majesty. The news of this disgrace passed through town and surroundings like wildfire. The brave Germans clustered together, even the [illegible], with a few exceptions, did not fall behind. Curses, threats and curses against the slave owner and her helper, the Sandberger, fulfilled the rust, and the end was assured unanimously that the poor Negroes should be free people by morning, whether by legal means or by storming the jail by bloodshed, no matter. Gasconade County is not supposed to be a slave hunting area and Hermann’s free Germans do not want to be the scold and mockery of the country. [illegible] other equally arrogant but calm-thinking citizens moved excited people to postpone any use of force until at least 9:00 p.m. and asked for their major gene during this. Curtis for employment Capt. C.C.Manwaring as Provost Marshall, since he happened to discover that the previous Marshal [illegible] set up guards at the courthouse (so stood among others the old Strehly brother-in-law of the Blessed Papa [illegible] for hours on end [illegible] in the bitter cold [illegible]… At 9:00 in the evening the men came back with guns and crushing tools and were about to leave for the jail. When the most anticipated dispatch arrived, and the [illegible] immediately found themselves among three thunders in the [illegible] Gen. Curtis issued after the new Provost Marshal Manwaring, which immediately issued an order to release the Negroes. You can imagine the jubilation with which the poor alder was brought out of the singing papa. [Illegible] gave them a good evening meal and some good farmers took them to night quarters. Old Michael Poeschel kept up from the beginning to the end and the best old citizens of the city participated in the fashion that trampled on the law, as local demo friends would like to say. But everything happened according to the military laws recognized by the Congress. So we emancipate -– Hermann is [illegible] ‘Hurray for Union and Freedom! Yours Wm. Wesselhöft. Nov. 26, 1862.

 

DIGITIZED GERMAN-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPERS BY STATE

Missouri

Anzeiger des Westens (St. Louis, MO) – Free Soil Democratic, Republican (late 1850s – early 1860s), Democratic (post-1863) // Editors Carl Daenzer // Dates available: 1842-1869 (Newspapers.com)

Die Gasconade Zeitung (Hermann, MO) – Dates available: 1860-1922 (GenealogyBank.com)

Hermanner Volksblatt (Hermann, MO) – Dates available: 1860-1922 (Newspaperarchive.com)

Hermanner Wochenblatt (Hermann, MO) – Dates available: 1845-1855, 1860-1871 (Newspapers.com)

Licht-Freund (Hermann, MO) – Dates available: 1843-1845 (Newspapers.com)

St. Charles Demokrat (St. Charles, MO) – Dates available: 1857-1886 (Newspapers.com)

Westliche Post  (St. Louis, MO) – Republican // Editors Carl Daenzer, F. Wengel, (Carl Schurz later co-owner) // Dates available: 1857-1958 (Newspapers.com) **Sunday edition called Mississippi Blätter

 

Illinois

Chicago Illinois Staats-Zeitung – Free Soil Democratic, Republican // Editor George Schneider // Dates available: 1858 (one issue only) (GenealogyBank)

 

Iowa

Die Wochentliche Demokrat (Davenport, IA) – Dates available: 1862-1865 (Newspapers.com)

 

Wisconsin

Atlas Tagliche Ausgabe (Milwaukee, WI) – Dates available: 1859-1860 (Newspapers.com)

Banner Und Volksfreund Vereinigt Tagliche Stadt-A (Milwaukee, WI) – Dates available: 1855-1857 (Newspapers.com)

Das Tagliche Banner (Milwaukee, Wi) – Dates available: 1851-1852 (Newspapers.com)

Der Volksfreund (Milwaukee, WI) – Dates available: 1847-1850 (Newspapers.com)

Taglicher Volksfreund (Milwaukee, WI) – Dates available: 1850-1852 (Newspapers.com)

 

Kansas

Der Deutsche Kreiger (Fort Scott, KS) – Dates available: 1862 (Newspapers.com)

Kansas Zeitung (Atchison, KS) – Dates available: 1857-1858 (Newspapers.com)

Leavenworth Zeitung (Leavenworth, KS) – Dates available: 1858-1859 (Newspapers.com)

 

[1] “A Slave Stampede,” St. Louis Mississippi Blätter (Sunday edition of Westliche Post), August 26, 1860 (translated using GoogleTranslate); “Another Slave Stampede,” St. Louis News, quoted in Louisville, KY Daily Journal, August 28, 1860.

[2] Kristen Layne Anderson, Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2016), introduction and chapter 1. Also see, Kristen Layne Anderson, “German Americans, African Americans, and the Republican Party in St. Louis, 1865-1872,” Journal of American Ethnic History 28:1 (Fall 2008): 34-51.

[3] For a detailed overview of St. Louis’s German-language papers and their shifting political affiliations, see Anderson, Abolitionizing Missouri, esp. introduction.

The 1859 LaGrange Stampede

PRINTABLE NARRATIVE

DATELINE: NOVEMBER 7, 1859, LAGRANGE, MO

escape nighttime flatboat

Enslaved people escape aboard a small water craft, as depicted in Harper’s Weekly on April 9, 1864. (House Divided Project)

On Monday night, November 7, 1859, ten enslaved people crowded into a stolen flatboat and pushed off into the Mississippi River. Escaping from bondage in the riverside town of LaGrange, Missouri, these five men and five women steered a course by moonlight, local knowledge, and sheer determination, traveling some ten miles southeast to Quincy, Illinois. The next morning, seven slaveholders awoke to discover their “valuable slaves,” worth “not less than $10,000,” suddenly gone, and offered up a hefty $2,650 reward for their recapture. Costly as it was to local slaveholders, it was by no means the first such large escape launched from the vicinity. The town’s newspaper, the LaGrange American, hardly needed to remind readers that this latest episode marked “the third or fourth successful stampede that has taken place from LaGrange in the past three or four months.” Escapes were becoming so common, the paper alleged that “there is a regular underground railroad established from this place to Chicago.” [1] The enslaved men and women who set out upon that “underground railroad” revealed how coordinated group escapes posed a direct threat not only to slaveholders’ bottom line, but to the stability of slavery itself along the Missouri-Illinois border. 

 

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

Days after the escape, the LaGrange American described the episode as the most recent “successful stampede” from the region. This report was picked up by several Missouri papers, including the St. Louis News and Glasgow Weekly Times, both of which used the term “stampede.” The brief bulletin published by the St. Louis News attracted national attention, and was widely reprinted by newspapers in Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, Ohio, and Kentucky, under headlines such as “Negro Stampede,” “Stampede of Negroes in Missouri,” and “Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County.” [2]

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

The identities of the ten enslaved Missourians who escaped from LaGrange are unknown, as are the names of the seven slaveholders who laid claim to them. However, it is clear that the LaGrange stampede occurred amid a period of heightened anxieties for Missouri slaveholders. Less than a year earlier in December 1858, abolitionist John Brown had led a daring raid into western Missouri that freed eleven bond people, and in January 1859 his protege John Doy was captured and convicted of “seducing” enslaved Missourians to leave the state. Doy was rescued from prison in July, much to the outrage of proslavery Missourians. Then in mid-October, Brown and an armed group seized control of a federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in an abortive attempt to spark a slave revolt. As the Harpers Ferry raid captivated the nation and fed white southerners’ worst fears, Missouri papers were attentively reporting on the “irrepressible exodus of slaves from the borders of Missouri.” In October, a group of 26 freedom seekers escaped from western Missouri with the aid of antislavery operatives, traveling through Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois, eventually arriving in Detroit to considerable fanfare. Although matters seemed to be reaching a crisis point by late 1859, it was by no means the first time that slaveholders in Lewis County had grappled with an “exodus” of enslaved men and women. In fact, the escape from LaGrange occurred ten years to the week after an earlier “stampede” from Lewis County, where more than 30 enslaved people had struck out for freedom only to be subdued following a violent clash with slaveholders. [3]

More than ever before, human property seemed a risky investment in some parts of Missouri, particularly in places like LaGrange, where multiple “stampedes” had already occurred during the fall of 1859. Northern papers commented that “a perfect panic has seized the slaveholders of Missouri,” and the St. Louis Democrat concurred. A free soil press allied with the new antislavery Republican party, the Democrat wanted to wean the state off its dependence on enslaved labor, less out of sympathy for the enslaved than racist motivations to make room for free white labor. So the influential paper recounted the “exodus” of African Americans from the state––both in freedom seekers heading north, and in enslaved people being sold south by slaveholders apprehensive about the growing tide of escapes. Each day witnessed more enslaved Missourians forced aboard steamboats and sold down the river. “A visit to our levee will convince the skeptical of the steady and continual flow of slave property to the South,” the St. Louis organ declared.  Some contemporaries referred to this as “the stampede South,” and further evidence that “the State is fast emancipating itself from the incubus of slavery.” [4]stampede map

It appears the ten enslaved men and women in LaGrange were slated to be the next victims of the “stampede” to southern slave markets. According to one account, they were “sold to go down the river” the same day they escaped. Likely fearing they would be separated from family members at the auction block, these five men and five women instead set off on their own nighttime “stampede” across the Mississippi River on Monday, November 7. Soon after, the stolen flatboat used in the escape was found floating adrift near Quincy, Illinois, a riverside town that was home to a robust antislavery community. Whether the freedom seekers navigated to Quincy with aid from free African Americans or white antislavery activists, or on their own, remains unclear. However, LaGrange slaveholders were quick to point the finger at white antislavery activists in Quincy, rather than acknowledge the possibility that enslaved people might have been the authors of their own escape. The LaGrange American suggested that “an abolition conductor” had guided the ten bond people across the river, and even suspected that there were antislavery “agents” operating in LaGrange itself. [5]

timeline

Then on Friday night, November 11, an enslaved man escaped from the LaGrange residence of slaveholder David S. Lillard, a well-to-do 49-year-old farmer. Back in 1850, Lillard had held seven enslaved people, and by the time of the 1860 Census he claimed nine people as his property. They included four young children––a nine-year-old female, and three male children aged six, four, and -one––three other males in their early teens, a 36-year-old woman, and a man around the same age, likely a family. Although Lillard did not acknowledge to census takers in 1860 that any of his bond people were “fugitives from the state” (though quite a few of his neighbors did), a 50-year-old enslaved man who appeared on the 1850 Census is absent from Lillard’s list of human property ten years later. Whether this man, who would have been around 59 at the time of the LaGrange stampede, was the freedom seeker described is unknown. While the man’s identity remains clouded in uncertainty, he became the eleventh bond person to escape from LaGrange in the span of just four days. Even if his flight was not directly connected to the “stampede” earlier that same week, LaGrange slaveholders still viewed it as part of a broader pattern of escapes that was destabilizing slavery in northeastern Missouri. [6]

In the meantime, seven other LaGrange slaveholders were working feverishly to track down the ten freedom seekers who had escaped earlier in the week. They offered a sizable $2,650 reward, all while focusing their attention on Quincy. With the aid of Sheriff James Hendrickson of Adams County, Illinois, the slaveholders searched a Quincy home belonging to “a leading black republican” on Saturday, November 12, but came up empty-handed. Even Quincy’s Democratic press, the Herald, pull quotedrolly commented that “the Sheriff was at least four days behind time.” In nearby Hunstville, Missouri, the editor of the Randolph Citizen expressed what was fast becoming the general consensus: “There seems to be a poor chance for their recovery.” [7]

 

AFTERMATH AND LEGACY

On Thursday evening, November 17, several groups of freedom seekers arrived in Chicago. They included a party of five who had fled from near Richmond, Virginia, a group of 12 from Kentucky, and a contingent of 13 from Missouri. Although it is by no means certain, both the time frame and number of Missourians involved suggest that the LaGrange escapees may have been among them. The  runaways, 30 in all, passed through Chicago that night. Whether they journeyed to Canada, as the Chicago Journal reported, is uncertain. Northern newspapers often used the term “Canada” as a catchword for freedom, even if escapees were not actually headed for Canadian soil. For instance in December 1854, Chicago papers intimated that a group of 17 freedom seekers from St. Louis had already left for Canada, though the runaways were still in the city days later. [8]

stampede map

Regardless of whether the LaGrange freedom seekers made their way to Chicago, or sought refuge elsewhere, their daring escape clearly brewed consternation among Missouri slaveholders. In late November, an editor in Lewis County (where the LaGrange stampede occurred) bemoaned the “exodus of slaves [that] has taken place within the past few weeks.” Many slaveholders “have become alarmed at the losses sustained,” though most still blamed “abolitionists and negro-thieves” as the chief culprits, sidestepping enslaved people’s own aspirations for freedom and shifting focus to outside agitators, real or imagined. [9]

As white Missourians’ responses reveal, the repeat “stampedes” did more than hit the pockets of slaveholders, but unsettled the very foundations of slavery in northeastern Missouri. Local slaveholders were clearly reeling on November 28, when the county seat of Monticello played host to a meeting where “those interested in Slave property” contemplated forming “an organization to protect themselves from the depredations of negro-thieves.” The proceedings do not survive, though a Lewis County newspaper’s vow to “make an example of every negro-thief found in the State” offers a window into what the aggrieved slaveholders likely discussed. However, around the same time as the meeting at Monticello was underway, enslaved people some 20 miles to the south in the town of Emerson were “making preparations for a general stampede.” The plot was detected and quashed, but the attempted group escape only added to slaveholders’ concerns. Although slaveholding Missourians preferred to cast blame at outside forces, the mounting number of stampedes revealed more about the pressures confronting slavery from within than without. [10]

Meanwhile, the “exodus” of enslaved people being sold southward to slave markets continued at a steady clip. According to the Canton North-East Reporter (in Lewis County), and a journal in neighboring Hannibal, Missouri, slave traders were combing “through all the counties of North Missouri, buying up the slaves rapidly at high prices.” The Hannibal serial estimated that during one week in mid-November, “over 100 slaves, from Lewis, Clark and Scotland counties” had been hauled onto boats and transported south for sale. [11]

 

FURTHER READING

The first and most detailed report about the escape was published in the Lagrange American on November 12, and later excerpted by the Glasgow Weekly Times. On November 14, the St. Louis News drew upon the American‘s report and published a shorter version, with details not included by the Glasgow Weekly Times, that was widely circulated throughout the country. [12]

Despite garnering national attention in late 1859, the LaGrange stampede has received only brief mentions from scholars. In her book Runaway and Freed Missouri Slaves (2004), Harriet Frazier quotes from the copious press reports about the escape while examining newspaper coverage of Missouri escapes during the 1850s. [13] More recently, Richard Blackett’s authoritative study The Captive’s Quest for Freedom (2018) cites the LaGrange escape as among the “wave of ‘stampedes'” from Missouri after 1850. [14]

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

[1] LaGrange, MO American, November 12, 1859, quoted in “Negro Stampede,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 17, 1859; St. Louis News, November 14, 1859, quoted in “Stampede of Negroes from Missouri,” Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1859.

[2] LaGrange, MO American, November 12, 1859, quoted in “Negro Stampede,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 17, 1859; St. Louis News, November 14, 1859, quoted in “Negro Stampede,” Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1859“Stampede of Negroes in Missouri,” Cleveland, OH Daily Leader, November 18, 1859“Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County MO,” New Orleans Sunday Delta, November 20, 1859“Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County,” Newburyport, MA Morning Herald, November 22, 1859“Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County, Missouri,” Jackson, MS Semi-Weekly Mississippian, November 23, 1859“Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County,” Lowell, MA Daily Citizen and News, November 23, 1859“Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County,” Warren, OH Western Reserve Chronicle, November 23, 1859“Stampede of Negroes,” Franklin, KY Tri-Weekly Kentucky Yeoman, November 29, 1859New York Times, November 30, 1859“Stampede of Negroes from Lewis County,” Groton, MA Railroad Mercury, December 1, 1859; Toledo, IA Transcript, December 8, 1859.

[3] Detroit Advertiser, quoted in “A Large Underground Arrival,” Douglass’ Monthly, November 1859; “Signs Not to be Mistaken,” St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 9, 1859; “Twenty-Six Missouri Negroes Arrived in Canada,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 17, 1859.

[4] Detroit Advertiser, quoted in “A Large Underground Arrival,” Douglass’ Monthly, November 1859; “Signs Not to be Mistaken,” St. Louis, MO Democrat, November 9, 1859; LaGrange, MO American, November 12, 1859, quoted in “Negro Stampede,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 17, 1859.

[5] “Negro Stampede,” Cleveland, OH Daily Herald, November 19, 1859; LaGrange, MO American, November 12, 1859, quoted in “Negro Stampede,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 17, 1859; St. Louis News, November 14, 1859, quoted in “Stampede of Negroes from Missouri,” Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1859.

[6] St. Louis News, November 14, 1859, quoted in “Stampede of Negroes from Missouri,” Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1859; 1850 U.S. Census, District 48, Lewis County, MO, Family 280, Ancestry; 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, District 48, Lewis County, MO, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Union Township, Lewis County, MO, Family 728, Ancestry; 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedules, Union Township, Lewis County, MO, Ancestry; Find A Grave, [WEB]. Although Lillard’s views on the looming secession crisis are unknown, several years after the 1859 escape one of his sons, David E. Lillard, enlisted in a Confederate unit. See Margaret Thompson Winkler, Carolina Nigg, William Johnson Frazier, The “Long Tree” and Others: Longs, Davises, Thompsons, Cratins, and Slatons (Montgomery, AL: Uchee Publications,1995), 32. Later in 1865, the Lagrange American reported that “an athletic young negro named Henry, formerly the slave of David Lillard,” was arrested for allegedly attempting to rape a young woman. It is unclear if the paper referred to David S. Lillard, or his son who had fought for the Confederacy. See LaGrange American, August 27, 1865, quoted in St. Louis, MO Tri-Weekly Missouri Democrat, August 2, 1865.

[7] Quincy, IL Daily Herald, November 14, 1859; Hannibal, MO Daily Messenger, November 15, 1859; Huntsville, MO Randolph Citizen, November 18, 1859.

[8] “Negro Stampede,” Cleveland, OH Daily Herald, November 19, 1859; “Underground Railroad Business,” Cleveland, OH Daily Leader, November 21, 1859.

[9]  “Leaving,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 24, 1859; The Glasgow Weekly Times quoted an unnamed Lewis County newspaper, which it identified only as “Senator Green’s Home Organ,” (US Senator James Green of Missouri) suggesting it was either a Canton or Monticello paper.

[10] “Leaving,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 24, 1859; “The Latest News,” Hannibal, MO Daily Messenger, November 26, 1859; Hannibal, MO Daily Messenger, December 6, 1859. See post on Hannibal Messenger.

[11] Hannibal, MO Gazette, “The Slave Exodus,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 24, 1859; Canton, MO North-East Reporter, quoted in “The Slave Exodus,” Baltimore Sun, November 29, 1859. According to the Library of Congress, copies of the Canton North-East Reporter do not survive for 1859.

[12] LaGrange, MO American, November 12, 1859, quoted in “Negro Stampede,” Glasgow, MO Weekly Times, November 17, 1859; St. Louis News, November 14, 1859, quoted in “Stampede of Negroes from Missouri,” Chicago Tribune, November 17, 1859. According to the Library of Congress, the Lagrange American is held on microfilm at the State Historical Society of Missouri.

[13] Harriet Frazier, Runaway and Freed Missouri Slaves and Those who Helped Them, 1763-1865 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004), 102. See post. Frazier cites an article about the escape from the Louisiana Journal (possibly from Louisiana, MO), which apparently was published in June 1860. But the details of the escape correspond to those of the November 1859 stampede described in this post.

[14] Richard J.M. Blackett, The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 140, 234.

The 1862 Loutre Island Stampede

PRINTABLE NARRATIVE

DATELINE: NOVEMBER 1862, GASCONADE BRIDGE, NEAR HERMANN, MO

Runaways Union lines

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

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

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

 

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

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

 

MAIN NARRATIVE

Mundwiller headshot

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

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

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

Gasconade map

Gasconade county, Missouri. (House Divided Project)

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

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

stampede map

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

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

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

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

timeline Loutre Island stampede

 

AFTERMATH AND LEGACY

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

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

names Hermann

Names of the eighteen alleged abolitionists. (Hermanner Volksblatt, April 11, 1863, Library of Congress)

Even so, the Loutre Island slaveholders were determined to recover damages from the Hermann residents who played an active role in aiding the freedom seekers. In April 1863, a local newspaper published the names of 18 alleged abolitionists: C.P. Strehly, William Wesselhoeft, William Poeschel, Michael Posechel, Gottlieb Rippstein, F.A. Nitchy, Chr. Mueller, John B. Micke, Ferdinand Metzler, Henry Stein, Joseph Mueller, John L. Kraettle, Jon C. Baer, F.G. Kuhn, Schawrzenbach, Petrus, Engel Baumann, and C.C. Manwaring. Slaveholders Talbot, Clark, and Martin reportedly planned to file charges in state court for $2,000 worth of damages, some of which was expected to go to a local man named Achtenne, who had acted as a slave catcher and aided the slaveholders back in November. But the same Hermann paper that reported the pending charges expressed confidence that the enslavers had no case. U.S. authorities have “conclusive proof that those rebels of Loutre Island” were disloyal and therefore had “forfeited all their property” under the Second Confiscation Act. It is unclear if charges were ever filed. [11]

 

FURTHER READING

The most detailed accounts of the Loutre Island stampede are found in the correspondence between Nitchy, Manwaring and General Curtis. These documents are reprinted in the edited compilation Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation. The St. Louis Missouri Democrat reprinted excerpts of Nitchy’s correspondence, with additional commentary, while the German-language Westliche Post, also of St. Louis, ran an eyewitness account penned by a German resident of Hermann. [12]

Despite contemporary news coverage, the episode has been largely overlooked by historians. However, scholars have written about Curtis’s General Orders. No. 35 and the controversy those new guidelines stirred back in Washington. Leslie Schwalm situates the orders within the broader context of Curtis’s appointment as department commander in September 1862. Once in charge, she notes, Curtis began a vigorous push “to ensure the widest possible application” of the Confiscation Acts. General Orders No. 35 marked the culmination of Curtis’s efforts, though President Lincoln, fearful Curtis might be going too far and antagonizing slaveholding Missouri Unionists, urged the department commander to “keep peace” and mollify his orders. [13] Joseph Reidy traces Curtis’s campaign to broadly implement the Confiscation Acts back even further. Starting in February 1862, while commanding Union troops near Helena, Arkansas, Curtis had been issuing certificates of freedom to runaways, though as Reidy observes, with mixed results. In a theatre of war where Union units moved frequently and in unpredictable ways, those certificates could either be worthless, or even backfire should Confederate troops overtake certificate-bearing freedom seekers. [14] Scholars have also stressed the uncertainty clouding the fate of freedom seekers who found their way behind Union lines during the early stages of the war. While recounting a similar confrontation between slaveholders and U.S. authorities in nearby Pacific, Missouri during the spring of 1862, Chandra Manning emphasizes the “vagueness” of federal policy and U.S. officers’ struggles to interpret and enact it on the ground. [15]

 

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[11] Hermann Hermanner Volksblat, April 11, 1863. Original available at Chronicling America, Library of Congress. For translation, see Selected Articles of the Hermanner Volksblatt, 1860-1864, St. Louis Civil War Project, Missouri Digital Heritage, [WEB].

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

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

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

[15] Chandra Manning, Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016), 196-197.

Darrel Dexter – Bondage in Egypt (2011)

escaping enslaved people

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

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

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

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

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

Boat Escape

Enslaved people escaping by boat. (House Divided Project)

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

Randolph 1857 map

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

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

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

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

 

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

[2] Dexter, 14-17, 24-25.

[3] Dexter, 14-17, 48-50, 69-71, 248.

[4] Dexter, 10-11,17.

[5] Dexter, 259-260.

[6] Dexter, 318.

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

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

[9] Dexter, 313-315.

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

The 1863 Hannibal Stampede

PRINTABLE NARRATIVE

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

Enslaved people escaping

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

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

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

STAMPEDE CONTEXT

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

MAIN NARRATIVE

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

Hannibal riverside view

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

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

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

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

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

Porter headshot

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

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

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

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

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

AFTERMATH AND LEGACY

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

FURTHER READING

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

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

ADDITIONAL IMAGES

 

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

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

[3] “Slave Stampede,” Chicago Tribune, March 31, 1863; “Slave Stampede from Hannibal,” Saint Joseph, MO Weekly Herald, April 2, 1863; “Slave Stampede from Hannibal,” Vincennes (IN) Gazette, April 4, 1863, p. 4; “Slave Stampede from Hannibal,” Lancaster, PA Inquirer, April 6, 1863; “Slave Stampede from Hannibal,” Atchison, KS Freedom’s Champion, April 11, 1863.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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