Images of America: Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad by Richard Cooper and Eric Jackson (2014)

Published in 2014, Images of America: Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad by Richard Cooper and Eric R. Jackson contains dozens of portraits of prominent abolitionists and photographs of locations which were useful to freedom-seekers.  The book offers a useful chronological image map of historical events through the Civil War era.  There are several profiles of more well-known figures such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and William Lloyd Garrison.  In addition, Images of America also highlights more obscure abolitionists, such as Reverend John G. Fee (who was “eventually disowned” by his family for harboring “radical antislavery opinions”), James Birney (a Princeton alumnus who “founded the abolitionist newspaper The Philanthropist in 1836”), and Anna Donaldson (who worked against slavery alongside her sons).1

The term “stampede” does not appear in this book.  Instead, Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad describes various types of escapes and the support systems which aided them.  According to the authors, for example, “The city’s emerging steamboat industry granted employment opportunities for African Americans and provided a way to transport black Americans escaping from the South to the North without detection.”2   

The authors note that some freedom-seekers “travel(ed) at night or hid(–) aboard sailing vessels as well as in safe-houses…  Those who were lucky enough to escape concealed themselves, used various disguises, obtained free papers, and traveled the back roads to gain their freedom”, and “On foot, runaways seldom traveled more than 10 to 15 miles per night.  Another way…was through the use of various creeks and small streams that fed into a larger waterway, especially in the northern Kentucky and southwest Ohio regions.”3

Co-author Richard Cooper provides several primary-source photographs of monuments or buildings connected to the Underground Railroad or Civil War, or which concern individual Black people and their accomplishments.  His images of the Black Brigade Monument (which honors an all-Black “military unit organized during the Civil War to protect the city from being attacked by the Confederates”), Father Wallace Shelton’s gravesite in Union Baptist Cemetery (“which contains the remains of…a number of African American Civil War veterans” and “is the oldest Baptist African American cemetery in the city”), and a statue of James Bradley (who was “the first African American student at Oberlin College”) are originals.4


[1] Cooper and Jackson, Images of America: Cincinnati’s Underground Railroad, (Arcadia Publishing in, 2014), 46; 50; 59.

[2] Cooper and Jackson, 36.

[3] Cooper and Jackson, 76; 77.

[4] Cooper and Jackson, 47; 173; 192.

Nikki M. Taylor — Driven Toward Madness: The Fugitive Slave Margaret Garner and Tragedy on the Ohio (2016)

Garner mural

A Mural of the Garner Family Crossing the Ohio River (Historical Marker Database)

According to historian Nikki Taylor, “African American women are at the heart of American history and its many subfields.”[1] This statement certainly captures the essence of Taylor’s argument in Driven Toward Madness: The Fugitive Slave Margaret Garner and Tragedy on the Ohio, which describes the life of Margaret Garner and the sad fate of her enslaved family. Their experiences are used to analyze the pain that African American women endured in the antebellum period. Like many enslaved women, Garner had endured unthinkable traumas on the plantation she was bound to in Richwood, Kentucky. In addition to the forced labor she completed, she was also subject to verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in many forms.[2] According to Taylor, the tragic events that occurred following the Garners’ escape from slavery likely stemmed from this trauma.

Taylor does not discuss the term “stampede” as a form of slave escapes in her book. She does, however, acknowledge the obstacles and potential successes of slave escapes in general. Taylor explains that the most likely demographic to make it to freedom were younger men who traveled alone. Yet the Garner family traveled as a group of eight, with the youngest member at nine months old and the eldest in their fifties.[3] Margaret Garner’s husband, Simon Jr. (later named Robert), had the most geographic experience of the group because his slaveholder had granted him jobs away from the plantation.[4] According to Taylor, enslaved people in Kentucky were unlikely to escape relative to other areas due to the close ratio of white slaveholders to enslaved people. In Kentucky, it was more likely for enslaved people to engage in acts of resistance rather than attempt escape.[5]

“The Modern Medea” (1867), Painting of Margaret Garner’s Actions by Thomas Satterwhite Noble (Library of Congress)

The Garners were set on freedom, however, despite the grim circumstances. They deliberated for over a month to determine their route to Ohio, which was just sixteen miles away.[6] They left the plantation at 10:00 pm on January 27, 1856, with a sled pulled by two horses. They had to cross the frozen—yet still dangerous—Ohio River, but their escape was successful. The family arrived in the free territory of Cincinnati, Ohio at 8:00 am on January 28.[7] Their relief was short-lived, however. Slaveholders quickly noticed the Garners were missing and began their pursuit. Once in Ohio, Archibald Gaines and Thomas Marshall obtained a warrant under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act to repossess the Garners as their property. When a deputized group of people arrived at the home where the Garners were staying, they decided to fight rather than return to slavery. Robert shot a deputy and tensions escalated.[8] Assuming they would not make it out, Margaret grabbed a knife and slit the throat of her two-year-old daughter. She wanted her children to die rather than remain enslaved. She attempted to kill the rest of her children, but she was stopped by the owners of the house. Later, in an interview with Reverend Horace Bushnell, Garner claimed it was better for her children “to go home to God than back to slavery.”[9] The deputies forced their way through the door to take the pistol away from Robert. In a final attempt to prevent the enslavement of her children, Margaret hit her nine-month-old daughter in the face with a shovel.[10]

Newspaper Headline of the Garner Escape and Killings (St. Louis, MO Globe-Democrat)

The Garners’ fugitive slave trial transfixed people in Cincinnati. Crowds of Black and White anti-slavery protestors came to the courthouse each day. Groups of women also came to protest the separate murder trial involving Margaret Garner. This was significant because, according to Taylor, they were “the first documented collective and public protests by Black women on behalf of another Black woman in US history.”[11] On February 26, 1856, the court decided the Garners would be returned to their owners. In Kentucky, and an arrest warrant was issued for the Garner parents concerning their daughter’s murder. To prevent their arrest by Ohio officials, the slaveholders and their allies had the Garners sent on a steamboat to New Orleans. Yet on this journey, the boat collided with another, and Margaret’s youngest daughter was thrown from her hands into the water. Margaret appeared to be relieved that her daughter was finally free from slavery.[12]

Taylor uses the psychological concept of “soul murder” to place “physical, sexual, and mental trauma, abuse, and torture” alongside Margaret Garner’s story.[13] Overall, her book aims to utilize the trauma endured by Margaret and her family as a lens through which to analyze a mother’s murderous actions. Taylor writes that “there is a direct relationship between racist and sexist insults, sexual and physical assaults—injustice in any form—and psychological pain.”[14] Her literature seeks to make this relationship clear to her readers and give Margaret the voice she deserves. Previously, her story had been regarded as “non-narratable” by many historians and scholars, but Taylor’s work seeks to unravel the “black feminist interpretation” of Margaret’s choices.[15] According to Taylor, the spiral of psychological torture throughout Margaret’s life could only end with her tragic attempts to end her children’s enslavement.


[1] Nikki M. Taylor, Driven Toward Madness: The Fugitive Slave Margaret Garner and Tragedy on the Ohio (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2016), 6.

[2] Taylor, 27.

[3] Taylor, 8.

[4] Taylor, 9-10.

[5] Taylor, 10-11.

[6] Taylor, 12.

[7] Taylor, 15-17.

[8] Taylor, 20.

[9] Taylor, 74.

[10] Taylor, 21-22.

[11] Taylor, 66.

[12] Taylor, 84-87.

[13] Taylor, 3.

[14] Taylor, 3.

[15] Taylor, 5.

Dr. Darrel E. Bigham – On Jordan’s Banks: Emancipation and its Aftermath in the Ohio River Valley (2006)

A photograph portrait of Dr. Darrel E. Bigham, the author of 'On Jordan's Banks'

Dr. Darrel E. Bigham, from

An enslaved mother made the urgent decision to escape after she learned of her owner’s plans to sell several of her eight children.  Because she was trusted to sell vegetables in the local market, she was able to hide her possessions in a wagon underneath a layer of produce.  Then, she drove the cart to a spot south of Covington, Kentucky, on the Ohio River.  Her husband and children met her there, and began their clandestine operation to cross the river into freedom officially underway.  This was a success story: “She and her family eventually reached Canada,” Darrel E. Bigham writes in his 2006 book On Jordan’s Banks: Emancipation and Its Aftermath in the Ohio River Valley.  While his book does not use the term ‘stampede’, it does include accounts of families, individual freedom seekers, and organized groups of people escaping.  In addition, Bigham writes of enslaved people rebelling against slaveholders in a variety of ways.

Bigham writes, “[Slaves] who could not look forward to emancipation expressed opposition in many ways, mostly nonviolent – ranging from humor and music to work slowdowns or temporarily running away.”1   Even though many enslaved people knew that they would not be able to escape in the immediate future, they still purposefully rebelled against the slaveholders.  One case involved an enslaved man who strangled his overseer “with his own suspenders.”2  Because the enslavers knew they were outnumbered, they often relied on intimidation to make their enslaved people believe that rebelling was not worth the danger they would be in afterward.  “[O]wners took slaves to hangings, hoping to make an impression on them,”3 Bigham recounts.  Clearly, enslaved people’s defiance made an impact.

Enslaved man running away from two pursuers

Enslaved Man Escaping, from NYPL Public Domain Archive.

Interestingly, Bigham counters an assertion that this sort of pushback was “[enslaved people’s] most successful resistance.”4  He continues, “The error is not in celebrating their counterculture, but rather in failing to appreciate that only running away allowed blacks to ‘outplay whites in the divide-and-conquer’ game.”5  Even better, this form of mobile rebellion did not scare slaveholders in a way which caused them to retaliate violently against the slaves who had stayed.  This leads into Bigham’s discussion of escapes.  He writes that Black people took initiative in organizing their escapes, and emphasizes “that the Underground Railroad depended heavily on black agents” who were sometimes newly-free people who had taken similar routes out of slaveholding territory.6  Bigham includes several references to individual Black people escaping from their bondage with the help of abolitionists.  For example, he relays the story repeated by “[t]he great-niece of a slave named Lewis Barnett” about her great-uncle, who “escaped with twelve others traveling through New Albany”, where they were hidden by a Black family for two days before being unfortunately recaptured.7

Brick church building with a clocktower

The Second Baptist Church, New Albany, VA, from Darrel Bigham.

Bigham includes a significant amount of geographical and cultural information about the Underground Railroad’s operations, and he makes a point to mention names and provides short accounts of both white and free black people who helped the runaways in their escapes.  At the end of his book, Bigham includes pictures of primary sources, some of which are newspapers about anti-Black initiatives, an autographed autobiography of a Black reverend, and two nineteenth-century schools for African Americans.   Those last photos are from the author’s collection.  In fact, Bigham personally provides several pictures of important buildings like schools or churches which used to serve as stops on the Underground Railroad.


[1] Darrel Bigham, On Jordan’s Banks: Emancipation and its Aftermath in the Ohio River Valley (University Press of Kentucky, 2006), 22.

[2] Bigham, 22.

[3] Bigham, 22.

[4] Bigham, 22.

[5] Bigham, 22.

[6] Bigham, 24.

[7] Bigham, 47.

Richard D. Sears — Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History (2002)

“Burnside was at Camp Nelson just preparing to start out and I thought if I could only make it to that place I would be all right.”[1]

Portrait of Peter Bruner After the Civil War (National Park Service)

This thought was prominent in Peter Bruner’s mind as he envisioned his escape to freedom near the Kentucky border around 1862. At about seventeen years old, Bruner—an enslaved man—and several others attempted to evade their violent slaveholders by reaching safety at Camp Nelson. In his memoir documented by author Richard Sears, Bruner recalls the other members of his group being captured before they reached the camp. Bruner attempted to hide in the weeds a half-mile away from the scene but was eventually discovered. He explains that the capturers took him and the rest of the freedom seekers “before the Magistrate” and they swore they “were runaway slaves.”[2] The men were then taken to jail near Lexington, Kentucky where they stayed with more than twenty other freedom seekers.[3] When he was nineteen, Bruner again attempted to escape to Camp Nelson. This time he was successful. He enrolled in the US Army on July 25, 1864, and he served for two and a half years.[4]

In his book Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History, Sears documents Bruner’s escape to what was later one of the most important refugee camps during the American Civil War. Sears utilizes primary documents such as letters, memoirs, and telegraphs to convey historical details about the camp. Much of the book contains background information and firsthand experiences at Camp Nelson throughout the Civil War.  Yet, the only mention of a group escape from slavery is found in Peter Bruner’s experiences.

Soldiers in the US Colored Troops Outside Barracks at Camp Nelson (National Archives and Records Administration)

Throughout his book, Sears charts how Camp Nelson evolved from a military installation to a key haven for enslaved Kentuckians and their families fleeing bondage. The camp was originally constructed in Jessamine County, Kentucky with four central goals in mind: to protect Hickman Bridge (an establishment crucial for seizing Tennessee), to prepare to invade Tennessee, to take control of the Cumberland Gap, and to gather soldiers in central Kentucky.[5] The US Army was initially optimistic about these goals, but the camp later faced hardship. As the transport roads from Camp Nelson to troops in East Tennessee became muddier, they were virtually impossible to utilize. Because of this, animals and soldiers faced starvation and received minimal military supplies.[6] Although the camp generally failed as a military installment, it served well as a pit stop for US soldiers returning from Tennessee. The camp had to expand its amenities, which enslaved people (whom Union officials referred to as “contrabands”) constructed.[7] After the US Army opened enlistment to enslaved men in the summer of 1864, Camp Nelson became the most notable Black recruitment hub in the state and the third-largest in the nation for the US Colored Infantry.[8] Many men and their families viewed enlistment as an escape from the horrors of slavery.

A refugee camp at Camp Nelson during the Civil War (National Archives and Records Administration)

In the late months of the Civil War, the camp became a place of refuge for Black and white men, women, and children. According to Sears, many believed “Camp Nelson would be the largest center for black progress…in the state of Kentucky.”[9] These hopes, however, did not ultimately come to fruition. Some refugees who arrived at Camp Nelson included white unionist families who were no longer safe in East Tennessee. Others were the families of enslaved men who enlisted in the US Army.[10] Some women and children were driven away or returned to slavery. For those permitted to stay at the camp, mortality rates soared due to overcrowding and disease.[11] In place of this unofficial camp, Rev. John Gregg Fee and Capt. Theron E. Hall opened the government-sponsored Camp Nelson Refugee Home in 1865. Black women and children with relatives fighting in the war could stay there legally, which thousands viewed as protection from slavery.[12] Despite its high mortality rate—and its relatively short lifespan from January 1865 to March 1866—the legacy of the institution was profound. It provided a place for Black people to gather, work, and attend school. When the war ended in April 1865, however, Camp Nelson was discarded. The Freedmen’s Bureau, established by the federal government to address the newly-freed four million African Americans in the US, was tasked with dismantling the camp and its Refugee Home. Many refugees had nowhere safe to relocate, so they stayed at the camp as long as possible. The camp was officially closed on March 14, 1866, and the refugees who remained at the site became the first residents of a new town.[13]

Present Day Camp Nelson National Cemetery (National Park Service)

Although Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History mentions many instances of escapes from slavery—including the experiences of Peter Bruner and his group of freedom seekers —the term “stampede” is not used.





[1] Richard D. Sears, Camp Nelson, Kentucky: A Civil War History (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2002), 13.

[2] Sears, 14.

[3] Sears, 14.

[4] Sears, 104.

[5] Sears, “Historical Introduction,” xxi.

[6] Sears, “Historical Introduction,” xxv.

[7] Sears, “Historical Introduction,” xxxiii.

[8] Sears, “Historical Introduction,” xxx.

[9] Sears, “Historical Introduction,” lvii.

[10] Sears, “Historical Introduction,” xxxii.

[11] Sears, “Historical Introduction,” lii.

[12] Sears, “Historical Introduction,” lii.

[13] Sears, “Historical Introduction,” lx.

The 1852 Augusta and Dover Kentucky Stampede


headshot of Scott, beard, white hair, military epaulettes

US army general and 1852 Whig presidential nominee Winfield Scott (House Divided Project)

Cannons thundered in salute as Whig presidential candidate Winfield Scott stepped off the dock at Maysville, Kentucky on Friday evening, September 24, 1852. Much like his Democratic rival, Franklin Pierce, Scott aimed to dodge the divisive issue of slavery in hopes of appealing to both Northern and Southern voters. But enslaved Kentuckians had other ideas. Their actions would make avoiding slavery all but impossible during the final weeks of the campaign. While many of their slaveholders traveled to Maysville that weekend and weighed whether to cast their ballots for the Whig nominee, more than 30 enslaved Kentuckians made a political decision of their own when they crossed the Ohio River on Saturday night, September 25 and exited slavery. [1] The latest “slave stampede” from the Kentucky borderlands led to an armed standoff between slaveholders and antislavery vigilance forces in Ripley, Ohio, ratcheting up sectional tensions on the eve of the 1852 presidential election.



newspaper clipping all capitals headline Another negro Stampede

“Another Negro Stampede,” Maysville Eagle, quoted in Louisville (KY) Daily Journal, October 2, 1852 (ProQuest)

Observers in Kentucky and across the nation were quick to label the mass escape a “stampede.” The headline from nearby Maysville, Kentucky lamented “Another Negro Stampede.” Meanwhile, New York Times and Richmond Enquirer reported on the “Great Slave Stampede” from Kentucky. Writing just days after the escape, Kentucky abolitionist John G. Fee estimated it to be “one of the largest stampedes, perhaps, ever known in the State, and at the same time successful.” [2]



Enslaved people in the border counties of Bracken and Mason correctly anticipated that the political festivities would provide them with an excellent opportunity to escape. After all, Scott’s visit to Maysville was just the highlight of a crowded lineup of political gatherings. Whigs held a convention nearby at Ripley, Ohio, while Scott continued to draw large crowds as he campaigned across northern Kentucky. The political fervor swept up countless white Kentuckians, including many slaveholders who flocked to hear Scott speak. “Their absence, no doubt, afforded the slaves a splendid opportunity to plot and mature their plans for escape,” suggested one Ohio editorialist. More than 30 enslaved people did just that on Saturday evening, September 25, leaving from the riverside towns of Augusta and Dover, Kentucky and crossing the Ohio River to Ripley. [3]

red brick house, three windows, door

Black abolitionist John Parker assisted freedom seekers from his Ripley, Ohio home, now a museum (Ripley Bee)

It was no accident that the large group of freedom seekers headed straight for Ripley, a riverside community known for its extensive Underground Railroad network. Ripley activists such as Presbyterian minister John Rankin, free Black John Parker, and white miller Thomas McCague regularly assisted freedom seekers. Parker, who later boasted that he had assisted over 400 people across multiple decades, often ventured into Kentucky to personally guide enslaved men and women across the Ohio River to Rankin’s home or McCague’s mill. Parker recalled one daring trip when he piloted a group of freedom seekers from the border counties of Kentucky to McCague’s home, where he instructed them to hide in some hay. This particular group of freedom seekers stood out in Parker’s memory, but not positively. The freedom seekers ignored his repeated pleas to lower their voices and in fact “became so noisy” that Parker and McCague had to relocate the group to McCague’s attic. The veteran abolitionists were “glad to get rid of them as soon as it was dark.” [4]

The unruly freedom seekers whom Parker described may well been those who left Augusta and Dover as part of the September 1852 “stampede,” but his recollection does not provide enough details to say for sure. What is clear is that the freedom seekers from Augusta and Dover reached McCague’s mill by Sunday morning, September 26, very possibly with assistance from Parker. [5]

Once in Ripley, the large group of freedom seekers split over strategy. The majority preferred to stay with McCague and wait until dark the next evening to continue their journey. A smaller contingent of five people insisted on pressing forward immediately. Their decision proved costly. Slaveholders eventually caught up with the smaller group about 35 miles north of Ripley and recaptured three individuals. [6]

color map, Kentucky counties colorized, Ohio shore white

Meanwhile, slaveholders had easily traced the larger group of freedom seekers to their hideout in Ripley. Around 2 am on Monday morning, September 27, slaveholders sleuthing around McCague’s mill discovered a bundle of clothing dropped by the freedom seekers. Slaveholders confidently proclaimed that they had “pinned” the runaways. Expecting to recapture the freedom seekers any minute, the Kentuckians requested that their neighbors hurry to Ripley to provide testimony to support their claims in potential legal proceedings. Emboldened by the news, more white Kentuckians streamed into Ripley, “armed to the teeth with double-barrelled shot guns, rifles, pistols, clubs and bowie-knives.” One Kentuckian even crossed the river toting “a carpet sack full of handcuffs.” [7]

Ripley’s free Black community was equally determined to protect the freedom seekers. Black residents armed themselves and laid siege to the hotel where the slave catchers had assembled. With both sides heavily armed, observers worried that the standoff might lead to bloodshed. “Fears are entertained of a serious disturbance,” a correspondent for the New York Herald reported on Monday, September 27 from across the river in Maysville. “The Kentuckians remain there on the watch, and are determined to recover the slaves.” [8] 

Hale headshot, cleanshaven, grey hair

Ripley residents taunted slave catchers with cheers for Free Soil party presidential nominee John P. Hale (House Divided Project)

Ripley’s African American community spearheaded the resistance, though white residents also stonewalled slave catchers’ efforts. Local officials refused to grant slaveholders search warrants to enter McCague’s mill. Although free Black John Parker and several other Ripley abolitionists voluntarily permitted the Kentuckians to search their homes on Monday, September 27, they had no intention of actually assisting the slave catchers. Wherever the freedom seekers were concealed, Ripley abolitionists diverted the slave catchers down what proved to be a series of  dead ends. All the while, local residents taunted the Kentuckians after every failed search. “Each failure to make any discovery, was followed with the shout, hurra[h] for Hale,” a barbed reference to the Free Soil party’s presidential candidate, John P. Hale. [9] 

timeline, grey background, black text

By Monday night, slaveholders’ earlier optimism had evaporated. Before long, the Kentuckians headed home empty-handed. The Maysville, Kentucky Eagle ruefully conceded that because of “the facilities for flight afforded in Ohio… the probability is that the residue [of freedom seekers] will make good their escape.” [10]



Slaveholders’ anger over the successful stampede put a large target on John Parker’s back. On Friday night, October 1, several Kentuckians attempted to kidnap the veteran abolitionist. Three Kentuckians, George Jennings, Charles Gibbons, and Burn Coburn, waited in a skiff on the river’s edge while they sent an enslaved man named William Carter to Parker’s front door. “I am a runaway, my wife and children are across the river,” Carter explained, pleading with Parker to cross the river with him and help his family escape. Fortunately for Parker, his wife Miranda “intuitively mistrusted the man.” After listening to Carter’s story, Parker agreed that “there was something radically wrong with his story and himself.” Parker pulled a pistol and Carter cracked. The enslaved man admitted that “he was only a decoy, sent by four men” who “were lying behind a log on the riverbank” waiting to seize Parker. One of the would-be kidnappers, Jennings, was Carter’s master, and had “threatened to kill him if he had not come and told the story he did.” [11] 

While Parker narrowly avoided kidnappers, observers throughout the country recognized that the latest successful “slave stampede” had the potential to escalate sectional tensions right on the eve of the presidential election. “The escape of the troop of slaves from Kentucky into Ohio, and probably thence to Canada, will be a source of a great irritation in that part of the country,” predicted the Washington correspondent for the New York Times. [12]  Kentucky abolitionist minister John G. Fee feared that the state’s nascent antislavery political movement would be blamed for the stampede and was astonished when the Free Soil party’s vice presidential nominee, George W. Julian, was able to campaign unmolested across Mason and Bracken counties only days after the mass escape from those very same counties. “One of the largest stampedes, perhaps, ever pull quote, bolded One of the largest stampedes, perhapsknown in the State, and at the same time successful, has just come off,” Fee boasted, “yet no disturbance in our meetings.” Fee thought he had witnessed “a wiping out of Mason and Dixon’s line” and the “partial destruction of the prejudice between North and South.” [13]

Fee’s hopes for sectional detente proved short-lived, however, because slaveholders in Kentucky and across the South quickly concentrated their ire on Ripley residents who had defied the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act by assisting the freedom seekers. It is beyond question that fugitive slaves are afforded protection, means and facilities, by people of Ohio, regardless of the obligations and duties devolved on them by the Constitution and Laws of the United States,” complained the Maysville Eagle just days after the standoff in Ripley. The Eagle issued a stern warning to its neighbors across the Ohio River: “the people of Kentucky cannot, will not, and ought not longer to submit to such outrage upon their property rights.” Ripley residents who jeered slave catchers with shouts for Free Soil party presidential candidate John Hale “may laugh now,” the Eagle ominously predicted, “but they will not mock when the Kentuckians, wronged, robbed, outraged, and derided as they have been, shall be roused to vengeance.” [14] The Louisville Courier likewise denounced the “reprehensible” conduct of Ripley officials and reported that “great indignation… pervades the entire community from whence the slaves escaped.” [15] In fact, the resistance in Ripley incited outrage across the South. As far away as Raleigh, North Carolina, a proslavery editor denounced the resistance in Ripley as a “monstrous outrage” and hoped that the Kentuckians would “crush the black armed mob who thus dare to outrage the law of the land.” [16]

pull quote, grey background, It seems as if there have been more casesAlthough the stampede did not alter the outcome of the presidential contest––which Democrat Franklin Pierce won handily––it did contribute to the American public’s mounting sense that group escapes were becoming more frequent since the Compromise of 1850. “It seems as if there have been more cases of such ‘stampedes,’ (to use a phrase imported from Mexico,) during the last two years, since the Fugitive act has been in existence, than ever before,” remarked a correspondent for the New York Times. The correspondent attributed the growing trend of group escapes to enslaved people’s realization that a successful escape would require “parties of some force and numbers” who “must go prepared to fight.” [17] 



The two most detailed contemporary accounts of the stampede include a report (apparently from a Kentucky newspaper) reprinted at length in a Raleigh, North Carolina newspaper, and a Ripley resident’s account of the confrontation written on October 4 and subsequently published in a Cleveland newspaper. [18] The mass escape has received no sustained coverage in scholarly works to date.





[1] “Gen. Scott in Maysville,” Maysville Eagle, September 25, 1852, quoted in Louisville (KY) Daily Courier, September 28, 1852; “Great Slave Stampede,” New York (NY) Herald, September 29, 1852.

[2] Maysville Eagle, quoted in “Another Negro Stampede,” Louisville (KY) Daily Journal, October 2, 1852; “Great Slave Stampede,” New York (NY) Herald, September 29, 1852; “Stampede of Slaves,” Washington (DC) Daily Republic, September 30, 1852 “Great Slave Stampede,” Richmond (VA) Enquirer, October 1, 1852; “A Stampede of Slaves,” Richmond (VA) Daily Dispatch,October 1, 1852; “Slave Stampede,” Louisville (KY) Daily Courier, October 4, 1852; “Great Slave Stampede,” Raleigh (NC) North Carolina Star, October 6, 1852; “Another Stampede,” Kenosha (WI) Telegraph,  October 8, 1852; “Slave Stampede,” Meigs County (OH) Telegraph, October 19, 1852; “Great Slave Stampede,” Natchez (MS) Mississippi Free Trader, October 20, 1852; Rocklin (CA) Placer Herald, November 13, 1852. For Fee’s remark, see “C.M. Clay and Geo. W. Julian,” Washington (DC) National Era, October 14, 1852.

[3] “The Stampede,” Cleveland (OH) Leader, October 14, 1852.

[4] John P. Parker, Stuart Seely Sprague (ed.), His Promised Land: The Autobiography of John P. Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), 138-139.

[5] “Great Slave Stampede,” Raleigh (NC) North Carolina Star, October 6, 1852; “The Stampede,” Cleveland (OH) Leader, October 14, 1852.

[6] “Great Slave Stampede,” New York (NY) Herald, September 29, 1852; Maysville Eagle, quoted in “Another Negro Stampede,” Louisville (KY) Daily Journal, October 2, 1852; “Great Slave Stampede,” Raleigh (NC) North Carolina Star, October 6, 1852.

[7] “Great Slave Stampede,” Raleigh (NC) North Carolina Star, October 6, 1852; “The Stampede,” Cleveland (OH) Leader, October 14, 1852.

[8] “Great Slave Stampede,” New York (NY) Herald, September 29, 1852.

[9] “The Stampede,” Cleveland (OH) Leader, October 14, 1852.

[10] Maysville Eagle, quoted in “Another Negro Stampede,” Louisville (KY) Daily Journal, October 2, 1852.

[11] “The Stampede,” Cleveland (OH) Leader, October 14, 1852; Parker, His Promised Land, 146-151. Parker recalled that the attempted kidnapping took place in July, but he was relating the story decades later to a reporter. However, Parker’s account closely matches the description provided in early October 1852 by a Ripley resident (whose letter appeared in a Cleveland newspaper), so much so that I feel confident both accounts refer to the same attempted kidnapping.

[12] “Washington – Flight of Negroes,” New York (NY) Times, October 4, 1852.

[13] “C.M. Clay and Geo. W. Julian,” Washington (DC) National Era, October 14, 1852.

[14] Maysville Eagle, quoted in “Another Negro Stampede,” Louisville (KY) Daily Journal, October 2, 1852.

[15] “Slave Stampede,” Louisville (KY) Daily Courier, October 4, 1852.

[16] “Great Slave Stampede,” Raleigh (NC) North Carolina Star, October 6, 1852.

[17] “Washington – Flight of Negroes,” New York (NY) Times, October 4, 1852.

[18] “Great Slave Stampede,” Raleigh (NC) North Carolina Star, October 6, 1852; “The Stampede,” Cleveland (OH) Leader, October 14, 1852.

The 1861 Camp Nevin Stampede


US general riding horse

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

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


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



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

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

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

headshot Sherman, beard, collar up

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

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

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

US camp, soldiers and cannon

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

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

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



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

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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Forbes

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


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

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

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

How to Colorize Using the Editing Software ‘GIMP’

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

The 1848 Lexington Stampede


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



stampede headline all caps

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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

outdoor scene, black and white photograph

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

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

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

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



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

Scholars have discussed the mass escape attempt, but not in connection with the “stampede” metaphor. Historian J. Winston Coleman used court records to reconstruct the details of the escape in his study, Slavery Times in Kentucky (1940). Herbert Aptheker drew on Coleman’s research and situated the escape as an insurrection in his landmark study, American Negro Slave Revolts (1943). In a pair of articles (1998 and 2000), historian John Leming, jr. concluded that the Lexington episode was the “largest single slave uprising in Kentucky history.” In a 2023 essay entitled “‘This Priceless Jewell––Liberty’: The Doyle Conspiracy of 1848,” 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 M. Prichard, “‘This Priceless Jewell––Liberty’: The Doyle Conspiracy of 1848,” in Gerald Smith (ed.), Slavery and Freedom in the Bluegrass State: (Re)-visiting My Old Kentucky Home (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2023), 79-109.

The 1856 Hannibal Stampede


Black preacher

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

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



stampede missouri

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

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



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

Marion Co MO

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

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

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

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

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

stampede timeline



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


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

anderson headshot

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

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



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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[13] Richard Blackett, The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018),142-145, see post; Epps, Slavery on the Periphery, see post.

Selected Articles from MHR (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was no mention of stampedes or any group escapes. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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