Tag Archives: John Brown

Database Report- St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican

Newspaper clipping from St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican

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

Search Summary

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

Top Results

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

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General Notes

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

Slave Stampedes and Abolitionist Agents in Wilbur Siebert’s The Underground Railroad

“The barn of Deacon Jireh Platt at Mendon, Illinois, was a haven into which many slaves from Missouri were piloted by way of Quincy.”[1]

This is all that is said about the abolitionist Platt family in Wilbur Siebert’s The Underground Railroad: From Slavery to Freedom, published in 1898. Siebert’s book was the first academic work to focus on the history of the Underground Railroad, piecing together his interpretation from interviews and recollections mostly collected from aging, former abolitionist agents.

Zora Galle

Zora Platt Galle holding photographs of Jireh and Sarah Platt. (Sarah Middleton, The Kansan)

However, recently, Zona Platt Galle, the great-great granddaughter of Jireh and Sarah Platt, wanted to know more about her ancestors than what Siebert had provided. During a visit to the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka, she discovered that the Kansas Historical Society was home to five boxes of Platt family papers. At least one recollection within this collection revealed that  during the 1840s, Jireh and Sarah hid a group of four escaped slaves, presumably from Missouri, on their farm for two weeks while fifty slave catchers intermittently searched their property. Galle states that “the slave hunters fired their guns, caused the chickens to squawk and even shouted death threats at the family, but eventually left empty handed.”[2] This amazing discovery now offers a fascinating modern addendum to Siebert’s groundbreaking work.mimig

When Siebert mentions large group escapes of enslaved people in The Underground Railroad (1898), he typically describes them as “companies.” The text does utilize the term stampede once, however, in a chapter on the impact of the Underground Railroad on the coming of Civil War.  “The prospect of a stampede of slaves, in case [border states] should join the secession movement,” Siebert writes, “was a consideration that may be supposed to have had some weight in fixing the decision of border slave states. Certainly it was one to which Northern men attached considerable importance at the time in explaining the steadfast position of these states.”[3]

Like many newspaper comments from the period, Seibert seems much more focused on the significance of the term “stampede” as it relates to slaveholders and politicians rather than on what it might have meant to enslaved people themselves. In this case, Siebert implies that Northern Unionists employed the term as a scare tactic to try to help keep Upper South states in line during the winter of 1860-61.[4] However, even if the term “stampede” was mostly a political maneuver, mass escapes were very real. The largest mass escape of Missouri slaves that Siebert described was the December 1858 raid by John Brown that freed Jim Daniels and his family and resulted in the death of slaveholder David Cruse.  Other than this “highly dramatic” event that “created great excitement throughout the country, especially in Missouri,” Siebert does not describe any other escapes, either individual or mass, that emanated out of Missouri.[5] According to the author, “the number of [Underground Railroad] lines was relatively not so great” in Missouri compared to states further east.[6]

The Underground Railroad (1898) was the first comprehensive, academic review of the efforts of slaves to escape their bondage and of abolitionist agents to help them find freedom in the North. As such, its value to this project is significant. Most importantly to this project, it reveals that even just three decades after the Civil War, the concept of stampedes was part of the story of the era.

[1] Wilbur Siebert, The Underground Railroad: From Slavery to Freedom (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1898), 63.

[2] (Patricia Middleton, “Tracing Abolitionist Ancestors,” The Kansan (Newton, KS), Sept 24, 2018. [WEB]

[3] Siebert, 355.

[4] Siebert, 354-355.

[5] Siebert, 162-163.

[6] Siebert, 135.

Kristen Epps – Slavery on the Periphery (2016)

Kansas 1857

Kansas Territory, 1857. (House Divided Project)

“We have several fugitives on hand, and more are expected,” wrote abolitionist James Montgomery, from Linn County, Kansas in October 1860. “Some of them are from Missouri, and some from Arkansas. When a keen, shrewd fellow comes to us, we send him back for more.” [1]

Montgomery’s casual mention of sending fugitives “back for more,” alluded to the mobility of many enslaved people living in western Missouri. This subject is explored in great detail in Kristen Epps’s recent book, Slavery on the Periphery (2016). While Diane Mutti Burke generally cast Missouri bondage as a distinctive “border south” form of slavery in her study, On Slavery’s Border (2010), Epps focuses specifically on how slavery spanned across both sides of the permeable Kansas-Missouri border. She contends that prior to 1855 the border was porous, almost more of an “invisible boundary” than tangible reality, as slaveholders and slaves moved regularly between the two. Long before the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and the period of “Bleeding Kansas” riveted the country, slavery already had a strong foothold in Kansas, almost identical to the small-scale bondage prevalent throughout Missouri. She suggests that the intense political struggle surrounding Kansas in the late 1850s was not just about the prospect of slavery in the abstract, but also slavery’s very real and lengthy presence in the territory. [2]

Mutti Burke’s describes mobility within Missouri slave culture, but Epps devotes considerably more time to the concept of enslaved peoples’ mobility, which she argues was “a core feature of slaves’ experiences in the region.” Yet Epps cautions that mobility was not a simple sign of a benevolent system, but frequently was “the result of forces beyond a slave’s personal control,” and that slaveholders regularly “exploited slaves’ mobility for their own ends.” Slaveholders often hired out their slaves during peak seasons, a practice that helped slaveholders increase the efficiency of their work force and remain solvent, while also allowing non-slaveholding whites to reap the benefits of enslaved labor. This “flexibility,” Epps argues, ensured the slave system’s survival and profitability in the border region. [3] 

At the same time, slaves could also benefit from  increased mobility. Slaves in western Missouri were often tasked with running errands across the border into the Kansas Territory, where they had ample opportunity to make contact with other free or enslaved people and, by the 1850s, a significant number of anti-slavery sympathizers. Additionally, many slaves formed abroad marriages (marriage to an enslaved person from another farm or plantation), and were regularly permitted to visit their spouses, children or other family members who lived on nearby properties. The frequency of “hiring out” also allowed enslaved people vital “access to the landscape,” that was unavailable to many slaves in the Deep South. [4] 

That mobility played a crucial role in the 1850s, Epps argues, when enslaved people used their thorough knowledge of the border’s “social and physical geographies,” to plan and organize their escapes. Thus, slave mobility, “the very concession that had made slavery viable out west,” also proved its undoing. By the late 1850s, as free settlers gained the ascendancy in Kansas, the once-fluid border was “redefined” as a dangerous line dividing free Kansas and slaveholding Missouri. Many enslaved people, well-versed in their surroundings, took the opportunity in the years between 1857 and 1861 to escape westward into Kansas. [5]


At the behest of Missouri slave Jim Daniels, abolitionist John Brown led a raid across the Kansas-Missouri border in December 1858, helping to free 11 slaves. (House Divided Project)

Epps does not use the term slave stampede in her book, though her emphasis on slave mobility offers important new insights about the concept. She identifies at least one case that could meet the definition of a slave stampede, highlighting the role of slave mobility. The escape was initiated when a Vernon County, Missouri enslaved man named Jim Daniels crossed the border into Kansas, under the pretense of running an errand. However, Daniels instead made contact with abolitionist John Brown, requesting that Brown help free his family. Brown complied, and on December 20, 1858, entered Vernon County with a force of armed men, freeing Daniels, his family and several other slaves (11 in total), and killing one slaveholder in the process. The group then travelled westward into Kansas and ultimately freedom. While credit has traditionally gone to Brown, in works such as those by Fergus Bordewich, Epps argues that the “raid” was made possible in the first place by Daniels’s mobility, which enabled him to cross the border and arrange the escape. [6]

freed slaves 1863

Freed slaves behind Union lines, 1863. (House Divided Project)

This theme returns in the book’s analysisof wartime escapes in Missouri. While Mutti Burke painted the Union army’s presence in Missouri as an instigator of escapes, Epps minimizes the army’s impact, arguing instead that most escapes happened as slaves seized “sudden opportunities to control their own mobility and obtain their freedom.” She argues that there is “little evidence” indicating African-Americans flocked to Union lines for “liberation,” but rather, they sought out the blue-clad columns for “protection and employment.” Drawing an important contrast to previous scholarship, this follows Epps’s broader reframing of slave resistance as “often proactive, not merely reactive.” [7]

In terms of this project, Slavery on the Periphery adds important detail about the fluidity of Missouri’s western border, as well as drawing attention to the concept of slave mobility and its ramifications. However, in exploring this concept Epps discusses relatively few individual escapes, and does not distinguish large group escapes from individual efforts. While Epps has made a valuable contribution about the role of slave mobility in facilitating escapes, there remains more work to learn how mobility relates to slave stampedes.


[1] James Montgomery to George Luther Stearns, October 6, 1860, in William E. Connelley (ed.), Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society (Topeka, KS: W.B. Smith, 1915), 13:261-262, [WEB].

[2] Kristen Epps, Slavery on the Periphery: The Kansas-Missouri Border in the Antebellum and Civil War Eras (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2016), 2-5, 85-91.

[3] Epps, 3, 57-58, 63-64, 83-84.

[4] Epps, 72-74, 83-84, 124, 129. 

[5] Epps, 105, 115-124, 129, 148.

[6] Epps, 124, 129-132.

[7] Epps, 3, 151, 155; Diane Mutti Burke, On Slavery’s Border: Missouri’s Small-Slaveholding Households, 1815-1865 (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2010), 283-284.


Bordewich’s Bound for Canaan and Mass Escapes

In December 1858 while hiding out in the Kansas Territory, John Brown, a prominent abolitionist and leader of a free soil militia group, received an important request from Jim Daniels, an enslaved man in Missouri. Daniels was fearful after learning that his family was to be sold and asked for Brown’s help in freeing them.

John Brown

John Brown courtesy John Brown (abolitionist) wikipedia

Brown and his armed men soon traveled into Missouri, freed the five members of Daniel’s family and five more enslaved people from a neighboring plantation, while another group of men freed a woman from a nearby farm and killed her former slaveholder. Then the entire party headed back to Kansas together, hiding out for a month, where a baby was born and christened John Brown.

In January 1859, this group of eleven, and their newest addition, headed North towards Nebraska, and freedom, under the armed protection of Brown and his men. In 82 days, this veritable “slave stampede” crossed the Missouri River, worked their way east with help from the underground railroad network in Iowa, and travelled to Chicago by train. After traveling nearly 1,500 miles, on March 12, 1859, they arrived in Detroit, and crossed the Detroit River by ferry to Windsor, Canada. [1]

Fergus M. Bordewich’s work Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America (2005) is filled with such tales of thrilling and improbable escapes to freedom. The book details the people, both black and white, behind the Underground Railroad, one of America’s most mystifying legends. Historians have hailed the work as a significant contribution to the literature.  Stanley Harrold, for one, writes that Bound for Canaan is “the first truly comprehensive treatment of the Underground Railroad in over a century, and by far the best.”[2]

Bordewich details dozens of stories of mass escapes even though he does not use the term “stampede” to describe any of them. Perhaps that is because several of the escapes he describes involved extended families. But others involved strangers, working together, almost in acts of collective insurrection. For instance, eighteen enslaved men stole a ship from the harbor of Northampton County, Virginia and sailed it to New York City [3].

garner article

News clipping of the “Margaret Garner Incident” courtesy of Cincinnati History Library and Archive.

The Garners, a family of eight fleeing slavery in Kentucky in 1856, are an important example of a family stampede. Their story ended in tragedy when they were recaptured in Cincinnati. Instead of seeing her children returned to slavery, Margaret Garner killed her young daughter. Abolitionists used the event to highlight the horrors of slavery [4].

Other intriguing references to group escapes are less detailed. Bordewich notes massive numbers of enslaved people making a run to Canada in the days leading up to the Civil War. He writes that in April 1861, the “Detroit Daily Advertiser reported that 300 fugitives had passed through…[Detroit] en route to Canada within the previous few days, 190 of them on April 8 alone,”[5]. Despite all of these references to large groups or extended families escaping together, Bordewich does not use the term “slave stampedes,” nor even “group” or “mass” escape. He doesn’t seem to consider this as a separate category of analysis.  In addition for the particular interests of this project, Bordewich’s research is national in scope, meaning references to Missouri are quite limited. Yet overall, Bound for Canaan allows for a greater understanding of the inner workings of the Underground Railroad and paints a detailed portrait of the people behind the scenes. Although, the words “slave stampede” are not actually used, it brings forth untold stories of groups of enslaved freedom coming together in ways that deserve careful attention from this project.



[1] Fergus M. Bordewich. Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America (New York: HaperCollins Publishers Inc, 2005), 419-20.  NOTE: Later editions of Bordewich’s book use a different subtitle:  The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America’s First Civil Rights Movement.”

[2] Stanley Harrold, review of Bound for Canaan by Fergus M. Bordewich, Civil War History 52 (Sept. 2006): 310-12.

[3] Bordewich, 272

[4] Bordewich, 401- 405

[5] Bordewich, 429