History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century/1/29
|←Chapter XXVIII||History of Iowa From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century/Volume 1 by
SOON after the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law, with its barbarous penalties, many humane persons in Iowa, who could not resist the impulse to assist slaves from Missouri, escaping from bondage, organized lines of stations across the State by which they could coöperate in affording shelter, aid and transportation to fugitives. Beginning at Tabor, in Fremont County, near the State line, the Abolitionists had stations known only to trusted friends, extending by way of Des Moines, Grinnell, Iowa City and Springdale to Davenport. When the escaping slaves reached any station on this line (which was called the “Underground Railroad”) the keeper of that station would secrete the fugitives, furnish them food, clothing, money and transportation to the next station. The train usually consisted of a well equipped canvas-covered lumber wagon and a good team of horses, driven by a cool, courageous man, well armed. The colored passengers were concealed beneath the cover and traveling was in the shelter of night. Arriving at a station, the slaves were concealed and kindly cared for until night when they were again conveyed on their journey. The trains were run with such secrecy that their coming and going was very seldom discovered by the slave catchers in pursuit of their human chattels. Hundreds of slaves from Missouri found paths to freedom over the Iowa prairies, from 1850 to 1860, by the various lines of the “Underground Railroad. The men and women, who from feelings of humanity and without compensation kept the stations, well knew the risk of ruinous fines and imprisonment they were taking, but with the true John Brown spirit that moved them to aid men, women and children to freedom, they never shrunk from danger.
After the long time that has elapsed, no full history can now be written of these perilous journeys from slavery to freedom, as no records were kept and most of the conductors have passed away. Among the Iowa men who were actively engaged in aiding slaves who were fleeing from bondage were Rev. John Todd, James C. Jordan, John Teesdale, Isaac Brandt, Dr. Edwin James, Thomas Mitchell, J. B. Grinnell, John B. Price, H. G. Cummings, Wm. Penn Clarke, Jesse Bowen, S. C. Trowbridge, Dr. H. G. Gill, John H. Painter, James Townsend and B. H. Randall. There were scores of others in various parts of the State whose names were not made public. The armed invasion of Kansas, in 1855-6, by Missouri slaveholders, for the purpose of forcing slavery into that new Territory, brought into prominence several Iowa men who became famous in the long conflict between freedom and slavery which led to bloodshed on its soil. Hundreds of young men from Iowa went to Kansas to help fight the battles for freedom. John Brown first became known to the public as one of the most fearless leaders of the Free State men in that conflict. He passed through Iowa in September, 1855, on his way to Kansas with a son and son-in-law to join four sons who had already settled there. He anticipated trouble on the prairies of Kansas, over the attempt to force slavery into the Territory, and went there for the avowed purpose of helping to resist its enlargement by arms. He soon became a recognized leader of the Free State men and among his followers were several young men from Iowa.
At the Battle of Black Jack his little army, in which five of his sons were serving, after a severe conflict, defeated and captured a force nearly twice the size of his own, under the famous Captain Pate. This was the first battle in the Kansas War; yet few, if any, besides John Brown then realized its mighty significance. His mission was to liberate slaves, and never, during the few remaining years of his life, did he for a moment waver from his
In 1856, Richard J. Hinton (author of “John Brown and His Men”), with a band of young men on their way to Kansas, marched from Iowa City. They took with them from the arsenal 1,500 muskets. The key had been left on Governor Grimes’s desk, where Hinton found and “borrowed” it to open the arsenal door. When they reached Kansas, Rev. Pardee Butler took charge of the muskets and delivered them to the Free State leaders. Mr. Butler was a well-known Christian minister from Posten’s Grove, Iowa, who had settled in Kansas in 1854. He was an active and influential Free State leader and had lately been seized by a band of forty armed “Border Ruffians” at Atchison, placed upon a rude raft made of three logs and sent adrift on the Missouri River. His face was painted black and he was warned that if he ever returned he would be killed. But Pardee Butler was not to be intimidated and, managing to reach the shore some miles down the river, he returned home and never ceased his work of making Kansas a free State. George B. Gill, Barclay Coppoe, Jeremiah G. Anderson and Charles P. Moffett, all young men from Iowa, took an active part in the Kansas War. Some of them served under John Brown, in Kansas, and all enlisted in his Harper’s Ferry expedition.
In August, 1856, a large force of “Border Ruffians” came to Hickory Point, robbing houses and stores, and committing other depredations. Colonel Harvey hastily gathered together a hundred Free State men to drive the desperadoes from the country. He found them intrenched in three houses and at once opened fire upon them with a twelve-pound field piece. After a battle of six hours the Ruffians surrendered and were permitted to leave the country. But the little army, under Colonel Harvey, was overtaken by a detachment of United States troops and made prisoners. The President was in sympathy with the slave power and the army of the United States was used in Kansas to suppress the defenders of freedom. Colonel Harvey and his men were taken before a pro-slavery judge, prosecuted by a “Border Ruffian” attorney and tried for murder. A large number of them were convicted and sentenced to prison for terms ranging from five to ten years for protecting their neighbors in their lives and property. Among those thus imprisoned were the following Iowa volunteers: G. O. Eberhart of Muscatine; M. Rincle and Oliver C. Lewis, Davenport; Ed. Jacobs, Mahaska County; Oliver Langworthy, Poweshiek County; Jacob Fisher of Jefferson; E. R. Moffett, Bristolville; Wm. Kern, Washington; and Wm. Rayman, Cooper, Iowa. They had fought bravely and endured unjust imprisonment and hard fare, in the consciousness of having done their duty, until released when the Free State cause finally triumphed.
In 1856, James Townsend, a member of the Society of Friends, kept a public house in the little village of West Branch, in Cedar County, Iowa. In October, John Brown, on his way from Kansas on horseback, reached the “Travelers’ Rest” in the evening and stopped over night. Learning that the landlord was a Quaker, Brown made known to him that he was “Osawatomie Brown,” of Kansas and at once received a most cordial welcome. He was told of the strong antislavery views of the Quaker
For several years John Brown had contemplated striking a blow at slavery in the mountain region of Virginia and, in 1857, he began to mature plans for the hazardous enterprise. He believed that a body of fearless men could make a safe lodgment in the mountains and liberate slaves who would join them. His plan was to arm the escaped slaves with pikes, organize and drill them under experienced officers selected from young men who had seen service in the Kansas War. He expected thousands of slaves to flock to his standard when his purpose became known to them and believed that he could soon establish a powerful force in the mountains, pledged to the liberation of slaves. He employed Hugh Forbes, who had seen service in Europe, to open a school of military instruction at Tabor, Iowa, for the purpose of drilling men for this expedition. Tabor was near the Missouri line but was an antislavery settlement, where he had warm friends. It had been an important point on the route of Free State men to Kansas and was in full sympathy with their cause. But Brown and Forbes did not agree in the work; Forbes was dismissed and returned to the east. Brown then went to Kansas to enlist a number of his old followers. He was joined by his son, Owen, John C. Cook, A. D. Stevens, Richard Realf, J. H. Kagi, C. P. Tidd, W. H. Leeman, Luke F. Parsons, C. W. Moffett and Richard Richardson, most of whom had served in the Kansas War.
They proceeded to Springdale, where they were quartered on the farm of William Maxson, three miles fromthe village. The Springdale settlement was remote from railroads or any public thoroughfare and was a peaceful community of thrifty, prosperous farmers, most of whom were Abolitionists. A school for military instruction was opened on the Maxson farm, in which A. D. Stevens, who had served in the regular army, was instructor. John Brown and the young men of his party were a remarkable group. Several of them were orators; others were poets, accomplished writers and scholars. They had served in the Kansas War, endured hardships of frontier life and proved their courage in numerous conflicts with “Border Ruffians.” They were now drilling for the most daring and desperate enterprise in the annals of border warfare. They possessed the qualities of heroes and readily won the warm friendship and admiration of the intelligent and refined people of the quiet rural village and surrounding country, often assembling at the hospitable homes to spend the long winter evenings with the young people. The stories of their perils, escapes and battles in Kansas were told. Their rescue of slaves from bondage and the horrors of that national crime they had witnessed were recounted and thus they won the sympathy and enduring good-will of the liberty-loving people of Springdale. While the Quakers were from principle opposed to war, so warm were their sympathies for the oppressed, that they found a way to hold in high esteem and admiration these fearless young men who had risked their lives in striking sturdy blows for freedom in Kansas. The fame of John Brown, as one of the most daring leaders of the Free State men, had reached every part of the country and the peaceful people of the Quaker settlement saw in him a leader so devoted to emancipation that his life would be freely given to secure freedom to the slaves.
Stevens was an expert drill-master and on a meadow east of the Maxson house the daily military exercises took place under his instruction. Aaron D. Stevens hadbeen a member of Company F, First United States Dragoons. In May, 1855, he and three comrades had been court-martialed for assaulting Major Longstreet, who was afterward General Lee’s famous Lieutenant-General in the War of the Rebellion. They were sentenced to be shot, but the President commuted the punishment to three years in the penitentiary. Stevens made his escape, changed his name to Whipple and became a famous colonel in the Free State army during the Kansas War. John Henri Kagi was an accomplished writer and stenographer, a correspondent of the New York Post and an eloquent public speaker. Richard Realf was a young Englishman of rare talents, a poet and orator and had been a protegé of Lady Byron. John E. Cook was a young man, brave and chivalrous, a fine writer and poet. His young wife was a sister of the wife of Governor Willard of Indiana. Such were some of the young men enlisted in the Harper’s Ferry plan for liberating slaves. John Brown made his home with John H. Painter and won the warm friendship of William Maxson, Dr. H. G. Gill, Griffith Lewis, Moses Varney and other good citizens of Springdale.
During the winter he revealed to some of his friends his plans for the future and the purpose for which he was drilling his followers. Not one of these looked with favor upon his desperate enterprise and all tried to dissuade him from such a hazardous and hopeless undertaking. They saw clearly that he would find the whole power of the Federal Government arrayed against the forcible liberation of slaves and that his attempt must end in the death or imprisonment of all engaged in it. But nothing could shake the resolve of the fearless old emancipator. He firmly believed that he could strike a blow at slavery that would eventually result in its overthrow. His faith was so firm and confidence in success so great, that several young men from Springdale and vicinity enlisted, among whom were George B. Gill, Edwin and Barclay Coppoc and Steward Taylor.
Before going east Brown revealed his plans to Dr. H. G. Gill. He proposed to take fifty or a hundred men, well armed, into the mountains near Harper’s Ferry, collect slaves in the vicinity, seize conveyances and transport them to Canada. After the excitement had subsided he would make a raid in some other locality and thus continue until slavery ceased to exist. Dr. Gill assured him that he could not succeed in such plans and that he and his men would soon be killed or captured. He replied that for himself he was willing to give his life for the emancipation of slaves. He repeatedly said that he firmly believed that he was an instrument of God through which slavery was to be abolished. The doctor said to him: “You and your handful of men cannot cope with the whole South.” His reply was: “I tell you, doctor, it will be the beginning of the end of slavery.” As improbable as it seemed to all but Brown and his devoted band, he and they were not mistaken; the great sacrifice at Harper’s Ferry was the beginning of the end of slavery. Therefore every incident relating to that desperate enterprise becomes of absorbing historic interest. It is now known that nearly all of John Brown’s intimate friends to whom he divulged his plans, saw that they must end in disaster and tried in vain to dissuade him from embarking upon so hopeless an undertaking.
In the East, Gerrit Smith, F. B. Sanborn, Wendell Phillips and Theodore Parker remonstrated with him in vain. To all he replied that it was his mission to aid in the overthrow of slavery and every one of his followers was willing to risk his life in the attempt.
On the 27th of April, 1858, John Brown returned to Springdale and ordered his men to move east. There was a sorrowful leave-taking between their good friends at Springdale and the young men who were starting upon an expedition so dangerous and daring. Warm friendships had grown up and all realized that it might be the last farewell, as it proved to be. The party assembled atChatham, Canada, where a convention was held to organize a provisional government. John Brown was elected Commander-in-chief; J. H. Kagi, Secretary of War; Richard Realf, Secretary of State; and George B. Gill, Secretary of the Treasury. In the meantime Forbes had, in letters to prominent men and public officials, divulged some information as to Brown’s plans and it was decided to postpone the enterprise for a time. The men separated, some going to Kansas, while Cook went to Harper’s Ferry and carefully made observations that would be of service when the time came for action. John Brown again went to Kansas, where he was joined by Stevens, Kagi, Tidd, Gill, Jeremiah G. Anderson and Albert Hazlett.
In December, under the leadership of Brown, they crossed into Missouri to liberate slaves who were to be sold and their families separated. They took twelve slaves, horses, wagons, cattle and other property to which Brown claimed the slaves were entitled, for years of unpaid labor. One slaveholder who resisted was killed by Stevens. Large rewards were offered by the Governor of Missouri for the arrest of Brown and his men and the recovery of the slaves. Early in January, Brown and several members of his party began the journey with the slaves in wagons, by way of Nebraska and Iowa, to Canada. They reached Tabor, in Iowa, on the 5th of February, 1859, where they remained until the 11th. The citizens of Tabor had become alarmed at Brown’s invasion of Missouri and forcible liberation of slaves, fearing retaliation from the Missourians, as they were near the State line. To relieve themselves from the charge of complicity with Brown, the citizens held a public meeting and passed resolutions, condemning the acts of him and his followers but no attempt was made to arrest them. On the eleventh the slaves were conveyed on their journey, guarded by their well armed liberators, along the line of the “Underground Railroad.” On the Thirteenth they stayed with Lewis Mills, on the Fifteenth with Mr. Murray, on theSeventeenth with James C. Jordan and on the Eighteenth they passed through Des Moines, John Teesdale, of the State Register, paying their ferriage across the Des Moines River. On the Twentieth the party reached Grinnell and were warmly welcomed by Senator J. B. Grinnell and the citizens generally. They had now been on the way more than a month and no one had attempted to earn the large rewards offered for their arrest. The slave hunters seemed to have no relish for a conflict with the famous commander of the Free State Army at the Battle of Black Jack. On the Twenty-fifth they passed through Iowa City where Samuel Workman, the postmaster and Captain Kelley, proposed to raise a party to earn the large rewards offered, by making a night march to Springdale and capturing Brown and his party. But they were unable to find enough volunteers anxious for a fight with the Kansas veterans, who were known to be well armed and among friends. After resting at Springdale some days, arrangements were made by Wm. Penn Clark and others at Iowa City, to procure a box car on the Rock Island Railroad to convey the fugitives and their escort to Chicago. Laurel Summers, United States Marshal at Davenport, was quietly organizing a posse to arrest them when the train reached that city. But Clark had outwitted the officers by arranging for a box car to be side-tracked at West Liberty. Brown and Kagi slept at Dr. Bowen’s at Iowa City on the night fixed for departure. Workman’s spies were watching for Brown, intending to arrest the leader while his party was absent and then seize the slaves. But the slave catchers were hunting men who were on the alert and not easily trapped. At four o’clock, long before daylight, Brown and Kagi, mounted on fast horses, and piloted by Colonel Trowbridge, eluded the spies on watch and were on their way to West Liberty, where the slaves had been secreted in a mill, guarded by Stevens and others. A box car stood on the side track waiting for its human freight. As soon as Brown arrived the slaves were quickly transferred to the car, while Stevens and Kagi, leaning on their Sharp’s rifles, their belts filled with revolvers, kept guard. Soon the train arrived from the West. It was a thrilling moment, as the guards with rifle in hand, anxiously watched the passengers alighting, to discover indication of officers coming to arrest them. The train backed down the side track, the car with locked doors was attached, the guards stepped into one of the passenger coaches, the train started and John Brown and his companions were leaving Iowa for the last time. At Davenport the marshal and aids walked through the cars in search of the twelve slaves, but no negroes were found, and no suspicion was aroused by the freight car in the rear. At Chicago, Allen Pinkerton, the famous detective, conducted the slaves to a waiting car, which took them safely to Canada.