An Underground Railroad Ambush In Jefferson County, Part VI, The Holton Difficulty

Jesse Newell’s strange denial letter ran in Lecompton’s proslavery newspaper, the Kansas National Democrat, on March 24, 1859. The settler and 10 other men had just been outed as partners in John Doy’s plan to move freedom-seekers[1] through a short stretch of Kansas Territory via the Underground Railroad.

Maj. Martin Anderson, photo from ancestry.com, Report of the Adjutant General, Kansas, National Archives
This Civil War image is of Martin Anderson, a major in the Kansas 11th Cavalry Regiment, who survived the 1859 Holton difficulty, political party violence. The image is from the adjutant general , Kansas, National Archives courtesy of Steve Cortright. The image is ancestry.com, Historical Data Systems

Newell, the co-founder of Oskaloosa, had written his letter in response to the articles revealing his name in Kansas and Missouri newspapers. Exposure like that would be poison to the secret operations of the Underground, which thwarted the Fugitive Slave Law’s command against helping enslaved people escape. And while participants were considered heroes in some quarters, they were thieves and lawbreakers in others.

Had Newell, a radical freestater in Jefferson County,[2]  been threatened or endangered by people who objected to the Underground Railroad’s interference with slavery?[3] Is that why he or someone writing for him would publish a letter denying involvement? I can’t say.

In the next county over, Jackson County, another man whose name was revealed alongside Newell’s was beaten severely at a political party meeting at Holton on March 12. The articles naming 11 men who had agreed to help in the Underground Railroad were published as early as Feb 19, so Martin Anderson’s proslavery neighbors could have learned of his Underground Railroad involvement.  Already, Anderson was helping to build the Republican party in Jackson County, making him an opponent to  Democrats who were slavery supporters. Anderson was beaten unconscious and several Democrats were hurt at the meeting, described in the press as an affray, a riot, a row, a melee, a difficulty. Was Martin attacked because of his Underground Railroad ties?

Anderson’s name, like Newell’s, had been published in  newspapers from notes that John Doy apparently wrote outlining his planned Underground route through Jefferson and Jackson[4] counties and naming the men set to help.

“March 12, 1859, Mr. Anderson was instrumental in forming the first Republican organization in this Territory,”[5] an 1897 obituary said. ”He called a meeting for that object which was held in the school house in Holton, only twelve men participating.

“After the organization was completed and the meeting adjournment the little party was assaulted by a mob of drunken proslavery ruffians. Major Anderson was struck in the back of the head with an oak stick three feet long (the heart of a clap-board bolt) in the hands of a burly ruffian; he fell to the ground and the ruffian deliberately emptied his revolver at the prostrate form, but without further injury.”

The_Emporia_Weekly_News_Sat__Apr_2__1859_
The Emporia Weekly News, April 2, 1859. Image from Newspapers.com.

 

Asheville_News_Thu__Apr_21__1859_
The Asheville News, Asheville, North Carolina, April 21, 1859. Image from Newspapers.com.

 

Chicago_Tribune_Sat__Mar_26__1859_
The Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, March 26, 1859. Image from Newspapers.com

As was nearly always the case, a deep chasm sat between one side’s “facts” and the other’s, at least in the newspaper accounts I read.

Proslavery-leaning newspapers told of four Democrats who were first assaulted by Republicans. Angered by the loss of conservative men to the Democrats, the Republicans attacked these Democrats at the meeting and then went to a nearby abolitionist’s house where anywhere from 50 to 70 Sharps rifles[6] were stored, arming themselves.

top comment The_Topeka_Tribune_Thu__Mar_31__1859_ (1)

Clipping image from The Topeka Tribune, Thursday, March 31, 1859, page 3. The image is from the online newspaper website, newspapers.com. This freestate newspaper’s editor could not resist an outrageous comment on an outrageous allegation

Later, these Republicans drove the four men from their Kansas Territory homes and back to Platte County, Missouri. Those accounts don’t mention Anderson, who was a probate judge at the time, or anyone injured by Democrat ruffians. The Republican accounts do mention the four men injured and driven back to Missouri, but portray the violence as defense.

Considering the unease in Kansas Territory, March 1859, Anderson’s attack merited a double-take. I had not read of the Holton “difficulty” before in my narrow (Jefferson County) research over the past five years. The story, although nothing I read connected Anderson’s injuries to an Underground Railroad, got a lot of ink, as violent tales from Kansas Territory usually did. My quick look at online newspapers  found Holton coverage in Kansas and Missouri, and Ohio, Kentucky, Washington D.C., Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Iowa.

Important elections were on the horizon, although it was by then understood that proslavery rule was kaput. Kansas Territory was on its way to joining the Union as a free state, one that outlawed slavery. Defeated, Democrats (and perhaps some freestate conservatives) were working up their next big campaign: keeping all people of African descent out of Kansas.

Yes, times were caustic. The Fugitive Slave Law had just been validated by the U.S. Supreme Court against attempts to nullify it, meaning it was still against the law to help enslaved people escape bondage by any means. That meant offering food, providing secret harbor, acting as a rifle-toting escort for a covered wagon full of fugitive slaves and even refusing to inform a marshal of a fugitive slave’s whereabouts, if one held that information.

Also at the time of Newell’s letter and Martin Anderson’s injury, Kansas Territory and Missouri  slavery supporters were furious over the latest Underground Railroad activity. Of particular aggravation was the violent abolitionist, John Brown, who had just winged it out of Kansas Territory (via a Holton area stop) with 11 fugitives, and John Doy, who had attempted to do so, both events near the end of January 1859.

Yes, the stories were vigorously at odds over whether Democrats or radical Republicans started the fight and assaulted their opponents. Some newspapers even ran both versions of the story, noting the chasm between one side’s “facts” and the other’s.

But some of the proslavery newspapers widened the context of the Holton sensation by dropping John Brown, John Doy and other freestate leaders, fighters and Jayhawkers into their stories. John Brown, while long gone from Kansas, was controlling these Kansas Territory happenings from afar, they charged.

Supremely evident regarding the charges of who started what at Holton on March 12, however, was the  star plank in the Dem’s new agenda: making Kansas a free white state, blocking all people of African descent from living in Kansas.

Local Democrats, in campaigning for more party members, maintained that the radicals, or “Black Republicans” — people who wanted to abolish slavery and advocated “negro equality,” among other then-radical ideas– were extremist troublemakers. They were destroying the peace of Kansas Territory and they were unpopular among conservative freestaters. These Democrats hoped to attract those freestaters to build up sentiment (and votes) to keep people of African descent out of Kansas.

Brutal murderer Brown Kansas_National_Democrat_Thu__Mar_31__1859_
The Kansas National Democrat, Lecompton, Kansas Territory, March 31, 1859. Image from newspapers.com
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The Cleveland Daily Leader, Cleveland, Ohio, March 18, 1859.Image from newspapers.com. The last sentence should be Judge Anderson in Jackson County.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Free State men rallied at once, secured their [Sharps] rifles and drove the ruffians from the town and across the river into Missouri.” Martin Anderson’s obituary said nearly 40 years after the Holton trouble. “One of the ruffians was shot through the mouth as he mounted his horse to leave and another lost his good right arm as the result of another shot from a [Sharps] rifle.”

Martin Anderson was unconscious for three days, his obituary said, and he didn’t recover completely for six months. An ardent freestate supporter, Anderson had settled in Grasshopper Falls, Jefferson County, in 1857 but moved to Jackson County in 1858. A probate judge and later Kansas state treasurer, Anderson was a major in the 11th Regiment, Kansas Volunteer Cavalry in the Civil War.

[1] John Doy’s Underground Railroad “train,” two horse-drawn wagons, was ambushed in Jefferson County about eight miles south of Jesse Newell’s home at Oskaloosa, Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, Jan. 25, 1859. According to notes Doy appears to have carried with him the night he was abducted, Newell’s place was to be the first stop for aid on that treacherous  trip. The notes named 10 other people between Oskaloosa and just past Holton, in neighboring Jackson County, travel stop by travel stop, who were lined up to help once Doy got to Oskaloosa. It was at Oskaloosa that Doy would get his escort  guard to protect the train. He had had to travel from Lawrence without protection. But he and the African-Americans he carried with him never made it to Oskaloosa. [Oskaloosa guard information is from Doy’s book, The narrative of John Doy, of Lawrence, Kansas, “A Plain Unvarnished Truth.”] Slave owners and slave-hunters captured Doy’s party about 8 miles south of Oskaloosa and 12 miles north of Lawrence , taking all to Missouri. In March when “The Holton Difficulty” occurred, Doy was still in jail in Missouri accused of inducing a slave to leave Missouri with him.  As early as February, a few area newspapers (most of them proslavery) had published the names of the men who were to participate with Doy in the Underground Railroad, an illegal act under the Fugitive Slave Law. Such exposure could be dangerous, of course, and Jesse Newell’s name had appeared in a letter in which he appeared to deny planning to help fugitive slaves. Newell’s letter was published March 24, although it was dated earlier, March 2, 1859.

[2] Day, Judge John W., “Selected Sketch, Scrap of Kansas History,” The Oskaloosa Independent, April  2, 1881, p1, referred to Jesse Newell as a radical freestater..

[3] Jesse Newell’s letter is in Part V of this “Underground Railroad Ambush” series.  John Doy’s written notes transcribed into a newspaper article include  the names of men he had enlisted to help him move 13 freedom-seekers from Lawrence to Holton. That article is in Part IV. After studying Newell’s letter and a collection of linked information, I believe Newell was involved in the Underground Railroad, at least he would have been had Doy not been ambushed in this instance. Newell’s letter contains a touch of snark, and the last portion is written to include language from the Fugitive Slaw Law itself.  One possibility for the careful letter is that Newell contended he had signed up to help free persons of color escape the area, not slaves. Doy had indicated that all of the 13 were free persons, although that was not the case.

[4] Calhoun County’s name was changed to Jackson County by the Kansas Legislature in February 1859.  Some newspapers hadn’t yet made the change to “Jackson” in their news columns. Golden Silvers, another man on John Doy’s Underground Railroad roster, had been the legislator proposing the change.

[5] The Topeka Daily Capital, “Martin Anderson. Death of One Who Helped Make Kansas History”, 10 July, 1897. See the full obituary at the bottom of this post.

[6] The freestaters’ weapon of choice, the Sharps rifle, was legend in Kansas Territory. It was an innovative breech-loading weapon, more accurate and rapid-firing than other arms of the day. The “Mr. Ray” mentioned was Abraham Ray, another freestate proponent who named a son James Lane Ray for the fiery Kansas militant, politician and Jayhawker, U.S. Sen. Jim Lane.Martin Anderson obituary, The_Topeka_Daily_Capital_Sat__Jul_10__1897_

 

An Underground Railroad Ambush In Jefferson County, Part V, Agitators and Fanatics

Sometimes a 158-year old story mined for new depths glides along yielding astonishing new chapters and minute but key details.  All is grand.  But then the story takes an abrupt turn, balks at the jump, hits a snag. Or, as I’ve just survived, the story suddenly clamps a bone-chilling denial onto the exhilarating historic tale that our deep and careful research has resurrected.

Glaring out from page 2 of the March 24, 1859,  Kansas National Democrat, a Lecompton proslavery newspaper, was a letter from our Oskaloosa radical freestater, Jesse Newell. Newell,  was denying  that he had agreed to assist Dr. John Doy with an Underground Railroad expedition from Lawrence to Holton two months earlier.

Of course, Newell had not participated in Doy’s attempt Jan. 25, 1859, to help 13 freedom-seekers move covertly through Kansas to Iowa and farther north to safety. That’s because Doy’s “train” was ambushed by slave-holders and slave-catchers about 8 miles short of Newell’s home, Doy’s intended first stop, and the entire Doy party taken across the river to Missouri.[1]

Dr. Doy had been in jail in Missouri ever since his January catastrophe, awaiting trial for enticing a slave out of Missouri.

What was Jesse Newell doing

Jesse Newell letter Kansas_National_Democrat_Thu__Mar_24__1859_
This letter appeared on page 2 of the March 24, 1859, Kansas National Democrat. The image is from the website newspapers.com.

in a proslavery newspaper talking about something that was supposed to be watertight-secret among radicals like him? All of the people linked along the Underground Railroad  routes offering shelter, food, transport or escort guard were breaking the law. The nation’s Fugitive Slave Law was still in effect, and it barred anyone from helping enslaved people break free.

Why would Newell even raise the subject with a denial, albeit with perhaps some crafty wording and little snark?

“I never assisted a fugitive slave to run away from his master, and do not know that I have ever seen one,” the letter under Jesse Newell’s name said.  “And I never made any arrangement with Dr. Doy, or any other man, to harbor, conceal, convey or conduct fugitives from slavery.”

Wow. Was all that other material false about Jesse Newell and his aim to help enslaved people free themselves from slavery? This was not a happy development for my research.

Once my heart rate decelerated, I looked at Newell’s letter again and registered that the letter was in response to something.

That something was John Doy’s “memorandum book,” or journal/notes on paper that outlined his route from Lawrence to Oskaloosa and Grasshopper Falls (now Valley Falls) in Jefferson County and on to Holton (See Part IV of the Underground Railroad Ambush series in this blog to read what was held to have been written in Doy’s notes.).

These notes named all the people Doy had appeared to have lined up to help him between Lawrence and Holton. The notes had revealed them as people who were going to break the law to do their part to grind out human bondage.

Doy’s captors reported they had found the route notes in Doy’s pocket when he was seized and taken prisoner in January. And now, besides Missouri prosecutors holding Doy’s notes for use against him in court, the contents of the notes had already been published in some area  newspapers.

The publication of Doy’s damning notes appears to have occurred months earlier than I had known. Their revelation during the tense period when a Kansas Territory man was held in a Missouri jail could only have made things worse for Jesse Newell, a noisy radical freestater who had made it through the 1856 Bleeding Kansas days.

Newell’s letter in Lecompton’s Democrat referred to Doy’s journal/notes having been published in the (Feb. 19, 1859) Kansas Weekly Herald,[2] a proslavery newspaper in Leavenworth. He quotes a part of the published article of Doy’s notes..

“…’Arrived at Oskaloosa that night; opened my subject to Mr. Newell, who laid out the town – he accepts.’ This is a very vague sentence. ‘He accepts.’ – Accepts what?  It is not stated; but from what follows, it is to be presumed that he accepts the appointment of conductor on an underground Railroad,” Newell’s letter said.

Right. So Newell’s letter does reveal a whisper of the author’s sentiments about what happened to Dr. Doy and company upon their southern Jefferson County ambush and subsequent forced March into Missouri: He chose the word “kidnapped.”

I should declare at this point that I reject Newell’s denial.  I believe he told an untruth as an act of self-preservation. Or maybe someone else, a protector, wrote the letter on his behalf, whether he wanted the denial or not. Maybe he believed that Doy’s 13 African-American passengers  were free, and not fugitive slaves. Compared to another communique Newell wrote in 1856, this one sounds nothing like him. It has a semicolon in it, for Heaven’s sake.

Significantly, Newell’s letter in the Democrat, published in Douglas County, Jefferson County’s southern neighbor, was hemmed in by column after column of proslavery braying, crowing and dog-whistling. By 1859, Kansas Territory was drawing closer to becoming a state and it was evident it would enter the Union as a free state, outlawing slavery within its boundaries.

Crouched directly atop Newell’s letter in the Democrat is an article about a meeting of Jesse Newell’s Oskaloosa and Jefferson County neighbors, and they were organizing the Jefferson County Democrats.

JeffCo Dems Kansas_National_Democrat_Thu__Mar_24__1859_
This article appeared atop Jesse Newell’s letter on page 2 of the “Kansas National Democrat” on March 24, 1859. This image is from the website newspapers.com.

With palpable exasperation, Newell’s Democrat neighbors acknowledged that Kansas Territory was going to be admitted to the Union as a free state. But the Jefferson County Democrats were tired of the “intolerant spirit of fanatical sectionalism as evinced by a certain portion of the citizens of this Territory…”

They were “…opposed to all and every attempt made by agitators, to disturb the peace and quiet  of our own Territory and the peaceful relations between us and the citizens of our neighboring States.”[3]

Oh, and if the state of Kansas was going to prohibit slavery, the Jefferson County Democrats resolved unanimously:

“That we are opposed to free negroes being permitted habitations in this Territory, either as our equals in increasing political rights, or in any way whatsoever.”

And there it was, the vitriol that would slide into the next part of the Kansas question, debate before and even on the floor of the constitution-writing convention in 1859 over whether people of African descent, negroes, should be allowed to live in the free state of Kansas. And if they were to live in Kansas, should their children be educated alongside white Kansas children?

By the time Jesse Newell’s letter appeared in the Democrat on March 24, Dr. Doy was being tried for abducting a slave or slaves from Missouri.[4]  Grasped by his prosecutors and trickling onto the pages of a few proslavery newspapers were the incriminating words from Dr. Doy’s memo book: the names of those 11 or 12 men in Jefferson and Jackson counties whom he had lined up to help him with his Underground Railroad train.

Page 2 of the March 24, 1859, Kansas National Democrat, where Jesse Newell’s letter appeared in response to his name being publicly linked to the Underground Railroad, displayed flashpoint issues that had burned through the Kansas Territory freedom fight.  Here was a celebratory article about the newly upheld Fugitive Slave Law. There was an article calling for Democrats to unite — maybe with some not-radical Republicans — to clench the power at the constitutional convention that would bring Kansas to statehood. Here were Jefferson County Democrats saying what they really thought about their neighbors, the intolerant fanatics and agitators (Translation: Slavery opponents who thought black men should live free in Kansas and enjoy the same rights of white people.).

Jesse Newell had stood opposite of these people since his arrival in Kansas Territory in 1856 and had not been a friend to the proslavers in northeast Kansas. He had faced difficulties and threat of death for his freestate actions.

His oldest son, Valentine F. Newell, devoted much of his own biographical spot in the Jefferson County section of William G. Cutler’s History of the State of Kansas book to his father. In such publications, people were allowed to write about themselves and what they had done in Kansas. V.F. Newell wrote of Jesse Newell:

“He was a strong Free-state man, and was fearless in denouncing the advocates of slavery, who took every possible opportunity of persecuting him. He was a powerful man, physically, and did not hesitate to exercise his strength where language failed to have the desired effect. Few men were more popular among the Free-soilers. Himself and son were at Hickory Point battle, and at other skirmishes of less importance. The first Free-state election in that part was held in a cabin on his farm, five of six votes being cast.”

My next few posts will look at some of those issues carried in the March 24, 1859, Kansas National Democrat.

[1] The distance from the Kansas Territory ambush site to Weston, Missouri, where Doy and the other captives were taken, is about 30 miles, but only as the crow flies. See Part IV of the Doy ambush series to learn how Doy had attempted to help 13 brave freedom-seekers, some of them enslaved people and some who said they possessed  free papers, move north through Kansas from Lawrence to Holton, where new conductors would go on to Iowa and (probably) on to Canada. The party was ambushed by Missouri and Kansas slave-holders and slavery supporters, including the ruthless slave kidnapper, Jake Hurd, and taken into Missouri, where Doy and his son, Charles, were jailed. Doy had mapped out his planned route to Holton and carried with him the names of men who had agreed to help (Jesse Newell’s home was to be the first stop) maneuver through two counties to Holton.  The names of the men were found by Doy’s captors, used against him at trial, and publicized in newspapers, exposing the Underground Railroad participants’ plans.

[2] The article is on page 2 of the Herald and may be seen on microfilm reel L835 in the research library of the Kansas State Historical Society. The Herald and Newell’s letter refer to the Herald’s copy coming from the Argus, which I haven’t yet verified as the Western Argus in Wyandotte City, Kansas, or the Weston or Platte Argus in Missouri.   The Feb. 19, 1859 Herald also refers to the notes being published in the Times, possibly the Leavenworth Times in Kansas.

[3] Missouri was the only state bordering Kansas at the time. Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado did not yet have that status. This dog-whistle reference must be to Kansas Jayhawkers or Underground Railroad forays into Missouri, or both.

[4] Dr. Doy was tried in St. Joseph for enticing a slave away from Missouri, but the trial ended March 27 when jurors could not agree on a verdict. All but one juror had found the evidence lacking against Doy, who was granted $1,000 for his defense by the Kansas territorial legislature. Charles Doy, Doy’s son who had been with him on the Underground Railroad mission, was released. The elder Doy was tried again and convicted, his penitentiary sentence set at 5 years. He did not serve that sentence because he was liberated from jail in July by Kansas men, the “Immortal Ten.” We will learn more of the Jefferson County freestaters small, supporting role in that story in a future post.

The worst result of the ambush was that 13 freedom-seekers, who had had the most to lose in taking this risk, were taken to Missouri, a slave state, to be returned to slavery or, if they had been free, to risk being sold into slavery. The most complete account I’ve read about what happened to these people is in a book by Harriet C. Frazier, Runaway and Freed Missouri Slaves and Those Who Helped Them, 1763-1865.

 

Our Captured Flag, Slough Creek

Today, 161 years ago, this flag was seized before morning’s light from well-armed slavery advocates camping beside Slough Creek in Jefferson County. James A. Harvey and his little band of Leavenworth, Douglas and Jefferson County free-state partisans did the seizing, a nasty humiliation for the southern and area proslavers.

Southern Rights flag (460x313)
This South Carolina flag was captured by antislavery militia near Oskaloosa, Kansas Territory, Sept. 11, 1856. The flag is in the Civil War exhibit of the Kansas Museum of History, Topeka, Kansas. Photograph from http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/209880

As shown, the flag bears a single star and euphemistically advocates “Southern Rights” on one side. The other side says “South Carolina.”

The freestaters had surprised and captured a sleeping force of the bearers of that flag, pro-slavery fighters composed of South Carolinians, Alabamians, Georgians  and most likely some Missourians and Kansas Territory men from the Kickapoo Rangers. It was in the bleeding part of Bleeding Kansas, Sept. 11, 1856, and the Kansas decision of whether to block or allow slavery had not been made.

James A. Harvey, “Col. Harvey” to his men, had arrived in the territory a month earlier with a Chicago contingent of settlers , aided organizationally and financially by Thaddeus Hyatt’s National Kansas Committee.  Harvey’s Chicago men wanted to settle in Kansas and they promised to help make it a free state.

The men from South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama had come on a ticket from Major Jefferson Buford of Alabama, having arrived in April 1856 to settle in Kansas and make it a state that allowed slavery.[1]

Men from both sides were engaged in trying to drive their opponents out of Kansas Territory so they could claim the prize of slavery or freedom for Kansas.

Jesse Newell, co-founder of Oskaloosa and no friend of slavery, had tipped off James A. Harvey to the campsite of the “Southern Rights” flag-bearers. Newell, who had settled in Kansas Territory that May,  rode his horse about six miles east of his home to inform Harvey of the proslavers’ position and to guide the troops there.  The southerners were camped out along Slough Creek about two miles north of what is now Oskaloosa, in Jefferson County.

After Harvey & Co. crept up and captured the sleeping southerners, the freestate troops  snatched up  weapons,  horses, supplies, wagons (and the flag), and collected free-state settlers’ belongings that had been taken by the proslavers.  Harvey, who was commanding the 1st Regiment of free-state troops,  ordered the defeated southerners to leave Kansas Territory and to

“take long steps and short cuts for the Missouri River, for we shall be on your trail in a very few hours.”[2]

Harvey’s company dragged the big red flag in the dirt to the free-state headquarters of Lawrence. Shortly afterward, the flag went on the road to rally support for making Kansas a free state and was given to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1879. The flag’s capture,  a great triumph in war,  was especially gratifying to the people of Lawrence  because the southerners and Kansas Territory slavery advocates  had flown the flag up over the town in May before destroying the town’s main hotel and two printing presses.[3]

Losing your flag to the enemy (especially if you were asleep when ambushed) is an enormous embarrassment, but that doesn’t mean the flag can’t be cherished, or hawked, as a symbol  of some sort of belief or other, right?  Our country has done a lot of pondering lately  over flags and statues and symbols, so it only makes sense that someone would sell copies of the South Carolina Southern Rights flag, even though it was a “loser” flag.

On the few sites selling the flag, the ad copy goes something like this:   (The southerners ) …took this flag into battle when they participated in an attack on the pro-Northern town of Lawrence on May 21, 1856. Their flag briefly flew over both the Herald of Freedom newspaper office and the Free State Hotel, before both buildings were destroyed by the pro-Southern forces.          End of story and a heck of an omission .

To help consumers know what they’re buying, I offer the rest of the flag’s story: The “Southern Rights” flag was captured, dragged in the dust, used to raise antislavery money and, finally, sits in a glassed-in display case in Kansas, the state the southern boys failed to turn into a slave state.

[1] Future posts will look at these participants, the little “Battle of Slough Creek,” and the events roiling through Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, in September 1856 in future posts.  But do read the blog Freedmen’s Patrol, which has done a masterful job of telling the story of Major Buford and his band of southerners  https://freedmenspatrol.wordpress.com/2016/08/05/the-buford-expedition-part-one-forty-slaves-fifty-dollars-and-some-crazy-enough/ .

 

[2] Quotation from the American Nonconformist newspaper, January 24, 1889, in a reminiscence by one of Harvey’s men on the campaign, H. N. Dunlap of Sedan, Kansas. From Kansas Territory scrapbooks held by the Kansas State Historical Society.

[3] The Sack of Lawrence, May 21, 1856.

An Underground Railroad Ambush in Jefferson Co. Kansas Territory, Part IV

In 1859 America, it was a crime to help a person escape enslavement. Even if you lived in a state like Massachusetts or Iowa, which prohibited slavery, it was legal for slave owners to come to your state and take back slaves.

Riding as a guard or escort for an Underground Railroad “train” of freedom-seekers was illegal. Operating as a conductor, an organizer or as someone providing food and hidden shelter for fugitive slaves at an Underground Railroad stop was illegal. Federal authorities could charge you with aiding a fugitive slave’s escape, all under the expanded Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.*  Even refusing to help federal officers capture fugitive slaves was illegal.

Secrecy about Underground Railroad routes, dates and people engaged in the perilous enterprise was vital to help ensure that slaves and free black people – sometimes abducted and sold into slavery –would make it to freedom and keep operations alive.

The catastrophic Kansas Territory ambush of Dr. John Doy’s Underground Railroad trek on Jan. 25, 1859, sent 13 freedom-seekers to Missouri, a slave state, and landed Dr. Doy in a Missouri jail. It also revealed   a secret UGRR route and exposed the names of nearly a dozen men who had agreed to help in a dangerous and illegal mission.

Before the night of the ambush, Dr. Doy had conducted a sort of dry run to map out his planned transport of black passengers and to confirm those who would help him along the way.[i]  From Lawrence, in Douglas County, Dr. Doy’s route included stops at Oskaloosa and Grasshopper  Falls[ii] in Jefferson County and  Holton and New Brighton in Calhoun County.[iii]

St Joseph Weekly West June 26, 1859 Doy Waybill
Clipping from the St. Joseph Weekly West (newspaper), June 26, 1859, page 2, column 6. Image from the State Historical Society of Missouri

From his advance trip, Dr. Doy jotted down notes about the best route to take, what expenses he had, sights along the way and the names of men who agreed to help in this Underground Railroad plan. His first stop would be Oskaloosa where he would pick up a guard[iv] to protect the group on the way forward.[v]

Dr. Doy carried his journal notes along with him when he set off that January night with his son, Charles, and a young wagon driver, Wilbur Clough, and the 13 passengers.

Bad move. Post ambush, the notes were snapped up and used as evidence in the Missouri trial[vi] against Dr. Doy for slave abduction. (Dr. Doy was accused of going into Missouri and taking a slave or slaves back to Kansas. Dr. Doy’s defense team argued that he had not been in Missouri when the slaves left.)

Worse, an excerpt from Dr. Doy’s  journal was published  in at least one Missouri newspaper, exposing the names of Kansas Territory men who were willing to participate in the Underground Railroad and break federal law.

To us, 158 years later, Dr. Doy’s notes also reveal  the names of Jefferson and Jackson County people willing to risk themselves to knock down slavery.  In Jefferson County, where legends of Underground Railroad activity carried few facts, we had names to study.  Remember, too, that in 1859, Kansas Territory was not yet a state, although recent elections made clear Kansas was headed toward entering the Union as a free state. The names of  men willing to risk jail and fines to help fugitive slaves and free black people would be of keen interest to their agitated proslavery neighbors.

I’ve taken the journal names as they were published in the St. Joseph newspaper article (left) about Dr. Doy’s trial and attempted to identify them. My sources included census data, material from ancestry.com, various Kansas biographies, material from local historical societies, military records and family stories to try to identify these men.  I do not know who would have transcribed Dr. Doy’s journal for the court or the St. Joseph Weekly West, but transcription errors are likely, as are possible name spellings errors on Dr. Doy’s part.

In Jefferson County, Dr. Doy’s first stop was to be at the home of “Mr. Newall, who (l)aid out  town” of Oskaloosa.  That would be Jesse Newell, an Ohio man who came to Kansas Territory from Iowa in 1856, and co-founded with Joseph Fitzsimmons, Oskaloosa, Kansas Territory. He was a freestater, later described as a Jayhawker and radical Republican, involved in  1856 free-state forces and in Civil War militias.  We hear of Jesse Newell again when Dr. Doy is busted out of the Missouri jail by Lawrence area men (future blog post).

“Mr. Barnes, from Ohio,” on Dr. Doy’s Oskaloosa list, is a puzzle, since there were several Barneses in or near Oskaloosa at the time. My guess is Mr. Barnes was Ebenezer James Barnes, born in 1828 in Ohio and associated with Oskaloosa’s other co-founder Joseph Fitzsimmons.  Eb Barnes had lived in Harrison Township, Mahaska County, Iowa, in the 1850s where Jesse Newell lived, although Mr. Barnes arrived in Kansas Territory later, in 1858. During the Civil War he was captain of Co. E in the Kansas 5th Cavalry, one of Kansas Sen. James H. Lane’s units. After the Civil War, Eb Barnes remained in Arkansas and died there in 1867.  Mr. Barnes’ brother, William Conwell Barnes, is a possibility for “Mr. Barnes, from Ohio.”  In addition, Jared Pierpont Barnes, who lived at Rock Creek in western Jefferson County,  was said to have been involved in the Underground Railroad.  A New York stater, he moved to Kansas Territory in 1857. His home might have been closer to the “Lane Trail,” an UGRR route that went north from Topeka through Jackson County to Holton and to Nebraska. Going to his home would have been out of the way for Dr. Doy, who doesn’t mention going that direction in his notes.

“Mr. W.A. Corwin and J. H. Elliott, from Ohio,” in the Grasshopper Falls (now Valley Falls) area, are difficult to pin down, as well. There were Corwins from New England involved in making Kansas a free state, but not in Valley Falls census records at that time.  My guess is  William A. Cowan and Thomas H. Elliott, both of Pennsylvania  and who arrived in the Valley Falls area in 1855, or one could be Thomas H. Elliott’s father, John Elliott. Both free-staters, William A. Cowan and Thomas H. Elliott later moved on to California.

“Rev. Mr. Moffer,” Valley Falls, was Rev. Josiah B. McAfeeAn obituary details his Kansas life. He arrived in Kansas Territory in 1855, alighting in Leavenworth.  Pressure from the proslavers led to his move to Grasshopper Falls, where he set up the first permanent Lutheran church in Kansas. His (Union) Civil War service included being chaplain of a Kansas colored regiment. He served various state offices and was a prohibition proponent.  Like Mr. Newell, Rev. McAfee enters the picture again after Dr. Doy was rescued from jail.

In Calhoun County, now Jackson County,  “… a fine specimen of a man… Capt. Creitz… who brought his company two separate times to the aid of Lawrence… “ William F. Creitz was an early settler and free-state fighter in Calhoun County, renamed Jackson County in February 1859. He was captain of Co. A in the Kansas 5th Cavalry and an Underground Railroad participant on other occasions. His account of John Brown’s  Battle of the Spurs is a lively read. He later moved to Oregon.

“… we selected Mr. Parks, his companion… “ Most likely this man was Ephraim Markley Parks, another Ohio man who came to Kansas via Iowa.  By 1875 he was living in Oregon.

“Obtained the name of Mr. Wimmery and Martin Anderson, agents for New Brighton…” Mr. Wimmery could be Jason Whinery, from an Ohio Quaker family and a Holton subscriber to the Anti-slavery Bugle newspaper from Lisbon, Ohio. He later moved to Washington state.  Martin Anderson was Maj. George Martin Anderson, an Ohio man who also came to Kansas Territory by way of Iowa. He was an officer in the Kansas 11th Cavalry who eventually moved to Topeka, Kansas, and served as state treasurer. In the earlier Kansas Territory days, Anderson was supposed to have been part owner of a mill in Jefferson County  where Thomas H. Elliott worked.

“The member’s name in the Legislature is Golden Silvers…” OK, who could mistake the name, Golden Silvers?  When Kansas Territory became a state in 1861, Mr. Silvers and George Martin Anderson served in the first state legislature, representing Jackson County.  In 1863, after Quantrill’s raiders devastated Lawrence, Mr. Silvers was captain of a western Jefferson County Civil War militia cavalry. As a legislator, Silvers was the man who got the county name changed from its proslavery “Calhoun” to Jackson. He was born in Missouri and remained in Kansas, moving one county south to Shawnee County.

[i][i] John Doy, The Narrative of John Doy, of Lawrence, Kansas, “A Plain, Unvarnished tale” (New York: Thomas Holman, Book and Job Printer, Corner Central and White Sts., 1860) 23.

*Just allow me to note here that the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law allowed slavery’s applauders to harp on about the wild and fanatical law-breakers who abducted their slaves or otherwise helped slaves escape slavery. They didn’t want free states to be able to keep their runaway slaves from them. Free states were unsuccessful in passing their own laws to block slave-hunters (and the Fugitive Slave law) from capturing former slaves in free states. They  saw that law as forcing slavery on them, a violation of states’ rights. Seceding southern states in the Civil War would conveniently separate themselves from trampling free states’ rights when they made their hollow argument that they were leaving the Union to preserve their states’ rights.

[ii] Now Valley Falls.

[iii] New Brighton is now Circleville. Calhoun County was renamed Jackson County in February 1859.

[iv] John Doy did not have an escort or guard to protect the group. He wanted one, but none other than John Brown was arranging a separate UGRR trip for the same time and John Brown got the guard. Brown’s trip was eventful, as well, but his was successful and is known as The Battle of the Spurs. https://www.kshs.org/publicat/khc/1919_1922_lowell_spurs.pdf

[v] John Doy, The Narrative of John Doy, of Lawrence, Kansas, “A Plain, Unvarnished tale” (New York: Thomas Holman, Book and Job Printer, Corner Central and White Sts., 1860) 105,  123.

[vi] A brief description of the trial may be found here: https://www.kshs.org/teachers/read_kansas/pdfs/m12card03bw.pdf

 

An Underground Railroad Ambush in Jefferson County, Part III ,Location

Late in 1860, two U.S. surveyors and a crew carting signal flags, measuring chains, an ax and a compass began  their prescribed  survey of a six-mile square piece of land in southern Jefferson County, Kansas Territory.

They inched along, lining up points north and south and east and west within the square — Township 11 South, which was in Range 19 East of the 6th Principal Meridian.[1] They measured divisions, whittling down the township into smaller, government-defined parcels of land in the Delaware (Indian) Reserve . The reserve was soon to be sold and the boundaries had to be set in advance.

Two-pole chain, Virtual Museum of Surveying
Pictured is a two-pole chain from the Virtual Museum of Surveying. Chains like this one were used by U.S. land surveyors to measure off Kansas Territory lands. http://www.surveyhistory.org/

As the surveyors moved  between Sections 15 and 16 in Township 11 South they noted a ravine coursing to the southeast.  A couple of days later the crew was near the same place and  lead surveyor Germain F Simpson wrote in his field notes that the Lawrence to Oskaloosa Road passed southeast to northwest at a point 65 chains (4,290 feet) east of a section marker.[2]

Mr. Simpson’s survey and field notes document would become the basis for Kansas Territory’s survey plats, mapping the territory.[3]  And with his observation of a particular ravine and a particular road, Mr. Simpson in the end handed us a defining point that would help find the place where Dr. John Doy, two assistants and 13 Underground Railroad passengers seeking safety and freedom were ambushed by slave hunters January 25, 1859.

It was 2014, and I was researching Jefferson County people who appeared to have been helpers in the Underground Railroad, at least in connection with the John Doy episode. As I dug deeper into my search it became apparent that no one had determined the location of the winter ambush 155 years before, at least as far as I could find.

There were some pretty good clues already and it was obvious that the ambush occurred in Jefferson County. I figured we should be able to find the place where Doy’s Underground Railroad train met its doom. But at this point, I knew nothing of Mr. Simpson’s survey or field notes.

  • We had John Doy’s book description of what happened the night of the ambush.[4]  Doy wrote that the group was 12 miles from Lawrence and eight from Oskaloosa. In his description, Doy’s group was at the bottom of a hill with a bluff on the right side of the road.  As Doy’s wagons turned, 20 or more armed men emerged from behind the bluff.
  • Ephraim Nute, a Lawrence minister involved in the Underground Railroad, wrote in a February 1859 letter  that when Doy’s train launched that January night, the 13 freedom-seekers were placed about four miles west of Lawrence, on the Kansas River.[5] Doy and his crew, with two wagons, took the ferry across to the north side of the Kaw[6] about where the bridge into current downtown Lawrence is. They traveled west along the riverside to pick up the waiting passengers and took the road toward Oskaloosa. After about an hour they entered a sort of “defile” between the bluffs and the timber, and were surrounded by the hiding ambushers.

    Kirk Webb, JeffCo GIS, John Doy Route Map zoomed
    John Doy route from Lawrence on his way to Oskaloosa. Cropped version of map created by Kirk Webb of the Jefferson County Geographic Information Systems Department 7/29/2015 Copyright 2015
  • John Doy, again, gives us another route hint from notes he took[7] when he did a dry run of his trip. He recorded his movements from Lawrence north and west to Holton, in Jackson County, an important transit point for the UGRR in Kansas Territory. Doy wrote in his memo book of his dry run: “…ferried over Kaw river at Lawrence; took the road west up the river, crossing Buck creek, keeping the left-hand road till the creek is crossed, then the right-hand; arrived at Oscaloosa [Oskaloosa] that night…”[8]

So, now we had helpful details about Buck Creek, bluffs and draws – but those are all-to-common features in the landscape between Lawrence and Oskaloosa.

The thing we had to find was that road.

I decided the best course would be to find people to help me solve the mystery.  Three people who, independently from the others, would get all the information I had to work with, and maybe find some clues of their own. I put myself in the search party of three, and on a trip back to Kansas put my husband at the wheel of a rental car.

Buck Creek Road Doy curve
Buck Creek Road going north, curving west at the red arrow. Wrong road.

We headed north from Lawrence on Buck Creek Road in Jefferson County, tracking mileage on  a GPS device. Maybe Buck Creek Road, a twisting, gravel beauty that snakes around the hills, was the old Lawrence to Oskaloosa Road.  Then, about 12 miles up from Lawrence, our Buck Creek Road curved sharply around a bluff. That bluff  — looming over the path I figured Doy would have taken — had obvious posse-hiding potential. But the bluff was on the left, not the right, as described by Dr. Doy. Wrong road.

An 1850s or 1860s “road” was not made of  pavement, asphalt or even gravel.  It was more of a trail, just dirt where traveling animals, humans or wagon wheels wore away the grass and made ruts. Could we find visible remnants of the old road, or had all traces been obliterated?  Had the road continued its use and been upgraded into one of the county’s gravel roads?  Roads over time are abandoned for easier and better routes. Or they get re-routed for farmers wanting uninterrupted fields, or because they are drowned in perennial flooding.

This was as close to the Doy ambush site as I would get on my own.[9] Time to call in someone else.

Jennifer Binkley, a Flint Hills author and horse trainer, was researching old abandoned roads and trails in the Buck Creek area for a book. Jennifer grew up riding those old roads across hilltops and down through prairie, and all along Buck Creek south of Oskaloosa. Her historical fiction book, “The Forgotten Road,” would even include Jake Hurd, the vile slave hunter and kidnapper who was with John Doy’s ambushers that day.

Jennifer for Doy
Jennifer Binkley on horseback in April 2015, facing south from 35th Street in Jefferson County. She knew an old road deep in the timber about a third of a mile south of  her vantage point but a little under half a mile east of the ambush point.

I handed over the Doy and Nute story descriptions, links to old maps and topography, and  Jennifer got to work.  She knew the terrain, having ridden horses through the area so many times and noticing old road remnants when she was a kid. She reached farther by looking at county records in Oskaloosa showing road abandonments and route changes. She studied historic maps at the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka and climbed around the Buck Creek area hills in January to find some old ruts she remembered.

Jennifer turned up an 1868 county road document and map that outlined a proposed change to the old Lawrence to Oskaloosa Road not far from my Buck Creek Road experience. Her focus was near where I ended my quest but was closer to the actual ambush spot. Jennifer had her eye, at one point, on an old road remnant in the same string of bluffs as the actual site, about half a mile east from the ambush site.

Encouraged, I tapped Bill Noll, Jefferson County’s public works director, a licensed surveyor in Kansas and a certified floodplain manager. I thought he might know the old roads (roads and bridges are in his department) and whether a remnant of the Lawrence and Oskaloosa Road remained anywhere near our ambush spot.  I gave him the narrative descriptions of the Underground Railroad ambush, a terrain map and some older map copies showing the Lawrence/Oskaloosa road.

JeffCo Doy 2-foot contours
This map shows the dramatic landscape near at the John Doy ambush site. The map, created by the Jefferson County, Kansas, Geographic Information Systems, is a 2-foot contour map.  The blue lines represent every two feet of elevation on the land.  The lines show the land height above sea level, and the land shape. Lines closer together mean steeper slopes.

Bill promptly returned a satellite image of the middle of Township 11 South overlaid with notations explaining his “guess” about the ambush location.  He had zeroed in on a 270-yard area near today’s Phillips Road, about .8 mile west of  my Buck Creek Road attempt. He had overlaid the same 270-yard target area to a copy of the 1862 land survey plat that was drawn from the 1860 field notes of our surveyor Mr. Simpson.

For his finding, Bill had drawn two radiuses, one 12 miles north from Lawrence and the other 8 miles south from Oskaloosa. He applied his “guess” to the  U.S. Government Land Office Survey Map to find Township 11 South  section lines that intersected in the target area.

The county’s public works director noted that the old Lawrence to Oskaloosa trail was similar in shape and location to the current Phillips Road. He next used an aerial map to show topographic features that would match the Doy narratives. The southerly draw in a topographical map of this area most closely matched the Doy description because it was deep and could have provided cover.  It had a sharp southwesterly bend near the end of it that would allow a group of ambushers to hide around a corner from a group of people making their way through the draw.

“In my opinion this was the only area near where the trail was at the distances from each town that had the characteristics that were described,” Bill concluded in his first shot at finding the ambush site. “My best guess is that it was near the location of the pond that has now been built in that draw.”

Doy Noll 1862 overlay snip
Bill Noll’s first attempt at locating the Doy ambush site. He overlaid Jefferson County’s 1862 copy of the U.S. land survey plat for Township 11 South, Range 19 East with his findings.

U.S. government and commercial hand-drawn maps from the 1850s and 1860s do show a road running to Oskaloosa from Lawrence. The road doesn’t appear in exactly the same place among the several maps of the era, as mapping roads wasn’t as precise as today and those who drew or painted the maps couldn’t possibly know every curve. The old hand-drawn survey maps do show bluffs and prairies, waterways and creeks.

U.S. Geological Survey maps today provide a clear look at the hills and bluffs, draws and defiles in topographic contour maps.  And up-to-date Jefferson County GIS maps show parcels of land  in vivid satellite photograph images, overlaid with sections, townships, ranges and meridians boundaries.  Bill circled his Doy ambush estimate over the county’s copy of the 1862 map produced from surveyor Simpson’s 1860 field notes for Township 11 South in Range 19 East of the 6th Principal Meridian. The map picks up Doy’s route from the place Buck Creek runs into the Kansas River, west of Lawrence.

And there, within Bill Noll’s 270-yard estimate circled in red, was our ambush site, labeled “capture location.”

1958 years after Doy ambush (3)
An aerial photo from 1958 shows the hilly terrain in the ambush area.  The pond has gone in the earlier existing draw. Photograph used with permission of the land owner. (The octagon blot on the left side of the picture is a flaw in the copy.)

Impressed and grateful, I emailed a copy of the 1855 field notes from a different township , thinking Director Noll might find them interesting. I didn’t know that his county office holds hand-written copies of ALL the old field notes for every township in Jefferson County.

I like reading the field notes for the glimpse they offer of Jefferson County’s landscape just before Kansas Territory was a state: “land, rolling prairie,” “1st rate soil,” “a wagon trail bears northwest and southeast,” “Mr.Meredith’s field bears E & W,” “timber, oak and hickory,” “black oak 24-in diameter,” or land is “poor, hilly, stony.”

The next thing I knew I was looking at a NEW conclusion from Bill that updated his finding on the Doy ambush location.  Bill had looked up the field notes for our Doy  quest, Township 11 South.  He had stopped calling his conclusion a “guess.”

The field notes taken by surveyor Germain F. Simpson nearly 150 years ago — when measurement was taken with (physical) chains and limestone rocks were dropped in place to mark sectional quarters — mentioned the Lawrence to Oskaloosa Road passing through our target area.

The road cut across the land in this little segment going from the southeast to the northwest, in a  spot 65 chains east of a specific section line corner.  It was inside the 270-yard area Bill had  targeted earlier. And, finally, X marked our spot.

New Doy Jeffco GIS map with sections
The red “X” on the map marks the 65-chains point at which the U.S. surveyor in 1860 noted the Lawrence and Oskaloosa Road going southeast/northwest (blue line). The black line borders divide sections in Township 11 South. The base map is from the Jefferson County, Kansas,  Geographic Information Systems website. The road location overlays were placed by the author, but were based on a much better map created by Bill Noll, Jefferson County dirrector of public works.  You can view Jefferson County’s GIS maps at the county website.

 

The ambush site as we have pinpointed it sits on private land whose owners were fascinated to learn of the 1859 events that happened there.  They do want to maintain privacy, however, and the spot is off limits to visitors.

Driving the area will give you a feel for the lay of the land, and the Doy ambush site is located just off one of the western borders of the Buck Creek Wildlife Area[10] between 27th and 35th streets.

As Bill Noll noted, a pond has gone in at one end of a low draw (Ephraim Nute’s “defile”?) John Doy reached in 1859.  The bluff that concealed the armed ambushers still casts a shadow, and maintains the memory of a time when Kansas settlers, enslaved people fighting for freedom and profiteers bent on their capture struggled over their beliefs.

[1] Information from the Kansas State Historical Society Archives and Jefferson County GIS and roads departments. The United States uses a specific system to divide land into identifiable and uniform portions.  Sections, townships, ranges and meridians are the key components, explained here on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s website.

https://glorecords.blm.gov/reference/default.aspx#id=05_Appendices|03_Rectangular_Survey_System

[2] A “chain” for the surveyor was a specialized chain 66 feet long and containing 100 7.92-inch links.  Each Township contained 36 Sections. Mr. Simpson was moving east between Sections 9 and 16 in Township 11 South when he observed the road. The east-west border between those two sections was 80 chains, and the road was recorded at 65 chains from the west beginning point. More information about how surveys were conducted is contained in this handbook, which, published in 1855, was the one in use for the early Kansas Territory surveys.  https://www.ntc.blm.gov/krc/uploads/538/1855_Instructions_to_the_S_G.pdf

[3] The Kansas State Historical Society has included some plats made from the early land surveys on its website, Kansas Memory. The plats include parts of Douglas, Jefferson, Johnson, Shawnee and Wyandotte counties and may be seen here: http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/223914

[4] Doy, John, The Kansas Narrative, A Plain, Unvarnished Tale, (Thomas Holman, book and job printer, New York, 1860),  24.

[5] Nute, Ephraim, Letter, [E. Nute] to [Unidentified recipient], February 14, 1859; Kansas State Historical Society Item No. 102720, John Brown Collection, #299, Box 2, Folder 1.

[6] The Kaw is another name for the Kansas River.

[7] St. Joseph Weekly West (newspaper); 26 June, 1859, 2.  Microfilm, State Historical Society of Missouri.   An upcoming post will look at these notes, taken from Doy and used against him in his trial in Missouri.

[8] St. Joseph Weekly West (newspaper); 26 June, 1859, 2.  Microfilm, State Historical Society of Missouri.

[9] In the end, my first-shot spot on Buck Creek Road was nearly a mile east of where we later determined was the actual ambush site.

[10] The 836 acres of land in the Buck Creek Wildlife Area is held by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. It was preserved by the Kansas Land Trust, which promotes the park as including restored prairies, riparian woodlands, oak-hickory forest,  hay meadows, and abundant wildlife.

Jesse Newell’s 1856 Travel Pass “I expect, sir, to carry that pass to the judgment day”

I interrupt John Doy’s badly ending Underground Railroad trip to introduce you to Jesse Newell, whose Oskaloosa homestead Dr. Doy had failed to reach. I will introduce you to Mr. Newell the same way I met him about five years ago.

We had just figured out that a badly declining property in Oskaloosa, Kansas, had once been Jesse Newell’s homestead plot and we wanted to find out more about him. Local and state compiled histories revealed practically nothing.

Stephen Smith, Newell stone cabin, west side door,keith 2 10 2013
This limestone cabin sits behind a house on what was once the homestead plot of Jesse Newell in Oskaloosa, Kansas. The site was named to the Register of Historic Kansas Places on May 13 and on July 10, 2017, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Photo by Stephen Smith.

A simple web search captured a glimpse of Mr. Newell and showed him to be a Kansas character beyond what our aged historical portraits had told us: co-founded Oskaloosa, had a saw mill, moved to Kansas from Iowa.

My first illuminating encounter with Jesse Newell, then, sprang from an essay written by Mary-Sherman Willis in the literary journal archipelago, http://www.archipelago.org/vol6-3/willis.htm.  Her essay, “The Fight for Kansas: The Letters of Cecilia and John Sherman,” reveals a critical moment in the warfare that led to Kansas statehood, told in letters written by her ancestors Cecilia Stewart Sherman and Ohio Congressman John Sherman.[1]

Mrs. Sherman’s letter shows us Jesse Newell travelling from Topeka to Lawrence with a son, John Newell, his brother-in-law Joseph Fitzsimmons and Dr. Robert Gamble. It was May 17, 1856, and Newell had just arrived in Kansas Territory from Iowa. He was annoyed.

Over and again, Newell and his company were stopped, harassed, interrogated, all OK’d by proslavery authority at Lecompton to stop people from getting to Lawrence, home of eastern slavery opponents.  The proslavery partisans were cutting off Lawrence to suppress a “rebellion” by antislavery settlers there who resisted the proslavery government’s outrageous and illegally enacted laws.[2]

Exasperated, Newell rode for Lecompton, roughly half way between Topeka and Lawrence on his 25-mile trip. Lecompton was the proslavery crowned capital of the territory. A native of Ohio, Newell found fellow Ohioan Wilson Shannon, the current governor of Kansas Territory. Cecilia Stewart Sherman’s letter, written to a sister on May 19, details what Newell[3] said of his visit with Gov. Shannon. Mrs. Sherman wrote:

“… Mr. Jesse Newell, formerly from near Olivesburg [Ohio] & immediately from Iowa with his two sons & a son-in-law, is looking through the country for a location. He arrived [in Leavenworth] today and gave us an account of his adventures for the last two or three days. He was stopped several times before he got through. He was going from Topeka to Lawrence on Saturday but after having been stopped once or twice he turned around and went to Lecompton, the headquarters of the enemy, to see Gov. Shannon whom he knew. He spied him in a crowd upon the street and accosted him thus:  ‘I would like to know what these bands of armed men who are going round the country mean stopping peaceable citizens on the high way—&c &c. I am a free man & thought I was in a free country till I came here,’ he said.

“Shannon got angry & told him there was no use in his getting mad—&c—that the whole Territory was under military law. He then turned to go into his office.  Mr. Newell called to him, ‘Shannon it’s me[,] and you are not going to treat me thus. I’ll know what these things mean.’ Shannon then told him to follow him in. He did so & he gave him a permit to pass unmolested through the territory. He then started again for Lawrence but was stopped twice by one party of ten—-& another of fifteen armed with rifles & fixed bayonets; they questioned as to where he was from, when he came, what town he had been, where he was going.

“He told them, and they said he had been travelling in d—d abolition towns all the time. They supposed he was going now to Lawrence to help fight the Border Ruffians, and he couldn’t go. He told them he had started for Lawrence, there he intended to go. They told him they would take his mules for the use of the army. Says he, ‘These mules cost eleven dollars & before you get them you’ll take my scalp.’ He showed them his permit then & they let him go, but Shannon & they too told him there was no use to go, that he wouldn’t get into the town, it was guarded & in arms. But he said he went on & when he came near the town he saw men planting corn & women in the garden. He went on down town & there were little girls jumping the rope, stores were open, the men at their usual work & all was quiet. He didn’t know what to make of it after the stories Shannon had told him about the citizens of Lawrence all being in arms &c. No doubt Shannon thinks they are. The pro-slavery tell him so in order to bend him to their measures & he never goes out of Lecompton so he can find out himself.”

Included in the national news about the Kansas struggle for freedom were stories about the severing of simple freedoms by the proslavery powers at Lecompton, and they included stories about Jesse Newell and his pass.

Jesse Newell's Pass, The Buffalo Daily Republic
From the Buffalo Daily Republic (Buffalo, New York), Thursday, May 29, 1856, page 1.  Image from newspapers.com.

Well, maybe not yet were they identified with the “troubles” of the territory; that came a few months later when Newell was fully invested in the free-state cause.  Newell and Joseph Fitzsimmons, the brother-in-law with him for the pass, went on to start the town of Oskaloosa, naming it for Oskaloosa, Iowa.  Dr. Gamble, born in Pennsylvania and later an Ohio man, likewise had come to Kansas Territory from Iowa. After serving in leadership positions around the town, Gamble had moved on to California in the later 1860s.

Eleven years later the Oskaloosa Independent newspaper published a long-running series of reminiscences by Jefferson Countians about the Civil War and the territorial strife that preceded Kansas statehood in 1861. John W. Day, who arrived in Kansas Territory in May 1856, was present for various territorial skirmishes and political clashes and in June 1867 wrote about events of 1856.

He noted Newell’s pass, setting up his story  by detailing how settlers had to carry written passes from the government to ensure their safety on public thoroughfares.[4]  Mr. Day, who edited the Oskaloosa Independent for a time, wrote:

“I think it was in June or July of 1856 that at the store of Nelson McCracken, in Leavenworth, Jesse Newell, who had been traveling through the Territory looking for a location to settle and build a mill, exhibited to myself and several other persons, a pass furnished him by Wilson Shannon, then governor of the Territory of Kansas.  This pass was obtained from the Governor on the ground of old acquaintanceship in Ohio when both were Democrats[5] in the Buckeye State.

“I solicited the document to file away as a memento, but Mr. Newell replied:  ‘No, sir; I cannot part with it.  I expect, sir, to carry that pass to the judgment day’.”

Newell cabin stone north window
A photo of one of the stones that makes up the limestone cabin on Jesse Newell’s homestead property in Oskaloosa, Kansas.

[1] The Shermans were in Kansas Territory because John Sherman was on a three-person congressional committee assigned to investigate the 1855 and 1856 “troubles” in Kansas, including voting frauds by out-of-state proslavers and violence through the territory.  The committee produced the Report of the Special Committee Appointed to Investigate the Troubles in Kansas; With the Views of the Minority of Said Committee. Report No. 200, 34th Congress, 1st Session, 1856.  Mrs. Sherman’s letter is held by the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library in Mansfield, Ohio, in the (John) Sherman Room Collection.

[2] The first sacking  sacking of Lawrence occurred a few days later, on May 21, when proslavery militia, supported by men from southern states, marched on Lawrence and destroyed the Free State Hotel, ruined the printing presses of two newspapers, the Herald of Freedom and the Kansas Free State, and burned the home of Charles Robinson, future Kansas governor. Before the burning began, a red flag bearing the words “Southern Rights” on one side and “South Carolina” flew briefly over Lawrence.

[3] Mrs. Sherman’s letter was illuminating because it told a story that, as far as I have figured out, was unknown in Kansas.  It was the first “new” bit of information we had found about Jesse Newell.  And for a moment in May 1856 Jesse Newell’s experience in Kansas Territory had made national news.

[4] Oskaloosa Independent, June 22, 1867, page one, series “Heroes of the Border and the War for Liberty and Union”

[5] Jesse Newell a Democrat, the party associated with slavery? That, to me,  was a new label for Jesse Newell.  Later descriptions of Newell, including one by Mr. Day, called him a Radical Republican, meaning someone who was not only an opponent of slavery in Kansas, but of slavery all together and was a proponent of rights for  black people. Others who came to Kansas Territory and fought against slavery, including Kansas’ U.S. Sen. James H. Lane, the orator and top free-state recruiter, came to the state as Democrats.

An Underground Railroad Ambush in Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, Part II

 

January 25, 1859

Somewhere on the Delaware Reserve, Jefferson County, Kansas Territory

We left John Doy and his Underground Railroad train deep in trouble on the Missouri side of the river. But since my task is unearthing Jefferson County history, let’s head back to the place where Dr. Doy and friends were ambushed, wherever that was.

Doy, a Lawrence abolitionist, two helpers  and 13 African-American passengers[1]  had been snared by armed slave catchers as they travelled from Lawrence north toward Holton,[2]  a rough wagon ride of about 50 miles.  By Doy’s description, the calamity happened about 12 miles north of Lawrence in Douglas County and  8 miles south of Oskaloosa in Jefferson County on the Delaware (Indian) Reserve.

ks memory map cropped zoomed doy twp 11 r 19 (3)
This is a zoomed-in image of a Kansas Land Survey Plat of the township in Jefferson County where the Doy ambush took place. The U.S. surveyor general of Kansas and Nebraska oversaw the surveying of lands in Kansas Territory from 1855-1861. This image is from Kansas Memory from the Kansas State Historical Society. See image at the bottom of this post for more information on the map.

Two wagons carried the passengers.  Doy rode a horse, his son Charles drove Doy’s wagon and young Wilbur Clough drove a second wagon. Well on their way to Oskaloosa, the travelers advanced down a long decline. At the bottom of the hill, on the right, sat a bluff.  As Doy’s party turned at the bluff about 20 armed, mounted men emerged and captured the group.[3]

A second description, with only the tiniest bit more information, comes from the Rev. Ephraim Nute, a Lawrence minister strong for abolishing slavery. Nute wrote a letter detailing the ambush and lamenting the high cost of the failed effort, both in the tragedy of the 13 freedom-seekers and in the money it took to put the effort on, and now the money it would take to pay for the imprisoned Doy’s legal bills. It’s possible that Nute obtained the information from a jail visit or from Clough, whom the Missourians didn’t imprison.

“… they took the road toward Oscaloosa [sic] & about an hour after entering a sort of defile between the bluffs & ‘the timber’ found themselves surrounded by a party of armed & mounted men,” Rev. Nute wrote.[4]

Mitchell map Kansas Memory Item 305777
A zoomed screen shot of  Mitchell’s Sectional Map of Kansas, Middleton Storbridge & Co., 1859. Lawrence is on the lower right and Oskaloosa is in the top central part of the image. From the  Kansas State Historical Society at http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/305777

 

Rev. Nute did refer to a road in his letter. Because roads and passable trails were few in the county a road might show up on an old map .  But it wasn’t enough to find the spot.

Hilly, timbered landscapes are not a rarity in southern Jefferson County, and if  we wanted to find the location of this disaster — and I had never known of the place being identified — we would need more information.

Stunningly, our best location clues ended up being clues that never should have been revealed at all, and they came from John Doy.

Riding in the Underground Railroad was secretive and dangerous work for all involved.  Brave enslaved people and free African Americans had everything to lose if they were caught fleeing slavery or its threat.  Escaped slaves could be pursued and caught in other states and returned to slavery;  free black people were not safe from  kidnappers who would ignore their free status and sell them into slavery. Those who assisted in UGRR efforts faced jail and fines. Missouri was a state that allowed slavery and a good share of Missourians wanted to extend slavery to Kansas when it would become a state.

Names of Underground Railroad conductors and agents, and their “stations” for hiding freedom-seekers along the route, naturally, were strictly secret.  But Dr. Doy had made a dry run of his planned UGRR route from Lawrence to Holton. He had jotted down the names and places he had arranged to hide his passengers and obtain escorts for each leg of the slow trip north.

Doy apparently carried a journal containing those names and places with him when he was ambushed Jan. 25, 1859.  Worse, an excerpt was published in a Missouri newspaper, the St. Joseph Weekly West in its June 26, 1859 edition.  Here’s how the transcript opened:

“Bought bread and cheese, 20 cents, before starting. Paid 25 cents Monday ferried over Kaw river [Kansas River] at Lawrence; took the road west up the river, crossing Buck creek, keeping the left-hand road till the creek is crossed, then the right-hand; arrived at Oscaloosa [Oskaloosa] that night, opened my subject to Mr. Newall [Newell], who laid out town.[5] He accepts at dark; went to Mr. Barnes, from Ohio; also accepts the appointment of conductor; will feed and assist them.…”[6]

And on he went to name three people who would help at Grasshopper Falls (now Valley Falls, Jefferson County)  and another half dozen people in or near Holton in Calhoun County (now Jackson County).

Colossal mistake aside, Doy did probably take that same route on January 25.  For his dry run, he crossed the Kansas River at downtown Lawrence and followed the river to the north and west.  He turned off to go north around the point where Buck Creek meets the Kaw.  If he followed a trail or road like the Lawrence-to-Oskaloosa road, it wasn’t long until he was  about 12 miles north of Lawrence and about 8 miles south of Oskaloosa.

Still not enough information, however, to find the spot, so we will continue our quest in the next post.

To view this plat map and several others, follow this link.

 

ks memory map doy twp cropped 11 r 19 (2)

Plat map by the U.S. Surveyor General of Kansas and Nebraska for Township 11 south, Range 19 east of the Sixth Principal Meridian, in southern Jefferson County.  Buck Creek and the road to Oskaloosa are visible on this map, with survey dates, from Kansas Memory, the Kansas State Historical Society.  Item No. 223914, page 7.

[1] Doy, John, The Kansas Narrative, A Plain, Unvarnished Tale, (Thomas Holman, book and job printer, New York, 1860),  24. Doy reported eight men, three women and two children as his cargo. Two men were free persons of color, coming from Ohio and Pennsylvania,  and the rest had shown Doy’s son, Charles, their free papers before the trip, according to Doy’s book. Other accounts dispute the free status of the 11, contending they were runaway enslaved persons.

[2] Holton, in Jackson County, was an Underground Railroad hub. From Holton, the UGRR travelers would go north into Iowa and often on to Canada..

[3] Doy, John, The Kansas Narrative, 25.

[4] Nute, Ephraim, Letter, [E. Nute] to [Unidentified recipient], February 14, 1859; Kansas State Historical Society Item No. 102720, John Brown Collection, #299, Box 2, Folder 1.

[5] Jesse Newell and Joseph Fitzsimmons were co-founders of Oskaloosa, arriving there in May 1856 and later naming the town for Oskaloosa, Iowa.

[6] St. Joseph Weekly West (newspaper); 26 June, 1859, 2.  Microfilm, State Historical Society of Missouri. Knowledge of the existence of this extraordinary newspaper clipping — vital to tracking Jefferson County history — was generously shared with me by a Lawrence author and researcher of the Underground Railroad in Kansas, Judy Sweets.