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

 

1 thought on “An Underground Railroad Ambush in Jefferson Co. Kansas Territory, Part IV”

  1. Most fascinating reading. We have family in Colo. Springs and travel #70 several times a year, we are in Columbia, Mo. I had no idea there was so much history in this area of Ks. We also have a daughter in Oskaloosa, Ia—that Ks town originally got my attention. 🙂 I can well imagine the problems locating the original UGRR ambush location. We’ve stomped some “backwoods” sites in Ky. looking for cem., I didn’t think I’d ever see daylight again!!!

    Like

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