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, 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.

An Underground Railroad Ambush in Jefferson County, Part I

The gravel roads in southern Jefferson County, Kansas, are silent about where an Underground Railroad catastrophe played out 158 years ago. No roadside signs mark the hill where Dr. John Doy’s attempt to help 13 African-Americans elude slavery rolled to a tragic stop eight miles south of Oskaloosa.

Not that it’s the sort of historic fact a Kansas county would want to celebrate. But the ambush, and the sensational events that followed, attach Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, to the relay of secret links helping brave freedom-seekers move north to free states and Canada.

Doy, a New Yorker, moved to Kansas Territory in 1854 with the Kansas-Nebraska Act and worked to ensure Kansas joined the Union deeming slavery illegal within its borders. Almost five years on, Kansas Territory had emerged from the violent Bleeding Kansas slavery clashes between Missouri border ruffians and their southern friends, and those opposed to slavery in Kansas.

Finally, the slavery opponents, free-staters, pulled ahead with majority sentiment.  More work remained, however, and free-staters did what they could to break slavery’s back.

The dark morning hours of January 25, 1859, found Doy on horseback negotiating a primitive road that connected Doy’s hometown Lawrence to Oskaloosa and points north.

Accompanying Doy in two covered wagons were eight men, three women and two children who hoped to leave behind the threat of enslavement, which was still legal in many states including Missouri.  Doy’s son Charles, and a young wagon driver, Wilbur Clough, completed Doy’s party.  What Doy did not have was outriders or escort guards to watch for slave hunters and other enemies along the way.

The little group was 12 miles into the 20  it needed to cover to reach its first stop, Oskaloosa, and most likely the home of Jesse Newell, a radical free-stater who had come from Iowa and was willing to fight to block slavery in Kansas.  There, Doy would pick up his escort to help continue the trip northwest to Holton, a major taking-off point in Kansas Underground ventures.  Doy had dry-run his proposed route about a week earlier, taking notes on “conductors” who would help along the way.  He listed Jesse Newell’s wooded place on the south edge of Oskaloosa as  the first stop in what he planned would be a five-day journey.[1]

The night of the trip, Doy had departed Lawrence heading north, crossed the Kansas River into Jefferson County and followed Buck Creek up through the Delaware Reserve. [2]

“When about 12 miles from Lawrence, and eight from Oscaloosa [sic], having ascertained, as I supposed, that the road was clear, I requested the men to get into the wagons, as we had quite a long descent before us, and would go down it at a brisk pace.[3]  They did so, and then, excepting myself, all the party were in wagons, which were covered and thus effectually prevented them from seeing what occurred immediately afterwards, and from defending themselves.

“At the bottom of the hill, on the right of the road, is a bluff; from behind this, as we turned it, came out a body of some twenty, or more, armed and mounted men. Eleven of them approached with leveled rifles and ordered us to halt; they keeping, however, at a safe distance from our revolvers.”

doy-from-1862-le-tour-du-monde001
This remarkable image depicting the ambush of Dr. John Doy and his Underground Railroad “train” was published in the French magazine Le Tour du Monde in 1862. The illustration and several others accompanied Doy’s story about ruffian slave hunters who captured Doy and his little party of 15 south of Oskaloosa, Kansas Territory, on Jan. 25, 1859. The illustrations were drawn by the French artist Janet-Lange.

 

 

 

Doy saw that he was overpowered and quickly persuaded his son not to shoot at the assailants. Recognizing several of the men, including “notorious ruffian and kidnapper” Jake Hurd from around proslavery Lecompton,[4] Doy began his arguments.

He knew what could happen to the 13 African-Americans in the wagons if taken by Hurd and his posse. Under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 slave owners could pursue runaway slaves to other states and return them to slavery. Slave hunters for hire prowled Kansas Territory, close to free states like Iowa to the north, to capture slaves who had bolted from Missouri and elsewhere.

Worse, some of them kidnapped free black people and sold them into slavery, despicably profiting from human misery. People who engaged in the dangerous work of helping fugitive slaves escape such fates faced fines and  prison (officially) and bodily harm.

Doy asserted that all the African-American adults in his group except two had free papers proving they were not slaves. The other black two men were known to be free men who had been working as cooks at the Eldridge hotel in Lawrence.

To no productive effect, Doy demanded that Hurd and the other attackers show proof that the 13 African-Americans were slaves sought by slave owners and to state whether those owners were in the armed crowd. His questions were met with curses, violent threats and drawn weapons. Doy’s claim that his passengers were free people were ignored.[5]

Somewhere, about eight miles south of Oskaloosa not far from Buck Creek, Doy, his two conductors and 13 African-Americans freedom-seekers were seized, taken to the Missouri River’s edge, put on a ferry to Weston, Mo., the next night, and locked up in Missouri. Jesse Newell and nine others prepared to assist Doy’s planned Underground Railroad venture welcomed no freedom train in late January 1859.

“The sufferings, both physical and mental, of the poor trembling creatures around us, no words can describe,” Doy wrote in his book.  “The chill wintry blast penetrated their thin clothing, and there seemed to be nothing between them and a life-long slavery.  All hope must have been dead in their souls.

“Even now I can hear the sobbing ejaculations of the poor mother, as she tried to hush the wails of her half-clad babes.  In spite of the commands of the ruffians not to stir, I jumped up, tore off the wagon-cover, and gave it to her to wrap around her children.

“The memory of that night will never be effaced from my mind.”[6]

[1] Portions of Doy’s journal, or memorandum book, described the route in some detail.  Transcriptions from the journal were published in the St. Joseph Weekly West (newspaper) on June 26, 1859, page 2, column 6. Microfilm copy held by the State Historical Society of Missouri. The journal was used against Doy in the Missouri court case against him on the charge of helping slaves escape their masters.

[2] “The Kansas Narrative, ‘A Plain, Unvarnished Tale’,” written by John Doy and  published 1860 by Thomas Holman, book and job printer, New  York, p 25.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 26.

[5] Ibid, 26, 27.

[6] Ibid, 30.

kirk-webb-doy-route-002
Map showing the Underground Railroad route John Doy planned to take from Lawrence to Oskaloosa in January 1859. Stars marking sites north and west of Oskaloosa depict planned stops on the rest of Doy’s route to move 13 African Americans north to Holton, had his trip not been ambushed by slave hunters (marked as “John Doy Ambush Site”). The map was created by Kirk Webb, Jefferson County Geographic Information Systems Department, using notes John Doy had taken to designate safe stops and escort help for the dangerous trip. 

To be continued.

Upcoming posts will examine where that ambush took place, based on a couple of descriptions from 1859, and look into the people Doy had lined up to help him once he would reach Oskaloosa and continue the journey.