An Underground Railroad Ambush in Jefferson County, Part VII. A Glorious Return: Captain Jesse Newell and His Rifle Company

A sentence in James B. Abbott’s “how we did it” John Doy  rescue story offers another insight into our Oskaloosa freestater Jesse Newell.

We pick up our story at Rev. Josiah B. McAfee’s place at Grasshopper Falls (now Valley Falls), where John Doy and his rescuers and John Doy had been fed and had a rest. Worried that his crew was being tailed by enemies, Abbott called for Jesse Newell’s aid in the final 20-mile leg of the journey from the St. Joseph jail to Lawrence.[1]

“…word was sent to Captain Jesse Newell, of Oskaloosa, to furnish an escort; and when we arrived at his place we found the Captain on hand with the following-named officers of his rifle company, to wit: Jerome Hazen, First Lieutenant; J. I. Forbes, Second Lieutenant; John Newell, Gil. Towner, Robert Newell, James Monroe, Resolve Fuller, M. R. Dutton – privates; and eight or ten others. And without delay we passed on, most of the escort going to within a few miles of Lawrence, and the captain and a few of his men going the whole distance, where we arrived about six o’clock in the evening, and where we also found the streets lined with people…,” Abbott wrote of the glorious Lawrence arrival in July 1859.[2]

Learning that Jesse Newell had assisted out his fellow abolitionists this way was helpful to my research on Newell. But that first sentence was alluring, the part that called Jesse Newell “Captain” and that he had a “rifle company.” What was he doing with something called a rifle company in 1859 and what did it mean that he was captain of it? I don’t have an oath-worthy answer for that but believe the reference points to a free-state militia type group for defense against proslavers and working to ensure Kansas would become a free state, or it could be the beginnings of a Jayhawker group.

No tidy, primary source that I’ve ever seen says that Jesse Newell was a Jayhawker, and I mean “Jayhawker”[3] in the sense of settlers who took action for the free-state and subsequent Civil War Union cause. Characters like Jesse Newell challenge us to divine answers from a lot of wobbly sources.  But these anecdotes and aged after-the-fact tales are what we’ve got. I’ve pulled up a few today to help you get to know something of Jesse Newell, who lived from 1812-1881. You’ll see more of these anecdotes in future posts.

Story No. 1: Jayhawkers and Uncle Jesse Newell

Jeremiah H. Bennet, who settled near Grasshopper Falls in 1857, wrote a series of articles, Early Recollections of Kansas, for The Oskaloosa Independent in 1878. Bennet was a lawyer, a county schools official, and a knowledgeable and entertaining writer.  His May 11, 1878, Recollection reveals Oskaloosa and  Jefferson County  Jayhawker activity during the Civil War, the “rebellion,” as Bennet calls it. Warning: Bennet’s first paragraph set-up speeds through about a dozen things that are separate tales in themselves, but we will zero in on the Jayhawkers.

“It was in the dark portion of the rebellion. Close to the time when the southern army held possession of the Hannibal & St. Joe Railroad; when a Rebel paper at the city of Atchison rejoiced at the Union defeat at the battle of Wilson’s Creek; when the Jayhawkers held high carnival at Oskaloosa; when herds of rebel cattle pastured on the borders of Cedar Creek [west of Grasshopper Falls]; when horse flesh as well as white man was ‘mighty unsartin.’” And…

“… It was after the time that Jefferson County militia took possession of Atchison one bright sunny morning. Those were wild times for our boys, and those boys were wild. Uncle Jesse Newell commanded the Oskaloosa company.  Sim Hull the Crooked Creekers. Ed. Hutchins the Grasshoppers. Did Hiram Webb have a company?  S.S. Cooper was Major of the Jefferson Rangers. Ed. Lynde was commander of the Post at Atchison.”

Bennet was describing a story in which a Missouri Confederate militia officer, Gideon Thompson, owed a debt. He owned pastureland[4] on the Kansas side, west of Grasshopper Falls and, according to Bennet’s story, Thompson’s livestock was to be sold off to satisfy a judgement. Word got out that the Oskaloosa Jayhawkers were going to snatch up the livestock first, before it would be sold.  The Oskaloosa crew, Bennet wrote, had a reputation for “sudden and swift thoroughness.”

Jesse and Rosannah Newell
This photograph of Jesse Newell and his wife Rosannah was published in a centennial booklet, The First Hundred Years of Jefferson County Kansas, in 1955.

The standard bio for Jesse Newell, found in the local 19th century newspapers and abbreviated county histories, is that he and his brother-in-law Joseph Fitzsimmons co-founded Oskaloosa, arriving from Iowa in 1856. We know that Newell, who set up a steam-operated saw mill, was in the thick of Jefferson County’s proslavery vs. free-state conflicts in September 1856. He is listed in censuses as a physician. He was a Methodist, and came to Kansas Territory from Iowa with Methodist Episcopalian minister’s credentials. He was viewed as a radical freestater.[5] But these synopses say nothing of his Jayhawker or off-the-books Civil War service.

Story No. 2:  Noble-hearted

The Civil War Battle of Wilson’s Creek (read about it here), fought near Springfield, Missouri, was significant for Kansas, which had just become a state on Jan. 29, 1861. It was the first major battle fought west of the Mississippi, and it was one the Union lost to the Confederates. Kansas had quickly raised the 1st Kansas Infantry and 2nd Kansas Infantry regiments, and sent them into the battle Aug. 10, 1861. Jesse Newell had two sons in the 2nd Kansas, Robert and Abram. Robert was killed that day and Abram injured.

Kansas U.S. Sen.  Samuel Clarke Pomeroy spoke of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek that December on the U.S. Senate floor, recounting the work of Kansas soldiers in the young war and lamenting the death of Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, a Kansas freestater favorite who died in the battle. A portion of his address, published in The Weekly Atchison Champion on Jan. 4, 1862, mentioned Lieut. Robert Newell, and his father, Jesse Newell (who was closer to 50 years old, instead of 60 as recalled by Pomeroy).

“But this day’s work was not ended until from the sixteen hundred who went into that battle from Kansas, five hundred and forty men, the pride and hope of our young State, not yet a year old, lay among the dead or the wounded.”  And, continuing…

“Lieutenant Newell, I am sorry to say, was killed. I remember him and his noble-hearted father (though sixty years of age) marching, camping and fighting with us through the long and wasting years of 1855 and 1856, never to be forgotten in our early history.”

Story No. 3:  Too much fight in the material of his constitution

James B. Shaw was a Methodist Episcopalian preacher who came to Kansas Territory in 1857 and was a leader in establishing the church in the new circuit. He knew the developing towns of Kansas Territory and helped install Methodist churches and travelling ministers for the local worshippers. As a result, he knew Oskaloosa and Jesse Newell, and had this to say:[6]

“The town was commenced by members of the church from Iowa. The leading man was a local preacher, and under his leadership they prospered for a time; but there was too much fight in the material of his constitution for these troublous times; so he quit preaching, engaged in the struggle, and was carried away in the excitement; got out of the church and became intemperate. He has once of twice been reclaimed, and the last I heard of him, he was preaching for the United Brethren. May he have strength to triumph over all sin and stand entire at last.”

No, Rev. Shaw does not offer a name for the person above. I’ve narrowed it down to Jesse Newell and Jacob Boucher, another Iowa settler who came to Oskaloosa, Jefferson County, as they were the only two people Shaw could have meant.  I haven’t found much information about Boucher during Bleeding Kansas days or about his leaving the Methodist church.

But Jesse Newell in 1857 formally and voluntarily gave up his Methodist preaching credentials during the “Kansas troubles.”[7] He requested and received  their reinstatement in 1868. The Rev. Shaw also had this to say of Jesse Newell:

 “Jesse Newell was one of the town proprietors. He came here a local preacher; he was ardent and positive in his temperament, and when he went right, he went with railroad speed; but when he stopped, he would not go at all; and when he took the wrong shoot, he went with accelerated motion. I believe on the whole, he wanted to be good, and do good. He had some ups and downs. We hope, through grace, he will get to heaven at last.”

Maybe Newell was associated with more than one Underground Railroad venture, as a guard or escort, and that’s why he had a rifle company. The  passage of enslaved people seeking safety and freedom, after all, was still illegal in 1859 when we meet Newell’s rifle company. Escorts would connect with the network of countryside safe harbor points that extended all the way into Canada.

Recall, too, that Newell and other Jefferson County freestaters had been under assault in earlier years by proslavers from within and without Kansas Territory. Maybe this rifle company remained as a defensive troop for the occasional flare up. It was 1859 and while Kansas Territory appeared to be in the clear to enter the Union as a free state (no slavery), statehood was still a year and a half away and tussles were not unheard of. It wasn’t time yet for a rifle company to serve in a state-ordained militia or in a home guard to ward off Rebels in the Civil War.

A few dark, nameless, conspiratorial stories pop up here and there hinting that Oskaloosa was a headquarters for Jayhawkers during the Civil War. Those accounts cast Jayhawkers as wholly criminal, never noting that the Kansas armed forces officially put Jayhawkers to work saving Kansas from being overtaken by Missouri confederates during the Civil War or taking supplies from Rebels to feed and outfit Union troops. Some of those accounts were written by people associated with spreading slavery to Kansas.

Story No. 4: Physician

This final anecdote, for now, is about Jesse Newell’s status as a pioneer doctor. Censuses listed him as a physician and I have found just one anecdote to back that up. I present the clip from the Oskaloosa newspaper with a warning to the squeamish.[8]

“Tumor Extracted. – Dr. Newell has shown us a small encysted tumor which he extracted from the head of Mr. J. Downing, of this place.  In shape, it somewhat resembled an eye-tooth, and under the glass exhibited the porous characteristics of the skin in a diseased condition.  It was a tough, gristly or cartilaginous substance, and when first removed contained living animalcule of the largest size.  It was extracted by medicine without the aid of surgeon’s instruments.”

[1] You can read about John Doy’s 1859 failed attempt to help 13 freedom-seekers via the Underground Railroad and Doy’s subsequent rescue from a Missouri jail in Abbott’s account here and here.  The unrealized role of  Jesse Newell and other Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, men for the January 1859 Underground Railroad trip is explained here in Part IV

[2] Maj. James B. Abbott  read his story of “The Immortal Ten” rescue of John Doy on Jan. 15, 1889, at the annual meeting of the Kansas State Historical Society, 30 years after the 10 Lawrence area men sprang John Doy from the St. Joseph, Missouri, jail. Future posts will tell a little about those other members of Captain Newell’s rifle company.

[3] The word “Jayhawker” has a lot of connotations. A short explanation can be found here, although  countless books and articles have debated whether Jayhawkers were good soldiers for the cause and defenders of freedom  or merely ruffian thieves.

[4] Jefferson County property tax records, patents filed with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s General Land office records and Thompson’s Missouri probate records (ancestry.com) all confirm his land holdings in Jefferson County, Kansas.

[5] Radical freestaters, or Radical Republicans,.opposed slavery in the United States. In Kansas, they also believed African-Americans should be allowed to live free in Kansas, and have rights equal to white men’s. Radical freestaters differed from another sort  of freestaters, those who didn’t want slavery in Kansas but who wanted to bar free African-Americans from Kansas. Jesse Newell was called a radical freestater  by John Day, a fellow Bleeding Kansas-era freestater  in Jefferson County Kansas Territory, in Topeka’s The Daily Commonwealth newspaper, March 15, 1881.

[6] Both quotations are from James B. Shaw’s book, Early Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in Kansas, Haskell printing Co., 1886.

[7] Jesse Newell’s original “parchment” certificate is dated 1853 and is from Oskaloosa, Iowa.  The document  named Newell a deacon qualified to administer baptisms, marriages and burials in certain conditions and to preach the gospel. It is held in the Kansas United Methodist Archives at Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas. The archives also document Newell surrendering his credentials in April 1857  and having them restored in March 1868.

[8] The article, “Tumor Extracted,” was published in The Oskaloosa Independent on July 11, 1863.A

An Underground Railroad Ambush In Jefferson County, Part VII. A Glorious Return: Supper and Rest with Rev. Josiah B. McAfee

 Our previous post introduced a few Jefferson County settlers, some of whom were ready and willing Underground Railroad volunteers,  who were called upon in July 1859 to help James B. Abbott’s “Immortal Ten” rescuers with the last leg of a deftly performed  rescue.  Abbott and nine Lawrence-area freestaters had just freed Underground Railroad operator John Doy from a St. Joseph, Missouri, jail before he would be shipped off to the state’s penitentiary. Doy had been incarcerated for his part in helping enslaved and free black people make their way to safer states and places. With Doy along, Abbott’s crew worked their way south through Kansas Territory from an area probably in Doniphan County, reaching Jefferson County. You can read the entire account of Abbott’s supremely operated mission here.

“… About ten o’clock that night we found our way to a farm-house situated a little off from the road, near what was then known as Grasshopper Falls, owned and occupied by Rev. J.B. McAfee, now known as Hon. J.B. McAfee, present member of the Legislature from Shawnee county, at which place we were well fed and made very comfortable. Thinking that it was more than likely that the horseman who followed us would endeavor to get reinforced at Lecompton and try to recapture Dr. Doy, …” Abbott wrote for a speech given 30 years later. The group got back on the road and continued toward Lawrence

Guest poster Wendi Bevitt has been researching the minister from Grasshopper Falls. Wendi is a historical and genealogical researcher specializing in Kansas history and she kindly shares a little of her research on Josiah B. McAfee. 

By Wendi Bevitt

Josiah B.  McAfee, born in 1830 in Juniata County, Pennsylvania, came to Kansas Territory in 1855. He and his pregnant wife, Anna, and their toddler, Celeste, traveled by railroad and steamer, finding immediate and constant conflict in the pro-slavery dominated town of Leavenworth.  This did not keep the fiery young pastor from speaking against slavery when provoked, and he often faced threats on his life.

Within a month of his arrival, Josiah McAfee opened a small subscription school called Leavenworth Collegiate Institute. His own schooling included Pennsylvania College at Gettysburg, followed by Lutheran seminary in Maryland. McAfee’s Leavenworth school was the first school in Kansas Territory aside from mission or military schools.

Josiah engaged himself with ensuring Kansas entered  the Union as a free state, and  in 1856 along with other free-state men he traveled east to Ohio to visit Gov. Salmon P. Chase and on to Washington D. C.  to meet President Franklin Pierce and Speaker of the House Nathaniel Banks. He made 27 speeches encouraging the election of the Republican John C. Fremont and William L. Dayton in the fall of 1856[1].  When McAfee returned to Kansas Territory, he found that his home had been taken over, the school closed, his church used as a store, and his fellow preachers chased out of Leavenworth by local proslavery forces who also gave him notice to leave.

Josiah B. McAfee Kansas Memory item 216367
Pictured is Caplain J.B. McAfee, a Pennsylvania-born early Kansas settler. The image is from the Kansas State Historical Society’s Kansas Memory website, Item 216367 and may be seen here.

His family found refuge nearby in Jefferson County at the free-state community of Grasshopper Falls. There he was welcomed by Lorenzo Northrup, who gave him land and invited him to start a school and to preach.  He built the first Lutheran church west of the Missouri, primarily by himself, and started classes immediately, lodging the teacher in his house. He preached every other week  at Grasshopper Falls and at three other area churches on the off Sunday. He refused payment for his ministry, which placed him in financial straits because of earlier losses caused by the border ruffians.

In the Civil War, McAfee served in and recruited for the 11th Regiment of the Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, Company I, which included soldiers from Burlingame and Grasshopper Falls.  Like many from Co. I, he transferred out of that company to serve in a U.S. Colored troops regiment.  As chaplain of 2nd Kansas Colored (which eventually became the 83rd US Colored Troops), when his unit was stationed at Fort Smith, Arkansas he was assigned the  care of the more than 4,000 refugees in the area.  He personally accompanied some of the 2,600 refugees who came to Kansas[2].

Prior to the end of the war, he followed his former commander and soon to be Kansas governor, Samuel J. Crawford to Topeka to serve as Crawford’s personal secretary.  Still retaining some ties to Grasshopper Falls, he for a time owned a newspaper named The Jeffersonian along with George T. Isbell from 1865-66[3], which served as a voice for Gov. Crawford’s politics.  Josiah then put down deeper roots in Topeka by establishing a Lutheran church there and becoming adjutant general for the state of Kansas.

His Topeka home consisted of a sizable stock farm north of present day Gage Park. On his farm he employed former U.S. Colored Troops soldiers.

From 1870-1871 Josiah served as mayor of Topeka.  He would give half of his salary to the police force, encouraging them to enforce the laws, and the other half to the temperance cause and charity.  During McAfee’s tenure as mayor no liquor licenses were issued and gambling paraphernalia was publicly burned. His actions resulted in his being “unmercifully reversed” in the next election.

 

He was a three-time member of the Kansas House of Representatives starting in 1883.  He maintained a staunch opposition to liquor and promoted fierce prohibition laws, conceding to less stringent ones only to allow for their passage.  His leadership within the prohibition movement prompted him to be among the individuals to post bail for Carry A. Nation when she was arrested for smashing a liquor establishment with some of her followers[4].

Josiah died in Topeka in 1908 at the age of 77.

 

*Most of the general history obout McAfee was taken from  A History of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Kansas by Rev. H. A. Ott, D.D. F. M. Steves & Sons, Topeka, KS , 1907.

[1] The Weekly Commonwealth (newspaper) “Kansas Legislature: Brief Sketches of the Representatives”, December 16, 1886.

[2] Vicki Betts. Fort Smith New Era, October 1863-December 1864.  University of Texas at Tyler, 2016.

[3] Valley Falls New Era July 1, 1876.

[4] Marshall County News (newspaper), “Mrs. Nation is out on Bond”, March 1, 1901.

An Underground Railroad Ambush in Jefferson County, Part VII. A Glorious Return: Shelter and an Armed Escort

Today we get back to John Doy, the Kansas Territory Underground Railroad conductor who was  ambushed with his 13 freedom-seeking passengers south of Oskaloosa in late January 1859.

Doy had been making his way to the home of Jesse Newell, cofounder of  Oskaloosa and likely a Jayhawker for the antislavery cause. Newell’s place was to be Doy’s first stop on the dangerous trip for the enslaved and free African-Americans trying to make their way to northern states and safety.  North of Oskaloosa, still in Jefferson County, Doy had planned to stop at the home of the Rev. Josiah B. McAfee at Grasshopper Falls, now Valley Falls,  for aid.

But Doy’s capture that January night by slave-catchers and kidnappers, border ruffians and other armed proslavers crushed those plans. The Underground Railroad train never made it to the Newell or McAfee homes. Instead, Doy and his son, Charles, and the 13 freedom-seekers were hauled east across the Missouri River and jailed in Missouri.

(Note: A future blog post will share accounts of this catastrophic result for the two free and 11 likely enslaved people from Missouri who did not get away to the north on the John Doy trek. I have not researched many of the bigger questions and stories linked to the John Doy story because this blog is micro-focused. However, others have studied some of these topics and I will forward some of their published findings.)

Now, six months later on July 23, 1859, John Doy sat in a St. Joseph, Missouri, jail. He had been convicted of enticing[1] a slave away from his Missouri owner, Weston Mayor Benjamin Wood., who was in the ambush group. Doy had been jailed for six months and was about to be transferred to the state penitentiary in Jefferson City for five years of hard labor.

Kansas friends viewed  Doy’s  ambush by Missourians in Kansas Territory  that January  as an outrageous kidnapping. They further rejected the Missouri jury’s June decision that Doy had “enticed” the enslaved man called Dick away from the Weston mayor’s ownership. Doy’s defense, paid for by the territorial legislature,  argued, with the support of witnesses, that Doy was not in Missouri at the time  he was accused of persuading Dick to leave slavery behind.

While Doy was locked up in Missouri, rumors hinted  that fighting Kansas men would try to rescue Doy from jail or the state prison. As July waned, James B. Abbott, a free-stater with experience from Bleeding Kansas days, was asked by some of Lawrence’s abolitionist and Underground Railroad leaders to do precisely that.

Abbott selected nine other Kansas Territory men he knew could do the job, many of them likewise tested during the slavery and free-state struggles of 1855-1856. On July 23, with small boats secretly tied to the dark riverside, a tall tale to trick a jailer and discreet plans to blend into crowds exiting the town’s theater, the Kansas men walked out of the jail and headed toward the river and Kansas.

On their return trip, the rescuers and John Doy would travel through Jefferson County, where we meet again some of the Jefferson Countians  who had agreed to help enslaved people get free.

Elwood, Gunn and Mitchell's New Map of Kansas and the Gold Mines (up to 1862)
This is a photograph of a print of a portion of  Gunn & Mitchell’s New Map of Kansas and the Gold Mines, show Kansas up to 1862. The towns on the route the Immortal Ten would have taken to rescue John Doy from his Missouri jail St. Joseph to the Elwood area, then south to Valley Falls, Oskaloosa and back to Lawrence.

After their rescue work was finished, the ten Kansas Territory men were hailed as “The Immortal Ten.” The rescue was a masterpiece of covert operational planning and execution. The men had liberated Doy and spirited him back to Lawrence without harming anyone in their way.

Abbott 30 years later presented a speech about how The Immortal 10 had succeeded in their cunning and precise operation. You’ll find it  here. It’s a gripping read

He tells of a (smaller) role played in this important Kansas story by some Jefferson County settlers. No, they were not among the Ten. But their aid and willingness to stand up again was another puzzling example of a story that didn’t make it into Jefferson County’s history narratives. Back in the picture with Doy are  Rev. McAfee and Jesse Newell, and this time Jesse Newell’s got a rifle company.

Here, Abbott describes the last one-third of trip back  to Lawrence  from the northeast Kansas point where Abbott’s men, with a weakened Doy in tow, had crossed the Missouri River from St. Joseph.

“…About ten o’clock that night we found our way to a farm-house situated a little off from the road, near what was then known as Grasshopper Falls, owned and occupied by Rev. J.B. McAfee, now known as Hon. J.B. McAfee, present member of the Legislature from Shawnee county, at which place we were well fed and made very comfortable. Thinking that it was more than likely that the horseman who followed us would endeavor to get reinforced at Lecompton and try to recapture Dr. Doy, word was sent to Captain Jesse Newell, of Oskaloosa, to furnish an escort; and when we arrived at his place we found the Captain on hand with the following-named officers of his rifle company, to wit: Jerome Hazen, First Lieutenant; J. I. Forbes, Second Lieutenant; John Newell, Gil. Towner, Robert Newell, James Monroe, Resolve Fuller, M. R. Dutton – privates; and eight or ten others. And without delay we passed on, most of the escort going to within a few miles of Lawrence, and the captain and a few of his men going the whole distance, where we arrived about six o’clock in the evening, and where we also found the streets lined with people…”

We will get to know some of these Jefferson County settlers in upcoming posts. Our first nearly forgotten Jefferson County Freestater from the John Doy experience will be Josiah B. McAfee, whom guest blogger Wendi Bevitt has come to know quite well.

[1] John Doy and his lawyers argued that Doy was not guilty of enticing the Weston mayor’s enslaved man away from Missouri because Doy had not been in Missouri to do so. It was not uncommon for enslaved people to get themselves to Lawrence, well-known as an Underground Railroad town, to find help. Missouri’s slavery laws from the 1850s   are explained here:  https://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/education/aahi/earlyslavelaws/slavelaws