Jesse Newell’s Rifle Company Roster: Bob Newell, Died in Battle

Russell Robert shell The_Oskaloosa_Independent_Sat__Aug_31__1861_
Excerpt from Captain Avra P. Russell’s letter about the death of his third lieutenant, Bob Newell. Oskaloosa Independent, Aug. 31, 1861. Image from newspapers.com; article viewable here.

(Bob Newell was a free-state rifleman who rode escort for “The Immortal Ten,” the Kansans whose covert rescue mission freed Underground Railroad conductor John Doy from a Missouri jail in 1859. [See story here. ] Bob, just 21, was among about 20 Jefferson County, Kansas, men summoned to help The Immortal Ten on the last 20 miles of their dangerous rescue. This post introduces the young Robert Newell, killed two years later in the Civil War Battle of Wilson’s Creek in Missouri. Captain Avra P. Russell wrote to Jesse Newell about his son’s battlefield death. (Captain Russell’s letter is transcribed here.)

Captain Russell’s letter glistens as a death notification that could only have been written early in a war. It is mournful, respectful, laudatory, personal. And it was early: early in Kansas statehood, early in the Civil War, early in Robert Newell’s life.

Carefully composed but written with an unbearable purpose, the captain’s letter told Jesse Newell that his son Robert had died in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in southwest Missouri, August 10, 1861.

“The terrible battle at Springfield, fought on the 10th … deprived you of a very promising son, and me of a brave Lieutenant and highly cherished friend,” the August 18 letter told Jesse and Rosannah Newell, Oskaloosa, Kansas.

Bob Newell, as he was known, died at 23 years of age. He and his younger brother, Abram, had rushed into Union army service alongside many other young Kansans when the new state raised its first two regiments. He mustered in to Company G, Second Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry. Bob was elected third lieutenant of Company G, serving under Captain Avra P. Russell.Robert Newell from muster roll ks memory

robert newell muster roll ks memo 2
These images are from the Kansas State Historical Society’s “Civil War soldiers name index, Kansas volunteer regiments, 1861-1865” on Kansasmemory.org. Bob Newell’s regiment’s page is here. The partial images show Newell’s age, rank, date of enlistment and mustering in and his death.

The young Newell’s brief life as a soldier began around June 20, barely two months after the Civil War began. And it was just the fifth month Kansas had existed as a state, a free state that forbade slavery.

Newell “…had taken a very active and efficient part through the day, manifesting a coolness and perfect self control almost unexampled in one so young and inexperienced on the field,” Captain Russell wrote of the battle and Bob’s part in it.

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, a Union loss, was significant as the first major Civil War battle fought west of the Mississippi River. It gave the Confederates control in southwest Missouri.[i] Union forces were about 5,400 men; the Confederate and Missouri secessionist troops about 11,000. Losses were heavy for both sides: The Union lost about 1,235 men killed, wounded or missing and the Confederates and Missouri secessionist troops about 1,100.[ii] To understand the battle conditions Bob and his comrades fought in, told from a young Iowa soldier’s view, read this Emerging Civil War blog post here.

LoC Battle of Wilson's Creek, near Springfield, Missouri
This image, “Battle of Wilson’s Creek, near Springfield, Missouri” shows the battlefield death of Union Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon and was published in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper on Aug. 24, 1861. It is held by the Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/2002736810/

Bob Newell’s death came shortly after Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon was killed on the Wilson’s Creek battlefield.[iii] Lyon’s death was the first of a Union general in the Civil War.

Jesse Newell passed Captain Russell’s condolence letter on to The Oskaloosa Independent, which published it Aug. 31, 1861. See the transcript here. It ran with a letter written home by another of Jesse Newell’s sons, Abram, a 21-year-old private in Bob’s unit. Abram was shot in the hand in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and remained with the 2nd Kansas until October 31st when the regiment finished its service.[iv] Abram’s “Dear Parents” letter may be seen here.

BLEEDING KANSAS, JEFFERSON COUNTY STRIFE

Boots on the ground experience in the Kansas-Missouri border war over slavery had already initiated Bob Newell and a good many other Kansas soldiers to Kansas-Missouri violence. Bob had emigrated to Kansas Territory at 18 years old in 1856. He grew to adulthood in the Bleeding Kansas years when Missourians and partisans from southern states fought to make Kansas a slave state and freestaters fought to keep it free of slavery.[v]

Skirmishes popped up between Missouri and southern proslavers trying to drive freestaters out of Jefferson County and freestaters trying to rid their county of the marauders.[vi] After the peak of Jefferson County strife in September 1856, Jesse Newell was slapped with an arrest warrant that charged him with fighting against the proslavers.[vii]  He provided his own complaint back to the territorial governor, describing the 1856 war occurring in Jefferson County:

Jesse Newell included a frightening anecdote that included his boy, Bob.

“…[This] country is infested with guerrilla bands, for they have taken me and my son Robert out and threatened to hang us both. And since that time they have threatened to hang my brother-in-law Joseph Phitsimons [Fitzsimmons] and have destroyed my property in throwing down my fences and destroying my grain and threatening to burn my house and break up my [saw] mill.”

Named for his grandfather, Robert Newell was born in Richland County, Ohio, in 1838 and moved with his family to the two-year-old state of Iowa when he was 10 years old. The family lived in Mahaska County, not far from a namesake town of Oskaloosa, Iowa. Bob’s two older brothers, Valentine and John, emigrated to Kansas Territory in 1855, the rest of the family settling at what would someday be Oskaloosa, Kansas, in May 1856.

Within two years of settling, Bob Newell owned 160 acres of Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, farm land northwest of Oskaloosa, land that is held today by descendants of Jesse Newell. He also had an interest in his father’s steam-powered sawmill on the west side of the public square. [See the Google image of Oskaloosa, Kansas.]

GOOD TROUBLE

Kansas Territory, as close as it was to the slave-holding states of Missouri and Arkansas, became a draw for determined enslaved people to escape bondage. Lawrence and its Douglas County surrounds, just across the Kansas River from Jefferson County and Oskaloosa, was a hub for these freedom-seekers. There, plans and routes were fixed to help enslaved men, women and children find freedom and safety in the northern states and Canada. Lawrence and Douglas County were well-populated with eastern abolitionists who wanted to rid the nation of slavery all together, and they were willing to break the law to do so.

I haven’t yet discovered how involved Bob Newell’s father, Jesse, was in Underground Railroad activity, but he gave young Bob a taste of it in 1859.

Bob and his brother John Newell rode with about 18 other Oskaloosa area men in their father’s rifle company to play a small role in one of the most celebrated rescues in Kansas history. They stepped up to help the good trouble makers from Lawrence, the Immortal Ten, who in July 1859 quietly broke Underground Railroad conductor John Doy out of a Missouri jail.

Doy had been headed north from Lawrence with 13 freedom-seekers six months earlier when his group was ambushed by slave catchers.[viii] The catastrophe happened about eight miles south of Jesse Newell’s home in Oskaloosa, and Doy had been on his way to the Newell place. Jesse Newell had agreed to help Doy and his party of freedom-seekers in some way as they continued north. [This link explains what we know about Jesse Newell’s role.]

The ambushers took the entire group hostage: Doy, his two assistants and the 13 men, women and children who had risked all for freedom. The ambushers hurried their prisoners across the border into Missouri and jailed Doy.

Six months later, the Immortal Ten swept Doy from his St. Joseph, Missouri, jail cell, crossed the Missouri River and began their dangerous trip south through Kansas to Lawrence. Suspecting they were being followed, the group’s leader, James B. Abbott,[ix] got word to Jesse Newell to bring his rifle company to be an escort guard for the last 20 miles of the trip.

Bob Newell’s name appears just once in the John Doy rescue story, but it tells us plenty about his mettle.

NEWELL’S HALL

Newell's Hall ME festival The_Oskaloosa_Independent_Wed__Oct_10__1860_
Methodist festival at Newell’s Hall. Clip from The Oskaloosa Independent, Oct. 10, 1860. Image from newspapers.com

As Oskaloosa developed, Bob Newell built a sort of town hall for citizens,  Newell’s Hall. He was building the wood-frame building at the southwest corner of Oskaloosa’s public square in August 1860, around the same time his father had built a two-story house for his family not far to the east.[x]

 

Newell’s Hall hosted local congregations of government, military and civil life. County Republicans, county court, church people all gathered there. Oskaloosans assembled at the hall to make sure Oskaloosa had a good enough road to connect it to the Smoky Hill Trail wagon route going from Leavenworth, Kansas Territory, to the gold mines of Colorado. (Oskaloosa won its place on the route.)

Courthouse square
Google map showing locations of the Newell’s sawmill, Bob Newell’s “Newell’s Hall” and Jesse Newell’s homestead. Google maps image, Imagery @2020 Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency

Prim Methodists conducted a fund-raising festival at Newell’s Hall to furnish their new church. The October 3, 1860, edition of The Oskaloosa Independent cheerfully urged the ladies and gentlemen of Oskaloosa to pay $1 per couple to come and enjoy the festival. Immediately following the notice was a reply to the impertinent question of whether the festival would include dancing.

“Of course not,” was the organizer’s reply in the newspaper. “We would be surprised to learn that any gentleman or lady of self-respect, and a proper regard for religion and the church, would ever think for a moment, of dancing on such an occasion.”

 

After Bob Newell died at Wilson’s Creek, Henry F. Woolley had taken over Newell’s Hall. He operated a store on the first floor and the county court met upstairs. Eventually, Oskaloosa was erecting grander buildings. Newell’s Hall was pulled down in 1885 and The Oskaloosa Independent walked readers through a compressed Newell’s Hall history, starting with Bob Newell putting it up in 1860.

“Judge Pettit held district court in the lower room,” the newspaper recounted. “J. Gill Spivey there made a speech and took the oath as a [Union] militia officer, and afterward went south and got a commission in the rebel army.

“[U.S. Sen.] S.C. Pomeroy made a speech there, also, when he was senator, and [U.S. Sen. and Union General] Jim Lane made his appeal within its walls for ‘foot soldiers,’ who would go over to Missouri on foot and come back riding one horse and leading another.”[xi]

WAR

Kansas joined the Union as a state free of slavery on Jan. 29, 1861. Three months later, the Civil War began. The new state of Kansas legislature was still writing new laws, trying to determine which city should become the state’s capital and rushing through military-related legislation.

Kansas men were ordered to form “military companies” a few days after the Civil War’s start April 12, 1861. President Lincoln ordered that two full-out Kansas army regiments be filled from those militia-like military companies, and armed and equipped.

Oskaloosa’s public square filled with citizens on April 22 to create a military company.

Wareham Gibbs, a 71-year-old veteran (of the War of 1812, perhaps), marched the crowd from the public square to Newell’s Hall, according to the April 24, 1861, Oskaloosa Independent. The militia men went inside and voted to name their company the Union Guards.

Bob Newell was elected 3rd sergeant of the Union Guards, and Jesse Newell signed up for the uniforms committee. Future Jefferson County military recruiter A.W. Spalding issued a patriotic speech, and so did J. Gill Spivey (And, yes, military records confirm that he did join the Confederates, as referenced above.) The crowd called for John F. Hinton, who declined to speak but instead played a rousing “Yankee Doodle.” The Independent article doesn’t note which instrument he played.

Bob Newell was among those leaving the militia group to join a fighting regiment, the Second Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry. The 2nd Kansas organized and drilled in Lawrence during May and set out in June on a 40-mile march to Wyandotte, Kansas (now Kansas City, Kansas), and then across the Missouri River to Kansas City, Missouri. Newell’s comrades elected him third lieutenant of Company G under Captain Russell when they met at Kansas City.

2nd reg bravery from Leav T, The_Oskaloosa_Independent_Sat__Aug_31__1861 p1
A portion of a soldier correspondent’s letter about the Battle of Wilson’s Creek to The Leavenworth Daily Times printed in The Oskaloosa Independent Aug. 31, 1861. The image is from newspapers.com  and may be read here.

The 2nd Kansas’s job would be to help U.S. troops prevent Confederate and Missouri southern sympathizers from conquering Missouri, which was a slave state that did not secede from the United States.

Anonymous soldier correspondents kept Kansas newspapers abreast of Kansas soldiers’ experiences. Some grousing fell upon the long march to Kansas City, a lack of uniforms and their less-than-ideal weapons.

One of the correspondents, who was with Bob Newell’s Company G, wrote that the 2nd Kansas regiment had learned at 8 a.m. on June 18 that they would march to Wyandotte. By 11 a.m. they had crossed the Kansas River at Lawrenece and moved east. They covered 12 miles before stopping at 5 p.m. for a quick supper at Little Stranger Creek, and then took up their march, guns shining in the moonlight.

“During the early part of the evening, bursts of songs, and jests and shouts of laughter echoed over the prairie,” the soldier correspondent wrote, his letter published June 29 in The Fort Scott (Kansas) Bulletin. “But later the unwonted fatigue bore down the exuberant spirits of the men and by 10 o’clock the lines were as quiet as a funeral procession.

“Here and there men would drop out of the ranks, and be down among the tall grass, doggedly determined to go no farther, and it required the utmost exertions on the part of the officers to rouse them to farther effort.”

After sleeping on the prairie grass the regiment was off again, “foot sore and tired.”

“Mile after mile of the weary march dragged slowly along beneath the broiling rays of the sun,” the correspondent wrote. “The blistered foot and parched tongues brought the enthusiasm of yesterday down to zero. The secessionists were cursed as the cause of all our sufferings and many and deep were the maledictions showered on their devoted heads.”[xii]

Soldier “M,” also in Bob Newell’s Company G, wrote that the 2nd Second Kansas finally got part of their uniforms, “a single blouse to each man” when they reached Missouri. Soldier “M” was a correspondent for The Daily Times, Leavenworth.[xiii]

“Perhaps it is no fault of the Government, but still it seems to me that the Kansas volunteers have been treated with gross neglect in the way of clothing, “M” wrote on June 20. “The men grumble not a little about it. Another cause of complaint with the Second Regiment is the character of arms issued to us. They are the common musket, in very bad condition, and I believe they are condemned —  if they are not condemned, they ought to be.”

Writing after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, correspondent “F.A.R.” charged that the First and Second Kansas regiments had been “shamefully abused” from the start of the war.

“They have never yet received their uniforms, and are half naked, with no tents, and half of them without blankets.” F.A.R. wrote in the September 26 Vermont Phoenix of Brattleboro, Vermont.

“When they started from Fort Leavenworth [First Kansas] in the spring for the South they were provided with condemned tents and blankets, but now they are without either and compelled to sleep on the ground in the open air.

“In the late battle at Springfield [Wilson’s Creek] these two proved themselves the crack regiments, and certainly ought to be provided with clothing and camp equipage.”

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek showed the Kansas troops, considered “raw recruits” in some publications, would fight. The Battlefields.org Wilson’s Creek website page says even though the Confederates counterattacked the Union forces three times, they failed to break through the Union line.

The Confederates and Missouri forces then pulled back, but Union Major General Samuel D. Sturgis, who had taken command when Union Brigadier General Lyon was killed, realized his men were exhausted and running out of ammunition. Sturgis ordered his men to retreat.

“The Confederates were too disorganized and ill-equipped to pursue [Union troops],” the Battlefield.org website summarizes.[xiv]

Despite their loss, the Kansas Union troops won praise for their fighting as regiments and as individual soldiers.

Major John M. Schofield noted in an after-battle commentary that the Union troops’ food and supplies were low and that the soldiers had had to forage in the area.[xv] They were exhausted from their long marches.

But just before the end of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, the “… Second Kansas Regiment [Bob Newell’s regiment], which had firmly maintained its position on the extreme right from the time it was first sent there, found its ammunition exhausted, and was ordered to retire, which it did slowly and in good order, bringing off its wounded.”

In his letter to Jesse and Rosannah Newell, Captain Russell strove to assure the bereaved couple that Bob Newell did not suffer in his battlefield death.

“He was killed almost by my side, at the close of the day, when we were retiring from the field, by the bursting of a shell,” Russell wrote. “The missiles entered the back part of his head, and he fell a corpse – never moved or spoke after falling.”

“[Bob Newell] – was continually in the front of the battle doing noble execution himself, and giving courage to the whole company by his intrepid example,” Captain Russell wrote, bypassing the cold brevity of a formulaic “we regret to inform you” letter that he might have to write later in the war as soldiers’ deaths multiplied.

Russell himself would soon die in the war. He died Dec. 12, 1862, from injuries he received in the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, five days earlier.[xvi] He was 29 years old.

The soldier correspondent “M” who served with Bob Newell in Company G praised his regiment’s performance at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and mourned Bob Newell.

“The Kansas 2nd was the last regiment to leave the field, and the only regiment that left with all the companies present, and in perfect order,” soldier “M” wrote August. 18, 1861, from camp near Rolla, Missouri.[xvii] “We left slowly, followed by the artillery and soon were off the field. As we were leaving, a shell thrown by the enemy fell and burst near us, killing our Third Lieutenant, Robert Newell, from Oskaloosa.

“He was struck on the back of the head, and killed instantly. He was a young man of sterling worth, and as true a heart as fought on the field. During the whole time he was at his post, cool and firm. His loss is keenly felt by us all.”

Abram Newell, Bob’s little brother, wrote in his letter home that Bob had been killed while his regiment was in retreat. The artillery shell that killed Bob also injured several other soldiers, Abram said.

“We did not have time to stop and bury him [Bob] then,” Abram wrote. “But he was decently buried afterwards.”

Soldiers who died at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek were buried on the battlefield and moved six years later to the National Cemetery at Springfield, Missouri. Bob Newell, like so many of the others who died that day, has no grave marker, according to the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield website.

[i] I am not knowledgeable enough about the Civil War to supply the big picture part of Robert Newell’s story at Wilson’s Creek. I hope readers will seek, in addition to Kristen Pawlak’s piece here, some of the many articles, papers and books about the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Ms. Pawlak’s recent article about the battle centers on a member of an Iowa regiment that according to the War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I., Vol. III fought alongside the First Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry and Bob Newell’s Second Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry in the U.S. forces’ Fourth Brigade.

The National Park Service operates the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, Republic, Missouri; its website: https://www.nps.gov/wicr/index.htm

Jefferson County sent soldiers to the battle in both the 1st and 2nd Kansas regiments. Jeremiah H. Bennet wrote about the Jefferson County soldiers at Wilson’s Creek in The Oskaloosa Independent in two articles:

https://www.newspapers.com/clip/3603122/the-oskaloosa-independent/

https://www.newspapers.com/clip/961239/wilsons-creek-and-jeffco-soldiers/#

[ii]  The troops and casualty figures are from the Wilson’s Creek page on the Battlefields.org website.     https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/wilsons-creek

[iii] Lyon, beloved by his troops, had been a federal in the U.S. armed forces assigned to Kansas Territory after the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act took effect. He was favored by Kansas Territory freestaters. A soldier’s letter written eight days after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and published in The Leavenworth Times said that Company G Corporal Marshall Edward Spurlock was among those who carried Lyon’s body from the battlefield.

[iv] Abram went on to serve in the Kansas State Militia in 1863 and 1864 as Kansas defended its borders against rebel invasion from across the Missouri border.

[v] The struggle was carried out both with violence and via political tugs of war and elections. The 1854 passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act meant white men (no one else could vote) in Kansas Territory would decide whether to allow slavery in Kansas or to ban it. After defeating the earlier proslavery Kansas Territory government at the ballot box, freestaters in 1859 adopted a constitution prohibiting slavery in Kansas. Kansas became a state free of slavery on January 29, 1861, the time gap due to the U.S. Senate’s slave power opposing a free Kansas. But as southern states began walking out the secession door, enough Senate votes were left to admit Kansas free.

[vi] For background about “Bleeding Kansas” in Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, see earlier posts about the September 1856 “battles” of Grasshopper Falls, Slough Creek and Hickory Point. https://jeffersonjayhawkers.com/2018/01/26/the-battle-of-grasshopper-falls/

https://jeffersonjayhawkers.com/2017/09/11/our-captured-flag-slough-creek-part-i/

https://jeffersonjayhawkers.com/2016/10/10/north-of-the-kansas-river/

[vii]Jesse Newell’s complaint to Kansas Territory Gov. John Geary, dated Sept. 20, 1856, is held in the archives of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, Kansas. The Joseph Fitzsimmons mentioned in the complaint co-founded Oskaloosa with Jesse Newell.

[viii] Maj. James B. Abbott, the chief organizer of the Immortal Ten and the man who called for Jesse Newell to bring his rifle company and perform escort guard duty, wrote about the rescue and perilous journey from St. Joseph, Missouri, back to Lawrence, Kansas Territory. He read his account at the Kansas State Historical Society annual meeting in 1899. Near the end of his story, he names some of Jesse Newell’s rifle company members [some names corrected]. Read Abbott’s tale here.

“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. Tower, Robert Newell, James Monroe, Resolved 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…”    

[ix] Abbott, endnote viii.

[x] The Newell-Johnson-Searle House, a wood-frame house and limestone cabin on Oskaloosa’s east side, were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. Only some wood framing inside and portions of the house basement are original to Jesse Newell in 1860, but the small limestone cabin behind it has been dated as a few years older and as original to Jesse Newell. Jesse Newell’s descendants purchased the homestead plot and are busy with restoration.

[xi] The Oskaloosa Independent, Aug. 15, 1885, Page 3.  Jefferson County built its brick courthouse in 1868, providing an official venue for court proceedings and other county functions. The public square upon which the courthouse sat was donated by Jesse Newell and Joseph Fitzsimmons, co-founders of Oskaloosa. The old brick courthouse was destroyed by a tornado in 1960 and replaced with a modern one.

[xii] Read the Fort Scott Bulletin newspaper article by an unnamed soldier here: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/57635204/2nd-kansas-regiment-march-to-wyandotte/

[xiii] This excerpt was taken from a collection of war-time Leavenworth Dailey Times articles. Betts, Vicki,”[Leavenworth, KS] Daily Times, June 12, 1860-October 8, 1861” (2016). By Title. Paper 51. http://hdl.handle.net/10950/705

[xiv] Battlefield.org’s Wilson’s Creek page: https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/wilsons-creek

[xv] From Major John M. Schofield’s communications of Aug 20, 1861, War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies Series I., Vol. III. P 57. Copyright 1971, the National Historical Society. Schofield was acting adjutant general for the Army of the West at the time.

[xvi] Russell County, Kansas, is named for Avra P. Russell.

[xvii] Soldier “M”’s letter was printed in the Leavenworth Daily Times on Aug. 22, 1861. The information is taken from Kansans go to War: The Wilson’s Creek campaign as reported by the Leavenworth Daily Times Part II. Edited by Richard W. Hatcher III and William Garret Piston. Kansas History 16 (Winter 1993): 224-247. https://www.kshs.org/publicat/history/1993winter_hatcher.pdf

 

 

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

 

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 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.