TRAVELING ON THE UNDERGROUND

RAILROAD IN IOWA 


The following excerpts are from an article was written by Owen A. Garretson and

published in the July 1924 edition of The Iowa Journal of History and Politics.

Owen, born 1852, was the son of Joel Garretson, and was 72 in 1924.

The Joel Garretson's house was believed to be a small two room house, at the time of the

underground railroad activity, so no room to hid runaways inside, thus the peach orchard.

Excerpts placed on-line in November 2011

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New counter on September 13, 2011

 

Believe this is the same story that Rachel Kellum wrote about go to Rachel's article. See chart at this link Runaway Chart

"At the home of Joel C. Garretson, five miles southeast of Salem, a fugitive slave tapped lightly at the cabin door in the early hours of the night. Mrs. Garretson opened the door and saw a colored man before her. The Negro gave her to understand that he was a fugitive and was closely followed. Not wishing to arouse the curiosity of her own children and those of a neighbor who were present, she, by a wave of the hand, directed him to a peach orchard which stood near by. The Negro lay down around the base of a bushy tree around which the grass and weeds had grown until they almost touched the spreading branches of the tree, and awaited the outcome. It was well for him that he found this hiding place as quickly as he did. In a few minutes his pursuers arrived, for Joel C. Garretson was an open advocate of the emancipation of the slave, and his home was the natural place to look for the fleeing property of the slaveholders. The pursuers came to the house and cautiously inspected the premises, and looked in at the windows, but made no attempt to enter the house. They carefully searched the orchard passing back and forth among the trees almost in reach of the breathless fugitive who lay silently beneath his leafy shelter, until the hunters, failing to find their prey, quietly departed, and were seen no more.

Mr. Garretson was not at home on this occasion and Mrs. Garretson was left to her own resources. She was a woman of unflinching courage, however, and entirely devoid of fear. As soon as the slave hunters were gone and the children asleep, she went to the home of Joseph D. Hoag on the opposite side of the road and about an eighth of a mile to the east. Mr. Hoag secured some provisions and together they sought the famished Negro and gave him food and drink.

Near the center of the farm then occupied by Mr. Hoag there is a high ridge from which the ground slopes in every direction except to the southwest which is toward the open prairie. On this ridge was a cluster of hazel brush and small jack oak trees. When Mr. Garretson returned, he piloted the fugitive to this thicket and concealed him where he could have a fair view in every direction. Here the fugitive was fed for some time by Garretson and Hoag until his wife and child, who had been hiding elsewhere, were brought to him. They were then taken in charge by Nathan Kellum of New Garden who conveyed them along by-ways toward Denmark.

When the rescue party met the men from Denmark who were to pilot them on it was so near morning that the fugitives were concealed in a ravine and the conducting parties returned to their respective homes. On the following night the Negro family was conveyed to Denmark where they were cared for by unfaltering friends."...

This next story is the same as the story on the Henderson Hardware/Hotel webpage.

One of the escaped slaves who came to Salem was concealed in the hotel, kept by D. W. Henderson. Some clothing of Rachel Hobson was secretly taken to the hotel and the Negro was carefully dressed in these garments, which were of plain Quaker design, including shaker bonnet and veil. Peter Hobson then drove his buggy up in front of the hotel and said to the landlord, "I wish thee would tell Rachel to make haste or we will be too late for the meeting." The supposed Rachel soon appeared and stepping into the buggy was driven to safety while his pursuer stood in front of the hotel quietly watching the departure of the Quaker and his pseudo-wife.

This Negro was taken to the woods on Fish Creek, four miles northeast of town, where he was concealed and cared for until he could be transported in safety to another station on the road...

Two fugitives, a man and wife, were concealed in a corn shock on the southeast quarter of section thirty-three, in Jackson Township, Henry County. They remained there for several days, being cared for by sympathizing friends until they could be taken elsewhere. After their departure, a dagger was found beneath the shock. This dagger was about ten inches long with a blade six inches in length, two-edged, and running to a sharp point. This knife is the property of the writer and is one of the few relics that remain to tell the story of those days.

...

On one occasion, a man and his wife, who had reached the vicinity of Salem, were forced by hot pursuit to flee in different directions, and thus became lost to each other. The man was concealed in the famous hiding place on the farm of Joseph Hoag and cared for while search was made for the lost wife. She was finally located and the news was carried to the husband by Joel Garretson. On hearing the report, he sprang to his feet and waving his arms violently shouted, " Glory to God, Glory to God, I have been praying all night that she might be found. "

...

At one time a stalwart and athletic Negro was found in hiding on the farm of Joel Garretson. He was armed with a heavy club and a dangerous looking knife, and permitted no one to approach within reaching distance of him. He would accept food offered him if placed where he could reach it without coming in contact with the donor, but he always kept a safe distance between himself and would-be friends. In vain did Garretson and Hoag try to convince him that they would give him aid if he would trust in them: he departed as he came, unseen by friend or foe, determined to fight his own way to his intended refuge ...

Joseph D. Hoag was a pioneer minister of the Society of Friends, who settled on the northeast one-fourth of section thirty-three, township seventy, range six, in Henry County, five miles southeast of Salem. Here he built his home and lived for many years. In 1847 Mr. Hoag was appointed one of the commissioners to relocate the capital of the State of Iowa, Monroe City being the choice of the commissioners.

Mr. Hoag was an ardent worker in the cause of liberty and when he built his house, he constructed a secret closet beneath the stairway that led to the upper rooms of the dwelling. This house faces to the south and in front of it passed the historic Burlington and Agency road, constructed by General A. a. Dodge for military purposes. The stairway began about the middle of the north wall of the front room and went west, rising to about two-thirds of the height of the room where there was a landing. It then turned to the south at right angles. Beneath the landing of the stairway was constructed a cupboard facing the south, but the back wall of the cupboard was only about one-half of the distance to the north wall of the room, thus leaving a considerable space back of the cupboard into which there was no apparent opening. Anyone looking into the cupboard would never suspect that back of this was another space. On the landing of the stairway was a neatly fitted trap door which opened into this unseen closet. Tradition has it, and many pioneers repeated the story, that in this secret hiding place Joseph D. Hoag concealed many fugitive slaves. ...

Walter Shriner, a son of the Dr. Theodore Shriner before mentioned in these pages, a boy about town in these stirring days, relates the following incident which probably occurred about the beginning of the Civil War, when fugitives were not closely followed by their masters.

 

On the south side of the square in an open lot in the rear of the John Garretson home and of the Congregationalist church, he at different times saw several companies of Negro fugitives being fed. A large pot or kettle would be hung over a fire and in this would be cooked corn mush or pudding. Each person was supplied with a small crock of milk and a spoon and served from the great pot of pudding. Mr. Shriner also relates that John Garretson was the owner of a carriage or hack which had an oil cloth covering, and was entirely closed except in front where the driver sat. On several occasions he saw Negroes discharged from this hack and fed in the manner and place before mentioned. After this repast, they would be reloaded and taken away to parts unknown. ...

 

Nathan Kelium of the New Garden meeting, whose work has heretofore been mentioned, was one of the shrewdest men that ever operated a train on the Underground Railroad. So cunning was he and so full of resources, that he operated quietly and efficiently without arousing the suspicion or resentment of the pro-slavery element of the community. He successfully carried out some of the boldest enterprises ever attempted in southern Iowa It is alleged that he transported a surrey, filled with Negro fugitives, in open daylight from Salem to Denmark along the public highway, past friend and foe, unsuspected by all. He is said to have adopted the following method.

 

Many of the Quakers of his day had carriages not unlike the farmer's surrey of recent days, in which they were accustomed to drive from meeting to meeting. At Salem, he caused the fugitives to be dressed in the accustomed garb of the Quaker women with shaker bonnet and black veils. The supposed Quaker women were then openly seated in his carriage and boldly driven to safety without arousing suspicion. ...

 

A Negro fugitive from Missouri who was being assisted by Friends in the New Garden community, the half way station between Salem and Denmark, was concealed in the barn of Nathan Bond, awaiting an opportunity to proceed to Denmark. Here he was discovered and apprehended by two brothers by the name of Berry who returned him to his master. For this the Berry brothers received a reward of two hundred dollars but their act aroused the indignation of almost the entire community. Many citizens demonstrated against their actions, and some of the more zealous warned them that the judgment of the Lord would surely be visited upon them for their perfidy. According to the reports of many pioneers, this prophecy became an actual fact: while the farms around them were yielding abundant harvests, the crops on the Berry farm dwindled and failed. This condition continued as long as the property was owned by the Berry brothers. After the farm had passed to other hands it produced abundantly.

Asa Turner, of Denmark, often related with unrestrained glee the story of a little Quaker woman of Salem at whose home a Negro fugitive was harboring. When the hunters came in search of their property, she pushed the husband, who was ill, aside and answered the door herself. When the searchers asked her if she knew where the "nigger" was, she promptly answered, "Yes, I do. He is not two hundred yards from this door, and if you had not been a set of fools, you would have found him long ago." They looked elsewhere for their man.

 

As Salem was the gateway of Quakerism, so Denmark was the Mecca of Congregationalism. From Denmark, missionaries were sent out into the interior to gather into flocks the scattered sheep of the fold, and also provide an abiding place for those who had no religious home. Churches were established at Fairfield and at a point called Clay near Pleasant Plain and Richland.

 

Here history repeated itself. The influence of Salem and Denmark abided with these communities, and Congregationalists and Quakers were found working in harmony in this humanitarian cause. Fugitives who reached Fairfield were taken in charge by friends who would conduct them to Richland or Pleasant Plain, and then to Clay; from whence, they would be moved to Washington and on to Crawfordsville and Muscatine.

 

We are fortunate in being able to preserve the names of a number of the conductors on this route. Allen Stalker was the manager from Fairfield to Richland or Pleasant Plain; then, Henry Morgan and Manning Mills would convey the fugitives to Clay and on to Washington. Here they would be taken care of by John and Martin C. Kilgore....

 

Some amusing stories are still preserved of the happenings along this line of the Underground Railroad. O. W. Basworth relates that when a small child, some slaves were concealed in the loft of his father's barn. He of course did not know the secret, but as he was playing about the barn, he saw one of the Negroes looking down at him. He ran to the house and told his folks that the black colt was up in the barn loft. ...

 

At another time, when Henry Morgan was conveying a load of fugitives from Clay to Washington in a covered wagon, and was about to enter the ferry boat to cross the Skunk River, the slave masters rode up and prepared to look into the wagon. Morgan yelled, "We've got smallpox in there. " The pursuers wheeled and taking the back track were seen no more. ...

 

Not only were there attempts to return the slaves to their masters: even legally free Negroes were in danger. One of these lived near Salem on a little wooded stream south of the town. That his true name was is not now known. He was always spoken of as " Old Hawk". His little cabin was located in a grove close beside the running brook. Old Hawk was regarded with awe and wonder by the small boys of the community and by some of the older people with superstitious fear, for he was supposed to possess the power of burning water. On quiet summer evenings, the boys would gather at his cabin and ask him to set the water of the creek on fire. On numerous occasions, he complied with their request, touching a fagot to the water, which would then burn with a steady flame until he saw fit to extinguish the blaze.

 

About 1857, some strangers appeared in the vicinity of Salem, and by various schemes became very intimate with Old Hawk and gained his confidence. They offered him large rewards if he would go with them to Missouri, but cautioned him to keep this offer a secret and let no one know of his intended departure. Fortunately for the Negro he had a friend in Salem in whom he had implicit confidence -Rev. Hemmenway, the Congregationalist minister. He was a friend of the oppressed and an ardent advocate of liberty. To this man Old Hawk told in confidence the story of his intended departure. The spirit of Rev. Hemmenway rose in fiery indignation. He told the Negro it was a hellish plot to kidnap him and sell him into slavery, and for him to have nothing more to do with his new found friends. Old Hawk saw no more of his pretended benefactors. ...

 

Any history of the Underground Railroad in Denmark would be incomplete without mention of Rev. Asa Turner. Born in New England of Puritan ancestry, he was imbued with the spirit of individual liberty to such a degree that any domination of one individual over the rights of another caused his soul to burn with righteous indignation. He was entirely and openly opposed to the national policy on the question of slavery, and he left no stone unturned to spread the doctrine he so ardently espoused. He not only advocated the cause of the bondmen in private and public gatherings, but he carried his doctrines to the pulpit and often preached against the slave system. On one occasion, two Negroes were attempting to escape by crossing the river to Illinois. They were placed in the bottom of a wagon box and covered with farm produce, and in this way crossed the river on the same boat that carried their pursuers who were seeking them as their lawful property.

 

Theron Trowbridge was also a devout man and faithful in his attendance at the church where Asa Turner preached the gospel of Christ and liberty. He was bold and active in assisting slaves to elude their pursuers and so prominent had he become in this work that the Missourians offered a reward for his capture.

 

One Sunday morning, he had a number of Negroes harboring in his home. He knew that their masters were in the vicinity searching for them with bloodhounds and he anticipated that the pursuers would be at his home that day. Faithful to his custom, however, Mr. Trowbridge repaired to his church to do homage to his Maker, but before going to church he prepared some biscuit to tempt a hungry hound. His son, J. B. Trowbridge, was left at home, with instructions to feed any of these dogs which came about the house. True to his expectations the dogs came, and as they appeared at the rear of the dwelling trailing the fugitives, the son fed the dogs the biscuit the elder Trowbridge had prepared. It is said that these bloodhounds gave up their lives at no great distance from the Trowbridge home.

 

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complete article
TRAVELING ON THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD IN IOWA (Part I and II)

http://www.garretson.us/Garretson.us/History_Articles_by_O.A._Garretson.html

 

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