Search billions of records on

Rachel Kellum's Underground Railroad Stories


New counter on September 13, 2011


Nathan and Rachel Kellum

Articles by Rachel (Maxwell) Kellum

A series from 1908/1909 "Western Work" - a regional publicationof the Society of Friends
published in Oskaloosa, IA, from 1894 - 1912
first editor was Absalom Rosenberger - David M. Edwards editor last three years.
Compiled and typed in December 1999 - January 2000
by Jean (Hallowell) Leeper.
Her great great grandfather Charles Maxwell, was Rachel's brother.

Slavery Issue and Salem

Samuel Kellum and family came to Salem in the spring of 1839 from near Port LaHanna, now Fountain City. His wife was a sister of Levi Coffin and was in sympathy with his anti-slavery work.

The work of assisting fleeing slaves began here as soon as any called for it. Remaining near Salem the first summer, they permanently located the following year, twelve miles southeast, near the "Lone Tree", one of the marks that travelers were told to look for on the road from Ft. Madison to Salem. The tree was a very large cottonwood and while it served as guide for so many people, few if any, left the road to go nearer, as a thicket of thorn bushes would prevent their seeking its shade, and the spring of cool water was a quarter of a mile distant on the other side of the road. During all the years of the anti-slavery work the "Lone Tree" with the thorn thicket at its base and the prairie grass on the outside of that, made a hiding place for the fugitive slave that was never penetrated by his pursuer. Next in importance was the task of getting him there without arousing the suspicion of neighbors, as well as the stranger that came in pursuit, and offered money to any that would betray their slaves. ...

By this time Daggas slaves had made their escape, and several families that believed in "free soil" had been added to the band already here, and the slaves were coming in larger number.

(Does the below relate to the Daggs 9 escaped slaves of June 1848 or a different story? Not much reads the same. There were five Daggs slaves that made it to freedom.)

Seventeen in this company successfully crossed the Des Moines river and got within a mile of Salem before they became aware that they were followed. They scattered so quickly that none of them were taken just at the time, and one old man full of faith in God and the Quakers ran into town asking for help about the middle of the afternoon. He was gotten out of sight for a few minutes until men could think. Paul Way solved the problem by coming to the door and calling out, if any body wanted to follow him they would have to be in a hurry as he was going. He went to the hitch rack, untied his horse, sprang into the saddle and started home at full speed. Two men who understood his action got the negro out and onto another horse, gave him the little grand son he was carrying and away he went fast enough to keep in sight. The Missourians came in time to see him leave and started in pursuit, but Paul Way made too many turns and they lost them and returned to watch for others. This one was taken in an old lime kiln about three miles north east of town and hidden. He was fed and kept that night and another day. Two of my sisters and myself sat up until near morning making clothes for the child. On the second night the old man and child were taken to the Kellum home, but so near morning that they could not safely take them to the "lone tree," so the conductor went to the nearest neighbor, Francis Shelldan's and they made a rail pen just high enough so that the man could hold his head up straight when sitting on the ground. Straw was hastily thrown over it and the man and child out in. In a very short time one of the Missourians was along the road inquiring if they had seen any colored people pass that road. All day the man and his wife cleaned wheat with a fanning mill, set so the chaff fell in the pen, and that night men from Denmark came for him.

Believe the following paragraph, is the same story that Owen Garretson wrote about Clink for Garretson's story and this next link to a chart comparing different stories. Click here for Runway chart.

Just before dark one evening a young man lightly tapped on door of the Joel Garretson home four miles east of Salem. The wife cautiously opened it, and by waving her hand showed him the way to the orchard, where he went and found a hiding place underneath a bushy peach tree that had tall grass meeting the limbs. In a little while the men were there hunting him, and as they thought went all over that orchard. When they were tired and left Joel Garretson took him to where Joseph D. Hoag would expect to find any one that needed help. (Which was a certain thicket) and took him food and returned to the hose to see what would come next. They did not have to wait long until some one came with the wife and babe of the young man, and they were taken to him in the thicket during the night. J. D. Hoag conveyed them to a hiding place near his home where they remained during the day. At night the conductor of the underground railroad came, riding as though going to a wolf chase, but the returns had to be different. With the woman on the horse and the two men walking they proceeded. The moon was shining and enough of the slave holders and their men were there so that their patrols passed over the road every thirty minutes. Under these conditions the trip was made by keeping sufficient distance from the road, only when it must be crossed, and then wait for a cloud in the clear sky to cover the moon, but it came and while not large was thick enough to make a deep shadow in which they crossed the road and thanked God for it and took courage. When they met the man from Denmark, it was so late at night they had to secrete the slaves in a ravine, three miles this side of Denmark. Then the race for safety and perhaps life began. The distance of seven miles home was covered at a speed that no one timed. The father who was up watching, took Nathan Kellum's horse to the back stall, hid the saddle and bridle, gave the horse a few rubs to even up the hair, and fed all the horses in the stable, when approaching footsteps warned him, and he concealed himself while the salve holders examined the horses. They said none of them had been run or they had not been sweating, and were breathing evenly, so they left, not wanting to waste their time.

Cannon Brought From Missouri

Returning to Salem, they or their men watched the town for three days, searching houses without any warrant of law whatever. They found the cannon had arrived which they had sent to Missouri for and also reinforcements of men. In all they number about sev- (way written)
The citizens thought they had endured enough from them and started a messenger to Mt. Pleasant, ten miles to notify the sheriff and ask his assistance. During the forenoon the men from Missouri, placed their cannon in front of a two-story stone house, built by one Henderson Lewelling, a nursery man. This house had dark rooms in the cellar, also a pit for storing grafts, but as he was a staunch abolitionist, slaves might have been hid there. While the Missourians went all over houses and turned everything upside down, they were afraid to enter a cellar, for they were too cowardly, and would not go unless they could make the owner go first, and this man would not go. They gave out the word that if their slaves were not brought out during the afternoon, they would raze the home to the ground, and all the rest of Salem as well. But the old stone house still stands.
The writer had a married sister living in Salem at the time and her house was searched in common with the rest. We were watching it with an ocean pilot's glass from an upper window in the Maxwell home five miles north east of Salem and could see distinctly.

Sheriff Arrives With Armed Men

When the sheriff arrived the Missourians had their dinners cooked and on the table at the hotel. The dinner was paid for before it was cooked. The sheriff gave them just fifteen minutes to leave town. They swore that would have their dinners. He said that one blast of his bugle would bring on the company of well armed men, and if they came at his command, they would come to shoot, and shoot to kill. "Now, gentlemen, you have your choice to clear the town in fifteen minutes, or take the consequences." They went. They did not stand on the order of going, but went, took their cannon and all their belongings, and went, grabbing what dinner they could carry.

After that a long law suit ensued. It was not taken out of court until after the war closed, and then was compromised."

From next issue

"(**Nine of out seventeen of Dagg's slaves got to Canada. The rest were returned to slavery.)
From this time on the slaveholders adopted the plan of guarding the river to prevent the slaves getting across, so that from 1848 the number that came were less, but as the laws became more pro-slavery the danger to be met was greater.

This work proved a very severe test to the pioneer church. Composed of members from different states and educated differently, there were three opinions to be harmonized:
1. Let them alone in slavery: that they were better off there than in Africa.
2. Render them all the assistance possible when they came to us, and advocate emancipation.
3. We ought to go to them and show them the way to freedom."

** This does not agree with the court record so wonder if she is talking about another group or did more Daggs slaves flee or is Rachel confused as she was 81 in 1908? Her husband Nathan Kellum was a conductor on the Underground Railroad and they married in 1853. See Daggs Slaves. Actual court record found on this site

The rest of Rachel Reminiscences are found here:

Return to Lewelling Quaker Museum Main Page

Come Again!