Saturday, November 09, 2013

"Necessary Courage" and the Underground Railroad

I'm looking forward to reading Lowell J. Soike's "Necessary Courage: Iowa's Underground Railroad in the Struggle against Slavery," newly available from University of Iowa Press --- even though Lucas and Wayne counties appear to have missed the boat, historically, on this one.

Take a look at the map above, recycled from an earlier post and now somewhat outdated, and you'll notice a glaring absence of detected Underground Railroad activity in our two counties.

Soike directed until his retirement the Iowa Freedom Trail project and his new book "represents the culmination of the Iowa Freedom Trail Grant Project, which presents the first comprehensive statewide survey of the intriguing people, long-forgotten places, and exciting events associated with the history of abolition and the underground railroad in Iowa prior to and during the Civil War,” wrote Doug Jones, Iowa Freedom Trail grant project manager, in a blurb promoting the book.

In case you missed it, Jones was in Chariton during May to discuss the project during a public meeting organized by the Lucas County Genealogical Society and co-sponsored by the Lucas County Historical Society. I wrote about that meeting here.

Southern Iowa's proximity to Missouri, the most northerly (so far as borders are concerned) of the slave states, as well as in the southwest to "bleeding Kansas," made it a logical place for Underground Railroad activity. But reports of activity are largely absent here in the middle of the tiers of southern counties where there were no Quaker meetings or settlements of high-minded Congregationalists and no outspoken abolitionists of note --- all Underground Railroad markers.

It's useful to remember that the Underground Railroad didn't just develop; it was carefully organized by abolitionists, some of whom settled in places strategically located to assist slaves fleeing north. That was the case with J.H.B. Armstrong and others who settled at Cincinnati, south of Centerville in Appanoose County, because of its proximity to Missouri. Few if any of these abolitionist organizers appear to have settled in either Lucas or Wayne counties.

We spent a little time during May speculating about why there were so few signs of activity here. One theory was that there were more southern sympathizers in the two-county area. But that idea just doesn't hold water. Although a political minority, there were Peace Democrats and their extremist brethren, Copperheads, all across southern Iowa --- including Appanoose County. Their presence did not deter abolitionists if other circumstances were right.

So my current theory is that the explanation was largely geographic. Look south of Wayne County into Missouri and you'll find no major population centers between Unionville to the east and Princeton to the west. There certainly were small towns and many small farmers, but major north-south routes were lacking except perhaps at the Lineville portal in far southwest Wayne County.

There's still a lot of territory to be explored here. I'd like to know, for example, if there were abolitionist sentiments within the Smyrna Friends Meeting, just over the county line west in Clarke County. Or if the route through Lineville might have been taken by slaves fleeing north, too. But for now, I'm hoping to find a little more enlightenment in "Necessary Courage."

No comments: