Saturday, October 15, 2016

A.C. Barnes and Coker Clarkson: Abolitionists at rest

Andrew Curtis Barnes, identified by his son, Alpheus R., as the principal agent for the Underground Railroad in Albia, led me on quite a chase during his later years --- and I'm still not sure I've tracked the old boy to the ground. 

But I can tell you for sure that he died in 1891, most likely during September, most likely near Dorsey in north central Nebraska's Holt County. I can't be sure of the location, only that there is a lot in the small Dorsey cemetery owned by "Barnes" with no tombstone upon it. Here, I suspect, A.C. rests in an unmarked grave.

Earlier Lucas Countyan posts about A.C. and other Monroe Countyans who helped enslaved men, women and children find their way to freedom were The Underground Railroad at Melrose: Part 1; The Underground Railroad at Melrose: Part 2; and A.C. Barnes and His Washington Hand Press.


To review a little, A.C. was born July 19, 1813, in Broome County, New York, to Salma and Abigail (Cole) Barnes --- one of 10 children. He grew up there and Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, just south across the state line.

As a young man, Andrew moved west to Indiana where he married twice, first to Almeda Evans on April 1, 1835, in Hardin County. She died, however, after giving birth to two sons, Washington Wesley (born May 31, 1837) and Alpheus R. (born Jan. 12, 1840). After Almeda's death, A.C. married Malinda Corn on June 14, 1843, in Fayette County. There were no children by this marriage.

During the summer of 1854, A.C. and Malinda and the boys moved west by horse and wagon to Albia in Monroe county, Iowa, arriving on July 4th of that year. They had traveled west from Brookville, Indiana, where A.C. had been working as foreman in the print shop of The Brookville American, operated by Coker F. Clarkson until 1853. Before that, Andrew had been editor, publisher and printer of The Ripley County Whig in Versailles, Indiana, and he still owned the Washington hand press and type used in that operation.

Upon arrival in Albia, he sent for his press and type and on Oct. 10, 1854, published the first issue of The Independent Press, perhaps the earliest of south-central Iowa's newspapers, certainly Albia's first.


The Independent Press offices --- and the Barnes family --- were housed in a log building that had served Monroe County as its first courthouse.

Here's how A.C. described it in his edition of Oct. 24, 1854: "Eight years ago the old courthouse in which our office is kept, on the east side of the public square, was the only house in Albia. It was used for courthouse, meeting house, shows, and amusements, and whatever suited the conveniences and pleasure of the oldest inhabitants. Since then, it has been a dwelling, a cabinet and wagon shop, and to what other uses devoted in so short a time we know not: but we guess no one dreamed it would so soon contain a live editor, printing apparatus and all his family. The editor's cow and calf are outside of any in-closure. Hope they won't be allowed to starve the coming winter."

Andrew, according to his son, "had no faculty of accumulating money" and struggled to make the newpaper a paying proposition. His position as a staunch abolitionist and equally staunch prohibitionist alienated many in the community and during 1857 he was forced to suspend publication. But his son, Wesley, picked up the editorial reins that fall then turned the paper over to Alpheus, who continued to operate it until Dec. 31, 1859, when he traded it for an 80-acre farm two miles east of Albia to which the entire family moved.

During these years, according to Alpheus, A.C. was principal agent for the Underground Railroad in Albia and Alpheus, his assistant. Among their associates were Thomas and Philomena Stuart, agents of what was described as a busier Underground Railroad station some distance west at Melrose.


After ending his career as a publisher, A.C. continued to work as a printer in the shops of Albia's various newspapers, farmed and --- as a minister licensed by the Methodist Episcopal Church --- performed weddings and other ministerial tasks although he seems never to have had an Iowa preaching assignment.

Both Barnes sons left home about 1860. Wesley headed west where he worked, among other jobs, as a reporter for The Virginia City (Nevada) Union and became friends with Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), then a reporter for The Virginia City Enterprise. He eventually moved on to become a pioneering newspaperman in Tulare County, California.

Alpheus moved to Wisconsin, studied law, enlisted in a Wisconsin unit for Civil War service, married and finally returned to Albia where he worked as a railroad mail agent and operated a hotel before re-entering the newspaper trade as editor and publisher of The Albia Union in 1886.

When the Revenue Act of 1862 was signed into law by President Lincoln, Andrew secured an appointment as assistant assessor in Monroe County and continued in that position into the late 1860s. When the 1870 federal census was taken, A.C. was living with Malinda and his mother, Abigail, near Albia. His occupation was given as printer.

Abigail Barnes had joined her son and his family in Albia ca. 1858 even though her husband, Salma, still was living in New York and would in fact survive until Oct. 12, 1864, when he died at age 81. Abigail died at the home of her son and daughter-in-law in Monroe County on Aug. 29, 1873, age 87, and was buried in Oakview Cemetery. She had, according to her obituary, been blind since 1847.

At some point between 1875 and 1880, Malinda (Corn) Barnes died, too. There is no reason to think that she died any place other than Albia, but I've been unable to find any record of her death and there is no tombstone for her on the family lot at Oakview. Two 1876 death dates are given in online family accountings, but one of those represents faulty research and the other is close enough to it to be suspicious.


By the time the 1880 federal census was taken, A.C. had returned to the place of his birth --- Broome County, New York --- and at age 68 was boarding in Windsor with Elvira Doolittle, age 57. His occupation was given as "editor," but it isn't clear what he was editing.

Elvira, born Knowlton, was something of a rarity for that time. Married to Oren Doolittle during 1839, she had divorced him by 1860 after their only child, Leroy, was grown, and had established an independent life for herself. I have no way of knowing how or when A.C. and Elvira became acquainted.

Nor is it exactly clear what this pair of "senior citizens" --- for their time at least --- was up to. They married two years later, on April 12, 1882, in Sioux City, Iowa, of all places. And by the time the 1885 state census of Nebraska was taken they were living in Holt County in the north central part of the state. Andrew's occupation, at age 71, was given as farmer.

Back in Albia, Alpheus R. Barnes purchased controlling interest in The Union during 1886 and re-entered the newspaper business. Soon after, the editor of a competing newspaper accused Alpheus in print of cheating the senior Mr. Barnes out of his property and leaving "the old man on the outside to die in poverty."

A.C. responded in a letter published by his son in The Union, datelined "May 11, Dorsey, Nebraska." It reads in part as follows:

"I can conceive of no other object that the author (had) than to intimate that the editor of the Union had "possessed himself of his father's property and closed the doors on him," which is as false as any falsehood could be. In all the business or trade transactions that I have had with my son, A.R. Barnes, he has rendered me an equivalent that I was satisfied with for all the property that he received of me; and when his mother died he and his most amiable wife attended me from her burial to my house and both invited me to make their house my home as long as I should live, and their doors were never closed on me. I wish to say for myself that I am not, as the writer suggests, like "to die in poverty." Your affectionate father, A.C. Barnes."

Andrew died five years later, most likely during September of 1891. There is no reason to think that he died any place other than Dorsey, Nebraska, although I've been unable to find a record confirming that.

In fact, the only mention of A.C.'s death I found takes us back almost to the beginning --- to the print shop of the Brookville Indiana American in Brookfield, Indiana, where Andrew was working as foreman prior to launching his family's new life in Iowa.

The American was edited and published by Coker Fifield Clarkson --- like Andrew a strong abolitionist --- who left the newspaper business behind during 1854 and moved his family to Grundy county, Iowa, where he established Melrose Farm and became active in Iowa's Underground Railroad movement.

It may be that Clarkson's sale of The American and decision to move west were among the reasons the Barnes family decided to seek a new life in the west, too, and the Clarksons may have pointed the way to Iowa for them. Whatever the case, the Clarksons and the Barnes families seem to have remained in touch and on friendly terms.

By 1891, James and Richard Clarkson, sons of Coker Clarkson, were at the helm of The Iowa State Register, forerunner of The Des Moines Register. James and Richard were in the process of developing The Register into Iowa's leading newspaper before selling it at the turn of the 20th century.

This relationship between the Clarkson and Barnes families is the reason that James Barnes published on Page 4 of the morning edition of The Iowa State Register of Saturday, Sept. 26, 1891, quite a long tribute to A.C. Barnes entitled "Death of Father A.C. Barnes."

It's a lovely piece, devoted entirely to memories of the old days in Indiana when A.C. served as foreman of Coker Clarkson's newspaper shop and the four "boys" --- Wesley and Alpheus Barnes and Richard and James Clarkson --- formed the production crew.

Unfortunately, James neglected in his tribute to tell us where or exactly when "Father" Barnes died ---  nor did he share stories of the roles Andrew Barnes and Coker Clarkson played in Iowa's Underground Railroad.

James concluded his tribute to A.C. in The Register as follows: "Faithfulness and goodness were the chief characteristics of his life. He was a combination of minister, editor and printer, and he was faithful in all his life work as the light was given him to see the straight and narrow way that he followed so persistently and along which he trudged so gallantly for nearly four score years."

The Clarkson boys' father, Coker, had preceded his old friend Barnes in death on May 7, 1890, in Des Moines, and while it seems likely that A.C. is proceeding through eternity in an unmarked grave in Nebraska, Coker is at rest in one of the more imposing mausoleums in the capital city's Woodland Cemetery.

No comments: