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The Centennial History of Independence, Mo. by W. L. Webb

Chapter 14:
The Underground Railroad


The Underground Railroad was a system of kidnapping negroes in the slave-holding states of the South and running them off to freedom in Canada.  The Fugitive Slave law was designed to aid in the recovery of runaway blacks held in bondage.  The hot passions of the Civil War were thus engendered.

     There lived at Independence a large slave population, servants of many wealthy families.  All border towns kept patrol forces on the highways at night to pick up negroes bent on flight.  Negroes all feared the "patterrollers."  It is related in some reminiscent narrative that a runaway negro man was returned to Independence and was chained overnight to an anvil in a blacksmith shop; he was to be publicly whipped next morning, but in the morning he was dead, still chained to the anvil, and without any marks of violence -- perhaps died of terror in the darkness. 

     When the Mormons first came to Independence they were charged with inciting discontent among the blacks.  Jebez Smith, father of our late John T. Smith, who lived in a fine old mansion in the east part of Independence, owned so many slaves that he did not know them all, and sometimes met one on the road and inquired, "Whom do you belong to?"  Often the answer was, "Ise Marse Smith's n-----."

     One of the first ordinances passed by the first city council was a very brief one, specifying the number of lashes to be laid on a negro.

     It is not of record that John Brown of Ossawattomie, famous Underground Railroad operator, ever paid a visit to Independence, but his system was widespread and embraced by the people of Jackson County.  There is no way of ascertaining or even estimating  the number of runaway negroes from Independence.  After the outbreak of the Civil War negroes were carried off by Red Legs openly.

     Quantrell, the guerilla chief, was first made known to the public as the leader of a band of Underground Railroad operators.  Quantrell planned a raid on Morgan Walker's house near Blue Springs for the purpose of running off Walker's negroes through Kansas to Canada.  Quantrell apprised the Walkers of the contemplated raid and proposed to turn against his followers, which he did.  Several of the raiders were slain in the melee.

     Quantrell was arrested and put on trial at Independence, but was not convicted of any crime. Many slave holders sent their negroes South to get them away from the Kansas Underground operators.  Quantrell himself went South with negroes belonging to the Gill family.  The late Turner A. Gill was a young member of this family.

     In the days of the so-called "Kansas Troubles" the Missourians who went into the Territory of Kansas to vote were denominated "Border Ruffians."  Many of the best and foremost citizens of Independence belonged actively to this class. (See John Sherman's report.) The Border Ruffians always marched under the United States flag.  The Kansas Jayhawkers did not march under the United States flag.  When the Civil War broke out, there was an instantaneous change of flags.  The Jayhawkers now came marching under the United States flag, while the Missourians dropped the old flag and took up the "Secesh" flag.

     For a description of the "Border Ruffian" as a swaggering, tough looking character on the wharf of Kansas City; and his other aspect as a well-dressed, elegant, refined gentleman, when he appeared in Washington City calling on cabinet officers or on the President, see a book entitled, "Geary and Kansas" (1856) by Dr. John H. Ghion, Gov. Geary's private secretary.


The Centennial History of Independence

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