Of Nathan Kellum:


Rachel Kellum remembers Nathan Kellum

Conducting the Underground Railroad


Notes from "Western Work"

Taken from a transcribed hand copy by Lewis D. Savage from the original Western Work:

Vol.12 1-1908

"A brief account of Iowa Friends"  -Rachel Kellum

(In this issue we begin a series of articles by Rachel Kellum of Salem, Iowa who although past 80 years old recalls the beginnings of the Friend Church in Iowa with remarkable accuracy.  If health & strength permits she will prepare other articles.  The account of the part some Iowa Friends had in connection with slavery and war times will be read with special interest.) G.




"Reminiscences" by Rachel Kellum   WW-3-1908

"Samuel Kellum and family came to Salem in the spring of 1839 from near New Port Indiana, 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 fist 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 priarie 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."


[page 2 Picture of Nathan Kellum]

"Sheep took an important place, as they had done so many times before, in educating men for higher duties.  As every family expected to keep sheep from whose fleeces the winter clothing was all made, and those tufted mittens were a joy to their possessor when he went fifteen or twenty miles to market or twenty-five to mill.

Hunting Wolves

The prairie wolves were so numerous that it became necessary to organize a band of wolf men for he protection of its sheep.  In the chase they became acquainted with the lay of the land for miles around, where the streams would be forded away from the traveled roads, etc., and with the horses that could finish the chase and not be lame the next day.  A small gray mare belonging to Nathan Kellum, second son of Samuel Kellum, proved to be one of these, and it entitled her to service later on when her master became conductor on the underground railroad as it was called.  One of the first things the Missourians did was to go to the stables and hunt for lame or tired horses, believing they could tell whether they had been on duty during the night in this way."




"Reminiscences", WW 4-1908  by Rachel Kellum:


"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 ti 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 on the underground railroad came, riding as though going to a wolf chase, but the returns had to be different. With the woman for 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."



[Seeing Slavery  -the web page editor's note: Towards Nathan Kellum growing up, Rachel Kellum also relates Nathan's experience going to the South, seeing slavery in America and its corrupting system first hand.  This part then is of the deeper making of Nathan Kellum, conductor of fugitive slaves.  These notes follow here:]


Returns to Indiana


In the fall of 1844 Nathan accompanied his father back to the old home in Indiana, called by the sickness of the grandmother, and as she felt it was her last sickness, and which it proved to be, though lingering three or four months, when her son had remained with her four weeks and thought he must return home, she asked that Nathan might stay with her, and it was so arranged.  During the weeks that followed as she felt able to talk, she told of how her husband was sent, when quite a young man, from South Carolina to New Garden to school because of his hatred of the cruelties of slavery.  This made him an unwelcome member of his father's family, and especially after the coming of a stepmother.  This account deepened his desire to see slavery on its native soil so that when he was approached shortly after the death of his grandmother, to know if he would go south and transact business for a doctor and his wife living in Mooresville, he was prepared to answer in the affirmative.


Sees Slavery in the South


After a severe legal drill as to what must not be done, such as speaking to a Negro unless there was a white man in hearing, to be found with counterfeit money a capital offense, a test of which was given him later, as well as what should be done and the power of attorney to collect estates in Virginia, North and South Carolina, also with letters of  introduction to such families as the Hancocks, he started.  The traveling was to be done on horseback and four horses were taken to be sold.  This would occupy some of the time that would necessarily elapse between the sessions of court.  After challenge and a great deal of argument he was admitted as duly authorized to transact business.  He was entertained with true southern hospitality, not being allowed to pay his bills although staying in one home three weeks, and was shown the institution of slavery apparently in the same spirit a large manufacturer might take a guest over his building, and they seemed especially anxious that he would note the promptness with which their slaves obeyed their commands.  Numerous illustrations were given of the methods by which this was brought about.  They admitted that the hardest problem they had to meet was to keep families from visiting over Sabbath when they had sold them apart, and gave the account of one man they shot to death because he would not be whipped for going to see his family who had been sold to a planter twelve miles distant.


On the day before he was to start home, the property of a deceased planter was to be sold at public sale, consisting mostly of slaves, and as there was a large number it would bring people for miles around.  He had been invited to attend several days in advance and it was insisted upon as the time drew near.  He felt it would be a severe ordeal for him, but decided it was best to go, and as he wanted his horse shod, they told him that it could be done by the blacksmith where they were going.


They went, but the blacksmith could not be found until half an hour later, when a white boy about fourteen years of age, came and asked if he really wanted a horse shod, and said he would find the smith.  The old man had hid because he knew that they expected to sell him first, and he seemed to think it would be better if he could put it off until the last.


Auction Block


But to shoe a horse for the northern man, as that was the name he went by, was enough to bring him out, and he fastened the shoes on the front feet undisturbed, but the sound of the hammer had told that he was there, and enough men came to overpower him and take him to the auction block.  He screamed with terror amid the jeers of the bystanders.  The bidding was spirited between the heirs, until $900 was bid by the young master, fourteen years old, and he was knocked off to him, then the joy of the old man seemed to know no bounds, and he expressed it in shouts of joy and songs of praise to "the good Lord" that he would get to end his days with the young massa on the old plantations.  He returned to the shop and finished shoeing the horse.  He had shod race horses for years and he had a better shop and tools than the average and was proud of his work which was the very best.


Attempt to Sell Mother from Her Children


The closing scene of the day was trying to sell a mulatto mother from her two children, one three years old and the other, perhaps one.  They had promised her that she would be sold with her children, so that she came to the block without resistance, and there was a great deal said about the amount of work she was able to do, etc., and then all at once the bidding began on the little boy, three years old.  Knowing this meant separation, the mother gave one heart-piercing cry of despair and fell senseless.  Then began a scene of cruelty that need not be described more than to say, the skill displayed in striking so many cruel blows without breaking bones would have done credit to a better cause, but they could not and did not win.  Finally growing tired of their fruitless task, with muttered curses they sold them together.


Tells Them What He Thinks of Slavery


That evening there were more guests at the home and during the evening after they had assembled in the parlor the man of the house spoke directly to Nathan Kellum, and said, now we want to know what you, as a northern man and a stranger, think of our institution of slavery?  Believing that his answer would be used as evidence against him, he took time to think and offer a silent prayer to God for wisdom.  Then asking if the slaves were in their quarters for the night, so they would not hear, and when assured that they were, he told them that he would give them an honest answer, as they had kept insisting upon it. 

So he told them that in the light of a Book that they claimed to honor, which said, "all nations of the earth are made of one blood" they were holding their brother man in cruel bondage, and that the Negro would not endure it much longer.  He used some of their own narratives as an illustration of the truth that the Negro had begun to say in action what Patrick Henry said in words, "Give me liberty or give me death."  At this they almost ground their teeth.  Then in answer to those questions as to what his solution of the question would be he pointed out emancipation by peaceable legislation, then hiring possibly the same men and women.  Honoring the marriage relation and th right of parents to their children.  They answered almost as with one voice, "Never, wile the sun shines."  "Then it will be done with the sword, and if it comes to that, your streams will run with blood."  This continued for nearly two hours, their anger seeming to give place to astonishment that he did not seem to fear the consequences of using the right of free speech.


Accused of Having Counterfeit Money


In the morning he was allowed to start on his journey just being asked the question if he was going to the court house to have his money changed.  Answering that he was they seemed to be satisfied.  When he got there he was told that one ten dollar bill was counterfeit.  Then he understood the situation and when a little distance on the road back to where it had been given him, there was a path turned off into the woods that went the direction he ought to go, so allowing the horse to have its own way, they traveled ten miles without leaving the woods.  The officers and men that were to arrest him, passed over the road not more than a quarter of a mile from the path he was following.  When he came out of the woods he found lodging with a poor white family who were willing to take pay for what he wanted and asked no questions.  He told them he was tired and would like to sleep during the heat of the afternoon and go on his journey when it would be cool in the early morning.  Thus he was led safely on his way reaching Mooresville, Ind., at the appointed time.


He came to Iowa fully persuaded in his own mind and ready for the dangerous work that had increased during his absence, an account of which will be given in the next chapter."



"Reminiscences", Western Work -1908  by Rachel Kellum


["Western Work"  was a regional publication
of the Society of Friends published in Oskaloosa, IA, from 1894 - 1912.
Magazines of the late 19th and early 20th century

commonly published reminiscence of the pioneer

generation knowing that an era was closing and the

eye-witnesses were leaving too.  -Doug Hamilton]