Abolitionism in Iowa

 

New Garden Quakers and the Underground Railroad; Iowa in the Fugitive Slave Era

 

By Lewis D. Savage

 

The New Garden Meeting:

 

If Salem Quakers stand in first place as leaders by their numerous activities in the Underground Railroad in Iowa, then in a strong second position stands the New Garden Quakers in nearby Lee County Iowa.

 

Only a small fraction of the fascinating and exciting stories of the Underground Railroad have been kept alive and told. This is an attempt to share a few of the stories that have come down to us from the activities carried on by New Garden Quakers.

 

The site of New Garden Meeting House and Burial Ground was set off from the farm of Jacob Thornburg. It was located mi north and 1 mile east of present day St. Paul, Iowa, mile back in a field across the road to the north from where Henry Pickard and family lived. New Garden Meeting was about half way between Ft. Madison and Salem.

 

The central corps of the leadership of New Garden Meeting came from two Quaker Meetings in Indiana near Levi Coffin's home in Newport, (now Fountain City). They were called New Garden and Chester. This corps of Friends had been well trained in Levi Coffin's real life training school for participating in the Underground Railroad in their new homes and Meeting in Lee County Iowa. Many other active leaders at New Garden had been born in North Carolina where they had shared in close association with Levi Coffin and his cousin, Vestal, in their Underground Railroad activities. These anti-slavery leaders left the land of slavery and moved north to the land of freedom, and were prepared to help runaway slaves experience the same.

 

Nathan Bond and the Berry Brothers

 

In the early day of Iowa settlement George and William Berry, former slave owners, came from Virginia to Iowa and took up claims in Pleasant Ridge Township Sec. 7 & 8 in the northern part of Lee County. They lived a short distance northeast of the New Garden Quaker Meeting House, and were surrounded by many neighboring Quaker families.

 

When the Berrys moved from Virginia to Lee County they brought with them an old Negro mammy who had been in the family for years as a domestic slave. This situation was not acceptable to the New Garden Quakers, and they let the newcomers know that slave keeping in Iowa was illegal and would not be tolerated. Some of the Berry family were absent for a time after their arrival claiming they had taken the old mammy back to the old home in Virginia, but the Quakers soon learned that the Berrys had taken the old slave down into Missouri and sold her for an old mule and some remnants from an old store. The Quakers were unhesitant in sharing their disapproval with what the Berrys had done.

Some of the Quaker families who lived on farms around where George and William Berry lived included the following: J. Thornburg, A. Newby, Jacob Griffin, S. Clark, F.A. Price, S. Parkins, G. Hampton, H. Pickard, J. Harvey, B. Binford, Nathan Bond and others.

 

One of the Berry brothers neighbors in Iowa living to the south was the Nathan and Abigail Beard Bond family. They had come from New Garden Friends Meeting in Indiana. It was not long after the Berrys and the Bonds had established themselves in Iowa that the Bond family received and gave shelter in their barn to a runaway slave from Missouri. The Berry brothers became aware of the Bonds harboring a fugitive slave and informed the former owners and the authorities and claimed the $200 reward payment for the recovery of the fugitive slave. Nathan Bond was fined several hundred dollars for slave harboring.

 

This was not the end of the story in New Garden. The neighboring Quakers continued to pour out their fiery criticism against the Berry brothers for their support of slavery and being willing to sell out to the slave system for money. After years of this cutting criticism the Berry brothers sold their farms in the New Garden community and relocated in other areas. (In a providential confirmation of the Berry character, by local lore it was noted amongst the Quakers that while the adjoining Quaker farms thrived and were bountiful, those farms of the Berry brothers during those same years were poor and unproductive in yield and when subsequently taken over by other farmers after the Berry's sold out, the farms produced very well for others. )

 

Connections of the Railroad, Fluidity in Motion:

 

Among the other strong and active leaders in the New Garden Quaker Meeting was the Samuel and AnnKellum family who had also come from the New Garden Quaker Meeting in Indiana, the home meeting of abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor Levi Coffin. Ann Coffin, the wife of Samuel Kellum was a sister of Levi Coffin. Levi Coffin while living in Newport, Indiana had assisted over 1,000 runaway slaves on their way to freedom. Later while he was living in Cincinnati, Ohio for another 20 year period gave assistance to over 2,000 more slaves on their way to freedom in Canada.

 

Consequently, it is no wonder that with such closely related and strongly activated people that the New Garden Meeting in Iowa ranked right alongside Salem in action in the Underground Railroad!

 

One feature that kept the the Underground Railroad working was its many and changing routes. Salem for instance had 10 or more for receiving and sending on runaways. For instance, many fugitives coming to the area were taken to the Joel Garretson and Joseph D. Hoag stations 5 miles east of Salem in the East Grove Quaker Meeting area. From there they were often transported by Nathan Kellum on horseback to shelter and hiding by the Kellum family. From there they would later be carried in the same way to Denmark and then on to Burlington and on by way of Chicago to Canada across from Detroit.

Nathan Kellum's work as conductor or transporter continued for a period of years. The Civil War and the freeing of the slaves put him out of business when the Underground Railroad then came to an abrupt end. Rachel Maxwell Kellum when 80 years old wrote several articles for the Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends publication, "Western Work" in which she shared her, "Reminiscences of Friends in Early Iowa". This includes anecdotal stories about her husband Nathan Kellum's work in the Underground Railroad, and others.

 

Fugitive Slaves and Henry Pickard in the Iowa New Garden Meeting

 

We often hear it said, to 'save the best till last'. This may be true in this very unique and interesting story about the underground Railroad that took place in the New Garden community. This story centers about the Henry Pickard family. Henry Pickard was born in North Carolina. He married Eleanor Woody and they had 18 children with 16 living to adulthood.

 

The Pickard family moved from North cCarolina to Indiana in 1815 where they prospered and expanded their land holdings. The Pickard family moved to Iowa in 1845. A year after this move Henry Pickard's wife, Eleanor, died. Henry still had 7 minor children at home. He later married a neighbor widow, Mary Hammar, who had 8 children when her former husand, David Hammar died.

 

So Henry and Mary Hammar Pickard combined their families and had quite a large family of 15 children around their table. Henry was a giant of a man standing 6 ft. 6 in. tall and weighed 350 lbs. and a very wealthy man for that time owning several farms of good land.

 

Rather late on a cold early winter evening the Henry Pickard family were surprised by a knock at their door. When Henry opened the door, there stood a black man with a small child in his arms. He was promptly welcomed into the warmth and light of the Pickard home where he shared his sad story. He told the Pickards that he was a runaway slave from Missouri on his way to freedom in Canada. He said that his master had sold his wife down river when their baby was three weeks old and he decided to take their child and flee slavery, but his child who was now 6 mo. old became sick and he knew she would die if he continued with her.. He asked the Pickards to take and care for his child while he would go on to Canada. He planned to come back and get his child after getting settled in Canada. The Pickards took the little black girl into their home and family, and the Negro father went on his way to Canada, but was never heard from again. With a pending pursuit following, this man was then sent along further on his way. The fate of the flight of this runaway slave has never been known beyond New Garden.

 

The little black girl, who was born in 1857 became child number 16 in the Pickard family. She went to school and Quaker Meeting with the other children of the Pickard family and the New Garden Community. This matter of integration of the races was also a practice of the abolitionist movement of the era. Like with abolitionism, integration would not have been without deep controversy in that day, but it evidently was a matter of point with Henry Pickard and family.

 

The child was given the name of Mary after her foster mother. She continued to live and share in the work of the family until she was 20 years old. At that time she wanted to go out on her own. It is known that she went first to Mt. Pleasant and it is supposed that she shared there with the small black community. Nothing further is known about Mary until in July 1935 when she attended a Pickard Family Reunion held in Donnellson, Iowa. Mary was living and working in Des Moines, Iowa and was then 78 yrs. Old. She was very proud of her ties with the Pickards and was very appreciative of their help in her life. She had met and married William Mills and they had lived and worked in Des Moines and later died and are buried there.

 

Most Underground Railroad incidents covered a few days at most and the runaway was moved on, but this one incident 'tops them all, for it covers shelter and care given for 20 years. It also has something to share about the shelter of Henry Pickard and the whole New Garden Quaker community, that the Pickard family could keep in their home for 20 years a black girl from Slavery without confrontation or challenge by authorities and this was done so openly during the era within 15 miles of the slave State of Missouri.

 

Lewis D. Savage

February 2004

Salem, Iowa

 

Source of references

 

Salem Monthly Meeting Minutes

New Garden Monthly Meeting Minutes

"The Quakers of Iowa" Louis T. Jones:

Reminiscences Coffin, Levi.

History of Henry County Iowa 1879

The Pickard Family, Weller, Dorothy

The Story of Salem Quakers, Savage, Lewis D.

Traveling on the Underground Rail Road in Iowa, Garretson, Owen A.

(Reminiscences), Kellum, Rachel Western Work 1897,

Atlas, Lee County Iowa 1874

The Search for Mrs M.G. Mills, Eis, Betty

 

(Lewis D. Savage has been a life-long amateur academic historian of the Salem, Iowa fugitive slave era. A Quaker minister, he was formerly the director of the Lewelling Quaker House and Museum of Salem Iowa for 20 years.)