Abolitionism in Iowa
New Garden Quakers and the Underground Railroad; Iowa
in the Fugitive Slave Era
By Lewis D.
The New Garden
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.
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 ½ mi north and 1 mile east of present day St. Paul,
Iowa, ¼ 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
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
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
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.
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:
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
Source of references
New Garden Monthly Meeting Minutes
"The Quakers of Iowa" Louis T.
Reminiscences Coffin, Levi.
History of Henry County
The Pickard Family, Weller, Dorothy
The Story of Salem Quakers, Savage,
Traveling on the Underground Rail
Road in Iowa,
Garretson, Owen A.
(Reminiscences), Kellum, Rachel Western
Atlas, Lee County Iowa
The Search for Mrs M.G. Mills, Eis,
(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.)