Walter Terrell



Connections on the Underground Railroad:

A Salem Iowa and Iowa City Line.



"The Story of A Pioneer Quaker Miller In Iowa"


by Lewis D. Savage


          Very limited records about the Underground Railroad were kept or recalled later, consequently much of the very interesting Underground Railroad activities can only be surmised by what is known.  It is known that strategically located mills were often used as stations if the miller was of abolitionist conviction.  It would seem that Walter Terrell is one of these millers.


          Walter Terrell did grow up with strong Quaker ties, married two strong Quaker wives, the daughters of an active and prominent Quaker abolitionist family in Iowa, and he was a close friend of Lawrie Tatum of Springdale in Iowa, a very active conductor on the Underground Railroad.  Folklore has said, but it would seem very reasonable to conclude that the Terrell Mill near Iowa City was a station on the Underground Railroad.


          The purpose of this article is to share the story about the life and mill of Walter Terrell.  He was born on April 14, 1805 in Caroline County Virginia, the son of Quaker parents, Samuel and Elizabeth Harris Terrell.  He grew up in a Quaker home, attended Quaker schools and Quaker Meeting.


          Walter Terrell as a young man was employed by Walter Crew the owner of Crewsville Farm and Mills in Hanover County Virginia.  Walter Crew had two mills on his farm, the Auburn Mill, a three story stone mill on the South Anna River, and the Taylor's Creek Mill, a three story frame mill on Taylor's Creek.  Both mills were equipped for grinding grain, sawing lumber and had blacksmith shops.  They also had groceries, yard goods and Postal Service.  In addition to learning the milling trade and operation Walter Terrell served as principal of the Washington Henry Academy in Hanover County in the late 1820's.


          In 1838 he toured the Territories of Wisconsin and Iowa on foot.  He applied for and in 1840 was granted the right to build, within 3 years, a dam across the Iowa River near Iowa City by the Territorial Assembly.  After receiving this authorization to build the dam Walter Terrell journeyed down the Mississippi River to Louisiana.


          Walter Terrell returned to Iowa City in time to complete the dam across the Iowa River in 1843, and had his three story mill constructed and in operation in 1844.  The Terrell Mill was equipped with six runs (top and bottom) of millstones which were powered by an undershot water wheel.  The mill could grind 300 bushels of grain a day, and was equipped to bolt the flour.  In a short time a wool-carding machine was added.


          Renewed connections, ties came to Salem, Iowa: The Walter Crew family, Walter  Terrell's former employer, had migrated from Virginia to Salem in southeastern Iowa in 1849.  Walter Terrell then at age 45 years married Margaret T. Crew Oct. 31, 1850.  They had one daughter, Mary A., born Aug. 15, 1851.  Margaret died Aug. 13, 1853.  Walter Terrell then married on July 4, 1854, Jane T. Crew, his first wife's sister.  Both Margaret and Jan Crew were the daughters of Walter Crew for whom Walter Terrell had worked in Virginia earlier.


          Walter Terrell's daughter, Mary, was a graduate of the University of Iowa with a law degree and married Euclid Sanders, the son of a pioneer Quaker surveyor.


          Walter Crew settled his family on a farm outside of Salem also maintaining a close contact with his family in Iowa City.  While there is not direct reference to running the underground railroad, there was frequent correspondence and visiting between Salem and Iowa City by the Crews with their daughters and son-in-law.  Crew family letters tell of traveling with oxen to Iowa City by the Crews to visit their daughters and the mill.  While it would seem that the Terrell Mill was on the line of the underground railroad and with the Crews in sympathy, likely the business of the underground railroad was at least conducted this way.


“Father has received your letters, and he requested me to write to sister, Sarah, and say to her that as regards her removal he sees no objection to it whether she will settle in a community purely Quaker, that he would advise her if she moved to settle among Quakers.”


-Letter from Izard B Rice to Walter and Sarah Bacon Rice Crew, written 3-13-1847 from South Island plantation Charlotte Co. Va.  The letter is written by Izard for his father, William Rice an elderly man about one year before his death.


“I have no doubt but that you have acted prudently, and wisely in determining to go where slavery does not exist amongst members of your own Society.”


-Letter from Izard B.Rice to his brother –in-law, Walter Crew 1-8-1849     



To the Terrell Mill in Iowa City many pioneers came.  They came from the surrounding country and over 100 miles with their ox teams and wagons loaded with grain to be ground.  The author was told by Ross Reece of New Providence that his pioneer grandfather had made several trips from Hardin County down the Iowa River to Terrell's Mill in the early day.


Among the most widely known mills in early Iowa were the Levi Moffatt Mill on the Skunk River at Agusta in Des Moines County, the William Meek and Sons Mill at Bonaparte on the Des Moines River in Van Buren County, and the Walter Terrell Mill on the Iowa River at Iowa City in Johnson County.




Sources of References:


1.         "Our Quaker Friends of Ye Olden Times"

                        Compiled by James Pinkney Bell

                        Published - J. P. Bell Co., LLynchburg, Va. - 1905

2.         "Iowa - Land of Many Mills"

                        Jacob Swisher - 1940

                        Published - State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa

3.         "The Old Stone Capitol Remembers"

                        Benj. F. Shambaugh - 1939

                        Published - State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa

4.         Lewis D. Savage Family Historical Collection

                        Vol. 1 - The Crew Family - Letters and Papers

5.         "Harnessing the River"

                        State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa

6.         "History Flowed Past University of Iowa Dorm" - Art 798 - 4-27-1991

                        Published - State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa

7.         Picture - Walter Terrell

                        Published - State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa

8.         Picture - Walter Terrell Mill at Iowa City

                        "Iowa - Land of Many Mills" - pg. 158

                                    Published - State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa

9.         Picture - Walter Terrell Mansion in Iowa City

                        Lewis D. Savage private collection