The following sketch was furnished by one who was personally engaged with others in operating the underground railroad through Clinton County:

At the present time, hundreds of our intelligent citizens are ignorant of the significance or meaning of the term prefix to this chapter. It is a strange thing, indeed, where subjects of interesting and thrilling narrative are so much in demand as that the present, that the history of the Underground Railroad remains yet to be fully recorded. The incidence connected therewith, and the results ultimately accruing from the operation of that secret yet powerful organization, so closely interwoven with the vital interests of universal liberty in America, surely furnish a rich field in which to delve for genuine material with which to adorn the historic page. To thrill the heart and quicken the pulse of the eager student of the grand progressive moment of human liberty in the past, hairbreadth escapes, perilous journeys by land and water, incredible human sufferings, and all the various phases of misery incidental to an outrage and downtrodden people fleeing from an unjust bondage, are not wanting to format wants one of the most interesting chapters of the nation's history.

At the time of which we write, embracing several years previous to the breaking-out of our Civil War, a sad and disgraceful state of affairs prevailed with respect to the question of human slavery in the south. It was truly said by a celebrated writer of that time, that "the pulpit is muzzled, it cannot speak; the press is fettered, it cannot move; the right arm of the law is manacled, it cannot stretch forth to maintain its own authority and supremacy!" From the pulpit came no warning note of impeding national danger, or words of sympathy for the flying fugitive. The bolstered free press of the North avoided the antislavery question and the Underground Railroad as unclean things, and branded their advocates and adherents as wild fanatics and dangerous agitators. Notwithstanding this disheartening condition of affairs, the managers of the Underground Railroad, in the meantime, conscious of the justice and nobility of their aims and objects, and regardless of the obloquy in social ostracism leveled at them by even those who should have been their friends, continued to pursue the very uneven tenor of their way; enduring abuse, vituperation and shame, besides subjecting themselves to the liability of having a heavy fine and imprisonment imposed upon them by an unjust law, in order that the higher law of love and mercy might be practiced and maintained, and that their enslaved fellows might be enabled to realize, though in a distant country, that liberty which they themselves enjoyed.

In order to show the condition of public sentiment with regard to the antislavery question in Clinton County, as elsewhere, the following incident will speak for itself. Mr. A. T. Foss, agent of the Massachusetts Antislavery Society, came to this county for the purpose of delivering a series of lectures, circulating antislavery tracts, papers, etc., and to create a better feeling for the cause in which he was engaged. After having lectured several times and Clinton, under, we are sorry to say, very discouraging circumstances, it was decided by the friends here that he should deliver one lecture in the thriving little town of Camanche, in hopes that a little antislavery leaven buried there might, perchance, leaven the whole Clinton county lump. Handbills were accordingly struck, and posted, and the Baptist Church there engaged for the meeting. After all necessary preparations have been perfected, Mr. Foss accompanied by Mr. Andrew Bather, a resident of Clinton, proceeded in a buggy hired for the occasion to that enterprising burg. Upon arriving, their astonishment and chagrin may be imagined when, although fully time for the commencement of the lecture, not a light was visible in the church or any signs of anyone about the door who cared particularly about seeing one. Of course the sexton was immediately interview but with indifferent results, as he told them he didn't intend to open and light the church for a d---d Abolition lecture, not if he knew himself, and he rather thought he did. Somewhat disheartening, they preceded to the hotel in hopes of finding parties there willing to assist in procuring a room and an audience to listen to the lecture. Their reception was decidedly warm -- warmer in fact, than was at all comfortable. No sooner was the object of their visit made known than threats of personal violence were freely made, and a good deal of loud and angry talk indulged in and the expense of our two reformers. Judging from the burden of the uproar, tar and feathers seem to be very important commodities in Camanche just then. As might be expected, our heroes "stood not on the order of they're going," but whet, glad to escape with a whole skin and unbroken bones.

Among the inhabitants of Clinton County, but very few were found willing to engage in the dangerous work of assisting in operating the Underground Railroad. Some there were who favored the idea of immediate and unconditional emancipation, and aided, by pecuniary means, in keeping the rolling-stock in motion; but few, very few indeed could be found with the disposition or the necessary courage to stand by the throttle or conduct the trains. Of the latter class, we recognize as the principal agent in the work, not only in the State of Iowa, but in every locality where their co-operation could be of any avail, the Quakers, or Society of Friends, one community of which sect was located near West Branch, Cedar Co., Iowa. Agents from this number were constantly on the alert, principally operating in the State of Missouri, running off, as opportunity offered, all the fugitive slaves they could find into this State. Such were picked up by one section of the road at DeWitt, pushed through, chiefly at night, too Low Moor, thence to Clinton, at which place they were generally kept for a few days, to rest and refresh themselves, then taken across the river in a skiff, and afterwards transported in a wagon to Union Grove, Whiteside Co., Ill. From the latter place, they were conducted by similar stages, until Lake Michigan was reached, where, at several ports, agents of the underground took charge of and secreted them until a friendly sailing-master appeared to take the weary fugitive on his last stage to a land of liberty.

The following is a partial list of names of parties engaged on the "underground" in Clinton County: in DeWitt, Capt. Burdette, Judge Graham and Mrs. J. D. Stillman; in Low Moor, George W. Weston, Abel B. Gleason, B. R. Palmer, J. B. Jones, Lawrence Mix and Nelson Olin; in Clinton, C. B. Campbell, Andrew Bather, J. R. Bather, G. W. Brindell, W. B. Star, T. Savage and H. Leslie. C. B. Campbell, of Clinton George W. Weston, of Low Moor, and Capt. Burdette and Judge Graham, of DeWitt, were, in reality, the prime movers in the enterprise of aiding and assisting, and helping forward such fugitives as were passed over the line. On them devolved the responsibility of having agents promptly at their posts, and of warning such of approaching danger, of procuring the necessary funds, conducting the correspondence, etc.

The following is a sample of the average correspondence:

Mr. C. B. C.:

Low Moor, May 6, 1859.

Dear Sir -- By to-morrow evening's mail, you will receive two volumes of the "Irrepressible Conflict," bound in black. After perusal, please forward, and oblige.

Yours truly, G. W. W.

By the peculiar wording of the correspondence, the receiver of the same obtained a pretty correct idea not only of the number of fugitive slaves coming on the line, but also, very frequently, the age, sex and complexion of the same.

The slaves were generally carried from one station to another in the nighttime, dark, cloudy nights being preferred -- stations being from 10 to 15 miles apart. Some of the hunted race that passed through this county, however, were so white as to require but little necessity for secrecy or concealment; such were easily cared for, and proceeded on their journey without much trouble. In one instance, two, a man and his wife, were being concealed in Mr. Bathers garrett. A message was received from DeWitt that the slave catchers were in hot pursuit. That garrett being a rather suspected placing Clinton, in the eyes of the United States Marshal, it was thought advisable to have a "flitting" as soon as possible. Mr. Andrew Bather accordingly procured a covered family heritage, belonging to Mr. H. P. Stanley, and conveyed them to Lyons, preceded by Mr. C. B. Campbell, who in the meantime, had hired a skiff at a rather stiff price, and took them across the river. This was on Sunday forenoon, and the river full of ice. The woman had such a fair complexion that she could and did with perfect impunity represent herself as a free person and the owner of her own husband. Their passage over the river was a slow, tedious and very dangerous one on account of the moving ice, but they finally succeeded in reaching the other side in safety. Did the limits of the chapter permit, many similar instances might be described as having actually occurred.

In the city of Clinton, within a stone's-throw of the U.S. Marshal's residence, time and again were fugitive slaves concealed for days together. In the garret of a small frame building, near the corner of Sixth avenue and Second street, the residence at that time of C. B. Campbell, frequently were secreted large numbers of passengers by the underground railroad, waiting eagerly and nervously for the starting of the next train. Sometimes, for a change, they were kept for a few days in a cave used as a kind of cellar, in the garden belonging to J. R. and A. Bather, or in the garret of their house occasionally, the friends of the "underground" would meet by appointment at the home of Mr. Campbell, or some other rendezvous where the "chattels" were stored and waiting a favorable opportunity for shipment, to listen to their sad and eventful experiences -- the manner of their escape, the sufferings they endured previous to striking the Underground Railroad, and to infuse new zeal and courage into their ofttimes seeking hearts against the trials and dangers, suffering and fatigue yet in store for them ere the end of their toilsome journeys should be reached. Many a sympathetic tear was shed by the friends of the Anti-slavery cause on occasions like these -- occasions which but added fresh fuel to the fire of liberty burning steadily in their hearts. 

Among the last of the fugitives that passed through Clinton County, just before the war broke out, was a party which consisted of nine persons in all comprising a man and his wife and their four children and three men. Twice, already, had the first mentioned member of the little band and made the attempt to free the wife he loved, and had been unsuccessful. His third account had been successful to this point, and, judging from the determined air he wore, and the fact that he was thoroughly armed, the officials of the Underground Railroad thought that it would be rather an unhealthy piece of business for anyone to attempt to hinder him on the balance of his journey. After very brief sojourn in Clinton, the entire party were safely ferried over the Mississippi and carried on their way rejoicing.

That is, of course, but a brief outline of the history of the Underground Railroad in Clinton County. Enough, however, we hope, may be gleaned from its perusal to give the readers some idea of its character and operations. Some of its stockholders have passed over to the other side, the rolling-stock and fixtures have long since disappeared. Only one tie remains -- the historic tie which binds to pass to the present.

SOURCE: Allen, L. P., History of Clinton County, Iowa, Containing A History of the County, it's Cities, Towns, Etc. and Biographical Sketches of Citizens, War Record of it's Volunteers in the late Rebellion, General and Local Statistics, Portraits of Early Settlers and Prominent Men, History of the Northwest, History of Iowa, Map of Clinton County, Constitution of the United States, Miscellaneous Matters, &c, &c., Illustrated. Chicago IL; Western Historical Company, 1879




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