"The Salem Affair (1848)"

Burlington Hawkeye
June 15, 1848
p. 2-3

As our worthy correspondent was not on the ground and consequently unable to give a full account of the transaction which has caused so much excitement, we feel it due to the citizens of Salem to assert the following, which is gleaned from two old and worthy citizens of that town, who are not identified with the third party. They are men of veracity and we think the facts as they detailed them to us and as we publish them, may be relied on as correct.

On the 4th inst. eight or ten men were seen coming to the town of Salem, by a fishing party who had just left the river, in their wagon. The fishermen, either suspecting who these men were, or for the sake of sport, whipped up their horses as they saw the men approaching them with considerable speed. It afterwards appeared that these 8 or 10 men were Missourians, in pursuit of runaway Negroes, and seeing the wagon they supposed the Negroes might be secreted in it. Their suspicion induced them to give it chase. But the wagon entered town and was out of their sight, before they carried. It seems that the Missourians in this instance were ahead of their game. The Negroes they were pursuing had secreted themselves in the Des Moines timber, about sixteen miles distant from Salem during the drenching rain of Saturday night. What we have thus far related happened we are sorry to say, on Sunday, of last week.

The citizens of Salem were much amazed at the appearance of the Missourian, and much more so when they asserted that the runaways were in town and they were accused of stealing them. The citizens protested that they were ignorant of any runaways being in their midst, and gave the men full opportunity to search the town, which they did in small squads, without success. It was ascertained subsequently that during this time, the Negroes left their hiding place in the Des Moines timber and came over to the Cedar timber, contiguous to town. One of the citizens of Salem by the name of B____ (Brown) volunteered to hunt with the Missourians. They went into the timber and soon found two colored men and one child, whom they brought to the edge of the town. Just as they had arrived at that point, one of the Negro men said he must turn back and find his wife. He was permitted to do so without molestation. They then entered the town with the other negro and his child, for the purpose as they said of having a trial. It was ascertained that no legal process had been issued, and that no evidence could be adduced to identify the negroes. The citizens then told the remaining negro that there was no evidence against him, and that they could not detain him if he was disposed to leave. He then left the room, and as he went behind the house he found a horse, which he mounted with the child in his arms, and started off.

In the meantime it is said that B____ sent word to Farmington and Missouri, stating that they had found the negroes, but that the abolitionists had raised a mob and had taken the negroes from them. This news produced great excitement in Missouri, who soon raised in their own State and on their way through Farmington about one hundred men, who entered Salem on Wednesday in a threatening attitude, armed with guns, pistols and bowie knives__ They took the citizens by surprise and stationed different parties throughout the town to stop all egress. They then threatened to search every house in town. To this the citizens assented, provided they would do it without violence.

After they had made an unsuccessful search__ accompanied by a great amount of severe threatening, they proceeded to arrest, at the instigation of B____, several of the most prominent citizens. Those thus arrested demanded that authority for their incarceration. Having no legal process, their jailers could show none. The citizens thus imprisoned protested against the treatment they were receiving but their complaints were only met by threats and abuses. In one instance one of the Missourians snapped a pistol at an old crippled man, whom they held a prisoner in his own house. In their rounds about the town several of the citizens were most grossly attacked, and guns were presented at them frequently and the most provoking threats were uttered for their not telling where the negroes had gone__ a fact which they protested they did not know.

The citizens, during the affray, had sent to Mount Pleasant for the Sheriff. He arrived on Thursday morning, and finding the Missourians had no legal authority for their action, ordered them to release their prisoners_ ten or fifteen of the most prominent citizens, who had been kept in durance the whole night__and disperse.

The Missourians then left for a little town called Washington, six miles distant, where it is said they visited a grocery and drank up all the liquor they could find. During their visit to this place they threatened to return to Salem, set fire to the town and hang some of the abolitionists, if they did not recover their negroes. They afterwards left for home and it is reported they got into a great quarrel because the owners of the lost negroes refused to give them the five hundred dollars reward, offered for their recovery!

When the news reached Denmark, in Lee county, about forty well armed men started to assist their brethren in Salem, and if the Missourians had returned to carry their threats into execution, they would have met with a warm reception.

Added 04 Apr 2023 courtesy of Doug Hamilton, "Underground Railroad Stories of Southeast Iowa".

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