Documented Case of Slaves Captured Near Salem, Iowa
(No documentation found, that any slaves were ever captured, when hidden in the safe houses {depots} of Salem.)

Thursday June 1, 1848, 9 slaves (5 adults and 4 children) left Ruel Daggs farm near Luray, Clark County, Northeast corner of Missouri. They were on their way to freedom. Their road to freedom leads them first to Richard Liggon’s isolated farmhouse. He was a former slave owner and had a free mulatto (yellow skinned) widowed woman and children in the house. Due to rain, Richard waited to take them to the Des Moines River until Friday evening. The run-away slaves made a makeshift raft and they crossed the river hiding and waiting for transportation to Salem, Iowa. Sunday June 4th William Daggs, son of Ruel left Samuel Slaughter and James McClure to find his run-away slaves. These two men found fresh wagon tracks and followed these tracks towards Salem. About 3-4 miles from Salem they found a wagon with a cover and chased it. About one half mile from Salem, the wagon turned into a brushy densely wooded area. When Slaughter caught up, three young men were with the wagon. Everyone went into town and the next day McClure and Slaughter found the runaways near the spot where the wagon had stopped. Local men intervened and forced the slave catchers to take the run-away slaves into Salem. Nelson Gibbs was the Justice of the Peace, at the stone house, built by Henderson Lewelling. An old lady came out of the house and provided bread for some of the slaves. Justice Gibbs moved proceedings from the stone house to the anti-slavery meeting house due to the crowd.

Since the slave catchers did not have proper papers to take the run-away slaves back, the slaves were released and they went in all directions. Five escaped and four were re-captured. Annals of Iowa, Volume VI, No. 1, April 1903, "An Iowa Fugitive Slave Case-1850", page 39, "Jonathan Pickering resides near Salem, was not present at the time mentioned. Was informed by his brother, John Pickering, one of the defendants, that a few days previous to the day on which the negroes were brought to Salem, he had hired his horses to Eli Jessup to put them in some carriage to take a Methodist preacher to Farmington, on the Des Moines, and that he complained that the horses were not brought back at the time agreed upon by Jessup and himself. When they were brought back, they were attached to a wagon; but to whom it belonged, witness did not know. That he, witness, charged John Pickering with sending his team to carry off those negroes, which defendant denied. That Comer also denied knowing where the negroes were, only that he knew they were not in Henry county."

We continue the story as told in the trial. From Annals of Iowa, Volume VI, No. 1, April 1903, "An Iowa Fugitive Slave Case-1850"

Trial takes place June 1850, federal court in Burlington, Iowa Page 9-10 "GEORGE DAGGS sworn. Direct examination by Mr. Eorer. Is the son of the plaintiff, Ruel Daggs, who has resided in Clark county, Missouri, for the last twelve or fourteen years, and was and still is, the owner of slaves. About the 2nd of June, 1848, nine of them made their escape. Sam, a black man, aged 40 or 45 years; Walker, 22 or 23, a yellow man; Dorcas, Sam's wife; Mary, Walker's wife; Julia, 18 years old; Martha, under 10; William, a small boy; and two younger children, names not remembered. The men worth $900 to $1000 each; the three women, $600 or $700" each; Martha from $250 to $300; William about $200. Unable to say what was the value of the two children. The services of the men valued at about $100 per year; of the women, $45 or $50; Martha's, her victuals and clothes. Dorcas, Julia, and the two children were returned shortly afterwards, but were absent more than a week. Exact time of their absence not remembered. Saw no money paid for recapturing them, and has no personal knowledge of money being paid for that purpose. Was at home in adjoining county at the time of the escape." Page 11, ALBERT BUTTON sworn. (Became Nelson Gibbs father-in-law in 1849) "In June, 1848, resided in Salem, Iowa, Henry county, Iowa. In the early part of that month saw a negro man and boy there. There was a crowd at the stone house which afterwards went to the Friends' Meeting house. The negroes went along -- went there myself. Did not see Elihu Frazier or John Pickering there. Saw Mr. McClure there. Had heard before, that some one from Missouri was there in search of slaves. Was not in the crowd as it went to the meeting house. Don't know its intention in going, except from what I was told by some persons present. Some were mostly by the women for the benefit of the negroes. There seemed to be no dispute as to going to the meeting house. Went up with Mr. Street. Justice Gibbs was there. The claimants were required to prove the existence of Slavery in Missouri, and that the negroes were slaves, by the justice and myself. Said they had no evidence there were told they might have time to procure it. They were questioned as to their agency, and replied they were not legally agents. There was something said to the effect that they were in a bad scrape and would back out. A man named Brown was one of the claimants. Crowd did not say the negroes should be retained in any event. The negro left the house and I did not see him afterwards. Threats were made to arrest Brown after he had presented a pistol. Have conversed with Street since that time upon the matter. Have heard how the negroes got away from Salem. Don't know who brought them to Salem, whose horse they rode, or whose wagon they came in. Can't say whether the object of the crowd was to prevent the taking of the negroes or to assist it. I should call the man black. He was pretty large. Cross examination. Went to the house as attorney. Nelson Gibbs was the Justice.  Claimants said they had no legal authority to act were in a bad scrape and would back out. Street acted as counsel for the negroes. Was there about thirty minutes. Do not know if they were to take a warrant or not to retain the negroes." Page 12-13, "SAMUEL SLAUGHTER sworn. Saw Wm. Daggs, the son of Ruel Daggs, on Saturday, and was requested to assist him and McClure in finding some slaves he was looking for. He said they had been traced to the Des Moines, near Farmington. Stopped with McClure all night at Mr. Way's. Started towards Salem next morning. Soon noticed a fresh wagon track, and followed it for several miles when I came in sight of it. Rode on after it three or four miles. It was driven very fast. Had a top on it. It stopped in the bushes about half a mile from Salem. I rode up and found three young men in it rode into Salem with them. The driver was called Anderson or Andrews. About an hour afterwards McClure came up. Next morning we rode round the bushes a little, and finally went to the place where I overtook the wagon. Within a short distance we found a black man, a yellow man, three women and four children. We took possession of them. ..." Page 14, "Found the negroes half a mile south of Salem, about 200 yards to the right of the road. There were two men, three women and four children. Were in the road when I got back from Salem with Brown and Cook. Had not moved exactly towards Salem. Was detained in the road 15 or 20 minutes. Clarkson and Elihu Frazier were there with others and would not permit me to take the negroes towards Missouri ..."

A deposition was given by Henry Brown that is recorded in the legal maneuverings concerning the trial, but was not allowed by the Judge into the proceedings. One thing Mr. Brown states is that he and the other slave catchers found the Negroes "... in a thicket of hazel bush under and about a large tree near Doctor Siviter’s* after dinner."

(*Dr. Siviter’s land was ½ mile from the edge of town.)


1870 map
Francis Frazier owned land around the cemetery in 1848. He sold land for Friends Cemetery and Anti-Slavery Cemetery.
Thomas Siviter had purchased his land soon after arriving from New York in 1844.

Page 18, "FRANCIS FRAZIER sworn. Lived south of Salem in June, 1848. First saw the negroes at the south-west corner of the grave yard, one-fourth of a mile from Salem, standing in the road. They were there but a few minutes after I got there. Saw no violence. It appeared to be by consent of parties that they went up to the stone house. Stopped because the black man wanted water. Some bread was given him by a woman. ..." From the trial the Salem defendants* were to pay Ruel Daggs $2,900 for Samuel Fulcher, John Walker, Mary Walker and two children. Per page 39 of Annals of Iowa, "An Iowa Fugitive Slave Case-1850", the four captured and returned to Missouri were Dorcas and Julia Fulcher, Martha and William.

*Page 44, we see that those found guilty were Elihu and Clarkson Frazier, John Comer, Paul Way, John Pickering and William Johnson. Rest of the defendants not guilty. As far as we know the Daggs never collected any money. Actual court record found on this site http://iagenweb.org/history/annals/1903-Apr.htm  

Owen Garretson, wrote in The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Volume 24-1924 TRAVELING ON THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD IN IOWA " ...Ruel Daggs finally realized the difficulty of holding slaves so near the free State of Iowa and contemplated selling his slaves south so that he would be free from the necessity of keeping a constant guard on valuable property. Nothing was more repugnant to the negroes of the border States than the thought of being "sold south" and as soon as the slaves of Mr. Daggs learned that their master was planning to dispose of them in this manner, nine of them—three men, four women, and two children— determined to make an attempt to escape to Iowa before it was too late. The story of the escape and attempted capture of these nine slaves has been told by an educated and intelligent negro named Sam Webster. Webster was born of free parents but was bound to a man by the name of Dick Leggens, whose father had been an extensive slaveholder but had sold his slaves and quit the business. This Dick Leggens was an eccentric character who resided in a dense woods a great distance from any other habitation. With him was the free negro boy, Sam Webster. To this lonely dwelling on Thursday night or Friday morning early in June, 1848, came the nine negroes from the plantation of Ruel Daggs. Without doubt they had been informed that if they could reach Salem, twenty-five miles north of the Missouri border, they would receive assistance. No sooner had they arrived at this home, than a terrific rain set in and they were compelled to stay all the next day and part of the following night. The negro's heart is naturally gay and he seeks amusement. The negro boy, Sam Webster, played the violin, while the fugitives danced to while away the time. Sometime Friday night, the rains having ceased, the negroes started for the north accompanied by their host. On reaching the Des Moines River, however, the stream was found to be so swollen that its passage was difficult and a long delay ensued. Finally, by the assistance of Mr. Leggens, they procured or constructed a raft and successfully passed to the northern shore, not far from the town of Farmington. How the fugitives reached Salem from Farmington is not known, but in all probability they were in touch with sympathizing friends who aided in their transportation. On Monday, following the escape of the negroes, two men, Samuel Slaughter and a Mr. McClure, who were searching for the negroes and heading their course toward Salem, saw a covered wagon being driven rapidly several miles ahead of them. They increased their speed and on arriving at the woods, about a mile south of Salem, they found the wagon in the bushes near the roadside, while scattered through the near-by woods were the supposed slaves of Ruel Daggs. The horses hitched to this wagon were the property of John Pickering, an active worker in the antislavery cause, and the team was driven by Jonathan Frazier, a son of Thomas Frazier, the noted pioneer preacher and leader of the anti-slavery Friends of Iowa...."

Summarized by Jean Hallowell Leeper July 2010; contributed to Henry County IAGenWeb Mar 2022.

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