IOWA AND JOHN BROWN
When Iowa, in 1803, became a part of the
United States, slavery had already aroused some opposition.
As time went on and the slaves became more profitable in the
South, the dispute over the question grew in importance. It
was but natural, then, that Iowa should be drawn into the
quarrel. Both sides of the question had supporters in Iowa.
Some of the early settlers had come from Southern states and
they favored slavery. The larger number of Iowa pioneers,
however, came from "free" states and were opposed to
slaveholding. So Iowa was a free territory and came into the
Union as a free state, with a constitution that prohibited
THE KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT
In 1854 Congress passed a law whereby the
people of the territories of Kansas and Nebraska would have
the right to decide whether each wanted to come into the Union
as a slave or as a free state. When this became known, people
from both free and slave states rushed to Kansas in order that
they might win that state for their side. There could be but
one result, fighting and bloodshed. The territory became
known as "Bleeding Kansas."
John Brown was born in Connecticut in 1800.
He became a tanner by trade and in 1840 moved to Ohio to
become a wool buyer. Later he moved to New York. He was a
very religious man and had studied to become a minister but
had to give that up because of trouble with his eyes.
In 1855 John Brown started for Kansas. Six
sons had gone there before him. "I went for the purpose of
making Kansas a free state, but my sons went to settle," he
said. One of his sons had been murdered in the bloody war,
one had been driven insane, and two had been dragged about in
chains. After Brown himself arrived in Kansas, his log cabin
was attacked and burned by men who wanted to make Kansas a
slave state. If we remember these experiences of Brown it may
help us to understand his later acts.
The struggle over Kansas was not a pleasant
affair on either side. Many cruel and outrageous things were
done by both parties. Iowa and Missouri people were of course
intensely interested in what was going on so near by, and many
of them took part in it.
Tabor, in southwestern Iowa, played an
important part in the Kansas struggle. It was the last
stopping place on free soil for the parties who were about to
plunge into "Bleeding Kansas." Eastern people who were
opposed to slavery sent arms and ammunition to Tabor to help
equip those who were willing to risk their lives in their
effort to make Kansas a free state.
It is said that Tabor at times looked like an
armed camp. As many as two hundred men, heavily armed, were
seen drilling in the town's "square." Many wounded were
brought to Tabor from Kansas and the place became both a
storehouse for arms and a hospital for free-state sufferers of
Kansas. John Brown visited Tabor several times as he
traveled across Iowa and had many friends there.
ON TO CANADA
About Christmas time, 1858, a slave from
Missouri slipped into Brown's camp in Kansas and told him that
he and his family, as well as several others, were soon to be
separated and sold in the South. He asked for help. That
night a part of Brown's men made a raid into Missouri where
they took eleven slaves and a number of horses. One slave
owner was killed. Brown said he took the horses as pay for
the work which the slaves had done.
Brown and his men hurriedly started for Canada
with the Negroes. When they reached Tabor, the people there,
after hearing what had been done, hurried the group on its
way. At Grinnell Brown's party received a welcome and were
given an opportunity to rest. When they reached West Liberty
a freight car was secured. Brown's men and the slaves were
loaded into the car, and it was attached to a passenger train
that was bound for Chicago. All were soon in Canada.
The Quakers, or Friends, who lived at
Springdale, a small place near West Branch in Cedar County,
were very much opposed to slavery. A station of the
Underground Railroad is supposed to have been located there.
John Brown always received a hearty welcome at Springdale,
and it was there that he and his companions went to spend the
rest of the winter after they returned from Canada.
Brown now began to prepare for war. The
Quakers at Springdale, though opposed to slavery, were not in
favor of taking up arms. Brown made his headquarters at the
farm home of William Maxson, at the edge of Springdale. Maxson
was not a Quaker but offered unbounded hospitality and gave
freely to his money. "God be blessed," he said; "I have a
chance to serve my county, and aid in the Negro jubilee."
Some of the group stayed at other homes.
During the winter the men trained regularly.
John Brown himself took charge of a devotional service each
day. The group of men became well acquainted with the
residents of Springdale and vicinity. It was but natural that
some of the young men of the community should become
interested in Brown's plans, and join his party. Two of them,
the Coppock brothers, Edwin and Barclay, followed him to the
end of his venture.
There was more or less warfare of this kind in
Kansas for five years. Finally the free-state party won.
The story of Brown and his party at Harper's
Ferry is told in United States history. Our interest in that
story is about the Iowa boys that were in it. Edwin Coppock
was captured with Brown at Harper's Ferry and hanged alongside
of his leader.
Barclay Coppock escaped and, after weeks of
wandering and hiding, returned to Springdale, to his mother,
who had been very much opposed to having the boys go.
Virginia authorities were after Barclay but his friends
succeeded in getting him on his way to Canada, where he would
be safe. They took him by sleigh to Mechanicsville where he
boarded a train for Chicago.