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Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp




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 slavery.


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.


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.


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