An Attempt to Rescue a Fugitive Slave - 1858
by William G. Cutler (1883)

The following incident is given as illustrative of the attitude of the Free state men of Kansas assumed toward Slavery and the laws designed for its protection. It was in the fall of 1858.


The postoffice at Mound City, Linn County, had been robbed, and Cyrus Shaw, of Paola, was requested by the postmaster at Westport to go down to Mound City with the necessary blanks, affidavits, etc., for the postmaster there to sign in order to satisfy the Department it was a case of robbery. On his way down, when in the northern part of Linn County, he met three Missourians.

As was customary with them in those days, they inquired of him where he was going, and what his business was. Mr. Shaw gave such answers as seemed to him to suit the occasion and at last took a small flask of whisky out of an inside pocket, of which he invited his Missouri friends to partake. Up to this time they suspected Mr. Shaw of being a Free state man, which in fact he was; but at the sight of the whisky they were instantly reassured, and one of them swinging his arm shouted out:"Oh, by G-d, boys, he's all right, he's all right," thus unwittingly paying a handsome compliment to Free-state men. To drink whisky was one of the characteristic virtues of a Border ruffian. They then informed Mr. Shaw of the object of their visit to Kansas. One of them had lost a slave, and the slave was suppose to be near Osawatomie. Mr. Shaw, desirous of closing the interview as early as practicable, assented to the possibility of their surmise being correct, and soon each party was pursuing its respective journey.

The slave-hunting party upon arriving in the neighborhood of Osawatomie, discovered the hiding-place of the fugitive, and informed an old and trusted Missouri friend residing there, of the object of their mission. Suspicion was in some way excited in the minds of the Free-state men as to what that object was. Several members of the Underground Railway Company were immediately notified of the interesting condition of affairs. They promptly rallied their forces, proceeded at once to where the fugitive slave was staying and took him directly to his master at the house of the latter's Missouri friend.

To the great surprise of the master, the slave was brought in and introduced to him. The object of the call and introduction was not, however, for the purpose of surrendering up the fugitive, as the master, his companions from Missouri and his resident Missouri friend very quickly discovered; but it was to inform them in the first place that the Dred Scott decision was null and void in Kansas and that the soil of Kansas should not be made the hunting ground for the slave owner; and in the second place, that the owner of this slave should aid him on his way to Canada instead of taking him back to Missouri.

Accordingly the master was compelled to hand over his former "chattel" his overcoat, undercoat and vest, next his pocket-book, from which about $300 was taken, then he was obliged to exchange his pantaloons for those of the negro and then off came a fine pair of boots, which were also involuntarily exchanged for an old pare the negro had on. The negro was then asked by Captain Snyder, who was in charge of the affairs of the Underground Railway Company just at this time, if there was anything else he would need on his trip to Canada, to which "Washington" replied that his old hat did not correspond well with the rest of his suit, and upon being instructed by his liberators to do so, he selected from the head of one of his pursuers a fine silk stove-pipe hat, which added very much to the dignity of his person.

He was then told to go to the stable and select a horse, saddle and bridle belonging to the slave-hunters, with which he could pursue his journey to Canada with celerity and comfort. Thus equipped, thanking his friends for their timely and kindly assistance, he resumed his journey toward Freedom, while his pursuers, crest-fallen, poorer and much wiser men, retraced their steps to Missouri to relate the story of their wrongs, and to dilate upon the utter disregard of the rights of property manifested by the "jayhawkers" of Kansas.


Many of these pages have used information from Wikipedia as their basis. Other information has been added by site owners as it is found and as time permits . We also invite users to submit info to be added to the site.
Copyright Genuine Kansas 2007