On December 19, 1858, Jim Daniels took his life in his hands and asked an agent of the Underground Railroad for freedom for him, his wife Narcissus, and their children. The next night, John Brown, the radical abolitionist, came to their farmstead in Missouri and killed a slaveowner while liberating the Daniels and nine other slaves. The human cargo constituting an Underground Railroad “Delivery” then crossed into Kansas and, traveling fifteen miles a night in the dead of winter, turned north. They had to maintain complete secrecy at all times as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 compelled federal authorities, even in free territories such as Kansas, to arrest them.
Two weeks into their journey the group stopped when Narcissus went into labor and gave birth. The Daniels named their son Captain John Brown Daniels to honor the man who had freed them. After a week for mom and baby to recover, the group re-started. Tensions were high: not only were they conducting a dozen ex-slaves, but their Conductor was a marked man who had vowed to do anything to break the institution of slavery. John Brown vowed “…there will be no more peace in this land until slavery is done for.” He had already killed half a dozen men during his quest.
They were welcomed into Lawrence at the newly-built Grover Barn by Station Masters Joel and Emily Grover. The Grovers were abolitionists who had been married two years and had already lost a baby. Emily was nineteen and pregnant again when the Railroad “Delivery” arrived at their Station. Imagine the joy and hurt of seeing a new baby while carrying the recent memory of her deceased child and the hope of her child who was not yet born. The group rested at the barn for several days while Brown bought and sold livestock in Lawrence to prepare them for the rest of their journey.
The group made its way north again in late January 1859. After nearly being captured when they were confronted by slave catchers just north of Holton, Kansas, they followed a route Brown had established into Nebraska then turned east to travel across Iowa. At West Liberty, Iowa they were able to secure passage on a train to Chicago and then Detroit. From Detroit they gained their freedom as they crossed into Canada. John Brown then went on to Ohio to finish the preparation for his raid on the U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry Virginia the following October. He hoped to ignite a Civil War that would eradicate slavery. Most of the raiders were killed; John Brown was captured and executed. Of John Brown, Harriet Tubman eulogized “he done more in dying than a hundred men would in living.”
The Grover Barn Underground Railroad Site is a treasure. Thanks to the diligent research of the Guardians of Grover Barn, we know more about this official Underground Railroad site than most. Numerous letters written at the time as well as interviews with family members illustrate the human element. We have the actual building and grounds to frame the story. Walking the grounds and going in the barn itself help us vividly imagine the hopes and fears of the Station Masters, the freed people served, and their infamous Conductor as they struggled against slavery.
Robert C. Dinsdale | LawrenceHistoryTours.com