1857-Ann Clarke Escapes Slavery in the Great Plains

I am in the process of locating relevant sources to examine Ann Clarke’s escape from slavery with a view to examining how the landscape of the Kansas Territory impeded or facilitated her escape. The hope? To illuminate how enslaved freedom seekers and their abolitionist allies circumvented the punitive landscapes within the antebellum Great Plains.


Abolitionists- Dr. Barker, Caroline Scales, John Armstrong(wrote of the account, 1895)“Reminiscences of Slave Days in Kansas”

Topekan John Ritchie, who operated a limestone quarry and participated in two Kansas constitutional conventions, and his wife, Mary Jane, were among their targets.

Northeast of Topeka, Clarina Nichols, a women’s rights advocate and associate editor of the Quindaro Chindowan, an abolitionist newspaper, sheltered escaping slaves at her home in Quindaro, near the Missouri River in Wyandotte County.


Proslavery- George W. Clarke (Ann Clarke’s enslaver)

Absolute Spaces-Lecompton, Lawrence

(Dr. Barker’s House)

429 Quincy St. Topeka- Caroline Scales (Ann Clark was there for six weeks)

Abolitionists  made arrangements to take her to Iowa.

  • Holton

“Armstrong, a prominent figure in establishing the Underground Railroad in 1857 from Topeka to Civil Bend, Iowa, worked hand in hand with Scales and several other Topeka residents to help slaves reach freedom. The network was headquartered in the basement of Constitution Hall, 429 S. Kansas Ave.

Unmarked Places- thick brush near a ravine
Somewhere in Iowa
Somewhere in Canada

Concealment Modes

“When the house was built in 1856, an enormous hogshead that was shipped to Topeka from New Orleans was placed inside its cellar. The hogshead – a cask that could hold several hundred gallons – was used as a hiding place for runaway slaves on their way to the Canadian border.”

  • The cellar inside the Scales house

Transport Modes

Dr. Barker to Topeka (hidden wagon)

closed carriage and team of mules


Jim Lane Trail (lead to Underground Railroad  stop in Holton) Topeka to the Kansas-Nebraska border.


“I suppose I have kept three hundred slaves in the house at 429 Quincy St., all told, and every one of them was taken North and eventually reached Canada,” The Topeka Daily Capital reported Armstrong saying in January 1910.

“One night, soldiers advanced on the Ritchie home in the hope of capturing fugitive slaves, she said. A deputy tried to enter the home by breaking open the door with an ax. But the intruders stopped dead in their tracks – and then left – when they heard the click of sharpshooters on the other side of the door.”


Quindaro Chindowan


1857- Armstrong establishes Underground Railroad network.


Fugitive Slave Act of 1850

1855- “The proslavery Kansas territorial government enacted legislation saying any person who spoke, wrote or printed materials for the purpose of assisting escaped slaves would be found guilty of a felony and sentenced to death. Additionally, those who helped slaves escape their masters would be committing grand larceny and face death or imprisonment with hard labor.”


Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum in Clinton

Historic Ritchie House and Cox Communications Heritage Education Center.

Citation: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/sep/18/secret-network-in-kansas-helped-blacks-escape-slav/



Primary Source

John Armstrong. Reminiscences of Slave Days in Kansas, 1895 https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/display.php?item_id=3475&f=k302227

Articles/Book Chapters

Blackwell Marilyn Schultz. “Meddling in Politics: Clarina Howard Nichols and Antebellum Political Culture.” Journal of the Early Republic 24, no. 1 (2004): 27-63. Accessed August 28, 2020. http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.uncg.edu/stable/4141422.

Burke, Diane Mutti. “Scattered People: THE LONG HISTORY OF FORCED EVICTION IN THE KANSAS–MISSOURI BORDERLANDS.” In Civil War Wests: Testing the Limits of the United States, edited by Arenson Adam and Graybill Andrew R., 71-92. University of California Press, 2015. Accessed August 28, 2020. http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.uncg.edu/stable/10.1525/j.ctt13x1gqn.8.

Epps, Kristen. “The Tide Turns: The Demise of Slavery on the Border, 1857–1861.” In Slavery on the Periphery: The Kansas-Missouri Border in the Antebellum and Civil War Eras, 116-48. ATHENS: University of Georgia Press, 2016. Accessed August 28, 2020. http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.uncg.edu/stable/j.ctt1b18v7r.10.

Jeffrey, Julie Roy. “”THERE IS SOME SPLENDID SCENERY”: WOMEN’S RESPONSES TO THE GREAT PLAINS LANDSCAPE.” Great Plains Quarterly 8, no. 2 (1988): 69-78. Accessed August 28, 2020. http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.uncg.edu/stable/23530765.


Cordier, Mary Hurlbut. Schoolwomen of the Prairies and Plains : Personal Narratives from Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska, 1860s-1920s. Firsted. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992.

Hale, Edward Everett. Kanzas and Nebraska : The History, Geographical and Physical Characteristics, and Political Position of Those Territories, an Account of the Emigrant Aid Companies, and Directions to Emigrants. Slavery and Anti-Slavery: A Transnational Archive. Part 2: Slave Trade in the Atlantic World.

Soike, Lowell J. Necessary Courage : Iowa’s Underground Railroad in the Struggle against Slavery. Iowa and the Midwest Experience. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2013.

Wishart, David J. Encyclopedia of the Great Plains Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.

Web Resources Kansas Historic Trails http://www.vlib.us/old_west/trails.html

featured image is by William C. Reynolds. “Reynolds’s Political Map of the United States Designed to Exhibit the Comparative Area of the Free and Slave States and the Territory open to Slavery or Freedom by the Repeal of the Missouri Compromise with a Comparison of the Principal Statistics of the Free and Slave States, from the Census of 1850”

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