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Angels of Freedom

This introduction and references come from the book Angels of Freedom, researched and written by Martha Parker, the museum's founder.

One-by-one or as whole families, free staters came to the Wakarusa Valley from Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Iowa after the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. They may have come for free land or to make Kansas a free state. Those who settled in and around the Wakarusa Valley were predominantly anti-slavery men and fought along with those they were trying to free from bondage.

Some of the early white settlers expressed their view on slavery in letters, books or oral testimony to their children and grandchildren.

Some divulged their Underground Railroad activities. Others expressed anti-slavery sentiments but did not go so far as to state they were involved in the Underground Railroad. The degree of involvement varied. Some served as actual "conductors" while others as friends of those trying to escape.


In 1855 Joseph Gardner made a calculated choice to stake a homestead in Kansas so he could support the free state movement. By late 1856 his cabin was ready for his wife Sarah, and five children at the time, to join him from Indiana.

Joseph put his heart and soul into the anti-slavery movement. In late 1859, he traveled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to join a group of men planning to rescue John Brown. Brown refused their help so the men returned home.

In March 1861, Joseph left Kansas and walked to see Abraham Lincoln inaugurated as president of the United States. The round trip took six weeks, and it marked the fifth or sixth time that Joseph left Sarah behind with their young family.

While a First Lieutenant in the First Regiment Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry, Company F, Joseph led a detachment of 225 men into battle on October 28, 1862. The conflict was named the Battle of Island Mound. Surprised by 500 confederate soldiers, this marked the first combat engagement of black troops in the Civil War. After a sharp skirmish, the 1st Kansas colored infantry drove off the enemy, taking 22 casualties (ten dead and twelve wounded) of which one was Joseph Gardner. He fell, shot in the thigh and knee by a heavy load of buckshot. While incapacitated, an enemy soldier attempted to finish him with a shot to the head. The ball entered and exited his skull but miraculously Joseph recovered and rejoined his command.

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Joseph Gardner

1820 - 1863



Joseph Gardner was one of nine men chosen by Maj. James Abbott for a special operations team that led to a dramatic rescue of Dr. John Doy from a Missouri jail. Dr. Doy had been captured by pro-slavery men while transporting thirteen fugitive slaves to Holton, Kansas. A very elaborate scheme was drawn up on how to instigate the jailbreak. Adjustments as needed, quickly remedied mishaps along the way.

The weekend rescue in July 1859 was brilliantly executed. Joseph Gardner and another man's role was to escort a handcuffed "horse thief" into the jail then convince the jailer to accept him. Their acting skills worked well. The two men and the "horse thief" freed Dr. Doy and they fled with the rest of the team.


When the rescue party arrived in Lawrence on Monday, July 25th, the streets were lined with cheering citizens.


Dr. John Doy and the men who rescued him from a Missouri jail in 1959. Joseph Gardner is standing 4th from the left. 



Since Joseph Gardner's anti-slavery beliefs brought him to Kansas, it is no surprise that his cabin, located near the Washington Creek, became a station for the purpose of moving runaway slaves from the South to northern states and on to Canada.

His same convictions also gave rise to his openly hiring of former runaways and paying them wages. This act of kindness infuriated pro-slavery neighbors and a bounty of $500 was offered as a reward for his capture.

It was in this cabin that Joseph Gardner and his family prepared for a raid that they got forewarned about. A former runaway, Napoleon Simpson, and a second young African American who were both employed by Joseph joined in protecting the cabin. On June 9, 1860, a little after midnight, there was a knock at the door, followed by "Damn you, open the door."

Much to the surprise of the intruders, Joseph, his son and Napoleon were prepared for gunfire. While the Gardners successfully defended the cabin, a most unfortunate incident happened.

Napoleon Simpson was mortally wounded. As he lay dying on the front stoop of the cabin, Joseph asked what he could do for him and Napoleon replied, "Fight, fight hard." 

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Joseph Gardner's cabin sat on a ridge overlooking the Washington Creek valley.



Dr. Eliab G. Macy espoused the cause of freedom and was forever an advocate for the oppressed. He freely contributed his means for their relief.

He settled in the Bloomington area in 1855 and influenced his first cousin Joseph Gardner to join in the free state cause.

He was to be a candidate for the House of Representatives in 1855, but Missourian border ruffians created chaos and confiscated the voting ballots at the Bloomington precinct. They proceeded to cast illegal ballots and elected a pro-slavery representative.

His great grandson stated in a letter that Eliab was active in the Underground Railroad. A resident that later lived near the Macy cabin ruins said they could see a fireplace with cooking utensils visible in the basement foundation. They had been told that freedom seekers were often fed there.

Following the Quantrill Raid of Lawrence in 1863, a small band of raiders traveled toward Bloomington in search of James Lane. While they did not find Lane, they did torch and burn two cabins belonging to Dr Eliab and Rachel Macy because of his well known abolitionist stance.

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Dr. Eliab G. Macy

1817 - 1897


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