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The Mayhews      ▪ John Henry Kagi      ▪ Mayhew Cabin History 1930 to Today
Slavery: An Education      ▪ Slavery from the 1750s to the 1850s      ▪ The Abolitionist Movement     
The Kansas-Nebraska Act      ▪ Slavery in Nebraska      ▪ The Underground Railroad     
Slavery from the 1850s to the Civil War       ▪ The American Civil War and the End of Slavery

The Mayhews
Allen Barnes Mayhew was born in Bristol Twp, Trumbull Co, Ohio to Holmes Mayhew and Lucretia Woodward on February 11, 1826. His father, Holmes Mayhew, was a clothier by trade and had originally come from Massachusetts, emigrating to Trumbull Co, Ohio in 1822 where they had a large farm.

Barbara Ann Kagy was born in Bristol Twp, Trumbull Co, Ohio to Abraham Neff Kagy and Anna Fansler on January 31, 1833. Her father was trained as a blacksmith and ran a shop in Bristol. Barbara’s mother died in 1838, leaving her to care for her younger sibling’s and her educational opportunities were limited by it. In a letter to a cousin, dated December 7, 1848, she writes, “John goes to school now and so does Mary. Pa wanted me to go this winter but I cannot and do the work too; perhaps I shall go next winter if I live and let Mary stay at home.” She would not get the chance to return to finish her education as she became pregnant within the next couple of months and married Allen Barnes Mayhew on May 9, 1849. Their first child, Edward, was born in Bristol, Twp, Trumbull Co, Ohio on September 21, 1849. A second son, Henry Kagy Mayhew, was born in January 1852.          

Allen and Barbara Mayhew migrated to the Nebraska City area from Trumbull County, Ohio, with their two sons in the spring of 1854. John Wallace Pearman noted that Allen Mayhew was one of the “chainmen” on the surveying crew for Nebraska City Town Company on July 10, 1854. The Mayhew family is also recorded in the first territorial census for Nebraska taken on November 20, 1854 as living on government land near Ft. Kearny, Otoe County, Nebraska Territory.
Allen Mayhew had made a claim on 160 acres of land just southwest of Old Fort Kearney (Nebraska City) and built a cabin out of cottonwood logs on the northeast corner of his claim, likely with help from his brother-in-law, John Henry Kagy. In the original pre-emption application found in the National Archives, Washington, D.C. is an affidavit which outlined the specific dates of construction. This affidavit states that “the claimant on or about the 15th of July 1855 in person made settlement on the south west quarter sec 8 township 8 north range 14 east by laying a foundation for a dwelling house. Since which time he has erected a dwelling house on said tract into which he moved with his family on 29th August 1855.” The statement goes on to describe the house in great detail and the land in cultivation as quoted in the previous section.

Allen & Barbara Mayhew remained in Nebraska City at their cabin and had six more children. Their only daughter, born in 1854 or 55, Charles was born in July 1856, Thomas born on January 31, 1858, twin boys, originally named John Hannibal and James Hershel, born in April 1860, and Albert Allen born in May 1862. The daughter died in infancy and one of the twin boys died young with the second twin thereafter going by the name Hannibal Hershel. Allen Mayhew farmed several acres near the cabin, harvested grapes and made wine, produced homemade brooms for sale and also worked as a cooper. Allen left Nebraska in 1862, heading for the Snake River Valley in the northwest. He reached Salt Lake City and stayed for the winter, but fell ill and died there on December 1, 1862. The news did not reach his wife for several months.

On April 15, 1864, Barbara Mayhew filed a petition in the local court to settle her husband’s estate. She moved her children into another cabin located on one of the city lots which her husband had purchased in 1858. The original quarter section (minus the ten acres given to the city for Wyuka Cemetery) containing the 1855 Mayhew cabin was sold to Jerome Lathrop on October 21, 1864 for $2500. The cabin was used by the various owners as a rental property until well into the 20th century. Barbara’s father bought the city lots from the estate and sold them off, lot by lot, over the next several years.

Barbara remarried on February 27, 1865 to Calvin Bradway and moved to his home in Red Oak, Iowa. Her father was appointed administrator of Allen Mayhew’s estate upon her remarriage and finalized the administration in November 1865, giving Barbara $649.14 as her widow’s third and the balance of $1298.28 to her remaining children. Barbara and Calvin Bradway had three more children, losing a daughter and adopting another son before Bradway was shot and Barbara widowed a second time in 1869. Barbara then moved to her father’s home southeast of town in the Camp Creek area. She died at the age of nearly 49, on January 22, 1882, and is buried in Camp Creek cemetery, located two miles from her father’s homestead along with her sister Mary, who died in 1869. Three of her surviving sons eventually moved to western Kansas in the mid 1880s along with her father.          

John Henry Kagi was born in Bristol Twp, Trumbull Co, Ohio on March 15, 1835, but having lost his mother at the age of three, was bounced around to live with relatives for much of his young life. He had received a basic education in the local schools and then taught in Trumbull County for a year or two. Kagy then served as a teacher in Virginia in the winter of 1854-55, but was forced to resign his post for political reasons. His cousin Joel Kagy explained in a letter to another family member that it was because “he tried to put bad feelings in the darkies around here towards their Masters, and that if My Father had not talked to John J. Allen and the other men who had Slaves, they would have arrested him, but through Father’s influence they let him go back to Ohio with a promise never to come back here again.” After a brief visit to his hometown in Ohio, John traveled to Nebraska via Cincinnati & St. Louis.

John Henry Kagy (he used the Kagi spelling) lived in the cabin with his sister’s family for a little over a year and spent his time teaching Phonography, an early form of Phonetics. Kagy moved to Kansas Territory to serve as a newspaper correspondent in the summer of 1856, writing for the New York Tribune and the National Era. It was here that Kagy met John Brown and enlisted in Company B 2nd Reg’t, Kansas Volunteer Army. He found a kindred spirit in John Brown and eventually became the Secretary of War in Brown’s “Provisional Government.” The Kagy families’ views on slavery and John Henry’s newly formed association with Brown is likely the reason that his sister’s farm was first used as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The Mayhews were never punished by authorities for helping the slaves, but Kagy was nearly arrested while visiting his sister in the winter of 1859 during the last trip through Nebraska City with fugitive slaves. He wrote to a friend to tell him of the incident after they were safely across the border into Iowa.

“We are here with the fugitives. After I joined J.B. we started north. The posse thought we were going to attack them in their quarters, and took to the crossing of Spring Creek & hitched horses. We came on and they left, and took up another position, and still another. Finally, finding that we still came on in utter disregard of them, they broke and ran for MO. We caught five of them and took from them their horses and revolvers and kept the men until the next day. They thought there had been advantages on both sides – we getting some good horses and arms, and they some valuable experience. The N. Dept Marshall was I.N.O.P. (&c) Wood one of our men chased six of them 8 m. towards Atchinson. The Dept Marshal for S. Nebraska with a small posse attempted to take me at Neb. City, when alone at my sisters, but couldn’t do it. While he was raising a larger posse, I escaped.”

Exactly how many slaves passed through the Mayhew’s homestead is unknown. Edward Mayhew, eldest son of Allen and Barbara, wrote “…there was a negro woman stayed at the house one night on her way North, she and the ones instrumental in bringing her there had been directed by John Kagy. At another time Kagy brought fourteen (14) negroes there for breakfast one morning.” Edward claims to have not known of any negroes having stayed in the cave, but the general air of secrecy and his age at the time (he was only ten in 1859) may simply be the reason for his lack of direct memory on that specific account.

However, his first hand remembrance of Kagy bringing negroes to the cabin coincides with events depicted by other individuals as well. The affidavit given by Calvin Chapman describes his participation in the Underground Railroad, “I came out to Nebraska City, Nebraska in 1859, when I was a little over sixteen years old. It was in the fall of that year, that I drove my brother Thomas’ wagon with negroes from the Black Den (that’s what they called it) near South Table Creek, about where the log house still stands, north of the cemetery, to Lick Skillet over in Iowa, near where the settlement of Knox now is.” Chapman claims to have made at least ten of these trips always getting the word from his brother, Thomas Chapman, a United Brethren minister, when to pick up his human cargo at the Mayhew cave and ferry then across to the next site. Although Chapman was nearly eighty-two when he signed this affidavit, his story varies little from similar accounts.

John Henry Kagy continued his abolitionist activities and later that year, he helped John Brown orchestrate and carry out the raid of the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, aimed at obtaining weapons for a slave uprising. Kagy was shot to death during the raid on October 17, 1859 at the age of just 24.          

Cabin History 1930 to Today
Until it was opened to the public, the Mayhew Cabin was nearly always used as a residence. In 1937, the Nebraska State Department of Roads began surveying for a new highway 2 from Lincoln to Nebraska City. The original survey book laid out the center of this new highway within 15 feet of the Mayhew cabin that was then owned by Edward Bartling. In order to save what he felt was a historic piece of Nebraska City; Bartling proceeded to move the cabin back off the proposed roadway. Removing all of the siding and additions that had been added to the cabin over the years, Bartling rolled the cabin straight north approximately 25 feet, maintaining its original longitude and orientation. The cabin was set upon a new foundation cellar that had been lined with the original foundation stones. Seeing the possible attraction for this well known site, he opened it up in 1938 as a tourist location and proceeded to recreate the famous cave with which it had been associated. Most of the information Bartling used for his attraction and subsequent book on the cabin came from old newspaper articles, neighborhood stories, and some county records.
In 1959 the cabin, cave and park property was purchased from the Bartling estate by the George Rowe family.
Larry Shepard owned and operated the site until 2001 when he donated the cabin and grounds to the Mayhew Cabin Foundation.
In 2001, when the non-profit Mayhew Cabin Foundation was formed, nearly all portions of the building had reached critical stages of deterioration. Despite the attempts made by previous owners to preserve the building, the cabin was literally crumbling.

In June of 2005, thanks to contributions from the National Park Service and the Nelson Family Foundation, the process of saving the cabin began. The roof was reshingled and the interior and exterior of the structure were systematically and painstakingly restored. One of the most notable changes was the loft floor being replaced with native cottonwood and installed at its original height.

With the restoration complete, visitors now feel they are walking into the cabin right after the Mayhews moved in 150 years ago.          

Slavery: An Education
Slavery is the practice of keeping people in servitude against their will and owning them as property. This practice began in the United States while it was still an English Colony. The earliest account of African slaves dates from 1619 in the colony of Jamestown, Virginia, where 21 slaves were sold to the colonists by Dutch traders. Two of these slaves were named Isabella and Antoney, who later given birth to a slave boy named William. This "William Tucker" is considered to be the first African American born in North America.
During the British colonial period, slaves were used extensively in the Southern colonies and, to a lesser degree, in the North. Early on, the slaves were most useful in the growing of indigo, rice, and tobacco and it was clear that slaves were the most economically viable labor force for plantation-style agriculture. Southern landowners began to grow increasingly dependent on slave labor for their livelihood, and the legislature responded accordingly by implementing stricter regulations on these practices, known as the Slave Codes.           

Slavery from the 1750s to the 1850s
Some of the British colonies began placing restrictions on the practice of slavery; others banned it completely, such as Rhode Island in 1774. The practice was opposed by many on moral and religious grounds, and there was a steady decline in the use of slave labor during the late 18th century. But the economic value of plantation slavery was revived in 1793 when Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a device designed to separate cotton fibers from the seedpods. The machine revolutionized the cotton industry by increasing the amount of cotton that could be processed.

Just as demand for slaves was increasing, the supply of new slaves into the US was restricted. On January 1, 1808, Congress banned any further importation of human property into America. However, this legislation had only limited effect as slavery in America had already become more or less self-sustaining. The overland 'slave trade' from Virginia and the Carolinas to Georgia, Alabama, and Texas continued for another half-century.

Historical records indicate that extremely cruel and negligent slave owners existed alongside kinder slave owners. These kinder slave owners provided materially for their slaves and were less inclined to “use the whip,” but nonetheless denied their slaves the basic rights enjoyed by free people. Not-so-kind slave owners raped black women and children, chopped off the limbs of slaves who tried to run away, and whipped disobedient slave mercilessly. In many households, treatment of slaves varied with the slave's skin color. Darker-skinned slaves worked in the fields, while lighter-skinned slaves or "house negroes" were made to work in the house and had better provisions.           

The Abolitionist Movement
During the first half of the 19th century, a movement to end slavery, called abolitionism, grew in strength throughout the United States. This movement began largely in the Northern states with groups such as the Quakers. There were several types of these reform movements. Some wanted to ship the slaves back to Africa and settle them in a new homeland there; a movement of this type led to the foundation of the modern-day nation of Liberia. Others wanted to simply end the practice of slavery, leaving free blacks in the United States. Some abolitionists, such as John Brown, favored the use of armed force to instigate uprisings amongst the slaves, while others preferred to use the legal system.

The divide between a free North and an enslaved South launched a geographic, cultural, and economic struggle over the next two generations, culminating in the American Civil War. Abolitionists and the slaves themselves were the fiercest combatants against an array of planters in the South. Slaveholders exerted power through the Federal Government and the Federal Fugitive slave laws. The three-fifths compromise counted each slave as three-fifths of a person to determine legislative representation. However, anti-slavery Democratic-Republicans, Whigs, and Free Soilers still achieved nominal successes in advocating an end to slavery's expansion into the West, especially during and after the Mexican War of 1846-48.

Abolitionists clashed with slave-owners numerous times throughout the century. The first effort to mediate the two was known as the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which limited slavery to the areas south of the 36 30 latitude line. In an attempt to make sure that the two interests were balanced in the United States Senate, the legislature allowed Missouri to enter the union as a slave state and Maine as a free state.           

The Kansas-Nebraska Act
President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act into law on May 30, 1854. The Act passed by the United States Congress had a profound impact on American history than the immediate creation of the territories of Nebraska and Kansas. It allowed for the settlement of the Great Plains and abandoned the idea of a “permanent Indian frontier.” It paved the way for the first Transcontinental Railroad, and later that same route was used for the first transcontinental highway and Interstate 80. However the biggest issue associated with the Act was slavery.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act left the Missouri Compromise “null and void.” The Missouri Compromise admitted Missouri as slave state and Maine as a free state in 1820. It also banned slavery from the territories north of the 36° 30´ parallel, Missouri’s southern border. The new law included the idea of “popular sovereignty” or allowed the people of the territories to decide whether or not to allow slavery. This effectively ended the Missouri Compromise’s ban on slavery. Senator Stephen Douglas, Democrat from Illinois, was the main author of the bill and felt that popular sovereignty would settle the slavery issue.

However, popular sovereignty did not settle the slavery question but intensified the emotions of both sides. With the extension of slavery possible beyond the South, a conflict grew over Kansas territory and whether or not it would be a slave state or a free state. Abolitionists and Free-Staters such as John Brown and Jim Lane competed against pro-slavery men such as Sheriff Samuel Jones and the Missouri Border Ruffians. Violence broke out between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces which resulted in the battles of Osawatomie and Black Jack. The political scene was just as chaotic because Kansas had four constitutional conventions and several territorial legislatures and governors.

The Act also led to the creation of the Republican Party in 1854 with a platform to oppose the spread of slavery. The new political party had John c. Fremont (American West explorer) as their presidential candidate in 1856. He failed to win but in 1860 their candidate was elected, Abraham Lincoln. After this the South seceded from the Union and by April 1861 the American Civil War had started and after four years of bloody conflict the nation was preserved and slavery ended. The Kansas-Nebraska Act did not resolve the issue of slavery but “greased the slippery slope” to the Civil War.            >>back

Slavery in Nebraska

Slavery was an explosive issue when Nebraska Territory was created. There was not the physical and violent struggle in Nebraska as there was in Kansas from 1854-1861, but it was “verbally bloody.” Slavery was not as fiery an issue in Nebraska as it was in Kansas; however slavery was not officially outlawed. Many politicians felt that there was no need for a law because it did not exist in Nebraska while others felt it minor enough to leave it alone.

The fact is slavery did exist in Nebraska. In the 1855 Territorial Census, 6 slaves were listed in Otoe County owned by residents of Nebraska City. Stephen F. Nuckolls had 5 slaves and Charles A. Goshen owned 1. Meanwhile the Kansas Territorial Census of that same year showed 192 slaves.

The 1860 Federal Census showed that 15 slaves were in Nebraska Territory. 10 of those were listed in Otoe County, where Nebraska City was (and is) located. The other 5 slaves were listed in Kearney County where a few military officers owned them at Fort Kearny. The owners of slaves in Nebraska City were Alexander Majors with 6, Charles Holly with 2, and Robert Kirkham with 2. The only known slave auction in Nebraska took place at Nebraska City in December 1860. Judge Charles Holly’s 2 slaves, known as Hercules and Martha, were auctioned off. An interesting point is by 1860 there were only 2 slaves listed in Kansas Territory compared to the 15 in Nebraska.            >>back

The Underground Railroad

Refugees from slavery fled the South across the Ohio River to the North via the Underground Railroad, an informal network of routes leading the slaves north to the free states. This vast system stretched from Maine to Nebraska and Kansas. Though it was called the “underground” railroad, it was not always underground, but referred to a secretive route that went through woods, over fields, and across rivers, often operating under the cover of darkness. Escaping slaves followed the North Star or were directed to a specific safe house or “station” across the borders into freedom. Slaves were assisted by “conductors” showing the way from one safe place to the next. Escaped slaves might be hidden literally underground in cellars or tunnels, as well in attics, fake closets, or secret rooms. In addition to shelter and guidance, escapees were given food, clothing, and even medical care.

Workers on the Underground Railroad came from all walks of life and were both black and white. There were ministers, businessmen, shopkeepers, or farmers. Many of the blacks had themselves been slaves who returned to the South to help free others, sometimes going back for members of their own family. One of the most famous “conductors” was Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave who could not read or write. She made several trips south to free around three hundred individuals from bondage and lead them to freedom.           

Slavery from the 1850s to the Civil War

The balance of free states to slave states in the legislature had been painstakingly maintained since the Missouri Compromise of 1820. However, in the 1850s, the issue of slavery in the new territories had reached an impasse. In an effort to resolve the clash, Stephen A. Douglas introduced his Kansas-Nebraska bill to the Senate. It incorporated the idea of “popular sovereignty,” which allowed the people of these territories north of the 36 30 line to decide for themselves whether to become a free or slave state. The result of this legislation was to open the entire area to migration of both pro-slave and anti-slave groups. Southerners now entered the area with their slaves while active members of the Anti-Slavery Society also arrived. Reverend Henry Ward Beecher condemned the bill from his pulpit and helped to raise funds to supply weapons to those willing to oppose slavery in these territories. The rifles became known as Beecher's Bibles. John Brown and five of his sons were some of the volunteers who headed for Kansas.

After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, border wars broke out in Kansas Territory, where the question of whether it would be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state was left to the inhabitants. The radical abolitionist John Brown was active in the struggle of "Bleeding Kansas." At the same time, propaganda 'wars' in Northern newspapers swept anti-slavery legislators into office under the banner of the Republican Party.

Kansas elected its first legislature in March, 1855. Although less than 3,000 people were qualified to take part in these elections, over 6,000 people voted. These were mainly Missouri slave-owners who had crossed the border to make sure pro-slavery candidates were elected. The new legislature passed laws that imposed the death penalty for helping a slave to escape, and two years in jail for possessing abolitionist literature.           

The American Civil War and the End of Slavery
The tensions came to a head with the 1860 presidential election. Abraham Lincoln was opposed to the expansion of slavery and came to office with a plurality of popular votes and a majority of electoral votes. Lincoln however, did not even appear on the ballots of ten southern states: thus his election split the nation along sectional lines. Many in the South feared that the real intent of the Republicans was the abolition of slavery in states where it already existed, and that the sudden emancipation of 4 million slaves would be problematic. They also feared that there would no longer be a delicate balance of free states and slave states. Consequently, they would then be under the domination of the industrial North with its preference for high tariffs on imported goods. The combination of these factors led the South to secede from the Union and thus began the American Civil War.

The United States Civil War led to the end of slavery in America. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was a symbolic gesture that proclaimed freedom for slaves within the Confederacy. However, legally, slaves within the United States remained enslaved until the final ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December of 1865, eight months after the cessation of hostilities in the Civil War. The slaves in many parts of the south were freed by Union armies or when they simply left their former owners. Many joined the Union Army as workers or troops, and many more fled to Northern cities. When General Sherman led his famous march through the South to Atlanta and Savannah, hundreds of thousands of new 'freedmen' followed him in his wake.          

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