The Darling Family and Abolitionist John Brown in Iowa

A daguerreotype of John Brown circa 1856
A daguerreotype of John Brown circa 1856

A few years back a distant cousin contacted me about the Darling family. We talked via email for awhile and then I learned that she lived in Gleneden Beach on the Oregon coast, about an hour’s drive from where I was. We then met in person at a diner on the campus of the community college — the Blue Moon Cafe.

There, she took out a folder of paperwork and introduced me to a transcribed copy of the last will and testament of Jabez Darling. Among the children named was Ezra Darwin Darling, his full named spelled out, leaving no doubt in my mind that we had the right family.

Her ancestor, Almira Darling, she explained, was the one who raised Ezra after their parents had died. Almeda was the first born, Ezra was the last. They were separated by several years. She was born in 1806 in Canandaiqua, Ontario County, New York. He was born in Ontario County in 1830. She was quite literally old enough to be his mother, and, for many years, she was a de facto surrogate.

Their father Jabez apparently traveled quite a bit. He died in Huron County, Ohio, although the family was living in New York at the time. What he was doing there hasn’t been made clear to me, but some land deals may have been involved.

Almira married a man named Joseph Cornell. Almira’s husband Joseph and some of the children died during an outbreak of disease. What it was specifically I can’t remember.

Radical abolitionist John Brown and his followers had some sort of headquarters, an encampment, in Iowa, apparently in Washington County, perhaps near Wassonville. According to my fellow researcher and cousin, the disease was allegedly introduced and spread by John Brown and his men on one of their visits to the area. Note that the town of Wassonville, where many of my ancestors lived and are buried, is mentioned in the following passage from the book John Brown: Abolitionist by David S. Reynolds.

After attending the semicentenial celebration of the founding of Tallmadge, Ohio, on June 24, the pair [John Brown and ?] proceeded to Iowa City. There they got word that Richard Realf, an English-born poet and antislavery soldier who had met Brown the previous summer in Kansas, was waiting in Tabor with nearly $100 donated by the National Kansas Committee. In Wassonville, Iowa, Brown and his son paid $786 for wagons and two teams of fresh horses that got them to Tabor by August 7.

In Tabor, he stayed with a Quaker friend named Jonas Jones. Meanwhile, supporters trickled into the camp in Washington County, where men were being organized into a volunteer army.

He was training a score of soldiers in Iowa, and he expected to get more recruits at the antislavery convention he was orgainzing in Chatham, Ontario [Canada].

Brown was planning an invasion of the South, telling a confidante that it had been his dream for more than twenty years.

After taking proslavery prisoners during an incident in Kansas, known as the Battle of the Spurs, Brown let them go and headed once again for Iowa.

Brown crossed into Nebraska and headed for Iowa, where he could expect to meet antislavery friends who would arrange railway passage to Illinois and Michigan. The weather had turned wintery, and Brown’s caravan struggled through windswept drifts. In Nebraska the group stayed overnight in a settlement of Otoe Indians. A marshal’s posse was in constant pursuit, but Brown evaded capture. On the evening of February 5 he led his party into Tabor, Iowa.

There are some more fascinating details, but I’ll have to leave some of it out, at least verbatim. His arrival in Tabor, a town full of pacifist Quakers, was not welcoming. He was publicly denounced. Weeks later, they were still traveling through Iowa.

During the next week they passed through Grove City and Des Moines. On February 20 they stoppe din Grinnell, where they were enthusiastically received. . . .

Resuming their journey, they stopped briefly in Iowa City.

Brown was headed for Chicago, where he met up with the infamous Allan Pinkerton, who hid him and his entourage and arranged for rail passage to Detroit.

I will keep digging around for sources and information on John Brown, his men, and their connections with my ancestors in Iowa.


2 thoughts on “The Darling Family and Abolitionist John Brown in Iowa”

  1. Is this John Brown that down the line produced William Allen Brown in Georgia? I wouldn’t ask except the John Brown looks like my line of Brown Family Men.

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