Jordan House – West Des Moines, IA
N 41° 33.602 W 093° 44.061
15T E 438765 N 4601189
Quick Description: The Jordan House is on the John Brown Freedom Trail which crosses Iowa. This historical marker outside the Jordan House tells its history.
Location: Iowa, United States
Date Posted: 6/15/2011 8:07:55 AM
Waymark Code: WMBQYN
The Jordan House is on the John Brown Freedom Trail which crosses Iowa. This historical marker outside the Jordan House reads as follows:
“Fighting Slavery – Aiding Runaways. At age thirty-three, James C. Jordan and his wife and five children settled here in Walnut Township. Within two decades he replaced the initial log cabin with a large house where he continued to raise the growing family. Jordan detested slavery, not only speaking out against it but acting directly in the risky business of sheltering and aiding runaways from enslavement.
“John Brown’s last Iowa trip, 1859. On February 17, 1859 John Brown with twelve men, women, and children escaping slavery from Missouri, plus his own men, arrived at the farm of James C. Jordan. His place lay about six miles west of Des Moines, which was then a small city of about 3,700 residents. Jordan, a native of West Virginia and 46 years old, had welcomed John Brown on more than one occasion.
“This time John Brown’s party rested overnight in the nearby timber and then headed to Hawley’s farm east of Des Moines. From there they continued towards Grinnell and Iowa City in their three month trek on their way to Detroit where finally, on March 12, they crossed by ferry to freedom in Windsor, Canada.
“Ten months later Brown was dead, captured and hung after the former Kansas fighter and his band (including four Iowans) on October 16, 1859 carried out a failed assault on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. The bold action ignited great controversy and became a catalyst leading to Civil War.
“Brown’s action as part of Kansas’ Troubles. The Kansas-Nebraska struggle arose after 1854 over whether the territories would become slave or Free states. This made western Iowa an important staging area for Free State forces and also for those engaged in aiding fugitives escape enslavement. In the forefront of antislavery and Underground Railroad activity during these years were persons of Congregational, Quaker, Baptist, and Wesley Methodist faith (James Jordan was staunch Methodist).
“The northward flight of persons from enslavement in western Missouri often brought them first to a rural Iowa hamlet known as Civil Bend, just upriver from Nebraska City. From there they would be directed to Tabor and then helped by persons from the Malvern, Lewis, Grove City, and Redfield areas, arrive at the doorstep of James Jordan west of Des Moines. After that their destination pointed further eastward toward Chicago and Canada.
“The Kansas-Nebraska struggle underscored the nation’s sectional conflict and the important place shared by the border west states in the events leading to Civil War. Iowa became the leading route of transit to Kansas and assumed an important place in America’s Underground Railroad history when Missourians closed off the Missouri River to Kansas bound settlers. For Iowa residents this participation was a dangerous and illegal business. Many wanted to avoid involvement in the slavery issue and keep black settlement out of the state, while others saw the state standing forth as a beacon of anti-slavery hope.
“The outward flow of runaway slaves spread tension in border states while the larger Kansas conflict enraged both North and South, killed the Whig Party, made the Republican Party, split the Democratic Party and guaranteed Lincoln’s election. Few places survive to remind us of those early turbulent times in Iowa. One is the James Jordan property, remembered for its service as a station point of passage for escaping slaves.
“James C. Jordan: Although of southern birth in 1813, he turned against legalized slavery as a young man in Virginia after having participated in chasing down a number of persons fleeing slavery from a neighboring plantation. At age thirty-three he and his wife and five children settled here in Walnut Township, building a log cabin which stood southeast of the present house. Within the next two decades he replaced the log cabin with a large house, much of which was constructed in 1867. James Jordan, a quiet, modest man, known for a certain gruffness in his voice but kindness within, raised a large family with an additional five children from a second wife.
“His success as a farmer, stock dealer, and bank director made him a large landowner and profitable businessman. He supported the Methodist-Episcopal Church as strongly as he adhered to the Republican Party. The party had drawn its first breath in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, which ended the Missouri Compromise of 1820 by now permitting slavery to be chosen for western areas that lay north of Missouri’s southern border. Jordan detested slavery not only speaking out against it but acting directly in the risky business of sheltering and aiding runaways from enslavement. He died in 1891 and is buried in nearby Jordan’s Cemetery.”
The Jordan house is an official site of the Underground Railroad and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
2001 Fuller Road
West Des Moines, IA USA
Web site: [Web Link]
Site Details: Open Wed,Sat 1pm-4pm; Sun 2pm-5pm/ $5 for adults
Open to the public?: Public
Name of organization who placed the marker: Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, State Historical Society of Iowa, and Iowa Department of Transportation
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