Slave Narratives

from the Rawick Papers, Series 5
Danforth, Nelson
Ash Grove, Missouri

Western Historical Manuscripts Collection
University of Missouri Columbia, Missouri

[Reported by] Mabel E. Mueller
Western Historical Manuscripts Collection
University of Missouri,
Columbia, Missouri

Extract from "The Waste Basket"
Daily Column Editorial Page  -
date unknown - probably summer 1936
Springfield Leader and Press
Springfield  Newspapers,  Inc.,
Publishers, 795 Boonville Ave.,
Springfield, Missouri.

"Few of the old slaves yet remain in Greene County but there is one Nelson Danforth who resides in Ash Grove. He is 85 years old.

"He was born on the farm of Erskine Danforth, east of Springfield, and belonged to him. His father and mother had come with the Danforths from Tennessee in the 1830's to Greene County. While his mother was a slave, his father was not a slave, but was the son of a full-blooded Cherokee Indian and a white mother. His name was Donahue. He came along with the Danforths to Greene County, lived on Erskine Danforth's land, but did little work for him, and that only when he felt like it, but supported himself by making baskets, chairs, etc., and by hunting, which was his main occupation. He built himself a cabin and lived there with Nelson Danforth's mother, and their children. Erskine Danforth was much beloved by his slaves, because he was kind and considerate to them, and it was for this reason that Nelson took his name, instead of Donahue. When he heard of a slave somewhere around the neighborhood being mistreated, Erskine would buy him, and bring him to his place.

"Oftentimes, slaves would take the name of someone besides their owner, if they did not like him.

"Nelson remembers Erskine Danforth as a tall man, resembling in form and feature Abraham Lincoln. He was not as well educated as his

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brothers, but was a constant reader of the Bible, which he read aloud as well. He was a good business man, as farmer and stock-trader. He died just before the Civil War commenced.

"Soon after the War began, Erskine's oldest son, Jim, went to Texas, as he was not inclined to the Confederacy and slavery, and Nelson went with him. They located in the County below Dallas, which then Nelson remembers, was about the size of Bois D' Arc.

"Incidentally, Jim's younger brother, next to him in age, was an ardent Union sympathizer protesting to Jim against his favoring secession, tried in vain to join the Union Army, which he could not do, being under age, and tragically died, disappointed that he could not fight for the Union.

"In Texas near the Danforth's, was Frank Frazier and his family, with whom, after the War, Nelson came back to Missouri., and stopped in 1866 at Ash Grove with the Fraziers.

"They were escorted from Texas by a Union soldier, who was taking his parents from there to Kansas. This soldier took care to stay out of Arkansas, coming north, for fear he might be recognized by some former foes.

"Texas then, Nelson says., was full of all kinds of game, which, however, nobody killed or paid much attention to, except when in immediate need of food.

"Erskine Danforth's brothers were John W., James R. and Josiah Finley. John W. and James R. were in business together more or less,

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and they had been educated in Augusta, Ga., before coming to Missouri.

John W. had a store on the Springfield square, and for some years lived in Forsyth, which he founded, and was in the saw mill business.

James R. was the first cashier of the Springfield branch of the Bank of the State of Missouri, a position which he held for many years.

"Josiah Finley Danforth owned much land East of Springfield, and was a member of the state legislature for several terms. In order to regain his health, which had been poor, he started overland for California in 1849, and died on the way, in New Mexico, in that year. The large brick home which he had commenced building on his land east of Springfield, was completed by his widow, and still stands, a fine building.

"Somewhat like other pioneer citizens of Springfield, commonly classed as southerners, as for example, Thomas A. Sherwood, and John S. Phelps, these four Danforth brothers were of Massachusetts stock, and had been in the south only one generation.

"Josiah Danforth, the father, born in 1753 in Massachusetts came south, perhaps to Virginia first, married a southern woman, and moved to Kentucky and then to Tennessee, from which State his sons migrated to Greene County.

"The elder Josiah was descended from Nicholas Danforth, who came to Cambridge, Mass., in 1643, through his son Jonathon. Another son was Thomas Danforth, who was treasurer of Harvard College, a deputy governor of Massachusetts, and noted for his liberal views in the treatment of the Indians and of witchcraft defendants.

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"Jonathan and Thomas had a sister, Elizabeth Danforth, from whom have come Jonathan Belcher, colonial governor of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey; and William Ellery Channing the great Unitarian preacher, and William Ellery Channing the poet, associate of Thoreau, Hawthorne and other Transcendentalists.

"Probably William H. Danforth of St. Louis, of the Purina Mills, is of this same line of Danforths."


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Document scanned by Carol Robinson.