"History and Stories of Nebraska"
by Addison Erwin Sheldon

Produced by Connie Snyder


The South and North fell out over slavery in the new land of the West. The people of the South wanted the right to go west and take their slaves with them. The people of the North wanted none but free people in the West. In 1820 the North and South agreed that Missouri might be a slave state, but that there should be no slaves in what is now Nebraska and Kansas. This was called the Missouri Compromise. No one then lived in Nebraska but Indians and a few traders, trappers and soldiers. When it was time for Nebraska to be settled and to have a government there was another fierce falling out between the South and the North over slavery. This time a law was passed to the effect that the new land should be slave or free as the settlers voted.

Act Abolishing Slavery in Nebraska.
(Photo from original in Statehouse.)

In Nebraska the people never voted for slavery, but people coming here from the South brought slaves with them. In 1855 there were thirteen slaves in Nebraska and in 1860 there were ten. Most of these were held at Nebraska City.

Across the Missouri River at Tabor, Iowa, was a settlement of people called abolitionists, because they wished to abolish slavery. The "Underground Railroad" was the name given to the road taken by slaves from the South on their way through the North to Canada, where they were free. One branch of this road ran from Missouri through the corner of Nebraska by way of Falls City, Little Nemaha, Camp Creek and Nebraska City to Tabor. The runaway slaves traveled at night along this road and were fed and hidden during the day by friends. At Falls City they were kept in a barn. John Brown came through this corner of Nebraska very often with slaves from Missouri whom he was helping to set free. He is the man of whom we sing

"John Brown's body lies a-mould'ring in the grave,
His soul is marching on!"

In November, 1858, Eliza, a slave girl owned by Mr. S. F. Nuckolls at Nebraska City, ran away, and with her another slave girl. Mr. Nuckolls (after whom Nuckolls County was named) was very angry and offered $200 reward. With the aid of the United States marshal he began a search of the houses at Tabor for his slaves. The girls were not there, but one man whose house was being searched was struck on the head by an officer and badly wounded. For this Mr. Nuckolls had to pay $10,000 damages. Eliza escaped to Chicago, where she was arrested the next year and was about to be returned to her master when a mob rescued her and she was hurried over to Canada. Mr. Nuckolls sued sixteen Iowa people for helping Eliza to escape, but the war soon came on and he did not win his suit.

The few slaves in Nebraska were hard to hold. On June 30, 1860, six slaves owned by Alexander Majors at Nebraska City ran away and never came back. On December 5, 1860, the sheriff of Otoe County sold at auction in the streets of Nebraska City one negro man and one negro woman, known as Hercules and Martha. This was the last of slavery in Nebraska, for in January, 1861, the legislature passed an act abolishing slavery in the territory.


  1. If the land in Nebraska belonged equally to all the United States which was right regarding its use, the South or the North?
  2. Was it right for the northern people to help slaves to run away from their masters?
  3. Would Nebraska to-day be a slave state if the southern people had been freely allowed to bring slaves here?