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This was the location of the home of Jesse Bowen, an influential physician and an outspoken opponent of slavery. Bowen was a leading member of the Whig Party in Indiana and came to Iowa in 1840. Bowen remained active in politics and was part of the vanguard who created the Republican Party in opposition to the disproportionate power of Southern planters and the extension of slavery in the West. Prior to the Civil War, Bowen served in the Iowa Senate and was appointed Adjutant General. At the age of 60, Bowen resigned his public office to serve as a civilian employee of the Union Army. Bowen was also a strong supporter of John Brown and met with Brown and his supporters clandestinely at this home while he was in Iowa City meeting with fellow anti-slavery men. Bowen's home was not preserved and the location is now home to a wood frame home that is private property.

On February 24, 1859, John Brown passed through Iowa City with several former enslaved persons and abolitionists on their way to Springdale, Iowa. At the time, abolitionists were persecuted and Iowa City was divided over the issue of the growing political divide related to the extension of slavery.

Brown and a companion held a covert meeting in Iowa City with local abolitionists Dr. Jesse Bowen and William Penn Clark. Brown was seeking railroad car arrangements to move his group further east. Word got out about Brown being in town and soon others were on the lookout for this so-called anti-slavery “fanatic.” Dr. Bowen harbored Brown at his house on 914 Iowa Avenue until, during early hours of the morning, Cololnel S. C. Trowbridge guided them out of town via back roads.

Dr. Jesse Bowen, a pioneer physician, early editor of a temperance newspaper and later a state senator, actively opposed slavery and befriended those who took direct action against it. He took delivery of revolvers from Massachusetts shipped to Brown in care of Jesse Bowen. In March 1859, Brown also entrusted Bowen with disposing of arms remaining in Tabor.

W. Penn Clarke, an active member of the Kansas national committee for Iowa, a prominent man in Republican party circles, and an energetic successful lawyer, applied his intensely partisan views to aiding men such as John Brown in Underground Railroad efforts.

Next Stop: Springdale, Iowa 


Iowa and the Underground Railroad