The first Gardner landed in Nantucket in about 1620. They were Quakers. Joseph Gardner was aligned with the abolitionist wing of the Quaker church and admired William Lloyd Garrison. He came to Kansas from Indiana to keep it a free state. In Indiana he worked as a school teacher and farm laborer during the summer. In 1855, he staked a claim just south of the Wakarusa river near Lone Star and stayed 3 months. He returned to Indiana and returned the next year working the claim for 3 months. In February of 1857 Joseph Gardner gathered up his family and possessions and boarded a steamboat in Cincinnati and sailed to Fort Leavenworth. This journey took 14 days. They soon settled in on the Gardner claim. He fought Missourians during the short “Wakarusa River War.” By the time of the Rescue of Dr. Doy in 1859, Joseph Gardner was well known to be an active member of the Underground Railroad network. He was a natural to be recruited for the rescue.
After the rescue, it was well known that the Gardner family was involved in the Underground Railroad. All the Immortal 10 had a $500.00 reward on their head. A freedom seeker named Napoleon Simpson was staying and working on the Gardner farm. Mr. Simpson had previously escaped further north and returned to liberate his wife in Missouri. John Stewart had made one attempt and found Mr. Simpson’s wife too sick to travel. Some bounty hunters paid a late night visit to the Gardner cabin. A gun battle ensued. Mr. Simpson was shooting his Sharps rifle and received a fatal wound. His last words to Joseph Gardner were, “fight, fight hard!”
Joseph Gardner was involved in the attempted rescue of Aaron Stevens from a jail in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Stevens was captured with John Brown at the raid on Harpers Ferry. Joseph Gardner and fellow member of the Immortal 10, Silas Soule, were unable to free Stevens and returned to Kansas.
Joseph Gardner became a First Lieutenant in the 1st Kansas Colored and fought at the Battle of Island Mound. He was wounded and reportedly died later in a field hospital.