Ball and Chain on Slaves

Kansas had a sophisticated Underground Railroad but on the western side of Missouri, I have found only one reference to any Underground Railroad system. I have heard many word of mouth stories about Missouri side houses that had a secret room or that freedom seekers were allowed to hide in the basement but no real primary source document verifying these stories. It is possible that some Missouri residents did in fact help slaves escape like a man named Robert McFarland of Lexington Missouri. From his story we learn about the horrific use of the ball and chain.

Mr. McFarland wrote an account of his experience in Lexington shortly after the Civil War. He was a blacksmith in Lexington when he learned that a local slave master manned James Hicklin had placed a ball and chain on one of his slaves. The shackle had chafed the slave’s leg so bad that it had become infected. Mr. McFarland sent word to this slave that if he would come to his blacksmith shop, he would remove the offending object. Later that evening an elderly slave appeared at his home with the ball and chain attached. Mr. McFarland removed the offensive device and threw the ball and chain in his well to hide the evidence. He buried the leg shackle in his garden. After the War, he retrieved this shackle and donated it to the Kansas Sate Historical Society. He wrote at that time that the last time he saw this \slave, the man was walking west toward Kansas.

This story takes the fun out of talking about the “old ball and chain.”






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