McMurry said one of the most fascinating things she found was that in the 1850s abolitionists purposefully settled Appanoose County because of its proximity to Missouri, a slave-holding state.
At a national level, the Methodist church split over the issue of slavery. Methodists who were against slavery founded a newspaper called “The True Wesleyan.” A letter appeared in this newspaper asking abolitionists to move to Appanoose County.
And they did. Families came on horseback, many from Lee County, which led the Iowa abolitionist movement. They started a newspaper, “The Appanoose Republican.” They went into the log cabin courthouse that sat on the southeast corner of the Centerville Square and purchased land. By studying land records, McMurry determined that the land they purchased was contiguous from the Missouri border to Centerville, then up to Moravia, and then straight east into Davis County. They bought land, it appears, until they had created a safe passageway for African Americans fleeing slavery.
McMurry said she began to figure out the connections between these land purchases and anti-slavery when she read in a high number of obituaries published in the 1870s and 1880s that the deceased person “was very proud that he walked five miles to vote for Fremont.” John C. Fremont was the first presidential nominee for the Republican Party, which was founded in 1854 to stop slavery from moving into Kansas and Nebraska. Fremont carried Iowa, though he lost nationally.
Fremont did not, however, carry Appanoose County. And the county did not go for Abraham Lincoln in his elections either. McMurry said this is not entirely surprising, given that 38 percent of the population were southerners.
But there is one twist in this statistic: McMurry found that the movement for civil rights for African Americans in Centerville came from Civil War veterans when they returned from the war. During Lincoln’s second campaign, when these men were still at war, they voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln. For some reason, the absentee votes from the county’s Civil War soldiers were not included in the final tally. If they had been, Lincoln would have carried Appanoose County.