John Todd (abolitionist)

John Todd (1818-1894) was a U.S. Congregationalist minister, co-founder of Tabor College in Tabor, Iowa, a leading abolitionist and a ‘conductor’ on the Underground Railroad. An early graduate of Oberlin College (Oberlin, Ohio) and its seminary, Todd moved west to help start an Oberlin-like school on the Iowa frontier [Todd, Rev. John, "Early Settlement and Growth of Western Iowa, on Reminiscences", Historical Department of Iowa, 1906. (Available online at )] . He was one of the founders of Tabor, in southwestern Iowa, and its Congregational Church, which he served as pastor for more than 30 years. He is also the basis for the abolitionist preacher and grandfather of John Ames, main character in Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Gilead" (2004).

Rev. Todd’s home in Tabor served not only as a ‘station’ on the Underground Railroad, complete with a concealed room in which escaped slaves hid until their next ride arrived [Tabor Historical Society, Tabor, Iowa ] , but also as a storehouse of weapons, ammunition and other supplies for radical abolitionist John Brown.

Todd and the other residents of Tabor generally supported Brown until he (Brown) and his men in 1857 ‘invaded’ Missouri and forcibly freed about a dozen slaves, killing one slave-owner in the process. Brown was given safe haven in Tabor, but the citizens made it clear they did not condone his actions. Brown left soon thereafter, and had the weapons and supplies stored in Rev. Todd’s basement shipped east. The 200 Sharps rifles included in the cache of weapons were used two years later in Brown’s ill-fated and infamous raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). But Rev. Todd had no knowledge of the use to which the weapons he had stored would be put, nor any involvement [ “Aboard the Underground Railroad: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary,” National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, ] in what he termed “the Harper’s Ferry insurrection.”

Todd was also a leader in the temperance movement and was a board member of Tabor College from its founding in 1866 until his death in 1894. His home in Tabor, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is operated as a museum by the Tabor Historical Society and is open for public visits.

See also:
*John Brown (abolitionist)


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