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Indiana Historical Bureau

IHB > Historical Markers > Find a Marker > Alexander McClure Alexander McClure

 

Location: 100 North Broadway Street, Seymour. (Jackson County, Indiana)

Installed: 2008 Indiana Historical Bureau, Jackson County Visitor Center, and Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, IDNR.

ID#: 36.2008.2

Text

Side one:

On April 15, 1860 at the Seymour railroad depot, a shipping box was damaged while being transferred; McClure was discovered inside and immediately identified himself as a fugitive slave from Nashville, Tennessee. The box had been shipped from Nashville, addressed to Levi Coffin in Cincinnati, who strongly denied any knowledge of the escape plan.

Side two:

Adams Express Company agents took McClure to Louisville jail, where his owner claimed him, then took him to Nashville; company paid all expenses for McClure's return to Nashville. McClure's testimony helped convict two black men accused of aiding him. Many sensationalized stories about the attempted escape appeared in the various city newspapers.

Annotated Text

Alexander McClure(1)

Side one:

On April 15, 1860 at the Seymour railroad depot, a shipping box was damaged while being transferred; McClure was discovered inside and immediately identified himself as a fugitive slave from Nashville, Tennessee.(2) The box had been shipped from Nashville,(3) addressed to Levi Coffin in Cincinnati, who strongly denied any knowledge of the escape plan.(4)

Side two:

Adams Express Company agents took McClure to Louisville jail, where his owner claimed him,(5) then took him to Nashville; company paid all expenses for McClure's return to Nashville.(6) McClure's testimony helped convict two black men accused of aiding him.(7) Many sensationalized stories about the attempted escape appeared in the various city newspapers.(8)

Notes

1. U. G. R. R. “Miscarriage," Nashville Daily News, April 17, 1860 (B060790). The newspaper claimed McClure was a tinner by trade.

An article produced by Jeannie Regan Dinius of the Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology in the Department of Natural Resources, not much is currently known about Alex's early life as a slave. The exact year of Alexander's birth is not known, nor when he came to Nashville or when he came into the McClure home. Alexander was not individually listed as a slave within the McClure home in the 1860 slave enumerations, but Newton McClure was listed as having five slaves . . .. After the Civil War Alex remained in Tennessee. According to Regan-Dinius, "The first mention of Alexander is in 1873, where he is living in Edgefield, Tennessee, on Main Street between Tulip and Minnick. Edgefield was located on the east side of the Cumberland River, opposite Nashville . . .. His occupation is listed as a tinner, the occupation he most likely learned as a slave . . .. After 1875, Alexander is no longer listed in the Nashville City Directories, nor is he listed in the 1880 census for Tennessee. He cannot be found in the listing of those who died in Nashville. Currently, there is no research that proves where Alexander was after 1876. Jeannie Regan-Dinius, The Story of Alexander McClure, http://www.in.gov/dnr/historic/southeastugrr/stories/mcclure (accessed June 14, 2007) (B061013).

The Tennessee State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1876-1867 (Nashville, 1876), 130 (B061014).

2. Seymour Times, April 19, 1860 (B060784) and Salem Democrat, April 19, 1860 (B060792).

The box being too small in which he was placed, he had to occupy a stooping position and could not move, and at Bowling Green, where the box turned in the car, his head was down and his whole body was resting on it. He endured however. His eyes when released were bloodshot, but his appearance had not changed in any other respect. Louisville Daily News, April 16, 1860 (B060786).

3. U. G. R. R. “Miscarriage, Nashville Daily News, April 17, 1860 (B060790) and Louisville Daily Journal, April 19, 1860 (B060793).

4. Coffin explained his involvement with the incident by publishing several letters in his book. Coffin, Levi, The Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reputed President of the Underground Railroad; Being a brief History of the Labors of a Lifetime in Behalf of the Slave, with the Stories of Numerous Fugitives, Who Gained Their Freedom Through His Instrumentality, and Many Other Incidents, http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/coffin/coffin.html (accessed June 4, 2007) (B060985).

"Sambo in a Tight Box," a letter to the editors of the Cincinnati Commercial, was published in that newspaper, April 18, 1860. In the letter, Coffin gave the details regarding the box and his limited involvement. He received a letter from a Hanna M. Johnson. He was asked to pick up a box at the Adams Express Company, and he did try to do so. He denied any knowledge of the box's contents. Coffin, 589-90 (B060985).

Cincinnati, April 16, 1860," After copying Coffin's April 16 letter to the Cincinnati Commercial, the editors of Nashville Union and American followed it with an accusation that Coffin lied and knew about McClure's escape attempt and was acquainted with Johnson. Coffin, 590-91 (B060985).

"To the Editors of the Nashville Union and American," was a May 12, 1860 reply in which Coffin denied any knowledge of McClure's escape. He also stated his hatred of slavery and his philosophy toward his fellow humans, based on his belief of God. He also stated he wished he had had the opportunity to help McClure. Coffin, 591-93. (B060985)

The letter sent to Coffin requesting that he pick up the box containing McClure read, "Nashville, Tenn., April 11, 1860. Mr. Levi Coffin: Dear Sir, I wish you to receive a box per Adams Express, marked Hannah M Johnson, care of yourself. The box will arrive on Saturday evening from Nashville. Yours truly, Hannah M. Johnson." Louisville Daily Journal, April 19, 1860 (B060793).

5. Salem Democrat, April 19, 1860 (B060792) and "Running Off By Express," Louisville Daily Journal, April 16, 1860 (B060786).

6. Nashville Daily Gazette, April 20, 1860 (B060793). Newton McClure arrived at Louisville April 18.

Newton McClure, with Alexander McClure, arrived back in Nashville on April 19. Nashville Republican Banner, April 20, 1860 (B060852) and Louisville Daily Journal, April 19, 1860 (B060793).

7. On April 25, 1860, Alexander McClure testified against Nathan James and told the story of how he tried to escape to freedom in a small box. James denied that he helped Alex by nailing him in the box and helping send it to the Adams Express Company. Nashville Patriot, April 26, 1860 (B060968).

On August 18, 1860, the jury in the trial found that James was not a free man of color, but they find that he is a slave. State vs. Nathan James, Minutes, April 1860-December 1861, Div. 1st [Nashville] Davidson Criminal Court C.E. Diggons August Term 1860, p. 126 (B060984).

The other man accused of helping McClure escape was Alfred Savage. Savage was arrested, tried, and sentenced fifteen lashes on April 26, 1860. Nashville Patriot, April 27, 1860 (B060788).

8. Louisville Daily Journal, April 16, 1860 (B060786).
    Nashville Daily Gazette, April 17, 1860 (B060789).
    Seymour Times, April 19, 1860 (B060784).
    Louisville Daily Journal, April 19, 1860 (B060793).
    Nashville Patriot, April 26, 1860 (B060968).
    Nashville Republican Banner, April 26, 1860 (B060785).