Although Darnall has uncovered the history of numerous Davenport residents and led the way on restorations at the city’s oldest cemetery, he knew nothing of this relative — a great-great-great-great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side — until about two years ago.
That’s when a Madison County woman who was seeking a grant to help restore the pioneer cemetery named after Farris researched his genealogy, down to living descendants.
And needing as much financial help as she could muster, she asked Darnall if he and his relatives could pay for the replication of Farris’ headstone. They did, and that’s how the dedication came about.
According to documentation in the Madison County Historical Museum Library, James Farris came to Iowa from Missouri with his family in 1851 when he was in his mid-50s. He was a farmer, hunter, trapper and abolitionist.
From the 1850s to 1862, he and his wife. Elizabeth. aided Freedom Seekers fleeing from Missouri, which was a slave state. Freedom Seekers were on secret paths to Des Moines, Chicago or Canada, and the Farris family provided guidance, safety, food and housing in their double log cabin.
Farris’ role in the Underground Railroad is “pertinent to what’s going on today,” Darnall said. “People are risking their lives” for justice.
Since learning of his relative, Darnall has researched fugitive slave laws, learning that a person caught and convicted of aiding and abetting a slave faced stiff penalties, including confiscation of their property and imprisonment.