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‘The Missouri Excitement’ of 1836; slavery issues worth fighting over

Little Union Cemetery is eight miles west of Palmyra on Route 168. Buried there are two men who were key participants in what became known as “The Missouri Excitement,” which took place in 1836. The men are William Muldrow, who died in 1872, and Dr. John Bosley, who died in 1849. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


Union Township lies in the northeast portion of Marion County, Missouri, and is bounded on the west by Shelby County. The township itself was formed in 1837, carved from previously established Fabius, Warren and Round Grove townships.

Among the early Union Township settlers were William Muldrow, born of Kentucky and featured in last week’s story; Rev. David Nelson, a Revolutionary War physician from Tennessee who later became a Presbyterian minister and established Union Township’s first church circa 1833; and Dr. John Bosley, physician and the holder of 12 slaves as of the 1840 census.

The three men – along with their neighbors - held strong and sharply contrasting sentiments on the subject of slavery, and the tensions over the topic came to a boiling head during a camp meeting in Union Township – eight miles west of Palmyra – on May 24, 1836.

The population of Marion County was a unique mix of farmers who had emigrated from Kentucky along with their slaves; and Easterners, including those recruited by Muldrow and his business partners, during the formation of the ill-fated Marion City.

The Northern sentiment was strictly anti-slavery; while the Southern sentiment was pro-slavery.

But there was a third sentiment, touted by the American Colonization Society. Led by Joseph Trace, a Protestant Christian minister, the group proposed freeing the slaves, and relocating them to a Christian mission colony in Liberia, Africa.

Research leads to the conclusion that:

William Muldrow was sympatric to the American Colonization Society.

Rev. Nelson was strictly anti-slavery; and

Dr. Bosley was pro-slavery.

When the men came together on May 24, 1836 to hear what might have been Dr. Nelson’s planned farewell message, the camp meeting participants were already charged and ready for a confrontation.

News of the affray that took place on that date spread across the nation and was published in leading newspapers. The accounts differ significantly depending upon the prevailing sentiment of the publishing newspaper.

The National Gazette of Philadelphia, Pa., printed an account of what transpired, dubbed The Missouri Excitement, in its June 15, 1836 edition. The information was based upon a letter from a man from Missouri who was in the know about the events.

It seems that a group of about 50 men had banded together in order to drive every abolitionist out of the county. The men approached Rev. Nelson at his home, and some believe that he was planning to leave after his final sermon at the camp meeting.

This action stirred up excitement within the members of his congregation, and several came to the camp meeting armed in case of disruption.

When the preacher finished his sermon, William Muldrow stood, asking for pledges to help indemnify (or reimburse) masters for their slaves when the government abolished slavery. Dr. Bosley then came forward, and accused Rev. Nelson of being the cause of all the excitement.

During the altercation which followed, Muldrow stabbed Dr. Bosley in the side with a knife.

Babies were crying and women were screaming. Leaving Dr. Bosley injured on the ground, Muldrow took to hiding, and Rev. Nelson escaped into the woods. Just like the slaves who fled to Illinois in order to escape slavery, Rev. Nelson headed to the Mississippi River banks in order to avoid the angry mob.

Some reports say that Rev. Nelson stayed hidden in the brush for two nights and a day, noting the twinkling of Quincy’s lights before he was rescued and taken to the Illinois shore.

Some believe that it was during his hiding that he penned the words to an old hymn that is still sung today.

The first stanza and the chorus follow:

“My days are swiftly gliding by.

And I, a pilgrim stranger,

Would not detain them as they fly,

Those hours of toll and danger.”

“For now we stand on Jordan’s strand,

Our friends are crossing over,

And just before the shining shore,

We may almost discover.”


William Muldrow turned himself in to law enforcement after he was guaranteed protection from the mob. He was taken to St. Charles for his own protection to await trial. His actions were ultimately ruled self defense. He moved to California where he lived until about 1869, when he returned to Union Township and made his home with one of his daughters. He died in 1872, and is buried at Little Union Cemetery.

Dr. Bosley

The doctor recovered from his wounds. He died on Aug. 24, 1849, and is buried at Little Union Cemetery.

Rev. Nelson

Resettled near Quincy, Rev. Nelson established the Quincy Mission Institute, which stood on Twenty-fifth Street. The original chapel was burned by Missouri slave holders. It was later rebuilt.

According to a Dec. 10, 1899 article in the Quincy Daily Whig, the Quincy Institute was famous as one of the important stations on the Underground Railroad.

Rev. Nelson died in January 1845, and was buried in what is now Madison Park. His body was later moved to Woodland Cemetery in Quincy, Ill.

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at

Rev. David D. Nelson, posted on Findagrave by Phil.

This 1851 map of Marion County, Mo., shows Marion College, which was located in Union Township, west of Palmyra. William Muldrow was hiding at the college – which he helped to establish – when law enforcement officials caught up with him following “The Missouri Excitement” in 1836.

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