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Cool Things - Quindaro Desk

A staunch abolitionist used this desk to conduct business in Kansas Territory.

Quindaro desk

Fielding Johnson came to Quindaro in 1856 from his native Indiana where, according to family tradition, his wholesale mercantile business was suffering from his pro-prohibition and anti-slavery positions. At Quindaro he opened another store, and was joined by his daughter Nancy and new son-in-law and business partner, George Washington Veale.

Among Johnson's possessions in Quindaro was a walnut desk which had belonged to his father, John. According to the family, John served as secretary to President William Henry Harrison when Harrison was territorial governor of Indiana from 1801 to 1813.

The word Quindaro is still visible on the back of the desk, apparently placed there for shipping purposes. It is presumed Fielding Johnson used this desk to carry out his many duties and interests - merchant, agent to Delaware Indians, penitentiary commissioner, and other community activities.

Underground Railroad

Today Quindaro is remembered as a location escaped slaves moved through en route to freedom. Fielding Johnson is mentioned in one of the few accounts documenting this activity. Former Quindaro resident Clarina Nichols wrote the following passage in the Wyandotte Gazette in December, 1882:

"My cistern - every brick of it rebuilt in the chimney of my late Wyandotte home - played its part in the drama of freedom. One beautiful evening late in October '61, as twilight was fading from the bluff, a hurried message came to be from our neighbor - Fielding Johnson - 'You must hide Caroline. Fourteen slave hunters are camped on the Park-her master among them.' My cistern had been cleaned and nicely dried preparatory to a wash of cement for some undiscernable leakage. Its dimensions were 7 x 12 (square) and a rock bottom; eight feet in depth and reached from a trap in the floor of the wing; and open space between the floor and cistern's mouth--when left uncovered--affording ventilation from the outside. Into this cistern Caroline was lowered with comforters, pillow and chair. A washtub over the trap with the usual appliances of a washroom standing around, completing the hiding."

Opened Quindaro desk, before conservation

After a long night the slave hunters left Quindaro the following morning. Caroline and another girl were quickly moved on their way to Leavenworth.

Quindaro failed as a town and by the end of the Civil War the Johnsons and Veales had moved to Topeka. When Fielding Johnson died in 1872, the desk passed to his son, Thomas; upon Thomas's death it passed to another son, John Arrell Johnson. When he died in 1894, it passed to Nancy Johnson Veale, who in turn donated it to the Kansas Historical Society in 1899.

In the spring of 2000, the desk underwent conservation treatment by staff at the Society's Kansas Museum of History. Work included a cleaning of all surfaces, repairing loose joints, and attaching a leg to replace one that had been missing for some time. View a photograph of the closed desk during conservation.

Entry: Cool Things - Quindaro Desk

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 1999

Date Modified: November 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.