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Shattering Silence Monument for the In re Ralph Supreme Court Case of Iowa

Overlooking the city is the Shattering Silence monument, located in Des Moines, Iowa, on the State Capitol grounds, located adjacent to the state's current Supreme Court building. The monument is a standing memorial of the Iowa Territorial Supreme Court's first case, In the Matter of Ralph, (a colored man,) on Habeas Corpus (1839). Installed in 2009, the public art sculpture designed by artist James Ellwanger commemorates the 170th anniversary of this landmark fugitive slave court case. This case began in 1834 when an enslaved man by the name of Ralph Montgomery contracted with his owner Jordan Montgomery to travel to Iowa.[1] Ralph went to Dubuque with the intent of mining the local mineral fields in order to gain the 550 dollars required to purchase his freedom. After failing to uphold his end of the written contract, Ralph was then captured as a fugitive slave to be sent back to his owner in Missouri. The intervention of two Irish farmers, Patrick Quigley and Alexander Butterworth, allowed Ralph to be returned to Dubuque for a fair trial. The case was quickly sent on to the Territorial Supreme Court where Ralph was fittingly declared free on the Fourth of July in the summer of 1839 because the court held, "no man in this territory can be reduced to slavery."[2]

Fore more about the monument, please visit: http://dsmpublicartfoundation.org/public-art/shattering-silence/


[1] The negotiations began in 1834, but the contract was not in effect until January 1, 1835.

[2] William J. A. Bradford, Reports of the Decisions of the Supreme Court of Iowa, from the Organization of the Territory in July, 1838, to December, 1839 (New York: Polygraphic Company of America, 1840), 6; "An Iowa Fugitive Slave Case in the Supreme Court of Iowa," Annals of Iowa 2.7 (1896): 537-538; Lord Richard Acton, To Go Free:A Treasury of Iowa's Legal History (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1995), 46; Eastin Morris, Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Iowa (Iowa City: Silas Foster, 1847), 6; John C. Parish, "An Early Fugitive Slave Case West of the Mississippi River," Journal of History and Politics, 94-95; and William Salter, Iowa, the First Free State of the Louisiana Purchase (Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1905), 244.

Visitor Information: Currently open to public.

Location: 1111 East Court Avenue, Des Moines, Polk, 50319

National Park Unit: No

Ownership: Mike Carroll, DAS Director

Location Type: Site

People/Organizations Associated with the site: Jordan Montgomery (Owner)

Freedom Seekers: Ralph Montgomery (MO)