History of Tabor Iowa
The Original Purpose of Tabor
The history of a community usually begins long before the actual founding; such is the case of Tabor.
Our town’s history begins with a missionary by the name of George B. Gaston who, in 1847,
began prayerfully planning the founding of a Christian community in the western prairies centered
about an institution of learning, somewhat after the fashion of Oberlin village and college in Ohio.
The Oberlin College
Heritage of Equality
Many of Tabor’s founding fathers, including the Reverend
John Todd and George B. Gaston, were both educated and inspired at Oberlin College in Ohio,
which was the first college in America to admit both women and blacks. In fact, the first three women
to receive baccalaureate degrees in the United States received them from Oberlin,
which also welcomed with open arms the most radical abolitionists into its student body.
This heritage of equality defined Tabor and its role in both the Underground Railroad and the
Kansas Free State Movement.
The Reverend John Todd
Before setting out to establish the community, George B. Gaston commissioned Reverend John Todd to
serve as the community’s minister. Reverend John Todd quickly became the leader of the fledgling community,
serving in almost every aspect of community life. Later, John Todd’s house would serve as a station in
the Underground Railroad and also as the town’s arsenal during the Kansas Free State Movement during the 1850s.
Tabor’s Name and Present Location
Tabor was named after the Mount Tabor mentioned in the Bible’s Old Testament. Perhaps
this name seemed appropriate for the location of the town, which was chosen because of its altitude, 300 feet above
the lowlands. This higher location insured greater healthfulness, after the colony’s bad experience with
mosquitoes, flooding, and disease at the original lower location of the colony at Civil Bend.
Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel
Based on Tabor, IA
is a Novel written by Marilynne Robinson
and published in 2004. In 2005 it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction as well as the
National Book Critics Circle Award in 2004.
The Novel is a fictional autobiography of the Reverand John Ames who according to Robinson loosely represents the
Reverand John Todd and takes place in the fictional town of Gilead which is based on the real town of Tabor, Iowa.
The Wikipedia website states that
"According to Robinson, the fictional town of Gilead is based on the real town of Tabor, Iowa,
located in the southwest corner of the state and well-known for its importance in the abolition movement,
although Iowa has never had any segregationist policy since statehood. Likewise, the character of the narrator's
grandfather is loosely based on the real life story of the Rev. John Todd, a congregationalist minister from
Tabor who was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and who stored weapons, supplies and ammunition used by
abolitionist John Brown in his "invasion" of Missouri in 1857 to free a group of slaves, and later—without
Todd’s knowledge or involvement—in his 1859 raid on the U.S. military arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia."
More Information on
Tabor’s Colorful History
To obtain more information about Tabor’s rich and colorful history, including Tabor’s
role in the Kansas Free-State Movement, Tabor College, The Tabor and Northern Railway, the Underground Railroad,
or what life was like for Tabor’s first settlers, please contact Wanda Ewalt from the
Tabor Historical Society at 712-629-2675.