A Free White State: Constitution Writing, Liberty and Racism

(Like the previous one, this post contains racist and inflammatory language uttered by elected delegates writing a constitution to make Kansas Territory the state of Kansas. Prohibiting or allowing slavery in Kansas was the monumental choice facing delegates, but predominant anti-slavery opinion made slavery’s abolition in Kansas a foregone outcome of the July 1859 constitutional convention. Instead, delegates argued repeatedly and graphically about human equality, human rights and racial integration at the convention, which ran from July 5 through July 29, 1859.)

In the end, the 35 Republicans and 17 Democrats elected to write a constitution labored little to banish slavery from the future state of Kansas.

After five years of battling over slavery and after three failed constitutions,[1] the delegates at the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention voted 48-1 to include these words in the Kansas Constitution:  “There shall be no slavery in this State…”[2]

The convention’s swift dispatch of slavery, however, brought a torrent of convention agitation over alternative, harsh propositions to clip rights for people of African descent who might come to the new slavery-prohibiting state of Kansas.

Top of the list for convention Democrats (Democrats at the time largely supported slavery) was the “free white state” pitch to block all people of African descent from living in Kansas. Over and over again, the leading Democrats at the convention tried to work that provision into one section or another of the constitution draft. When it became evident that the majority of delegates weren’t having it, the Democrat delegates tried to write various exceptions into the document. Exceptions like this: If “negroes and mulattoes”[3] were allowed to live in Kansas, they would not be entitled to education in Kansas public schools; or if fugitive slaves from other states escaped to freedom in Kansas, they still could be captured and returned to slavery under their owners in slave states like Missouri.

And if people of African descent were allowed in Kansas public schools, they would have to learn in separate schools, never sharing classrooms or sitting  side-by-side with white pupils.

One delegate even said he wanted an option through which white taxpayers’ money could be withheld from financing public schools that educated children of color.[4]

Liberty and rights were the most contentious concepts the delegates dealt with as they pieced together words that still, today, define the rights of Kansans. And Kansas becoming a free state was remarkable, especially considering that the Kansas-Nebraska Act[5] in 1854 had changed the slave-state versus free- state rules for new states entering the Union.

But while Kansans can be proud that 1850s settlers fought off slavery and saw Kansas enter the Union as a free state, those contentious proposals at the 1859 Wyandotte Constitutional Convention foreshadowed a future of segregated schools, lunch counters, movie theaters.[6]  [Read some examples here and here.]  Deep prejudices against people with African blood in their veins did not fall away with the adoption of the free-state  Kansas Constitution.

C B McClelland (2)
Clark B. McClellan, Jefferson County’s lone delegate to the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention in July 1859. Picture courtesy of the Jefferson County Historical Society in Oskaloosa, Kansas.

The constitutional convention convened July 5, 1859, at Wyandot city, now part of Kansas City, Kansas, on the state’s northeastern border. The constitution it produced was next approved by Kansas Territory voters in October 1859, sent on to Congress and then to President James Buchanan, who signed it Jan. 29, 1861. [Learn why it took so long here. ]

Based on its modest population, Jefferson County was allowed one delegate to the convention. Clark B. McClellan, a Democrat, was elected 278 to 249 over his Republican opponent in the June 1859 delegate elections. McClellan won heavy backing from the county’s minority of southern-leaning precincts that favored Democrats[7] (There were enslaved people in these townships, as shown by territorial censuses.).

At the Wyandotte convention McClellan, a popular Oskaloosa merchant, stuck to his party line on issues oppressive to people of African descent but wasn’t vocal during the floor debates.  He crossed over to the Republican side on some votes. For example, he joined Republicans to squash plans to give Kansas slave owners leeway, six months to a year, to remove slaves from the territory once the new constitution kicked in (since it would make slavery illegal).

But for the most part, he voted with the other Democrats, who as the minority party lacked the votes to succeed. Nonetheless, they made frequent attempts with a flurry of amendments to make Kansas a free white state (no people of African descent allowed to live in Kansas) or to limit the education of black children.[8]

mcclellan store The_Oskaloosa_Independent_Wed__Nov_14__1860_
Advertisement for Jefferson County delegate Clark B. McClellan’s store in Oskaloosa.  Image from the Nov. 14, 1860, Oskaloosa Independent, newspapers.com.

William C. McDowell, a leading Leavenworth County delegate and a Democrat, led a share of the Democrats’ arguments to limit human rights through the constitution’s Bill of Rights section. vigorous charges to limit human rights in Kansas. He said he considered black people to be inferior to whites and felt duty-bound to follow his and his constituents “inclinations and feelings” and bar all black people from Kansas if they could not be enslaved..

“I regard this negro question as the only question of interest that was presented in the late canvass [June election],” McDowell told delegates on July 14.[9] “That the future State of Kansas should be free  was conceded by all parties in this Territory; and whilst that was conceded, it was expected that this Convention would incorporate into the Constitution an article excluding the immigration of negroes into the State.”

McDowell – and other delegates, as well —  chose the highest ideals of his political party to explain his “free white state” position, warning that without it Kansas would become  the “receptacle of free negroes and runaway slaves.”  McDowell argued that “God Almighty, for some high purpose, has established this inferiority of the black race, and stamped an indelible mark upon them.”

McDowell’s speech, only a tiny part of which is quoted here, brought an explicit Republican response from delegate Solon O. Thacher, a Douglas County Republican. Thacher, like McDowell, focused on people of African descent, recounting the violent struggles of Bleeding Kansas and railing against the inhumanity of the nation’s slave power and, now, free-white-staters.

Thacher deployed a nuclear argument to blast at the hypocrisy of Democrats who said  Republicans were promoting caucasian/black equality. His speech raised the issue of white men raping and sexually assaulting enslaved black women, the result of which was lighter-skinned,  mixed-race children.

“And this charge [against equality between black and white people] comes from a party sustaining and propagating a system whose basis rests upon prostitution and concubinage more loathsome and degrading than any that can be found in the wide world,” Thacher told the convention.[10]

“Mark the universal bleaching out of the colored race in the South, and remember that in that region the Democracy hold undisputed sway.  There are there ten slaves to-day with Anglo-Saxon blood coursing their veins, to one pure African.”

“… There are men among you who shriek this cry, who first saw the light in the arms of a negro nurse, and from her breast drew the milk of infancy,” Thacher charged. “Let such men never raise a babble so insane and so reflective of their own history!”

McClellan store SE corner of square 1871
An 1871 picture of Clark B. McClellan’s store on the southeast corner of Oskaloosa’s public square. McClellan was Jefferson County’s delegate to the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention in Jul 1859.  Picture courtesy of the Jefferson County Historical Society.

No direct response answered Thacher’s attack, but near the end of the convention, John P. Slough, another Democrat from Leavenworth County, again expressed his displeasure that the constitution would not block people of African descent from living in Kansas.

“Believing that principle to be right, when I became a candidate for this position, I became pledged to myself as well as to my constituents, to do everything in my power to provide in future for the exclusion of free negroes by a clause in the Constitution of the State of Kansas,” Slough told his fellow delegates. He suggested a future Kansas Legislature should put the question to a vote of the (white male only voters) public.

Slough’s effort failed, but delegates kept up a flow of suggested add-ins and exceptions including free white state provisions, all rejected nearly as quickly as they were proposed.  Those clauses would go something like this:  Public schools will educate Kansas children, except black or mulatto children; and  “All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”[11] except for people of African descent (the quoted portion is the first section in the constitution’s Bill of Rights).  The edits would switch something like, Kansans  have a natural right to control of their own persons, their own bodies, all except for except enslaved people.  Other delegates fought to write the constitution in a simpler  way to give broad freedoms to Kansans.  Legislatures could write laws outside of the constitution to address specific needs of the state. [Read the convention’s final Bill of Rights and Constitution here.]

That last right, having control of one’s person, was pounced upon by Democrats who feared giving escaping slaves that right would threaten the enforcement of the federal Fugitive Slave Law. in Kansas.  [  The law allowed slave owners to hunt for and capture runaway enslaved people, even if the slaves took refuge in a free state where slavery was illegal. Under the U.S. Fugitive Slave Law, residents of free states could be penalized if they failed to help capture fugitives and return them to their owners. Enslaved people did not possess control of their persons or bodies.

Samuel A. Stinson, another Leavenworth County Democrat, warned that a Kansas constitution flouting  the Fugitive Slave Law would never win acceptance by Kansas voters. He accused the Republicans of grandstanding their abolitionist and fanatical ideas against slavery.

Benjamin Wrigley, Doniphan County, opposed anything that gave enslaved people “control of one’s person” or body.  Such a provision went against U.S. law and was a mischievous and hostile slap at the Fugitive Slave Law, Wrigley said. He correctly recognized the dislike of the fugitive law in many quarters.

James G. Blunt, a Republican from Anderson County and later a Civil War major general commanding Kansas troops, said nothing would make him support language in the constitution that would permit enforcement of  the Fugitive Slave Law in Kansas. He shamed the Democrats for being eager to obey the commands of their “Southern masters” [the nation’s proslavery power] to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, which Blunt labeled a crime against the laws of God and humanity.

“…And I am equally anxious that the broad prairies of Kansas, that have been so nobly won to freedom, after a long and bloody struggle, shall never be prostituted as the hunting ground for human prey,”[12] Blunt said.

The constitution’s liberty language was defining for Kansas, and that language still govern today. The very words and debates from the 1859 Wyandotte convention were recounted in the April 2019 Kansas Supreme Court ruling on abortion rights.. The court’s interpretation of the Kansas Constitution’s Bill of Rights as it applied to an abortion-restricting law included study of the debates and  deliberations at the  Wyandotte Constitutional Convention, and it peered into the reasons delegates shaped the document’s language the way they did, and didn’t.  {read

In a portion of its 2019 conclusion, the Kansas justices’ 6-1 opinion said, “We hold today that section 1 of the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights protects all Kansans’ natural right of personal autonomy, which includes the right to control one’s own body, to assert bodily integrity, and to exercise self-determination. This right allows a woman to make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life—decisions that can include whether to continue a pregnancy.”[13]

More caustic than the Wyandotte convention’s deliberations over free white state-ism or allowing black men to vote in Kansas (rejected) was who should or should not be entitled to public school education in Kansas (public schools were called common schools at the time).

William C. McDowell, the Leavenworth County Democrat, returned to his feeling that black and white men were not equal, and that people of African descent could not be legislated “up to our standard.”

“… It is proper for us to have a clause preventing the negroes having the benefit of our common schools,” McDowell said.[14]

Josiah Lamb, a Linn County Republican, challenged McDowell’s and others “inferiority” argument, asserting that withholding education made people inferior.

“If they come into Kansas at all, let us give them an education,” Lamb said.  “The very doctrine of trying to prevent them from having the advantages of common schools makes them an inferior race.  Let the Leavenworth delegation petition the Legislature if they don’t want their children to go to school with the blacks, and they can have different schools.”[15]

John Taylor Burris, Johnson County, asked how one class of men could rightly claim Kansas’s public benefits while denying them to other classes of men.

“We must proceed upon the supposition that the blacks are to live in common with the white,” Burris said.  “It is supposed that they are to mingle and live together with us.”

“I ask if it is desirable to see that class of citizens growing up in entire ignorance?  If they are to live in the Territory they should be made as intelligent and as moral as education can make them.”

William Riley Griffith,  of Bourbon County, and who was later elected the state’s first schools superintendent, looked to the horizon and suggested future Kansas legislatures could deal with specifics like the ones the Democrats proposed: “If we incorporate provisions that shall exclude any class, the time may not be far distant when we may wish we had not done so.”[16]

But the Democrats – who like the Republicans offered many proposals they knew would not succeed but wanted their votes on the record– stuck to their constituents’ assumed wishes. John P. Slough, of Leavenworth County, said he could support public education for black pupils, but they should be separated from white children. Anything that implied forced mixing of the races in public schools would be rejected by Kansas Territory voters, and another proposed Kansas Constitution would fail, he said.

“I shall never consent, by my vote, or by any actions of mine, that those upon whom Nature’s God has stamped inferiority, shall ever associate with my children in our common schools, which I hope to assist in supporting,”[17] Slough said.

Delegates ended up straddling the issue, in a way.  Their public schools section did not  address the race of children in determining who should receive an education and whether it should be received separately from children of another race. Article VI, Sec. 2  instructed future Kansas Legislatures to “… encourage the promotion of intellectual, moral, scientific and agricultural improvement, by establishing a uniform system of common schools…”

That left the door open for legalized racial segregation, and six years later the Kansas Legislature had passed a law that allowed for racially segregated Kansas public chools.

Still, on July 29, the final day of the convention, Solon O. Thacher of Douglas County was pleased with the constitution the delegates had created. He recounted how the document had gone through fiery debate, “ Every line almost has been subjected to the scorch of high-wrought argument.”

The majority party (the Republicans) had aimed to make the Kansas Constitution the outline of “great civil truths and rights, leaving out, as far as possible, special legislation,” Thacher said.

 “But, sir, the feature which most endears this Constitution to my heart, and which will commend it most to the true and good everywhere, is that through every line and syllable there glows the generous sunshine of liberty,” Thacher said. “ No repulsive allusion, no wicked prejudice, no ignorant and heathenish distinction mars its beauty of disfigures its fair symmetry.”[18]

Later that day, the document was adopted by the convention and signed.

Except it was not signed by the Democrats, all 17 of whom refused to put their names on the constitution.

And so began the campaign for the white men of Kansas Territory to embrace or reject the Wyandotte Constitution. The electioneering  was described as both lively and bitter, but voters made themselves clear Oct. 4, 1859m  when they adopted the constitution 10,421 to 5,530 votes, nearly a 2-1 margin.

 

[1] The Kansas Historical Society’s Kansapedia content explains all four constitutions and includes transcriptions of their contents in its article “Kansas Constitutions” https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/kansas-constitutions/16532

The historical society’s Kansas Memory website carries the handwritten Kansas Constitution (Wyandotte) here, along with a text version: https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/90272

[2]From Kansas Constitutional Convention: A Reprint of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention which Framed the Constitution of Kansas at Wyandotte in July, 1859 (Kansas State Printing Plant, Topeka 1920), 286-287.  The final version was in Section 6 of the constitution’s Bill of Rights and read “There shall be no slavery in this State; and no involuntary servitude, except for the punishment of a crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”  You may read the book from the 25 days of the convention, including the constitution and other material at the Hathi Trust Digital Library, https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/006570997

[3] Mulatto, an offensive word today, meant a person of mixed race; having one black parent and one white parent.

[4] Delegate Benjamin Wrigley of Doniphan County failed in his effort to work the following into the state’s constitution: nothing in the constitution will be taken to mean “…that the people will be taxed to support schools for negro or mulatto children, or that an enumeration of negro and mulatto children must be made in making a distribution of the schools funds… .“ Kansas Constitutional Convention: A Reprint of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention which Framed the Constitution of Kansas at Wyandotte in July, 1859 (Kansas State Printing Plant, Topeka 1920), 465.

[5] The Kansas Nebraska-Act in 1854 booted earlier law that allowed slavery in incoming southern states but banned it in incoming northern states. Instead, Congress, bowing to southern pressure, determined that settlers in Kansas Territory would vote on whether to be a slave state or a free state, setting off fierce competition between proslavers and freestaters. Read more about the Act on the Kansas Historical Society’s Kansapedia website: https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/kansas-territory/14701

[6] The segregation article from the link was published in the spring 2010 edition of Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 33 by Brent M.S. Campney, pages 22-41.

[7] Four of Jefferson County’s six townships (Oskaloosa, Grasshopper Falls, Osawkee and Rock Creek) favored Republican Henry Buckmaster. But one of the two townships going to the Democrat, C.B. McClellan, did so in such large numbers (Kentucky Township, where most of the enslaved people in Jefferson County lived, went 93-2 for McClellan)that it put McClellan over the top. The other township favoring McClellan was Jefferson.

[8] These ideas were repeatedly  proposed at the convention, even though they repeatedly lost. Democrats – and the Republicans. too – wanted to be on the record with their votes, both for their constituents back home and for upcoming campaigns, including the upcoming public campaign over the constitution’s adoption.

[9]  Mr. McDowell’s speech quoted here can be found  in Kansas Constitutional Convention: A Reprint of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention which Framed the Constitution of Kansas at Wyandotte in July, 1859 (Kansas State Printing Plant, Topeka 1920), 178-179.

[10]From Kansas Constitutional Convention: A Reprint of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention which Framed the Constitution of Kansas at Wyandotte in July, 1859 (Kansas State Printing Plant, Topeka 1920), 179-180.

[11] Section 1 of the Bill of Rights in Kansas Constitution reads, in total: “All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  That result is considerably pared down from the convention’s starting point for proposed language.

[12] From Kansas Constitutional Convention: A Reprint of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention which Framed the Constitution of Kansas at Wyandotte in July, 1859 (Kansas State Printing Plant, Topeka 1920), 277.

[13]  Opinion of the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas, No. 114,153 ,page 86.

[14] From Kansas Constitutional Convention: A Reprint of the Proceedings and Debates of the Convention which Framed the Constitution of Kansas at Wyandotte in July, 1859 (Kansas State Printing Plant, Topeka 1920), 178.

[15] Ibid, 183.

[16]Ibid, 175.

[17] Ibid, 177.

[18] Ibid. 569

 

A Free White State

(Please know that this post contains racist and inflammatory language, and unfounded ideas voiced at a point in territorial Kansas history when citizens were preparing to draw up a constitution to bring Kansas into the Union as a new state.  Slavery was the  question for Kansas statehood , but by 1859 it was understood that Kansas would prohibit slavery.  This is the grand act that we remember now:  Kansas damned slavery by stamping it out for Kansas.  But at the same time, stark racial bigotry had attached itself to other potential decrees to be written into the state’s constitution. It was repugnant, and the next few posts in this blog will look back at some of these defining questions.)

Five years after Kansas Territory opened for settlement, slavery opponents had taken the helm for the final advance to Kansas statehood.  The proslavers who had swooped into Kansas Territory with the Kansas-Nebraska Act[i] in 1854 had run into a snag that eventually would keep slavery on the Missouri side of the river and out of Kansas.

Two adversaries  — those who favored  the ownership of humans and those who opposed it — had battled with ballots and firearms and laws. But bit by bit, by 1858, the slavery supporters knew it was over as they watched freestaters expanding their majority for a “no slavery” Kansas.  It had always seemed such a clean question: You were either for or against slavery, right?

Not right. In 1859 there was a third force, probably less ideological and a little less predictable than the other two.  It was, frankly, a bit of an ogre and it had been hanging around biding its time at least since 1855.  Now, this brute  rode along in the important elections leading to the Wyandotte Constitutional  Convention, the meeting  that produced the constitution bringing Kansas to  statehood as a state free of slavery in 1861.

The settlers in this quieter third force wanted Kansas to be a free white state. That meant they aligned with other freestaters and opposed the spread of slavery into Kansas, yes.  But they shoved their beliefs in a different direction and proposed banning not only enslaved people of African descent – slavery —  in Kansas, but also prohibiting  free black people  (including those of mixed black and white ancestry)[ii] from living in Kansas.

Free white state Weekly_Leavenworth_Herald_Fri__Mar_9__1855_
This newspaper clipping shows the 1855 Free White State Party platform as published in The Kansas Weekly Herald, March 9, 1855, in Leavenworth, Kansas Territory. The image above is from newspapers.com at https://www.newspapers.com/clip/29785340/free_white_state_party_platform/

 

In other words, the free white state supporters would prohibit all people of African ancestry from living in Kansas.  Some of these white staters[iii]  put a bitter cherry on top of their soulless scheme for society by suggesting that if they lost their free white state bid, slavery was the only way they could back allowing people of African ancestry in Kansas. There was precedent for this sort of thing, most famously in Oregon.[iv] Arkansas, too, had just decided to banish free black people from the state.

Economic self-interest, not benevolence for people of a different race,  was a prime reason  white-staters  opposed slavery.  They didn’t  want to have to break sod, build fences, businesses  and homes in competition with the slaveholders who could use the labor of enslaved people.  Slavery cheapened the labor of workers, small start-up farmers like those in Kansas Territory and poor whites trying to earn wages or a living from their farms.

Racism was another reason for the white-staters’ desire to keep people of African descent out of Kansas.  These settlers claimed that black people were ignorant and inferior  to whites.

Before we take up the blurred lines of  Kansas Territory political factions and their imprint on the first  Kansas Constitution,  let me explain why I am writing about this  lesser-known other political player in Kansas Territory.

When the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention convened in July 1859, these free white-staters no longer had their own political party, if they’d really ever had one at all.  They still had their “no negroes” agenda , and they had opted to keep house with the Democrats.   And, as predicted, once the convention was under way slavery was barely discussed before its banishment was written into the constitution.

The white-staters (with the proslavery Democrats) spent much more effort at the convention trying to block free black people from living in Kansas.  They snorted and harangued, but were defeated time and again by the Republican majority that controlled the convention.  Still, they refused to give up everything and managed to put their mark on the constitution in other ways that would preserve something of their white supremacist beliefs. (We’ll look at those debates in the next post.)

We Kansas Territory history writers focus a lot on the terrible strife that brought Kansas to statehood in 1861. The glorious prize at the end of that struggle, which had been  watched closely by the entire nation, was another nail in slavery’s coffin and the magnificent free-state status of Kansas.

We imply by omission that when Kansas Territory joined the Union, liberty and maybe even equal rights for all races had won the day.  Kansas would be a progressive state with further rights following soon  for women and people of color. That’s the myth.  But  some of the racist provisions from those 1850s white men stuck around for decades.

JeffCo Democrats Kansas_National_Democrat_Thu__Mar_24__1859_
These two resolutions are from the Jefferson County, Kansas, Democratic party meeting in March of 1859. At the time this appeared in the Kansas National Democrat newspaper in Lecompton, proslavery partisans had been angry about recent Underground Railroad efforts to help enslaved people move through Kansas Territory to freedom in the north.  That could explain the language of the first resolutions. The image is from newspapers.com and may be seen at https://www.newspapers.com/clip/11423032/jefferson_county_democrats_oppose/

The early Free White State Party platform (the  1855 newspaper clip from The Kansas Weekly Herald) stated its official goals point by point. But, as an official political party in Kansas Territory,  the Free White State Party never really took off.  Its racist proposals, however, stayed alive.

The white staters were less visible than the noisy, more extreme members of the proslavery and free-state blocs.  That was particularly so during the Bleeding Kansas years (1856 and into 1857) when the bigger question of slavery drowned out white staters.  Bleeding Kansas was the era when pro- and anti-slavers formed factional militia groups, shot and stole from each other, burned homes and businesses, tore down fences and destroyed crops all along the Missouri-Kansas border.  Voting frauds were so blatant in Kansas Territory that Congress sent a committee to find out what was going on. [v]

Andrew J. Francis, an Ohio man who lived in Jefferson County’s proslavery territorial county seat, Osawkee (now Ozawkie), attended the committee’s proceedings  in 1856. [vi]  At that time, A.J. Francis[vii] was a white stater, and he was asked to talk about the partisan strife he had witnessed, and to enlighten the committee about secret societies, both freestate and proslavery, that were said to be operating in Missouri and Kansas.

Mr. Francis explained to the committee that his political position had evolved in the  months he had lived in the territory.  When he had first arrived in Kansas Territory he was neither a free-state nor proslavery supporter, he said..

But within a few months he found himself helping to organize a free white state political party.

This party would promote the idea of “slavery before free negroes” A.J. Francis said.

“I took the position that slavery was just and legal, but, as a matter of expediency, I would prefer to have Kansas a free State, provided there were no negroes allowed to live in the territory.”

Salmon Brown, son of abolition extremist John Brown, was unhappy about the white staters.[viii]  In a letter to his mother in August 1855,[ix] the young Brown explained that Kansas free-state party was dividing to bad effect. Some were adamantly opposed to slavery, but others, to Salmon Brown’s disgust, wanted Kansas to be a free white state, he wrote from his new home in  Osawatomie, Kansas Territory.  He found that the white staters wanted either a rigid “black law” to keep black people out of Kansas, or, failing that, they would support slavery.

“This is just what the south wants and just what they have been crowding,” Salmon Brown wrote.  “It will answer there [sic] purpose just as well as a slave State.”

Oddly, another man  irked by the  white staters was a proslavery man, Lucien Eastin.  Eastin was editor of The Kansas Weekly Herald in Leavenworth and his newspaper had published the Free White State Party Platform , shown in the newspaper clipping, on March 9, 1855. Eastin accused the party of trying to trap voters’ support by sugar-coating and white washing their principles.

They were uniting with the ultra abolitionists [abolish all slavery, offer rights to black people] on their common desire for a free state, but ignoring their obvious differences about free blacks in Kansas, Eastin wrote

“For disguise it as they may, it is an abolition movement, to secure the cooperation of all who might favor a Free State, under certain circumstances, and with certain restrictions,” Eastin wrote.

“Thus it can be seen the abolitionists at Lawrence, and the Free White State men of Leavenworth, are making a ‘union of effect’ to make Kansas a Free State. “

Eastin chided the white staters for failing to consider where free black people would go, if states like Kansas were to prohibit them.

“Certainly not to the Slave States, for they won’t receive them. But they are for driving them out, regardless of humanity or right, caring not what becomes of them.  A Free State we should suppose is the very place for free n—–s.  And if this is made a free State despite [the free white state platform endorsers], it will be the harbor of free negroes, and runaway slaves,” Eastin wrote.

The white staters hopped between  the Free State political party (because both would prohibit slavery) and Democrats, the dominant proslavery party.  But in 1859, the Free State Party, after some bitter divisions, had become the Republican Party, a more progressive party that tilted toward liberty for all. Understanding the free white staters’ disinterest for  black peoples’ rights, the  Democrats tugged at the white-stater vote as the territory approached its fourth effort at writing a constitution.[x]   And thus, the prejudices of the white staters  accompanied delegates into the town of Wyandotte  for the 1859 constitutional convention, set to begin July 5.[xi]

As the convention neared, the state Democratic Party and county-level Democrat organizations through the territory called for Kansas to be a free white state. And in an almost annoyed tone, the state Democrtic Party released slavery from their Kansas agenda “… and whereas, the Slavery question is practically settled in favor of a Free State beyond the possibility of further controversy…”

The Democrats’ platform, adopted in May 1859, also accused Republicans of backing the impossibly radical idea of “Negro Equality.”  It was an argument they employed during the campaigns to elect constitutional convention delegates [xii] to draw more voters like the white staters to the Democrat side.

But the party’s main point was this:  “Resolved, That we assert the original and essential inferiority of the negro race, and hereby call upon the Constitutional Convention to prohibit negro and mulatto suffrage, and exclude all free negroes from the future state of Kansas,”[xiii] read the state Democratic Party platform.

The Republican state party platform opened by slamming the Democrat administration in Washington and its appointed government overseers in Kansas Territory. Those forces had oppressed freestaters and disregarding rights, allowing violence and fostering corruption. (Click here to see both party platforms.)

The Republicans resolved “…That freedom is national and slavery sectional, and that we are inflexibly opposed to the extension of slavery to soil now free.”

An abolitionist’s fiery condemnation of  white staters came from The Geary City Era in Doniphan County in Kansas Territory’s most northeast corner. His column was reprinted by The Anti-Slavery Bugle in Lisbon, Ohio, (Click here to read the full article) 

“For is it not practically denying the humanity of the Negro, yes, placing him below the level of the brute creation, to forbid him coming within the limits of the new State of Kansas, on which thousands of dollars, and thousands of human lives have been spent and sacrificed for the now empty word Freedom,” wrote the Kansas newspaper’s junior editor, Earl Marble. He continued, decrying the hypocrisy of the white staters.

“Is this Freedom?  If it is, then the world has as yet but seen the sunny side of slavery!  Was it for this that the once glorious Free State party was organized?”

“Yes! All their [white state] efforts have ended in  — Freedom for the white man, but Slavery for him whom nature has seen fit to clothe in darker skin!”

Jefferson County was allowed only one delegate to the upcoming Wyandotte Constitutional Convention and he voted with the white staters every time one of their issues came up. On June 17,1859,  Jefferson County voters  elected the  Independent  Democrat, Clark Beveridge McClellan[xiv]  to represent them at the convention. C.B. McClellan had defeated (on a vote of 278 to 249) Republican Dr. Henry B. Buckmaster.

Another Jefferson County man ably explains the sentiments of white staters. Among Jefferson County’s very earliest settlers was a group of Missourians who set up a hard-working and long-lived farming community in the east central part of the county, Plum Grove.  William John Meredith,[xv] the grandson of one of those 1854 pioneers, wrote a story about the community’s people, crops, marriages and work, including bits about the politics of the day.  Meredith didn’t offer what political party his grandfather and other settlers preferred in 1850s Kansas Territory, but if I had to guess, I would say they supported a free white state.  In painting a picture of those settlers, Mr. Meredith wrote:

“They were Southern folk, small-farmer type, from Virginia, east Tennessee and Kentucky,  who, to escape the ruinous competition of the plantation system, had journeyed by way of the Wabash valley ‘as far west as any man could then get an acre from the public domain.”  They had moved to Clay County, Missouri, in the 1830s and to Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, in 1854.

“No, they didn’t expect any trouble out there with the Emigrant Aid Yankees [for the abolition of slavery] and such. And they didn’t intend to have anything more to do with the blatherskite Proslavery politicians than they’d ever had at home [in Missouri].”

But then came the conflict between the freestaters and the Lecompton gang[xvi] of proslavery politicians, Meredith wrote.   “All around them there was fighting; night raids, personal feuds magnified into ‘border outrages,’ house-burnings, plundering, horse thieving, mobs and lynchings, each side damning the other for aggression and retaliation.”

William John Meredith’s people didn’t care to be involved in the fighting, he wrote.  His estimate was that nine out of every ten newcomers were free labor men, seeking homes.  “Just everyday common folks, easy to get along with if they weren’t stirred up by the good-for-nothing politicians.”

“Anybody with his eyes open could see that next time an election was held there’d be a landslide “that’d bury the `Lecompton gang’ so deep a coal miner couldn’t find’m”-unless the Free Staters kept up their childish policy of ‘opposing and thwarting and fomenting trouble.”

The Merediths and their Kansas Territory neighbors had friends and family back in [proslavery] Missouri.  When the Civil War opened, Meredith wrote, they didn’t join their neighbors who volunteered  to fight for the Union.  Instead they enlisted in the local militias ordered to defend their homes and counties.

“They certainly had no lust for shedding the blood of their confederate kin. But with a clear conscience they could serve the nation and the state in repelling invasion. That naturally wouldn’t be understood by their newcomer neighbors from the states so far North that all Southerners were like foreigners to them.”

(To be continued)

[i] The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed voters in territories to determine whether a state would allow slavery or not.  The act replaced the Missouri Compromise, which had set out that northern states, like Kansas, would not allow slavery and states south could allow slavery. More information is in this Kansas State Historical Society Kansapedia article: https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/kansas-nebraska-act/15159

[ii] “Mulatto” was a race category term, back then, used for people of mixed black and white ancestry. After Kansas became a state, early censuses documented whether people were white, black or mulatto.

[iii] Sometimes the term “free soilers” comes up in Kansas Territory readings. It is possible it meant the same thing as free white staters, but making a distinction between them and freestaters.  Nationally, there were free soilers, as well as Independent Democrats, linked to the same belief.

[iv]  Read about Oregon’s free white statehood here on the Oregon Encyclopedia website.  Arkansas, in 1859, banished free people of African ancestry. See the link the Arkansas Encyclopedia of History and Culture, next. https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/exclusion_laws/#.XIItROhKiUk   http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=4430

[v] Congress sent three members to Kansas to gather facts about voter fraud (large numbers of Missouri non-residents were voting in Kansas elections to swing the vote for slavery) and violence in Kansas.  The congressmen produced a massive report,   Report of the Special Committee Appointed to Investigate the Troubles in Kansas : with the views of the minority of said committee. The report documented, precinct by precinct, numbers of people eligible to vote in several elections and then the resulting numbers of people who voted in the elections, numbers that never failed to disagree.

[vi] Andrew J. Francis’s testimony is contained in U.S. House of Representatives Report of The Special Committee Appointed to Investigate the Troubles in Kansas; with The Views of the Minority of Said Committee, Cornelius Wendell, printer, Washington, 1856, p 910-921.  The report is filled with examples of voting frauds, crime and violence in the proslavery versus free-state struggles.

[vii]  I wasn’t able to find out as much about Andrew J. Francis as I had hoped. Tracking his whereabouts 10 years after he testified proved fruitless.  After his 1856 committee testimony, he showed up in various Kansas Territory newspapers as a Democrat.  In 1861, during the Civil War, a bizarre story about his communicating with a secessionist in Missouri surfaced  in a newspaper. And in 1865 he had announced his candidacy for city attorney in Atchison.

[viii] “White staters” is not a political label I saw anywhere in the newspapers, periodicals, books or election returns I reviewed for this blog post.  I applied the name to distinguish between people who wanted Kansas to prohibit free people of African descent from living in the state, and the Democrats and Republicans.

[ix] The letter is held by the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History. Salmon Brown to his mother, Mary Ann Brown and Family, August 20, 1855; Boyd B. Stutler Collection, Ms78-; His Soul Goes Marching On, the Life and Legacy of John Brown,a West Virginia Archives and History Online Exhibit. You can read the letter here: http://www.wvculture.org/history/jbexhibit/bbsms05-0028.html

[x] Of the three earlier proposed constitutions, the Lecompton Constitution was the most notorious because it would have enshrined slavery in Kansas (until the Civil War and the end of slavery). The first proposed constitution, the Topeka Constitution, would have prohibited slavery but also included the free white state provision of banning free people of African descent.  The Kansas State Historical Society’s Kansapedia details the four constitutions here:   https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/kansas-constitutions/16532

[xi]  Once Kansans voted (again) to create a constitution for the state, delegates were elected by the voters, based upon county populations.  The delegates, presumably, would take their constituents’ desires to the constitutional convention where the document would be written, line by line, with debate over what would be in the document.  The proposed constitution would be submitted to voters again.  If they approved the constitution, it would go to Congress where the U.S. House and U.S. Senate would act on it.  If it emerged, it would go to the president for final approval.

[xii] The June 17, 1859, elections of delegates to the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention was the first time Republicans (a new political party) faced Democrats in Kansas Territory.  The old Free State Party had been broken up and replaced by the Republican Party.

[xiii] Maybe it’s just me, but it seems odd that the party first wants to block people of African descent from voting, and then it wants to bar them from the state.  Did they think the free black people would adopt the early Missouri border ruffian strategy of popping into Kansas to cast a vote and then go back home in some other state?

[xiv] C. B. McClellan, a popular Oskaloosa merchant from Ohio, had moved to Kansas Territory in November 1857. His obituary said McClellan was an “Independent Democrat” who voted with Republicans and was the first freestater elected as county treasurer in Jefferson County. In the next post, this blog will detail C.B. McClellan’s votes and actions at the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention, where he opposed slavery in Kansas but voted with Democrats in favor of a free white state.

[xv] William John Meredith was the grandson of original Plum Grove, Jefferson County, settlers. Before moving to Missouri in the 1830s, the families had hailed from Virginia and Tennesse.  The excerpts of Meredith’s writings came from The Old Plum Grove Colony In Jefferson County, 1854-1855 by William John Meredith, Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains, November 1938 (Vol. 7, No. 4), pages 339 to 375. The entire piece is here:

https://www.kshs.org/p/the-old-plum-grove-colony-in-jefferson-county/12769

[xvi] Lecompton was the capital of Kansas Territory.  Its governors were appointed by the administration in Washington, which was proslavery.  The territorial officials carried out the administration’s policies, which were illegal and unjust in the eyes of many abolitionist and freestate settlers, as well as in the eyes of  more non-partisan settlers like Mr. Meredith.

 

 

Captain Jesse Newell and His Rifle Company, Continued: J.B. Hazen’s Lawrence Avengers, 1863

Dearest reader,

This post isn’t about Quantrill’s Civil War raid on Lawrence, Kansas.

This post won’t filibuster whether  it was the poorly fortified  abolitionist town’s  own  fault it was attacked on Aug. 21, 1863, or whether the brokenhearted confederate Missouri brush dwellers slaughtered 150 to 200 Lawrence people at  their homes and businesses because four to 10 of their female loved ones died or were injured in a Union prison collapse.

We won’t analyze whether it was the indiscriminately thieving, effective, vandalizing  Kansas Jayhawkers or the drunken, fiendish, proslavery  Missouri Bushwhackers who were on the side of right. The rebel  Lost-Causers’ stalwart celebration of treason and the injustice, horror or meritorious necessity of Kansas’s retaliatory General Order No. 11 doesn’t interest us.  All of that and more await you in books, articles, papers, websites, podcasts, bits of it here, here, here and beyond.

Capt Hazen Lawrence Av milit roll crop aug 29 1863 p1 (2)
This image is part of a page showing J.B. Hazen’s quickly assembled Oskaloosa militia three days after Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence. Named the “Lawrence Avengers,” the militiamen elected Hazen  their captain.  The rest of the document is at the bottom of this post. It is from the Kansas State miscellaneous militia papers by county on this page. of the Jefferson County section on kansasmemory.org  Kansas State Historical Society, page 31.

Instead, we look north from Lawrence to find Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte Hazen in Oskaloosa, Jefferson County, and observe an illustration of  the young state’s response to Quantrill’s  massacre. Within three days of the massacre, J.B. Hazen had organized an Oskaloosa militia company called the “Lawrence Avengers” under state militia regulation.  A good share of the members who populated this early roster, including J.B. Hazen, had been radical freestaters who had fought, scouted and voted to make Kansas a state free of slavery during the turbulent Kansas territorial years.

early oskaloosa report quantrill p3 The_Oskaloosa_Independent_Sat__Aug_22__1863_
This article appeared on page 3 of the Aug. 22, 1863, Oskaloosa Independent newspaper, one day after the Lawrence massacre.  The image is from  the newspapers.com website.

News of William C. Quantrill’s early morning assault on Lawrence  had tumbled across the prairie to incredulous neighbors in Oskaloosa and nearby Kansas towns.  Some could see the smoke over Lawrence.  Unthinkable rumors fluttered in.

But they didn’t yet have the full story of Quantrill’s confederate guerrilla slaughter of about 180[1] men, older boys and some soldiers in Lawrence.  The next day,  a few  newspapers carried haunting snippets about Quantrill’s killing raid on Lawrence, the state’s center for anti-slavery partisans.  By then it was too late for anyone to ride 20 miles from Oskaloosa down to Lawrence to prevent or stop the assault.  John W. Roberts[2] , the publisher of The Independent, decided to go with the little he had for his weekly newspaper the next day, Saturday. (See newspaper clipping, “Lawrence Burnt.”)

Within another day, daily newspaper columns were filled with details of the atrocities, street by street, house by house, corpse by corpse, in Lawrence.  Outraged calls for punitive violence against Quantrill and his Bushwhackers screamed through Kansas, whose Union army soldiers were already fighting near and far in the Civil War.  

Chicago_Tribune_Mon__Aug_24__1863_
The Chicago Tribune put this headline on its page 1 story on Aug. 24, 1863.  The image is from the newspapers.com website.

The state of Kansas responded.  Kansas Gov. Thomas Carney quickly fired off  General Order No. 1 calling the state’s home militia into active service to protect Kansas from what citizens feared would be future Quantrill-like attacks.

In the regular army, Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing doomed key Missouri counties on the Kansas border with  General Order No. 11, warning the nation that his troops would be wiping out shelter for Bushwhackers and guerrillas in Missouri counties along the Kansas border, vacating those counties.  It was an action loudly applauded in the heated aftermath of Quantrill’s murders, but turned Missourians, including Union-supporting Missourians, against Kansas. Go to Missouri today and you will find General Order No. 11 well remembered on the border.

In addition, regular army recruiters like Charles R. “Doc” Jennison, leader of “Jennison’s Jayhawkers,” the Seventh Kansas Cavalry, were sent out to raise new regiments and fill in old ones with new recruits.  Their goal was to rid the earth of confederate guerrillas and their attacks on Kansas civilians and troops.  (One of Jesse Newell’s sons, Mitchell “Doc” Newell, had joined up a couple of months earlier and was  sent off with other Oskaloosa boys in the 5th Kansas Cavalry to do such a job.  A chilling account published years later describes such a raid.)

J.B. Hazen, Oskaloosa, had already served in the Civil War, joining one of U.S. Sen. James H. Lane‘s own brigades, the Fifth Reg., Kansas Cavalry,[3] from July 1861 until March 23, 1862.[4]   He was discharged for disease or disability.    Hazen also was in Jesse Newell’s Rifle Company in 1859, helping escort Underground Railroad conductor John Doy’s rescue squad back into Kansas. (You might recognize Mr. Hazen from his 1867  wagon train journal about his overland move to California, detailed in this blog.)

After Quantrill’s raid, Hazen was early to put together an Oskaloosa cavalry for the state militia, responding to Kansas Gov. Thomas Carney’s militia call for men aged 21-45 not in regular military service to enroll to protect their towns and homes “… from murder and rapine.”[5]

Throughout Jefferson County and the state, militia groups coalesced precinct by precinct.  Carney’s order activated militia organizations that were already organized at some point, since militias were signed on at the war’s beginning in 1861.  Men 21 to 45 years old who were not yet enrolled were ordered to enroll, if they were not in the regular army. These smaller precinct-level militias were combined and combined again to form larger county and multi-county state militia regiments.  As Hazen’s crew was combined with other Jefferson County militia organizations, it lost its “Lawrence Avengers” name.  The regiments, including some Jackson County sections, were under command of Col. Azel W. Spalding.

In Osawkee, once Jefferson County’s proslavery headquarters, old freestater Ephraim Bainter organized “Bainter’s Rangers” on Aug. 31, 1861.  Included on its roster was Valentine F. Newell, Jesse Newell’s oldest son. The “Jefferson Rangers” formed in Sautrell/Sautrelle Falls[6] on Sept. 5, 1863.  The full roster of the original “Lawrence Avengers”  is at the bottom of this post.

The militia regiments, once filled and their officers elected, were required to conduct weekly drills and be ready to defend Kansas, within Kansas.  I haven’t yet found whether Jefferson County’s  militia was called to action in 1863, compared to the massive militia participation in 1864 to protect the border.  A forthcoming blog post will look a little more closely at some of the 1863 Jefferson County militia groups.

Meanwhile, while militias readied to defend their town squares, Kansas was incandescent with calls for retaliation and campaigns to destroy the Missouri guerrillas’ hideouts.

Sen. James H. Lane addressed a crowd in Leavenworth six days after the massacre in Lawrence, charging that the confederate guerrillas hiding in the Missouri border counties could be stopped only one way.

“I will tell you what I want to see,” Lane was quoted as saying, Aug. 28 Leavenworth Times, and outlining the policy of General Order No. 11.  “I want to see every foot of ground in Jackson, Cass and Bates counties burned over — everything laid waste.  Then we shall have no further trouble. The bushwhackers cannot then remain in the country, for they will have nobody to feed them — nobody to harbor them — nobody to provide them with transportation — no place to sleep in, and will have thirty-five miles further to march before they reach Kansas.”

Regiments like Jennison’s had used 1850s Kansas-Missouri border war tactics in Missouri, scouting and harassing enemies, stealing horses, liberating enslaved people.  And while these “Jayhawker” methods were criticized and shamed before and again after the war, the methods were exactly what people were clamoring for.

John W. Roberts of The Oskaloosa Independent lauded Ewing’s General Order No. 11 and suggested that if he had issued it before the massacre and if Jennison already had his new regiment in place, the tragedy might have been prevented.

Hoyt and Jennison dates The_Leavenworth_Times_Sat__Sep_5__1863_
This notice ran in The Leavenworth Times Saturday, Sept. 5, 1863.  The image is from the newspapers.com website.

Jennison and George H. Hoyt, later a lieutenant colonel for this unit, barnstormed the state recruiting the Fifteenth Regiment Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, as broadcast by this advertisement, left.  Other Jennison notices shouted: “No compromise with Rebels! — No quarter to Bushwhackers!  Desolation Shall Follow Treason Wherever this Regiment Marches!”  The ad promised rifles, revolvers and sabres for  the regiment.

Jennison and Hoyt, or at least Hoyt, brought their Death to Traitors campaign to Oskaloosa. The Oskaloosa newspaper’s observation about the speech in its Sept. 15, 1863, edition, said that Captain Hoyt had said many good things in his speech.  But.

“… we protest against the useless amount of profanity which characterizes too much of the public speaking of politicians in Kansas,” the brief article said.  “The English language is strong enough to give expression to any idea proper to be uttered without the use of profanity or vulgarity.  We hope there will be a reform in this particular.”

And of Mitchell “Doc” Newell, who enlisted as a corporal in the Fifth Kansas Cavalry at age 18, the Fifth being merged into Jennison’s new Fifteenth?  He managed to survive the war.   We don’t know much about his service beyond the state’s military records, except for a chilling story written by an anonymous “Jayhawker” in 1889.

In one of the many war-time reminiscence stories published (so much) later,  an anonymous writer described going on a mission in the Missouri woods with members of the young Newell’s Fifteen Kansas Cavalry and Capt. Charles F. Coleman of Kansas Ninth Cavalry Regiment.  The writer admired the stealthy skill of Coleman, who like a deer hunter hid like the Bushwhackers did in the thickets in the woods, waiting for his chance.

Coleman had designed a the plan through which the Kansas soldiers would trap and kill the bushwhackers in their hidden camp on Dry Creek, and six of Quantrill’s raiders died that night, “Jayhawker” wrote.

mitch newell by jayhawker The_American_Nonconformist_and_Kansas_Industrial_Liberator_Thu__Apr_11__1889_
This clip is from an article written anonymously by “Jayhawker” in the American Nonconformist newspaper, Thursday, April 11, 1889.  Image from newspapers.com. The article, entitled “War on the Border By “Jayhawker.”  Chapter III” may be read on the newspapers.com website here.

[1] The number of dead has been reported variously from 150 to 200,  but more recent accounts put the number in the 180 range.

[2] John W. Roberts was editor and publisher of  his weekly, The Independent (renamed The Oskaloosa Independent), from July 1860 into 1892, although Roberts did not move from Ohio to Kansas until 1862.

[3] The 5th Kansas Cavalry was a unit set up by U.S. Sen. James H. Lane when President Abraham Lincoln gave him the extraordinary designation of brigadier general in 1861, meaning Lane could vault over normal procedure and raise troops himself.  Lane’s 3rd and 4th regiments, along with the 5th Kansas Cavalry, were called Lane’s Brigade.  Lane’s securing such power caused consternation for Kansas Gov. Charles Robinson, who held the duty of organizing the state’s military units, and his supporters. Washington powers were well aware of Lane’s strong ties to his Kansas men, many from territorial days, and the recruiting power he would have. More:  http://www.civilwaronthewesternborder.org/encyclopedia/lane-james-henry

[4]   From the Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kansas, 1861-’65. Vol. I Volume 1, pt. 1-2 – Primary Source Edition, p. 138.

[5] Quoted text is taken from General Order No. 1 as it was published in Kansas newspapers. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/22868830/gov_carneys_general_order_no_1/

[6] Sautrell or Sautrelle Falls had replaced Grasshopper Falls as the the name of this Jefferson County town. “Sauterelle” is the French word for grasshopper so the town apparently didn’t go far enough with its image makeover, and the town is now Valley Falls.


The Kansas State Historical Society has digitized the handwritten county militia records from the Civil War on its Kansas Memory website. This link takes readers to the beginning of the Jefferson County portion of page, Kansas Memory Item 227858, page 910.

The pages below show a post-Quantrill’s raid state militia organization in Oskaloosa, Kansas, the Lawrence Avengers, organized Aug. 24, 1863, by J.B. Hazen.  The page may be viewed on the Kansas State Historical Society’s Kansas Memory images, Item 227858, page 940, here.    

Capt Hazen Lawrence Av milit roll p1
Roster names, with name information added by the author: J.B. Hazen, W.D. McCain, William L. Deming, James Covert, George Layton, Joseph Woodhead, Elvin G. Bell, E.G. Seachrest, Joseph E. Clark, A.J. James, Walter Norman Allen, M.J. Bundy, Simon C. Gephart, J.C. Smith, F. Smith, William D. Trapp, Benjamin Hoskinson, Ezra Schlosser Conwell, Lemuel Evans, Dwight Gillmore, Boughton H. Ball, John Newell [Jesse Newell’s son], A.B. Casebier, Levi Shrader. This image is from kansasmemory.org Kansas State Historical Society.
Capt Hazen Lawrence Av milit roll p2
N.W. Taylor, John Guthrie, R. Lyman, Henry Alderman, B.N. White, Joseph Fitsimons [Fitzsimmons], Abraham Newell [Jesse Newell’s son], Joseph Downing, James C. Smith, R.R. Larson, Horace Gibbs, D. H. Leaverton, T.H. Dick,  F.T. Leavell, H.O. Finch, B.F. Finch, C.E. Smith,  G.A. Brown, Whitfield Casebier, Chris E. Norton,  L. [?] F. Cowan, E. Evans, Matthew R. Dutton, Loren Willits, Joseph Gill Rowling, Terry Critchfield.  This image is from kansasmemory.org Kansas State Historical Society.

Capt Hazen Lawrence av p3 John Newell, w d trapp , r lyman m r dutton p 3 (2)
This image is from kansasmemory.org Kansas State Historical Society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Underground Railroad Ambush in Jefferson County, Part VII. A Glorious Return: Captain Jesse Newell and His Rifle Company

A sentence in James B. Abbott’s “how we did it” John Doy  rescue story offers another insight into our Oskaloosa freestater Jesse Newell.

We pick up our story at Rev. Josiah B. McAfee’s place at Grasshopper Falls (now Valley Falls), where John Doy and his rescuers and John Doy had been fed and had a rest. Worried that his crew was being tailed by enemies, Abbott called for Jesse Newell’s aid in the final 20-mile leg of the journey from the St. Joseph jail to Lawrence.[1]

“…word was sent to Captain Jesse Newell, of Oskaloosa, to furnish an escort; and when we arrived at his place we found the Captain on hand with the following-named officers of his rifle company, to wit: Jerome Hazen, First Lieutenant; J. I. Forbes, Second Lieutenant; John Newell, Gil. Towner, Robert Newell, James Monroe, Resolve Fuller, M. R. Dutton – privates; and eight or ten others. And without delay we passed on, most of the escort going to within a few miles of Lawrence, and the captain and a few of his men going the whole distance, where we arrived about six o’clock in the evening, and where we also found the streets lined with people…,” Abbott wrote of the glorious Lawrence arrival in July 1859.[2]

Learning that Jesse Newell had assisted out his fellow abolitionists this way was helpful to my research on Newell. But that first sentence was alluring, the part that called Jesse Newell “Captain” and that he had a “rifle company.” What was he doing with something called a rifle company in 1859 and what did it mean that he was captain of it? I don’t have an oath-worthy answer for that but believe the reference points to a free-state militia type group for defense against proslavers and working to ensure Kansas would become a free state, or it could be the beginnings of a Jayhawker group.

No tidy, primary source that I’ve ever seen says that Jesse Newell was a Jayhawker, and I mean “Jayhawker”[3] in the sense of settlers who took action for the free-state and subsequent Civil War Union cause. Characters like Jesse Newell challenge us to divine answers from a lot of wobbly sources.  But these anecdotes and aged after-the-fact tales are what we’ve got. I’ve pulled up a few today to help you get to know something of Jesse Newell, who lived from 1812-1881. You’ll see more of these anecdotes in future posts.

Story No. 1: Jayhawkers and Uncle Jesse Newell

Jeremiah H. Bennet, who settled near Grasshopper Falls in 1857, wrote a series of articles, Early Recollections of Kansas, for The Oskaloosa Independent in 1878. Bennet was a lawyer, a county schools official, and a knowledgeable and entertaining writer.  His May 11, 1878, Recollection reveals Oskaloosa and  Jefferson County  Jayhawker activity during the Civil War, the “rebellion,” as Bennet calls it. Warning: Bennet’s first paragraph set-up speeds through about a dozen things that are separate tales in themselves, but we will zero in on the Jayhawkers.

“It was in the dark portion of the rebellion. Close to the time when the southern army held possession of the Hannibal & St. Joe Railroad; when a Rebel paper at the city of Atchison rejoiced at the Union defeat at the battle of Wilson’s Creek; when the Jayhawkers held high carnival at Oskaloosa; when herds of rebel cattle pastured on the borders of Cedar Creek [west of Grasshopper Falls]; when horse flesh as well as white man was ‘mighty unsartin.’” And…

“… It was after the time that Jefferson County militia took possession of Atchison one bright sunny morning. Those were wild times for our boys, and those boys were wild. Uncle Jesse Newell commanded the Oskaloosa company.  Sim Hull the Crooked Creekers. Ed. Hutchins the Grasshoppers. Did Hiram Webb have a company?  S.S. Cooper was Major of the Jefferson Rangers. Ed. Lynde was commander of the Post at Atchison.”

Bennet was describing a story in which a Missouri Confederate militia officer, Gideon Thompson, owed a debt. He owned pastureland[4] on the Kansas side, west of Grasshopper Falls and, according to Bennet’s story, Thompson’s livestock was to be sold off to satisfy a judgement. Word got out that the Oskaloosa Jayhawkers were going to snatch up the livestock first, before it would be sold.  The Oskaloosa crew, Bennet wrote, had a reputation for “sudden and swift thoroughness.”

Jesse and Rosannah Newell
This photograph of Jesse Newell and his wife Rosannah was published in a centennial booklet, The First Hundred Years of Jefferson County Kansas, in 1955.

The standard bio for Jesse Newell, found in the local 19th century newspapers and abbreviated county histories, is that he and his brother-in-law Joseph Fitzsimmons co-founded Oskaloosa, arriving from Iowa in 1856. We know that Newell, who set up a steam-operated saw mill, was in the thick of Jefferson County’s proslavery vs. free-state conflicts in September 1856. He is listed in censuses as a physician. He was a Methodist, and came to Kansas Territory from Iowa with Methodist Episcopalian minister’s credentials. He was viewed as a radical freestater.[5] But these synopses say nothing of his Jayhawker or off-the-books Civil War service.

Story No. 2:  Noble-hearted

The Civil War Battle of Wilson’s Creek (read about it here), fought near Springfield, Missouri, was significant for Kansas, which had just become a state on Jan. 29, 1861. It was the first major battle fought west of the Mississippi, and it was one the Union lost to the Confederates. Kansas had quickly raised the 1st Kansas Infantry and 2nd Kansas Infantry regiments, and sent them into the battle Aug. 10, 1861. Jesse Newell had two sons in the 2nd Kansas, Robert and Abram. Robert was killed that day and Abram injured.

Kansas U.S. Sen.  Samuel Clarke Pomeroy spoke of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek that December on the U.S. Senate floor, recounting the work of Kansas soldiers in the young war and lamenting the death of Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, a Kansas freestater favorite who died in the battle. A portion of his address, published in The Weekly Atchison Champion on Jan. 4, 1862, mentioned Lieut. Robert Newell, and his father, Jesse Newell (who was closer to 50 years old, instead of 60 as recalled by Pomeroy).

“But this day’s work was not ended until from the sixteen hundred who went into that battle from Kansas, five hundred and forty men, the pride and hope of our young State, not yet a year old, lay among the dead or the wounded.”  And, continuing…

“Lieutenant Newell, I am sorry to say, was killed. I remember him and his noble-hearted father (though sixty years of age) marching, camping and fighting with us through the long and wasting years of 1855 and 1856, never to be forgotten in our early history.”

Story No. 3:  Too much fight in the material of his constitution

James B. Shaw was a Methodist Episcopalian preacher who came to Kansas Territory in 1857 and was a leader in establishing the church in the new circuit. He knew the developing towns of Kansas Territory and helped install Methodist churches and travelling ministers for the local worshippers. As a result, he knew Oskaloosa and Jesse Newell, and had this to say:[6]

“The town was commenced by members of the church from Iowa. The leading man was a local preacher, and under his leadership they prospered for a time; but there was too much fight in the material of his constitution for these troublous times; so he quit preaching, engaged in the struggle, and was carried away in the excitement; got out of the church and became intemperate. He has once of twice been reclaimed, and the last I heard of him, he was preaching for the United Brethren. May he have strength to triumph over all sin and stand entire at last.”

No, Rev. Shaw does not offer a name for the person above. I’ve narrowed it down to Jesse Newell and Jacob Boucher, another Iowa settler who came to Oskaloosa, Jefferson County, as they were the only two people Shaw could have meant.  I haven’t found much information about Boucher during Bleeding Kansas days or about his leaving the Methodist church.

But Jesse Newell in 1857 formally and voluntarily gave up his Methodist preaching credentials during the “Kansas troubles.”[7] He requested and received  their reinstatement in 1868. The Rev. Shaw also had this to say of Jesse Newell:

 “Jesse Newell was one of the town proprietors. He came here a local preacher; he was ardent and positive in his temperament, and when he went right, he went with railroad speed; but when he stopped, he would not go at all; and when he took the wrong shoot, he went with accelerated motion. I believe on the whole, he wanted to be good, and do good. He had some ups and downs. We hope, through grace, he will get to heaven at last.”

Maybe Newell was associated with more than one Underground Railroad venture, as a guard or escort, and that’s why he had a rifle company. The  passage of enslaved people seeking safety and freedom, after all, was still illegal in 1859 when we meet Newell’s rifle company. Escorts would connect with the network of countryside safe harbor points that extended all the way into Canada.

Recall, too, that Newell and other Jefferson County freestaters had been under assault in earlier years by proslavers from within and without Kansas Territory. Maybe this rifle company remained as a defensive troop for the occasional flare up. It was 1859 and while Kansas Territory appeared to be in the clear to enter the Union as a free state (no slavery), statehood was still a year and a half away and tussles were not unheard of. It wasn’t time yet for a rifle company to serve in a state-ordained militia or in a home guard to ward off Rebels in the Civil War.

A few dark, nameless, conspiratorial stories pop up here and there hinting that Oskaloosa was a headquarters for Jayhawkers during the Civil War. Those accounts cast Jayhawkers as wholly criminal, never noting that the Kansas armed forces officially put Jayhawkers to work saving Kansas from being overtaken by Missouri confederates during the Civil War or taking supplies from Rebels to feed and outfit Union troops. Some of those accounts were written by people associated with spreading slavery to Kansas.

Story No. 4: Physician

This final anecdote, for now, is about Jesse Newell’s status as a pioneer doctor. Censuses listed him as a physician and I have found just one anecdote to back that up. I present the clip from the Oskaloosa newspaper with a warning to the squeamish.[8]

“Tumor Extracted. – Dr. Newell has shown us a small encysted tumor which he extracted from the head of Mr. J. Downing, of this place.  In shape, it somewhat resembled an eye-tooth, and under the glass exhibited the porous characteristics of the skin in a diseased condition.  It was a tough, gristly or cartilaginous substance, and when first removed contained living animalcule of the largest size.  It was extracted by medicine without the aid of surgeon’s instruments.”

[1] You can read about John Doy’s 1859 failed attempt to help 13 freedom-seekers via the Underground Railroad and Doy’s subsequent rescue from a Missouri jail in Abbott’s account here and here.  The unrealized role of  Jesse Newell and other Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, men for the January 1859 Underground Railroad trip is explained here in Part IV

[2] Maj. James B. Abbott  read his story of “The Immortal Ten” rescue of John Doy on Jan. 15, 1889, at the annual meeting of the Kansas State Historical Society, 30 years after the 10 Lawrence area men sprang John Doy from the St. Joseph, Missouri, jail. Future posts will tell a little about those other members of Captain Newell’s rifle company.

[3] The word “Jayhawker” has a lot of connotations. A short explanation can be found here, although  countless books and articles have debated whether Jayhawkers were good soldiers for the cause and defenders of freedom  or merely ruffian thieves.

[4] Jefferson County property tax records, patents filed with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s General Land office records and Thompson’s Missouri probate records (ancestry.com) all confirm his land holdings in Jefferson County, Kansas.

[5] Radical freestaters, or Radical Republicans,.opposed slavery in the United States. In Kansas, they also believed African-Americans should be allowed to live free in Kansas, and have rights equal to white men’s. Radical freestaters differed from another sort  of freestaters, those who didn’t want slavery in Kansas but who wanted to bar free African-Americans from Kansas. Jesse Newell was called a radical freestater  by John Day, a fellow Bleeding Kansas-era freestater  in Jefferson County Kansas Territory, in Topeka’s The Daily Commonwealth newspaper, March 15, 1881.

[6] Both quotations are from James B. Shaw’s book, Early Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in Kansas, Haskell printing Co., 1886.

[7] Jesse Newell’s original “parchment” certificate is dated 1853 and is from Oskaloosa, Iowa.  The document  named Newell a deacon qualified to administer baptisms, marriages and burials in certain conditions and to preach the gospel. It is held in the Kansas United Methodist Archives at Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas. The archives also document Newell surrendering his credentials in April 1857  and having them restored in March 1868.

[8] The article, “Tumor Extracted,” was published in The Oskaloosa Independent on July 11, 1863.A

An Underground Railroad Ambush In Jefferson County, Part VII. A Glorious Return: Supper and Rest with Rev. Josiah B. McAfee

 Our previous post introduced a few Jefferson County settlers, some of whom were ready and willing Underground Railroad volunteers,  who were called upon in July 1859 to help James B. Abbott’s “Immortal Ten” rescuers with the last leg of a deftly performed  rescue.  Abbott and nine Lawrence-area freestaters had just freed Underground Railroad operator John Doy from a St. Joseph, Missouri, jail before he would be shipped off to the state’s penitentiary. Doy had been incarcerated for his part in helping enslaved and free black people make their way to safer states and places. With Doy along, Abbott’s crew worked their way south through Kansas Territory from an area probably in Doniphan County, reaching Jefferson County. You can read the entire account of Abbott’s supremely operated mission here.

“… About ten o’clock that night we found our way to a farm-house situated a little off from the road, near what was then known as Grasshopper Falls, owned and occupied by Rev. J.B. McAfee, now known as Hon. J.B. McAfee, present member of the Legislature from Shawnee county, at which place we were well fed and made very comfortable. Thinking that it was more than likely that the horseman who followed us would endeavor to get reinforced at Lecompton and try to recapture Dr. Doy, …” Abbott wrote for a speech given 30 years later. The group got back on the road and continued toward Lawrence

Guest poster Wendi Bevitt has been researching the minister from Grasshopper Falls. Wendi is a historical and genealogical researcher specializing in Kansas history and she kindly shares a little of her research on Josiah B. McAfee. 

By Wendi Bevitt

Josiah B.  McAfee, born in 1830 in Juniata County, Pennsylvania, came to Kansas Territory in 1855. He and his pregnant wife, Anna, and their toddler, Celeste, traveled by railroad and steamer, finding immediate and constant conflict in the pro-slavery dominated town of Leavenworth.  This did not keep the fiery young pastor from speaking against slavery when provoked, and he often faced threats on his life.

Within a month of his arrival, Josiah McAfee opened a small subscription school called Leavenworth Collegiate Institute. His own schooling included Pennsylvania College at Gettysburg, followed by Lutheran seminary in Maryland. McAfee’s Leavenworth school was the first school in Kansas Territory aside from mission or military schools.

Josiah engaged himself with ensuring Kansas entered  the Union as a free state, and  in 1856 along with other free-state men he traveled east to Ohio to visit Gov. Salmon P. Chase and on to Washington D. C.  to meet President Franklin Pierce and Speaker of the House Nathaniel Banks. He made 27 speeches encouraging the election of the Republican John C. Fremont and William L. Dayton in the fall of 1856[1].  When McAfee returned to Kansas Territory, he found that his home had been taken over, the school closed, his church used as a store, and his fellow preachers chased out of Leavenworth by local proslavery forces who also gave him notice to leave.

Josiah B. McAfee Kansas Memory item 216367
Pictured is Caplain J.B. McAfee, a Pennsylvania-born early Kansas settler. The image is from the Kansas State Historical Society’s Kansas Memory website, Item 216367 and may be seen here.

His family found refuge nearby in Jefferson County at the free-state community of Grasshopper Falls. There he was welcomed by Lorenzo Northrup, who gave him land and invited him to start a school and to preach.  He built the first Lutheran church west of the Missouri, primarily by himself, and started classes immediately, lodging the teacher in his house. He preached every other week  at Grasshopper Falls and at three other area churches on the off Sunday. He refused payment for his ministry, which placed him in financial straits because of earlier losses caused by the border ruffians.

In the Civil War, McAfee served in and recruited for the 11th Regiment of the Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, Company I, which included soldiers from Burlingame and Grasshopper Falls.  Like many from Co. I, he transferred out of that company to serve in a U.S. Colored troops regiment.  As chaplain of 2nd Kansas Colored (which eventually became the 83rd US Colored Troops), when his unit was stationed at Fort Smith, Arkansas he was assigned the  care of the more than 4,000 refugees in the area.  He personally accompanied some of the 2,600 refugees who came to Kansas[2].

Prior to the end of the war, he followed his former commander and soon to be Kansas governor, Samuel J. Crawford to Topeka to serve as Crawford’s personal secretary.  Still retaining some ties to Grasshopper Falls, he for a time owned a newspaper named The Jeffersonian along with George T. Isbell from 1865-66[3], which served as a voice for Gov. Crawford’s politics.  Josiah then put down deeper roots in Topeka by establishing a Lutheran church there and becoming adjutant general for the state of Kansas.

His Topeka home consisted of a sizable stock farm north of present day Gage Park. On his farm he employed former U.S. Colored Troops soldiers.

From 1870-1871 Josiah served as mayor of Topeka.  He would give half of his salary to the police force, encouraging them to enforce the laws, and the other half to the temperance cause and charity.  During McAfee’s tenure as mayor no liquor licenses were issued and gambling paraphernalia was publicly burned. His actions resulted in his being “unmercifully reversed” in the next election.

 

He was a three-time member of the Kansas House of Representatives starting in 1883.  He maintained a staunch opposition to liquor and promoted fierce prohibition laws, conceding to less stringent ones only to allow for their passage.  His leadership within the prohibition movement prompted him to be among the individuals to post bail for Carry A. Nation when she was arrested for smashing a liquor establishment with some of her followers[4].

Josiah died in Topeka in 1908 at the age of 77.

 

*Most of the general history obout McAfee was taken from  A History of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Kansas by Rev. H. A. Ott, D.D. F. M. Steves & Sons, Topeka, KS , 1907.

[1] The Weekly Commonwealth (newspaper) “Kansas Legislature: Brief Sketches of the Representatives”, December 16, 1886.

[2] Vicki Betts. Fort Smith New Era, October 1863-December 1864.  University of Texas at Tyler, 2016.

[3] Valley Falls New Era July 1, 1876.

[4] Marshall County News (newspaper), “Mrs. Nation is out on Bond”, March 1, 1901.

An Underground Railroad Ambush in Jefferson County, Part VII. A Glorious Return: Shelter and an Armed Escort

Today we get back to John Doy, the Kansas Territory Underground Railroad conductor who was  ambushed with his 13 freedom-seeking passengers south of Oskaloosa in late January 1859.

Doy had been making his way to the home of Jesse Newell, cofounder of  Oskaloosa and likely a Jayhawker for the antislavery cause. Newell’s place was to be Doy’s first stop on the dangerous trip for the enslaved and free African-Americans trying to make their way to northern states and safety.  North of Oskaloosa, still in Jefferson County, Doy had planned to stop at the home of the Rev. Josiah B. McAfee at Grasshopper Falls, now Valley Falls,  for aid.

But Doy’s capture that January night by slave-catchers and kidnappers, border ruffians and other armed proslavers crushed those plans. The Underground Railroad train never made it to the Newell or McAfee homes. Instead, Doy and his son, Charles, and the 13 freedom-seekers were hauled east across the Missouri River and jailed in Missouri.

(Note: A future blog post will share accounts of this catastrophic result for the two free and 11 likely enslaved people from Missouri who did not get away to the north on the John Doy trek. I have not researched many of the bigger questions and stories linked to the John Doy story because this blog is micro-focused. However, others have studied some of these topics and I will forward some of their published findings.)

Now, six months later on July 23, 1859, John Doy sat in a St. Joseph, Missouri, jail. He had been convicted of enticing[1] a slave away from his Missouri owner, Weston Mayor Benjamin Wood., who was in the ambush group. Doy had been jailed for six months and was about to be transferred to the state penitentiary in Jefferson City for five years of hard labor.

Kansas friends viewed  Doy’s  ambush by Missourians in Kansas Territory  that January  as an outrageous kidnapping. They further rejected the Missouri jury’s June decision that Doy had “enticed” the enslaved man called Dick away from the Weston mayor’s ownership. Doy’s defense, paid for by the territorial legislature,  argued, with the support of witnesses, that Doy was not in Missouri at the time  he was accused of persuading Dick to leave slavery behind.

While Doy was locked up in Missouri, rumors hinted  that fighting Kansas men would try to rescue Doy from jail or the state prison. As July waned, James B. Abbott, a free-stater with experience from Bleeding Kansas days, was asked by some of Lawrence’s abolitionist and Underground Railroad leaders to do precisely that.

Abbott selected nine other Kansas Territory men he knew could do the job, many of them likewise tested during the slavery and free-state struggles of 1855-1856. On July 23, with small boats secretly tied to the dark riverside, a tall tale to trick a jailer and discreet plans to blend into crowds exiting the town’s theater, the Kansas men walked out of the jail and headed toward the river and Kansas.

On their return trip, the rescuers and John Doy would travel through Jefferson County, where we meet again some of the Jefferson Countians  who had agreed to help enslaved people get free.

Elwood, Gunn and Mitchell's New Map of Kansas and the Gold Mines (up to 1862)
This is a photograph of a print of a portion of  Gunn & Mitchell’s New Map of Kansas and the Gold Mines, show Kansas up to 1862. The towns on the route the Immortal Ten would have taken to rescue John Doy from his Missouri jail St. Joseph to the Elwood area, then south to Valley Falls, Oskaloosa and back to Lawrence.

After their rescue work was finished, the ten Kansas Territory men were hailed as “The Immortal Ten.” The rescue was a masterpiece of covert operational planning and execution. The men had liberated Doy and spirited him back to Lawrence without harming anyone in their way.

Abbott 30 years later presented a speech about how The Immortal 10 had succeeded in their cunning and precise operation. You’ll find it  here. It’s a gripping read

He tells of a (smaller) role played in this important Kansas story by some Jefferson County settlers. No, they were not among the Ten. But their aid and willingness to stand up again was another puzzling example of a story that didn’t make it into Jefferson County’s history narratives. Back in the picture with Doy are  Rev. McAfee and Jesse Newell, and this time Jesse Newell’s got a rifle company.

Here, Abbott describes the last one-third of trip back  to Lawrence  from the northeast Kansas point where Abbott’s men, with a weakened Doy in tow, had crossed the Missouri River from St. Joseph.

“…About ten o’clock that night we found our way to a farm-house situated a little off from the road, near what was then known as Grasshopper Falls, owned and occupied by Rev. J.B. McAfee, now known as Hon. J.B. McAfee, present member of the Legislature from Shawnee county, at which place we were well fed and made very comfortable. Thinking that it was more than likely that the horseman who followed us would endeavor to get reinforced at Lecompton and try to recapture Dr. Doy, word was sent to Captain Jesse Newell, of Oskaloosa, to furnish an escort; and when we arrived at his place we found the Captain on hand with the following-named officers of his rifle company, to wit: Jerome Hazen, First Lieutenant; J. I. Forbes, Second Lieutenant; John Newell, Gil. Towner, Robert Newell, James Monroe, Resolve Fuller, M. R. Dutton – privates; and eight or ten others. And without delay we passed on, most of the escort going to within a few miles of Lawrence, and the captain and a few of his men going the whole distance, where we arrived about six o’clock in the evening, and where we also found the streets lined with people…”

We will get to know some of these Jefferson County settlers in upcoming posts. Our first nearly forgotten Jefferson County Freestater from the John Doy experience will be Josiah B. McAfee, whom guest blogger Wendi Bevitt has come to know quite well.

[1] John Doy and his lawyers argued that Doy was not guilty of enticing the Weston mayor’s enslaved man away from Missouri because Doy had not been in Missouri to do so. It was not uncommon for enslaved people to get themselves to Lawrence, well-known as an Underground Railroad town, to find help. Missouri’s slavery laws from the 1850s   are explained here:  https://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/education/aahi/earlyslavelaws/slavelaws

 

The Battle of Grasshopper Falls, Part II The Steamboat Correspondents

The Grasshopper newspaper’s account of “The Battle of Grasshopper Falls,” printed nearly two years after the burning of the town’s store, is pretty straightforward.

Freestaters had been guarding Grasshopper Falls, but the proslavery rangers  charged in during a break on Sept. 12, 1856. They burned and plundered. The Grasshopper Falls freestaters didn’t have time to rally and defend their town. But no  one was killed or injured, it appears.

I don’t think there’s an official, fact-checked account of what happened during Jefferson County’s  Bleeding Kansas week, which blew up in fights at Osawkie, Grasshopper Falls, Hickory Point and on Slough Creek near Oskaloosa. That leaves us a lot of choices for pondering the Grasshopper Falls destruction because the news reports of the day were magnificently varied.  Let’s start with my favorites, the story as told by someone getting off  a steamboat in Missouri.

The_Times_Picayune_Mon__Sep_22__1856_
This clipping is from The Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans, page 2, Monday Sept. 22, 1856. The second paragraph is about the Grasshopper Falls attack, which, in fact, happened BEFORE Hickory Point. The image is from 2018 Newspaper.com

Same boat, different story, below.

The_New_York_Times_Mon__Sep_22__1856_
This clip has a scrambled story, as well, and is from The New York Times, page 1, Monday, Sept. 22, 1856. The image is from 2018 Newspapers.com

Palmyra Weekly Whig, from the Polar Star

In Palmyra, Missouri, the Palmyra Weekly Whig ran the news “FROM KANSAS” on page 2 of its Sept. 25, 1856, edition. The story said that the newspaper was indebted to one of the officers of the Polar Star steamer for the information, which was gathered  when the boat landed at Atchison (Kansas).

“The day before the battle at Hickory Point, Capt. Robinson[1] went to Grasshopper Falls and defeated a force of about one hundred Insurgents[2] under the command of one Crosby.[3] Cap. Robinson also captured all their stores and ammunition, consisting of property stolen by the Insurgents. Two of these men were killed, and they all left their horses, which were taken by the Law and Order[4] men.”

Northrup and the Crosby Brothers

A few years later, Congress collected stories of financial loss suffered by Kansas Territory settlers during Bleeding Kansas[5], defined  as November 1855 to December 1856. About 500 claims resulted, among them these from The Battle of Grasshopper Falls.

Dr. Lorenzo Northrup had his office in Crosby’s building in Grasshopper Falls. When the building was torched by the proslavers, Northrup lost $1,120, he said.  That’s $575 worth of drugs and medicines, $150 in surgical instruments, $345 in books, $50 in office furniture.  He said between about 30 men, who he thought had come from Atchison, entered Grasshopper Falls in the morning.

“…they crossed the creek below the [saw] mill and came up to the town with their horses on a run, giving a whoop or scream as they came up… I was about 100 yards from Mr. Crosby’s store at the time, and immediately started for my horse, which was picketed a short distance away but was pursued by two men from the party, and my horse taken by them before I could secure him; and for my own safety went down to the bank of the creek and remained there until the party left town, which was less than an hour, I should think.”

Rufus H. Crosby and his brother ,William, owned the store and building that burned that day. They told the claims panel  that they lost $3,359.50, a figure that includes a horse, which was stolen.   The store contained boots and shoes, caps, hats, tinware, hardware, stationery and books, clothing, bedding, dry goods, groceries and provisions, a stove and the Crosby brother’s account books.

The Squatter Sovereign

The ultra-proslavery newspaper of Atchison, The Squatter Sovereign , gave extensive coverage in several editions to the Jefferson County events of September 1856. Edited by J.N. Stringfellow and R.S. Kelley, the Sovereign jumped right in with its coverage on Sept. 16. The paper reported that Capt. Robertson [6] took 24 men to Grasshopper Falls to fight “Lane’s hirelings.”

“They rode in a trot until within about a mile of town, when they charged with a yell that struck a panic in the ranks of the white-livered Yankees. Not a shot was fired at them, though one man snapped at Capt.  R and was shot on the spot for his temerity. At the time of the attack, Capt. Crosby’s company numbering about thirty, were on parade, but scattered like a flock of startled sheep without firing a gun. So terror-stricken were they that numbers of them lay in cornfields and permitted our troops to pass within a short distance of them without firing a gun.

“Crosby’s store, with all its contents – consisting chiefly of provisions and supplies for the band of thieves whose rendezvous was at that point – was burned to the ground. Some arms and horses, stolen during the depredations of Crosby’s gang, were brought away, but everything else that could be used to sustain the midnight assassins was destroyed. Two or more of the abolitionists were killed, but not a scratch was received by any of our men. This much accomplished, the company returned to Hickory Point.”

Pap. Weiser

The Valley Falls New Era in 1876 published a lengthy history of Jefferson County and included a streamlined version of The Battle of Grasshopper Falls, taking pains to explain the freestater defeat. Since the town defenders were surprised by the attack they vamoosed so the proslavers would not attack the defenseless old men, women and children left behind. The account focuses on the oddities of the rout and notes that no one was hurt.

“Among the invalids around town was old Pap. Weiser. He had purchased a sack of flour of Mr. Crosby, was in the store at the time it was set on fire, was unwilling to lose it, sought the Captain of the [Ruffian] company and obtained permission to take it out.  Mr. Weiser rushed into the store, shouldered his flour and was making off with it, when some of the Carolinians pointed their guns at him and cried out, ‘Run old fellow or we will shoot you!’ Mr. Weiser responded, ‘Just you shoot and be d—-d. I cannot run any faster than I does.’ The pluck and courage of the old gentleman not only won the day, but the admiration of all.”

[1] This captain more likely is a Capt. Robertson, who led the southerners and Missourians in 1856 Kansas Territory.

[2] Insurgents, meaning freestaters. But 100 freestaters stationed as Grasshopper Falls??

[3] Rufus H. Crosby

[4] Law and Order men were proslavers.

[5] About 500 Kansas Territory claims are contained in the 1861 Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives made during the Second Session of the Thirty-Sixth Congress, 1860-1861.

[6] The same edition of the paper lists Robertson as captain of a unit with numerous men who had come to Kansas from South Carolina and other states to make Kansas a slave state.

Kansas Day

January 29, 1861

Forget for the moment Bleeding Kansas, fraudulent elections, Border Ruffians and murderous abolitionists. Kansas Territory, having fought off slavery from 1854 into 1859, was about to slip into the Union as the 34th state.

“HAIL! YE SOVEREIGNS!,” crowed The Oskaloosa Independent in its January 30, 1861, edition. “LATEST. – We learn from a private source that a telegraph was received in Leavenworth at three o’clock yesterday (Tuesday) announcing that Kansas is admitted into the Union as a sovereign State.”

Cause for joy, all right, but on that same page we have this: “Beyond all question, we are on the brink of a terrible chasm; it may be [our] destruction as a nation. No one can look the danger fairly in the face, and not feel a cold tremor run through the frame.  War! Bloody, relentless, fratricidal war stares us in the face!”

Not so celebratory, and here’s a refresher about why that was.

Kansas Territory voters finally sent a free-state constitution to Congress and the president on October 4, 1859. Kansans had wrangled through three other  proposed constitutions with opposing positions on slavery before settling on the Wyandotte Constitution, which barred slavery. Note that date.

In the spring of 1860, enough U.S. House of Representatives members stamped the legislation OK by them and sent Kansas statehood to the U.S. Senate.  Despite effort from northern senators, the legislation went nowhere. Southern slave states didn’t like slavery-free states and they had the votes to paralyze the legislation. The Kansas question was shoved down to a committee.  Congress adjourned.

Abraham Lincoln, the Republican, was elected president November 6, 1860. Within five days, South Carolina’s two senators dismissed themselves from the U.S. Senate, their state about to secede from the Union.

Mississippi’s two senators, then Alabama’s, then Florida’s all quit the Senate January 21, 1861,  their states having quit the Union.

With the southern senators’ departing footprints fresh on the ground, Kansas backers saw their chance and quickly brought up the Kansas bill, which finally passed the Senate. Having a pack of  “no” votes disappear with secession gave Kansas the passage numbers it needed.

The Kansas legislation make a quick flight back to the House to check a minor amendment, approved Jan. 28, 1861. The next day, the outgoing slavery-supporting president, James Buchanan, signed the bill.

Editor John Wesley Roberts and his associate John W. Day had it right in their Oskaloosa newspaper that day. Happy that Kansas was a state, they saw what the seceding southern states would bring in a Civil War. Still, Kansas had became a free state and that was cause for elation.

“The President has signed the bill, and we are now citizens of the United States,” read The Emporia News on February 2, 1861. “The joyful news was received here on Thursday afternoon, and soon was communicated to all within hearing by the booming of the ‘big gun.’ A national salute of thirty-four guns was fired – one for each State and a ‘tiger’ for Kansas.”

The Kansas National Democrat, the proslavery newspaper based in Kansas Territory’s slavery-backing HQ, Lecompton, agreed to be glad Kansas was a state in its February 7, 1861, edition. “No one can fail to notice that the admission of Kansas as a State is producing much interest among the people of the country. Our brethren of the Republican school – including editors of Kansas journals – are all at the height of glorification.”

And, finally, there was outrage from a Kansas supporter relieved at the new free state’s admission, The Evansville Daily Journal (Indiana) of February 1, 1861: “The states which endeavored to thrust a blighting institution on her, failing in their work, are now madly rushing to destruction on account of the same institution that they tried to force on her.” And, “We confidently believe that the day will come when the whole secession scheme with all of its attendant horrors will be stigmatized as the work of the maniacs of South Carolina.”

 

(Sources for this article include the U.S. Senate’s website at https://www.senate.gov/ and the Kansas State Historical Society’s Kansapedia article, Kansas Constitutions, at https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/kansas-constitutions/16532 )

The Battle of Grasshopper Falls

I had not known that the 1856 Border War attack on Grasshopper Falls carried a name.

Yes, we knew that the Crosby brothers’ general store and Dr. Lorenzo Northrup’s books, medicines and surgical instruments were torched in a September 12 raid by proslavery rangers. That arson and the weak resistance by Grasshopper Falls freestaters was part of a lickety-split succession of clashes over slavery in Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, in a week’s time.

But accounts of the raid have hung in dimness and contradiction, probably because a). The freestaters were utterly routed, b). No one died and c). Nobody has seemed to know much about it. Well.

During the Fall of ’56, when the Blood Hounds of the South were making such desperate efforts to crush out the Free State men of Kansas, the citizens of Grasshopper Falls and vicinity being almost unanimously of the latter class, united in a company...”

Joseph A. Cody,[i] editor and proprietor of The Grasshopper newspaper, as it turns out, ran a story, [ii]The Battle of Grasshopper Falls,” in his June 12, 1858, here.  His stirring account of  Bleeding Kansas in Jefferson County and Grasshopper Falls (now Valley Falls) brought a new bit of information, at least to me, along with its glorious hyperbole. It explains why the  Grasshopper Falls freestaters bumbled their defense, and it was written about two years after the event. That’s closer than the decade and decades-old remembrances written later.

The war over slavery for Kansas had raged south of the Kansas River. Flashpoints included four-square abolitionist Lawrence in Douglas County, John Brown’s terrorizing of Franklin County, and back-and-forth between  bands of freestaters and proslavers in Miami and Linn counties. Bands of Missourians, who wanted their neighbor state to embrace slavery, were joined by young men sent up from South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia.

Now, the violence was picking up north of the Kansas River. The South Carolinians and friends, imported by  Jefferson Buford of Alabama, kept a base at Atchison and they were aligned with the “Kickapoo Rangers,” Missourians for the most part.

In mid-September 1856 these groups had had already succeeded in clearing Leavenworth, Jefferson County’s neighbor to the east, of its free-state men. By all appearances, they were set to procure a nice homebase at Hickory Point in Jefferson County, which sat between slavery capital Lecompton to the south and proslavery Atchison to the north. These proslavery bands had suffered a few defeats south of the Kansas River in recent weeks, and now  regrouped for yet another attack on Lawrence, the Douglas County center of  Kansas anti-slavery immigrants.

Below is  the  transcribed  article from  The Grasshopper, the text broken into shorter paragraphs than printed in the original. The footnotes are my addition.

Grasshopper Falls, Kansas Territory

The Grasshopper, June 12, 1858,

J.A. Cody, Editor and Proprietor

 “The Battle of Grasshopper Falls

This, though but a bloodless skirmish, deserves a brief and truthful history – for here where now the evidences of Free State progress are to be seen on”…  [Several words are illegible.]… “powerful engine of Freedom now echoes the joyful tiding of our deliverance, the myrmidons of Slavery once supposed they had entirely obliterated the last vestige of freedom. During the Fall of ’56, when the Blood Hounds of the South[iii] were making such desperate efforts to crush out the Free State men of Kansas, the citizens of Grasshopper Falls and vicinity being almost unanimously of the latter class, united in a company of some twenty-five or thirty for the mutual defense of their homes.

 A slight fortification was established on the bank of the Grasshopper[iv], where the main body would remain at night, while a strict watch was kept by means of scouts. For several months threats of destruction had been frequently brought to us from the border, and now a violent pro-slavery resident, who was in knowledge of the secret places of the Ruffians, had joined them for purposes well known to us.  Our scouts brought intelligence of an encampment of some 150 of Shannon’s militia[v] at Hickory Point, distant some eight miles from the Falls. For several nights we slept on our arms, and … [One line of copy illegible] …during the day time.

On the morning of September 12th, our company being fairly worn down , and no fresh demonstrations being made at Hickory Point, that part of our company who resided out of town were allowed to pay a short visit to their respective homes.

At about 10 o’clock an alarm was given that the enemy was upon us. When first seen, they were but a few rods distant on the opposite bank of the Grasshopper. All that were in town able to bear arms, amounting to the number of 8 or 10, rallied to man and proceeded in haste to gain if possible, the fortification on the bank of the river, for the purposes of cutting them down as they crossed.

But we came too late; for as we gained the open bottom, the enemy, to the number of 30 well-mounted men, dashed up over the bank and with a savage yell, galloped upon us. A few shots were exchanged, without effect, when we were compelled to beat a hasty retreat.

The ruffians then entered town, and forced open the Store of Crosby & Brother,[vi] then supposed by them to be the head outfitting quarters of Gen. Lane[vii] and the Abolitionists.  After plundering to their satisfaction, they applied the match and the building was soon enveloped in flames.   They then beat a hasty retreat to their headquarters at Hickory point.

That night we received the joyful news that Gen. Lane had come to our rescue, and was advancing upon Hickory Point.  We immediately joined him and the next day attacked them. They were so well fortified in their several block houses; and having no cannon we could make but little impression upon them.  Word was dispatched to Col. Harvey,[viii] at Lawrence, to come with all haste with a cannon to our aid.

Soon after, a message was received from Gov. Geary,[ix] to the effect that all armed bodies must be disbanded and he would pledge safety to the settlers.  Upon this, General Lane thought proper to countermand the order just sent to Col. Harvey, and immediately retired from the field.  The countermand, however, did not reach Col. Harvey, and that night we heard the cannon booming at Hickory Point.  We soon learned of the capitulation of the enemy, with the understanding that they should leave after giving [us?] all their stolen horses. Col. Harvey then proceeded on his return to Lawrence but was intercepted by the U.S. troops, and his whole company taken prisoners[x], while the Ruffians still encamped at Hickory Point and fresh from [their?] pillage and  burning of Grasshopper Falls, were with full … [One line of text illegible.] …   and return to their dens on the border. Thus closed the drama of that eventful campaign of Slavery against Freedom.”

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gunn map 1862
The yellow arrows point to Jefferson County-related hot spots in 1856. Starting at the bottom and proceeding clockwise: Lawrence, Lecompton, Osawkee, Grasshopper Falls, Atchison, Hardtville (Hickory Point), Oskaloosa (Slough Creek). This map, from Gunn & Mitchell’s New Map of Kansas and the Gold Mines,  was published in 1862, six years after those events.

By way of background, nearly all of Jefferson County’s outright Bleeding Kansas conflicts occurred between  Sept. 8 and Sept. 15, 1856.  Led by James H. Lane, freestaters around Sept. 8 plundered Osawkee (now Ozawkie), the  Jefferson County county seat and proslavery stronghold. On Sept. 11, Jesse Newell, a radical freestater, led J.A. Harvey and his free-state militants to a camp of South Carolinians on Slough Creek north of Oskaloosa. They ambushed the South Carolinians, took their weapons and horses, victorious in the Battle of Slough Creek.  The Grasshopper Falls raid was the next day, Sept. 12, apparently.  After that, the two sides collided for two days at Hickory Point, Sept. 13 and 14.

Other, hugely varied accounts of the Grasshopper Falls attack will follow in the next post.

The June 5 and June 12, 1858, editions of The Grasshopper are on microfilm reel V 25 in the archives of the Kansas State Historical Society. [Update:  These two editions of the newspaper have been added to the online collection of newspapers.com. This link is for the Battle of Grasshopper Falls clip in the June 12 edition. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/23322139/battle_of_grasshopper_falls_harvey/  ]

[i] Joseph A. Cody and his brother, Isaac Cody, were freestaters. Isaac Cody, father of William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, was one of the builders of a mill in Grasshopper Falls and was elected to the freestate legislature in 1856.He died in 1857 at least partly from complications from a stab wound inflicted by a proslavery man in Leavenworth County in earlier years. Joseph A. Cody was in James H. Lane’s Frontier Guard that set up in the White House and scouted Washington to protect the nation’s new president Abraham Lincoln in April 1861 (The 116: The True Story of Abraham Lincoln’s Lost Guard by James P. Muehlberger).

[ii] There is no byline attached to the article. It is my supposition, possibly incorrect, that Joseph A. Cody wrote the article.

[iii] Refers to proslavery militants/Border Ruffians from slave state Missouri and southern states who came to Kansas to make it a slave state and who also might claim the inexpensive land on offer with the opening of the Territory to settlement. They  sometimes called themselves “law and order” men who feigned keeping the peace by attacking and retaliating against freestaters from the east and “west” (Ohio, for example, was a western state at that time). These freestaters wanted Kansas to enter the Union without slavery and they were claiming land, building towns in advance of elections and legislation that would erase the codes pushing Kansas to slavery. Freestaters, too, had formed their own military units.

[iv] The Grasshopper River, now the Delaware River.

[v] Gov. Wilson Shannon, one of 10 Kansas Territory governors and  “acting” governors appointed by the U.S. president  to govern the territory between mid-1854 and early 1861, when Kansas entered the Union as a free state. Cody’s newspaper’s “militia” reference here is a sort of swipe at the South Carolinians and other southern state men brought to Kansas in the spring of 1856 by Major Jefferson Buford of Alabama to secure Kansas for slavery. These southerners had been active on both the north and south sides of the Kansas River. The “militia” label also referred to Border Ruffians from Missouri (some were Kickapoo Rangers based in Atchison County) who were camping at Jefferson County’s little proslavery town near  the military road, Hickory Point, also called Hardtville.

[vi] Rufus H. and William Crosby, free-staters from Hampden, Maine. They operated a general store.

[vii] James H. Lane, Kansas Territory political and military leader and U.S. senator. He was  loved and hated perhaps nearly equally but was an extremely skilled recruiter leader  to the free-state cause.  Right after Sept. 13, 1856, after the first day’s battle at Hickory Point, Lane left Kansas Territory for the north to organize more freestate support. In Kansas Territory, he was on the proslavers’ and government most-wanted list.

[viii] J.A. Harvey, leader of  free-state units, had just arrived in Kansas Territory Aug. 13. He came to Kansas with the “Chicago Company,” a group of settlers, freestaters aided by the Kansas National Committee led by  wealthy New Yorker Thaddeus Hyatt.

[ix] Territorial Gov. John W. Geary had just started his new post as Kansas Territory’s latest governor on Sept. 9, 1856.

[x] Harvey himself was not captured by the U.S. troops who arrested the free-state fighters resting near what is now Oskaloosa. Harvey had been at the nearby home of Jesse Newell and had escaped out the back. (Thaddeus Hyatt Collection, Kansas State Historical Society, microfilm reel  MS 87.) U.S. troops had been sent into Jefferson County because of complaints from Jefferson County proslavers.

 

 

 

 

An Underground Railroad Ambush In Jefferson County, Part VI, The Holton Difficulty

Jesse Newell’s strange denial letter ran in Lecompton’s proslavery newspaper, the Kansas National Democrat, on March 24, 1859. The settler and 10 other men had just been outed as partners in John Doy’s plan to move freedom-seekers[1] through a short stretch of Kansas Territory via the Underground Railroad.

Maj. Martin Anderson, photo from ancestry.com, Report of the Adjutant General, Kansas, National Archives
This Civil War image is of Martin Anderson, a major in the Kansas 11th Cavalry Regiment, who survived the 1859 Holton difficulty, political party violence. The image is from the adjutant general , Kansas, National Archives courtesy of Steve Cortright. The image is ancestry.com, Historical Data Systems

Newell, the co-founder of Oskaloosa, had written his letter in response to the articles revealing his name in Kansas and Missouri newspapers. Exposure like that would be poison to the secret operations of the Underground, which thwarted the Fugitive Slave Law’s command against helping enslaved people escape. And while participants were considered heroes in some quarters, they were thieves and lawbreakers in others.

Had Newell, a radical freestater in Jefferson County,[2]  been threatened or endangered by people who objected to the Underground Railroad’s interference with slavery?[3] Is that why he or someone writing for him would publish a letter denying involvement? I can’t say.

In the next county over, Jackson County, another man whose name was revealed alongside Newell’s was beaten severely at a political party meeting at Holton on March 12. The articles naming 11 men who had agreed to help in the Underground Railroad were published as early as Feb 19, so Martin Anderson’s proslavery neighbors could have learned of his Underground Railroad involvement.  Already, Anderson was helping to build the Republican party in Jackson County, making him an opponent to  Democrats who were slavery supporters. Anderson was beaten unconscious and several Democrats were hurt at the meeting, described in the press as an affray, a riot, a row, a melee, a difficulty. Was Martin attacked because of his Underground Railroad ties?

Anderson’s name, like Newell’s, had been published in  newspapers from notes that John Doy apparently wrote outlining his planned Underground route through Jefferson and Jackson[4] counties and naming the men set to help.

“March 12, 1859, Mr. Anderson was instrumental in forming the first Republican organization in this Territory,”[5] an 1897 obituary said. ”He called a meeting for that object which was held in the school house in Holton, only twelve men participating.

“After the organization was completed and the meeting adjournment the little party was assaulted by a mob of drunken proslavery ruffians. Major Anderson was struck in the back of the head with an oak stick three feet long (the heart of a clap-board bolt) in the hands of a burly ruffian; he fell to the ground and the ruffian deliberately emptied his revolver at the prostrate form, but without further injury.”

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The Emporia Weekly News, April 2, 1859. Image from Newspapers.com.

 

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The Asheville News, Asheville, North Carolina, April 21, 1859. Image from Newspapers.com.

 

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The Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, March 26, 1859. Image from Newspapers.com

As was nearly always the case, a deep chasm sat between one side’s “facts” and the other’s, at least in the newspaper accounts I read.

Proslavery-leaning newspapers told of four Democrats who were first assaulted by Republicans. Angered by the loss of conservative men to the Democrats, the Republicans attacked these Democrats at the meeting and then went to a nearby abolitionist’s house where anywhere from 50 to 70 Sharps rifles[6] were stored, arming themselves.

top comment The_Topeka_Tribune_Thu__Mar_31__1859_ (1)

Clipping image from The Topeka Tribune, Thursday, March 31, 1859, page 3. The image is from the online newspaper website, newspapers.com. This freestate newspaper’s editor could not resist an outrageous comment on an outrageous allegation

Later, these Republicans drove the four men from their Kansas Territory homes and back to Platte County, Missouri. Those accounts don’t mention Anderson, who was a probate judge at the time, or anyone injured by Democrat ruffians. The Republican accounts do mention the four men injured and driven back to Missouri, but portray the violence as defense.

Considering the unease in Kansas Territory, March 1859, Anderson’s attack merited a double-take. I had not read of the Holton “difficulty” before in my narrow (Jefferson County) research over the past five years. The story, although nothing I read connected Anderson’s injuries to an Underground Railroad, got a lot of ink, as violent tales from Kansas Territory usually did. My quick look at online newspapers  found Holton coverage in Kansas and Missouri, and Ohio, Kentucky, Washington D.C., Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Iowa.

Important elections were on the horizon, although it was by then understood that proslavery rule was kaput. Kansas Territory was on its way to joining the Union as a free state, one that outlawed slavery. Defeated, Democrats (and perhaps some freestate conservatives) were working up their next big campaign: keeping all people of African descent out of Kansas.

Yes, times were caustic. The Fugitive Slave Law had just been validated by the U.S. Supreme Court against attempts to nullify it, meaning it was still against the law to help enslaved people escape bondage by any means. That meant offering food, providing secret harbor, acting as a rifle-toting escort for a covered wagon full of fugitive slaves and even refusing to inform a marshal of a fugitive slave’s whereabouts, if one held that information.

Also at the time of Newell’s letter and Martin Anderson’s injury, Kansas Territory and Missouri  slavery supporters were furious over the latest Underground Railroad activity. Of particular aggravation was the violent abolitionist, John Brown, who had just winged it out of Kansas Territory (via a Holton area stop) with 11 fugitives, and John Doy, who had attempted to do so, both events near the end of January 1859.

Yes, the stories were vigorously at odds over whether Democrats or radical Republicans started the fight and assaulted their opponents. Some newspapers even ran both versions of the story, noting the chasm between one side’s “facts” and the other’s.

But some of the proslavery newspapers widened the context of the Holton sensation by dropping John Brown, John Doy and other freestate leaders, fighters and Jayhawkers into their stories. John Brown, while long gone from Kansas, was controlling these Kansas Territory happenings from afar, they charged.

Supremely evident regarding the charges of who started what at Holton on March 12, however, was the  star plank in the Dem’s new agenda: making Kansas a free white state, blocking all people of African descent from living in Kansas.

Local Democrats, in campaigning for more party members, maintained that the radicals, or “Black Republicans” — people who wanted to abolish slavery and advocated “negro equality,” among other then-radical ideas– were extremist troublemakers. They were destroying the peace of Kansas Territory and they were unpopular among conservative freestaters. These Democrats hoped to attract those freestaters to build up sentiment (and votes) to keep people of African descent out of Kansas.

Brutal murderer Brown Kansas_National_Democrat_Thu__Mar_31__1859_
The Kansas National Democrat, Lecompton, Kansas Territory, March 31, 1859. Image from newspapers.com
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The Cleveland Daily Leader, Cleveland, Ohio, March 18, 1859.Image from newspapers.com. The last sentence should be Judge Anderson in Jackson County.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Free State men rallied at once, secured their [Sharps] rifles and drove the ruffians from the town and across the river into Missouri.” Martin Anderson’s obituary said nearly 40 years after the Holton trouble. “One of the ruffians was shot through the mouth as he mounted his horse to leave and another lost his good right arm as the result of another shot from a [Sharps] rifle.”

Martin Anderson was unconscious for three days, his obituary said, and he didn’t recover completely for six months. An ardent freestate supporter, Anderson had settled in Grasshopper Falls, Jefferson County, in 1857 but moved to Jackson County in 1858. A probate judge and later Kansas state treasurer, Anderson was a major in the 11th Regiment, Kansas Volunteer Cavalry in the Civil War.

[1] John Doy’s Underground Railroad “train,” two horse-drawn wagons, was ambushed in Jefferson County about eight miles south of Jesse Newell’s home at Oskaloosa, Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, Jan. 25, 1859. According to notes Doy appears to have carried with him the night he was abducted, Newell’s place was to be the first stop for aid on that treacherous  trip. The notes named 10 other people between Oskaloosa and just past Holton, in neighboring Jackson County, travel stop by travel stop, who were lined up to help once Doy got to Oskaloosa. It was at Oskaloosa that Doy would get his escort  guard to protect the train. He had had to travel from Lawrence without protection. But he and the African-Americans he carried with him never made it to Oskaloosa. [Oskaloosa guard information is from Doy’s book, The narrative of John Doy, of Lawrence, Kansas, “A Plain Unvarnished Truth.”] Slave owners and slave-hunters captured Doy’s party about 8 miles south of Oskaloosa and 12 miles north of Lawrence , taking all to Missouri. In March when “The Holton Difficulty” occurred, Doy was still in jail in Missouri accused of inducing a slave to leave Missouri with him.  As early as February, a few area newspapers (most of them proslavery) had published the names of the men who were to participate with Doy in the Underground Railroad, an illegal act under the Fugitive Slave Law. Such exposure could be dangerous, of course, and Jesse Newell’s name had appeared in a letter in which he appeared to deny planning to help fugitive slaves. Newell’s letter was published March 24, although it was dated earlier, March 2, 1859.

[2] Day, Judge John W., “Selected Sketch, Scrap of Kansas History,” The Oskaloosa Independent, April  2, 1881, p1, referred to Jesse Newell as a radical freestater..

[3] Jesse Newell’s letter is in Part V of this “Underground Railroad Ambush” series.  John Doy’s written notes transcribed into a newspaper article include  the names of men he had enlisted to help him move 13 freedom-seekers from Lawrence to Holton. That article is in Part IV. After studying Newell’s letter and a collection of linked information, I believe Newell was involved in the Underground Railroad, at least he would have been had Doy not been ambushed in this instance. Newell’s letter contains a touch of snark, and the last portion is written to include language from the Fugitive Slaw Law itself.  One possibility for the careful letter is that Newell contended he had signed up to help free persons of color escape the area, not slaves. Doy had indicated that all of the 13 were free persons, although that was not the case.

[4] Calhoun County’s name was changed to Jackson County by the Kansas Legislature in February 1859.  Some newspapers hadn’t yet made the change to “Jackson” in their news columns. Golden Silvers, another man on John Doy’s Underground Railroad roster, had been the legislator proposing the change.

[5] The Topeka Daily Capital, “Martin Anderson. Death of One Who Helped Make Kansas History”, 10 July, 1897. See the full obituary at the bottom of this post.

[6] The freestaters’ weapon of choice, the Sharps rifle, was legend in Kansas Territory. It was an innovative breech-loading weapon, more accurate and rapid-firing than other arms of the day. The “Mr. Ray” mentioned was Abraham Ray, another freestate proponent who named a son James Lane Ray for the fiery Kansas militant, politician and Jayhawker, U.S. Sen. Jim Lane.Martin Anderson obituary, The_Topeka_Daily_Capital_Sat__Jul_10__1897_