I was trying to find something out – anything, really – about Jesse Newell, an Ohio-born free-stater who came to Kansas Territory in May 1856. He and his brother-in-law, Joseph Fitzsimmons, a Pennsylvanian, had settled on the Jefferson County hilltop the two would develop into Oskaloosa.
They landed in Bleeding Kansas, a long couple of years when the territory agitated over whether it would become a state allowing or barring slavery (the latter, 1861). Newell and Fitzsimmons, moving to KT from the free state of Iowa, positioned their town-to-be right next to an already mapped proslavery town site called Jacksonville, which in the end became a farm and not a town.
From that point in spring 1856, according to our aged town and county history writings, Fitzsimmons set up a store. Newell set up a steam sawmill. There was something about Newell being nearly hung by proslavery Border Ruffians that year, and about Newell telling free-state troops where to find a bevy of armed South Carolinians who had come to Kansas Territory to make it a slave state. There’s one mention of Newell being a “radical” free-stater. What else did we know? Not much.
“We are just one generation away from not knowing our own story.”
That is a warning that had every appearance of having come true, in the case of Newell, and maybe for bits of Jefferson County’s early story. Deanell Tacha, founding chair of Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, made that statement in the early years of Freedom’s Frontier, which has helped communities and organizations tell and connect their stories of freedom in Missouri and Kansas border counties, Jefferson County, Kansas, among them. (Jefferson County, one of the original 36 Kansas Territory counties, is one county over, about 15 miles from the Missouri border.) Continue reading “About This Blog”