Constitution Writing: The Zombie Lecompton Constitution; A Young Abolitionist Watches the Proslavers at Work

I’m stepping back from the constitution-writing convention in Wyandotte, Kansas Territory — the one that made Kansas a free state — to take a look at the Lecompton Constitution. That was the one that would have allowed human enslavement in Kansas.

The Lecompton Constitution wore a lot of unflattering tags during its difficult and unnaturally prolonged life: The Lecompton Swindle, the Bogus Baby, the Lecompton Humbug, the Felon Constitution. Begun in early 1857, it was voted up and voted down. It was sustained by conspiracy, micro-targeted voters, procedural twistiness, by extraordinary congressional measures and then crash-carted with a fake incentive for the acceptance of slavery.[1]

Here is what the Lecompton Constitution specified. “The right of property is before and higher than any constitutional sanction, and the right of the owner of a slave to such slave and its increase is the same and as inviolable as the right of the owner of any property whatever.”  That, the key clause of the Lecompton Constitution, ordained that people could own other people and those people’s children, same as they could own a horse or a saddle.

Its year-and-a-half trudge from Kansas Territory to Washington and back to Kansas Territory ended when voters (white males only) finally administered the guillotine to the Lecompton Constitution in August 1858.

One of the voters dispatching the constitution was Thomas Gay, a young Wisconsin slavery opponent who had moved himself down to Jefferson County, Kansas Territory, in 1856 to make Kansas a free state.

Because he has told his story so well, Thomas Gay (1837-1908) will fill you in on the Lecompton Constitution. Gay had an interesting perspective on the slavery constitution because he, a young and idealistic abolitionist, attended a bit of the constitution-writing convention as a guest. Gay was a guest of one of Jefferson County’s three slavery-supporting delegates (William H. Swift) at this convention, the climactic proslavery gala ball to make Kansas a slave state like its neighbor Missouri.

Swift smiled faintly when I told him I should think it would be easy enough for Missourians to make a constitution for Kansas, especially when it was not intended to consult the people of Kansas as to whether they approved it or not. Oh! He said, “What was good enough for Missouri was good enough for Kansas, and the Kansas constitution was to be the Missouri instrument made to fit the more modern idea of how things should be done.” – Thomas Gay

Lecompton Constitutional Convention stories like Thomas Gay’s are rare, as far as I can tell. His is all the more rare because Gay was a Jefferson County narrator, and the county’s recorded territorial narrative is skimpy. Gay wrote a dozen droll articles about his short time in Kansas Territory for the Chariton (Iowa) Herald newspaper in the 1890s.

Gay’s stories, published in the 1890s, don’t appear to have seen a lot of light. They turned up as cut-out newspaper columns from the Chariton Herald pasted onto paper and put in scrapbooks archived at the Kansas State Historical Society and the Lucas County, Iowa, Genealogical Society. About seven years ago I read part of column written by Thomas Gay in an old Jefferson County booklet. Gay offered a fantastically dramatic description of a political speech given at Osawkee from when he lived there, and it looked like he had written about other Kansas Territory experiences.

I set out to find his newspaper articles (Gay’s Iowa hometown was incorrect in the version I read, which slowed me down.) and was rewarded with copies of a dozen of his clipped and pasted Kansas Territory stories, thanks again to archivists in Iowa and Kansas.

A newspaper clip from the “Daily Free Democrat” of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 20, 1856, page 2. You may see the clip here. Image from newspapers.com.

The 18-year-old Thomas Gay, who worked for a gunsmith in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, read sensational newspaper accounts about Missouri border ruffian proslavers and their outrages against Kansas freestaters (anti-slavery) in 1856. The newspapers he had access to probably didn’t apply much ink to report any misdeeds committed by freestaters and abolitionists. Free-state partisans held rallies and meetings across the north, often offering aid to those who would settle in Kansas, rich in agricultural – and cheap – land. Gay told his parents he wanted to go.

Gay’s first Kansas article said that he “…burned with a desire to leave my quiet home in Wisconsin and follow Jim Lane in what I believed to be his cyclonic march through the hordes of border-ruffianism.”[2]  Then, he determined, when he was old enough, he would cast a vote for freedom in Kansas.

A newspaper clip from the “Daily Free Democrat” of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, March 20, 1856, page 2. You may see the clip here. Image from newspapers.com.

Nothing was as divisive in Kansas Territory as just about anything related to elections related to making Kansas a slavery or free state. An agitated nation watched this defining crisis for its own future, too. Stories of Bleeding Kansas election strife, civil disobedience and violence headlined in northern and southern newspapers, particularly in 1856.

In May of that year, Gay landed in Kansas Territory armed with a double-barreled rifle he had crafted in Wisconsin. He attached an engraved brass plate to it that read: “Anti-slavery rifle. Always loaded for border ruffians. – T.G.”

Immediately upon Gay’s arrival at Osawkee (renamed Ozawkie), Jefferson County’s county seat and proslavery beehive, his new host spotted the inscription on Gay’s rifle. This man was a New Englander, a family friend with whom Gay would live the new few years. He insisted Gay remove the inflammatory plate from his rifle. The two freestaters needed to keep a low profile at Osawkee.

Gay did survive a scrape or two before freestaters increased their numbers enough in 1857 to begin steering Kansas off of its proslavery course. But somehow, Gay and his family’s New England friend managed to stay friendly with some of the Osawkee proslavery leaders.

One of them, William H. Swift — although he apparently was not actually an Osawkee or Jefferson County resident — was one of three Jefferson County proslavery delegates elected to write the Lecompton Constitution. As Gay tells it, Swift invited him to come along for an educational visit to Constitution Hall in Lecompton[3] to watch the constitution writing.

Gay tells the story in his April 10, 1894, Chariton (Iowa) Herald article, transcribed here. The memoir, Part 11 of his Kansas series, was published nearly 40 years after the convention, a length of time that will furrow historians’ brows. It does give one pause. Gay may have taken some of his material from letters he wrote home while he was in Kansas Territory, or maybe he kept a journal, and he probably consulted the history books for some of the more exacting political details and sequences. I have altered some punctuation and paragraph blocks to make his story easier to read, and have rearranged some of his material. Endnotes and copy in brackets are mine. Thomas Gay’s words are italicized.

Personal Recollections of Life in Territorial Kansas in Border Ruffian Days, By Thomas Gay

Part XI.  March 10, 1857, Robert J. Walker of Mississippi,[4] was appointed governor of Kansas. Before his appointment, which he only accepted at the earnest solicitation of President [James] Buchanan, he stipulated as a condition of his acceptance that the constitution then provided for, and which was passed in the fall of the same year should be submitted to the people for their endorsement or rejection.  President Buchanan is on record as having expressly promised his power for such submission, and with this promise, Walker accepted the undesirable position and arrived in Lecompton May 27, 1857.[5]

Early in 1857 I made the acquaintance of a man by the name of Swift. For some reason quite a strong friendship had grown up between us, although he was Simon pure pro-slavery, and I was equally untainted “visa-versa.”

He was elected one of the delegates from Jefferson County to the Lecompton constitutional convention, notwithstanding he was not a bona fide resident of the territory. The well-known fact that he had his residence in Missouri did not operate as a practical bar to shut him off from assisting to make a constitution for Kansas.

[Jefferson County sent three proslavery delegates to the convention: Alexander Bayne, a 46-year-old Virginian who lived in Jefferson County’s southern border slavery stronghold; Thomas D. Chiles, a  43-year-old Kentuckian living in the north part of the county, a proslavery-leaning district;[6] and William H. Swift, address unknown.[7]]

He was frequently in Osawkee looking after his fences, and as often as he came he would drop in on Abner[8] and I, and we would get an intellectual treat from him.

When his duties commenced at Lecompton, he would generally come up Saturday and stop with us and visit the Dyers[9] till Monday. One Saturday he proposed to me that I go down to Lecompton with him the following Monday and witness the process of constitution-making and study the characters of the builders.

So I went with him, with the understanding that he was to protect me and explain to the solons that I was on a voyage of discovery as to what kind of a document they would be likely to turn out with such a dreadful lot of raw material to build with.

Swift smiled faintly when I told him I should think it would be easy enough for Missourians to make a constitution for Kansas, especially when it was not intended to consult the people of Kansas as to whether they approved it or not. Oh! He said, “What was good enough for Missouri was good enough for Kansas, and the Kansas constitution was to be the Missouri instrument made to fit the more modern idea of how things should be done.”

Swift was honest enough to say to me “that Kansas must be made a slave state, and that the convention received its instructions from Washington as to the best methods of procedure to secure that result.”

The central idea of the delegates from Missouri was that with free Iowa on the north and free Illinois on the east and a free state to the west [Kansas], her peculiar institution would be subject to such adverse influences as to render slave property insecure, and as a consequence materially reduce the value of her slaves.

So this convention, entirely pro-slavery and largely interested in slave property in Missouri, backed up and advised by the pro-slavery administration [President Buchanan and the slavery strong U.S. Senate], built this instrument to perpetuate their financial and political interests.  What a majority of the residents of the territory desired had no influence in this body or in the White House.

[By the time the Lecompton  convention delegates were writing their slavery enabling constitution (Oct. 19 – Nov. 8, 1857), Kansas Territory had had another election for the new territorial legislature (Oct. 5, 1857). This time, freestaters won the majority of seats for the new  legislature and, importantly, showed that Kansas Territory’s majority was free-state and against slavery in Kansas. The Lecompton Constitution was still alive, however, and not ready to die.]

 John Calhoun,[10] afterwards known as “Candle Box John,” presided over their deliberations, and as they were mostly of one mind in regard to the central idea, there was not sufficient antagonism developed among the delegates to spice up the proceedings beyond a kind of monotonous perfunctory state.

Before the call to order, Swift introduced me to Calhoun and others, as a hot-blooded young abolitionist from Wisconsin – a protégé of his – who had come down to study the modus operandi of things in the capital; and he, with mock solemnity, suggested that it would be wise to behave themselves, as I had carried arms successfully at Hickory Point,[11] and also treat me respectfully.

With that, Tom Childs [Chiles], another delegate from our county, reached to his rear and pulled out a flask from his coat tail pocket, and a half dozen others followed suit, till I was in danger of being swamped by the excess of their well-meant hospitality.

Swift then told them that I was studying for the ministry and he had heard it reported that abolition preachers didn’t indulge in anything stronger than aqua pura.

Then Calhoun blurted out, “Bub, take a little for your stomach’s sake anyhow. See what a good round one Sam Kookagee[12] has, and he built it up on old rye and pure bourbon. Come, young man, it will make a bishop of you.

“And say, Swift, get your friend to act as chaplain, for I’m sure there is a lot of these unregenerate that need praying for.”

 So they joked and badgered the innocent boy till the gavel fell, when they went on lazily building, building the famous organic structure on a foundation of sand, destined to soon come tumbling down upon them, burying them fathoms deep in infamy and disgrace.

Let me here, as briefly as is possible for a proper understanding of the objections to the notorious instrument, recite the conditions under which it was formed, and the means used to fasten it on the territory.

  • First. The legislature providing for the convention to formulate the [Lecompton proslavery] constitution was a “bogus legislature,” [unfairly elected, earlier] to which three-fourths of the adult residents gave only a forced allegiance.
  • Second. The census by which the delegates were elected was taken in only fifteen counties. In nineteen counties strongly free state there was no census and could be no vote for delegates.

[Most of the Lecompton Constitution Convention delegates were from southern slave states. Of 59 delegates on the roster in this newspaper clip, 18 had reported coming to Kansas Territory from Missouri. William H. Swift was listed as having come to Kansas Territory from Alabama.]

  • Third. The registry of voters was exclusively in pro slavery hands.
  • Fourth. A constitution was formed exclusively by delegates from a proslavery constituency, the free state party abstaining from voting. [Explained below.]
  • Fifth. The convention only provided its submission in this form: “Constitution with slavery; or, constitution without slavery.”  In either event, slavery already existing, could not be interfered with.

[This was the worst of the Lecompton Constitution’s proslavery handling. Under popular sovereignty, Kansas Territory voters were supposed to vote on a complete constitution setting out not only the question of slavery, but all sorts of ruling principles like who gets to vote, how the militia will work, what kind of banking laws to enact. But instead, the Lecompton slavery leadership dismembered the document and offered a couple of slavery questions to voters. Both choices allowed slavery. There was no option through which voters could reject slavery there was no intact constitution document to vote on.]

What was called an election on these two propositions was held December 21, 1857, and resulted in 6226 votes for constitution with slavery, and 569 votes for constitution without slavery. [“Without slavery” somehow meant enslaved people already in Kansas, and their future children, would remain slaves.]

Of this larger vote, 3000 were rejected as fraudulent.

On the 2nd day of February, 1858, President Buchanan, false to all his solemn pledges to Governor Walker, sent this constitution to the Senate of the United States, with a message asking its acceptance.  He had also previous to this endorsed it in his annual message to Congress.

Stephen A. Douglas took issue with the president, on the ground that a failure to submit the constitution to the people of Kansas was in direct conflict with the doctrine of squatter sovereignty, the leading feature of the Kansas-Nebraska bill.[13]  The ruptures in the democratic party by this action of Douglas was not healed.  The breach constantly widened till a complete separation took place by which, in 1860, two candidates for president, representing the extreme and moderate view, in regard to slavery, went before the country, and by that action, Lincoln was elected to the presidency.

April 30, 1858, the “English compromise bill” was proposed by congress. By this bill the “Lecompton swindle” was sent back to the people for submission, with a promise that if they would accept it the government would be very liberal to them in the way of public lands, etc.[14]

On the 2nd day of August I cast my first vote, and it was one out of 11,300 “nays” recorded against the constitution, while the lonely number of 1,786 said “yea” to the proposition.[15]  That vote settled the slavery question in Kansas, and there was hallelujahs among the “Sunflowers.”

Thomas Gay is voter No. 37 on this poll list from his very first election. The voting was conducted at Judge Joseph L. Speer’s office in Osawkee, Jefferson County, Kansas Territory. Image from the Kansas State Historical Society’s archives, territorial executive records, Topeka. Copy and reuse restrictions apply.

[Reflecting on life’s journeys – from Wisconsin to Osawkee, or from Lecompton to Lincoln – Gay ended his account with this parting thought:]

When the conscience of a people is thoroughly awakened, how easily are the laborious and systematic efforts of villains brought to naught.

[A follow-up post will examine the tangled course of the Lecompton Constitution and the shifting political winds that brought it down.]


[1] I’ve relied heavily on several excellent articles, papers and books for my brief outline of the Lecompton Constitution’s history. I urge you to read some of them. One that summarizes state and national effects of the Lecompton Constitution may be found on Historic Lecompton’s website

An excellent history explaining the Lecompton Constitution’s profound effect on national questions of democracy, politics, constitutional rights and moral issues like slavery. “The Great Principle of Self-Government: Popular Sovereignty and Bleeding Kansas” by Nicole Etcheson. It ran in Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 27 (Spring–Summer 2004): 14–29.

Another is a 1957 article by Robert W. Johannsen, “The Lecompton Constitutional Convention: An Analysis of Its Membership.”  The Kansas Historical Quarterly, Volume XXIII, Autumn 1957, No. 3: 225-243.

The Kansas State Historical Society’s Kansapedia entry on Kansas Constitutions explains fully the four constitutions pitched during Kansas Territory’s struggle to decide the slavery issue. The 1859 Wyandotte Constitution is the one that made Kansas a free state in 1861.

Kenneth M. Stampp, America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink (New York, Oxford University Press, 1990).

[2] Thomas Gay wrote 12 newspaper recollections about his years as a Kansas Territory freestater. They appeared in his hometown newspaper, the Chariton (Iowa) Herald in 1894. This quotation is from his first article, which appeared Feb. 8, 1894. Gay refers to free-state leader James H. Lane, a former U.S. congressman from Indiana and later a Kansas U.S. senator and Civil War general, who had been in northern states rallying and recruiting new free-state partisans for Kansas Territory.

[3] Constitution Hall is a Kansas State Historic Site and is listed as a National Historic Landmark. It is a museum of Kansas history. https://www.kshs.org/p/constitution-hall/19562

[4] Territorial governors were appointed by the president of the United States. Kansas Territory had already gone through three governors appointed by U.S. President Franklin Pierce starting in 1855 and before President James Buchanan appointed Robert J. Walker to the job in March 1857 and he arrived for work May 27, 1857; unpopular with proslavery partisans, Walker resigned Dec. 15, 1857. Walker drew proslavery ire for urging freestaters to participate in elections. Kansas Territory governors had a difficult position, and none of the six total territorial governors kept the job for long. Those six governors don’t include the nearly 20 “acting” territorial gubernatorial  appointments who filled in between other governors who were fired or resigned and fled Kansas Territory.

[5] What’s important about the agreement between Robert J. Walker and President Buchanan was that Kansas Territory voters were to vote on a constitution in a free and fair election and to send that constitution, backed by the vote of the people,  to Washington for approval by Congress and the president.

[6] Thomas D. Chiles came to Kansas Territory in 1856 and lived in Atchison and Leavenworth counties after he left Jefferson County in 1860. The Kansas State Census for 1859 shows one “colored person” living in his household in Jefferson County. A U.S. slave schedule (census) for 1850 for a Thomas D. Chiles in Estill County, Kentucky, lists a 14-year-old enslaved girl. In Kansas, he was a merchant and operated a hotel or boarding house.

[7] I have not found census data indicating William H. Swift lived in Kansas Territory. However, Swift does appear in voter polling lists for the Dec. 21, 1857 and Jan. 4, 1858 elections related to the Lecompton Constitution. Swift also served as an election official for those elections. The New York Tribune article offering details about each Lecompton Constitution delegate (linked in Thomas Gay’s narrative above) says Swift was from Pennsylvania and came to Kansas Territory from Alabama.

[8] Throughout his 12 memoirs, Thomas Gay refers to the man he lived with (the Wisconsin family friend) as “Abner Lowell.” Gay described him as a Massachusetts man connected to the fiercest free-state partisans but who had been injured in an earlier skirmish between the antislavery- and proslavery factions. I believe Gay assigned a pseudonym to this man, as I have been unable so far to find “Abner Lowell” on voter rolls, census rolls, territorial militia listings, other reminiscences or emigrant rosters.

[9] Brothers William and George Dyer ran a store in Osawkee (Ozawkie), were town leaders and were among Jefferson County’s slavery advocates.

[10] John Calhoun, surveyor general for Kansas and Nebraska territories and proslavery leader, was twice accused of tampering with election results. The second time involved the hiding of ballots in a box that had been used to ship candles. The box contained fraudulent voter returns from Johnson County, a long list of fake voter names, hundreds for the proslavery cause. Election officials had submitted the election tally numbers, but hidden the physical ballot returns themselves.

[11] Gay was in the Battle of Hickory Point Sept. 13-14, 1856, in Jefferson County, a skirmish between proslavery partisans and freestaters led by James H. Lane and J.A. Harvey. An abbreviated account of Hickory Point and related events may be found here: https://jeffersonjayhawkers.com/2016/10/10/north-of-the-kansas-river/

[12] Samuel J. Kookagey, a Leavenworth County delegate. Click on the link in the copy above in the sentence containing this endnote reference to find a compelling story of written by Antonio Rafael de la Cova: Samuel J. Kookogey in Bleeding Kansas: A “Fearless vindicator of the rights of the South.” It was published in Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 35 (Autumn 2012): 146–63.

[13] The Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 handed the decision of whether to allow slavery in Kansas Territory (and Nebraska Territory) to voters. The principle was “popular sovereignty,” which was to allow voters to decide their own governance. Before the act, the 1820 Missouri Compromise had determined that new states south of the Mason-Dixon line would be slave states and those north of it free states. Kansas was north of the old dividing point. Stephen A. Douglas is considered the father of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its principle of popular sovereignty.

[14] When territories became states, the federal government provided designated lands to be used for the public benefit, like land for schools or railroads. The English Bill offer made it appear Kansas would get more than the usual amount of free land. But as it turned out, the offer was for only the usual amount of land a state would get.

[15] Kansas State Historical Society information indicates slightly different returns — 11,812 to 1,926 – but still a decisive defeat.

Thomas Bayne and Marcus Freeman: Slavery in Jefferson County, Kansas Territory

By Jane Hoskinson*

In the U.S. census of 1840, George Bayne of Shelby County, Kentucky, reported holding 22 black persons in slavery. When he died in 1845, he divided his estate among his children. Those who lived north of the Mason-Dixon line received land and money. Those who lived in slave-holding states received human “property.” In 1850, George’s son Alexander Bayne reported holding six people in slavery in Jefferson County, Kentucky.

Two years later, Alexander moved his family to Missouri. According to Alexander’s granddaughter Nora Bayne, “In 1852 they started west in search of cheaper land, Thomas [Alexander’s son] and a negro boy driving through by wagon and the family coming by boat. Their destination was Westport Landing.”

Alexander managed the Gillis House hotel in Kansas City, Missouri, for two years and bought a farm near Westport. Alexander and his third wife, Elizabeth Hite Bayne, had a total of six children, three from their marriage, two from Elizabeth’s previous marriage to Alexander’s brother Griffin Bayne, and Thomas, Alexander’s son by his first wife, Elizabeth’s niece Susan Hite Bayne.

Thomas Bayne was born May 16, 1836, in Shelby County, Kentucky. His mother, Susan, died not long after his birth. In September 1836, Henrietta, a woman enslaved by the Bayne family, gave birth to her son, Marcus Freeman. George Bayne “gave” Henrietta’s infant to his young grandson Thomas.

The enslaved Henrietta raised the boys together, “just as if we had been two little puppies,” according to Marcus. Thomas would often save food and coffee from his own meals to share with Marcus. “He thought a great deal of me,” Marcus said, “and once when his stepbrother licked me, he nearly cut him to pieces with a Barlow knife.” When the family moved to Missouri, Marcus worked at the Gillis House, learning to cook.

Nora Bayne wrote that her father, Thomas, had a “boyhood dream, of owning a section of land amidst large timber, with fields of corn and blue-grass, and raising pedigreed horses, cattle and hogs. . . In the fall of 1853 they learned that the Kaw Half-Breed Indian Land situated north of the Kaw River 50 miles west would be open for settlement the following spring. [This was inaccurate; the Kanza protested white settlement in 1857 and were upheld.] In February 1854, Thomas Bayne and a young man by the name of Arch Bradley bought a team, covered wagon and outfit for six months’ trip and started in search of the Kaw land.”

The boys built a cabin in virgin timber that reminded them of Kentucky. They hunted for game and explored the area, meeting some of the Kanza people who lived and camped there. Nora Bayne’s impression was that their interactions were peaceful, but she also said that a group of “Indians came to burn the cabin.”

Exploring downriver in the winter, the boys were caught in a blizzard with only two matches, one of them broken, but still succeeded in starting a fire. They discovered the abandoned settlement of Daniel Morgan Boone, who had been appointed “Government Farmer” for the Kanza people in 1827. Arch Bradley returned home after a few months.

Thomas described the Boone village: “Just east of my prairie farm was an old well, near the bank of the river, when I moved here in 1854. The remains of quite a village can still be seen in the vicinity. When I broke the prairie I found the charred remains of a rail fence that had enclosed over 100 acres of land. This old village is seven miles above Lawrence on the north side of the river.”

In spring 1855, Thomas sent for Marcus Freeman, his sister Charity and their cousin Fielding Edwards, to work on his farm.

Marcus recalled, “I stayed for a few months, and then with his permission went back to Kansas City and married and rented my time for $200.00 a year for seven years until I was emancipated. Mr. Bayne gave me a pass which allowed me to go between Missouri and his farm in Kansas.”

The Baynes shared the labor of their enslaved people. The 1859 Kansas census recorded Alexander Bayne owning two people, William Bayne owning one, and Thomas Bayne owning none, as Marcus Freeman’s labor was “rented.” Marcus said that his sister, Charity, “had belonged to Will Bayne, Thomas’s stepbrother, and he left her on his brother’s farm when he went to California.” William Bayne, Thomas’s stepbrother and cousin, traveled to California in 1853 but returned to settle east of Thomas in 1859.

Alexander and Elizabeth Bayne and their three younger children moved to Kansas in 1856, taking a claim west of Thomas’s farm. In 1857, Henry Hatton moved to Kansas from Indiana with his wife, Minerva, and daughters, Susan and Sarah. Thomas Bayne married Susan Hatton in February 1858. William Bayne married Sarah Hatton in October 1860.

Thomas Bayne assisted in surveying the county and setting township lines. Thomas, William and Alexander Bayne held a variety of early local offices in Jefferson County. In 1856, Alexander and William were officers on the proslavery board of Kentucky Township. In 1858, Alexander chaired the Kentucky Township board of supervisors; Thomas was treasurer and later assessor.

Another early Kansas Territory settler was James Scaggs,[i] a slaveholder who claimed land on the Kanza reserve in Jefferson County in 1854. According to John Speer, editor of the Lawrence Tribune, “He was a leading man of his class, enthusiastic in his idea of planting slavery in Kansas.”

In the Kansas Territory 1859 census, James Scaggs reported holding 13 people enslaved; Thomas Bayne recalled the total as 27.

Scaggs was regarded as a “rough” man. He rented out skilled enslaved people, such as blacksmith Robert Skaggs, who worked independently in Lecompton. Marcus Freeman’s sister, Charity, married Robert Skaggs. By 1859, it had become clear that slavery would soon be banned in Kansas. Scaggs removed to Texas with all his “property.” Charity went with her husband, with the permission of the Bayne family. Free-state men had threatened to liberate the enslaved people, so Scaggs armed them, trusting them to guard his $10,000 in specie on the journey.

In January 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state. In April 1861, the American Civil War began. Marcus Freeman recalled, “I was working in the printing office for Van Horn and A. Beal on the Kansas City Journal at the time of the firing on Sumpter, and worked the press when they were getting out the extras for the occasion. I remember the excitement well.” In March 1863, Marcus married Mary Ann Jones at the Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence, Kansas, where he was working as a cook. According to the Topeka Plaindealer newspaper, Marcus was working at the Eldridge at the time of Quantrill’s raid in August 1863.

In October 1864, Thomas and William Bayne enlisted in Company N, 4th Regiment, Kansas State Militia. From the Kansas State Historical Society, Militia rolls, Oct. 9-26, 1864, Kansas Memory, vol. 2, p. 79: “T.R. Bayne went out as Orderly, was elected Capt. on the 16th Oct., 1864, took command on the next day, commanded the Co. up to the state line, when he deserted and led his company home, except the former Capt. who left the Co. and crossed the line. Capt. Bayne lost his Muster Roll and all the papers belonging to the company. All the other members of the Co. deserted Friday and Friday night, the 22nd of Oct., 1864. . . Most of the Co. refuses to assign the Pay Rolls and Muster Rolls. Each man in the Company drawed one single blanket, the price of which I do not know.”

Kansas militia units helped to defeat the Confederate and guerilla forces of Gen. Sterling Price at the Battle of Westport on Oct. 23, 1864. Militia enlistees were not required to cross the border into Missouri. Thomas’s company and other units who remained in Kansas were within their rights.

The Baynes may have had a personal reason to avoid the battle. Their young half-brother, James Warner Bayne, called “Warner,” had joined Company B of the Confederate 12th Missouri cavalry regiment under Col. David Shanks. Company B was recruited in Jackson County, Missouri, in 1862-63. The 12th participated in Price’s raid on Missouri and Kansas in 1864. Warner Bayne was taken prisoner and died at Fort Leavenworth in November 1864.

Theodore Frederick Bayne, Thomas’s youngest brother, was shot to death on the Kaw bottom (in or near Rising Sun) on August 20, 1865, by Robert Higgins in a dispute over a young lady. Higgins ran away. Laura Bayne, the youngest sister, married Joseph McCall in 1865. She died in 1868.

Alexander Bayne’s third wife, Elizabeth, died in 1866. A year later he married Angeline McAninch in Johnson County, Missouri. Alexander studied medicine and practiced as a country doctor in Missouri and Kansas in the 1870s. He died at the home of his son Thomas in 1883. In 1880-81, William Bayne served as sheriff of Jefferson County. He died in 1911.

Thomas Bayne served as a Jefferson County commissioner in 1874. He was elected to the Kansas legislature in 1882. When he died in 1896, the Oskaloosa Independent said, “Although a democrat he was respected by men of all parties.” Susan Bayne died a few months later in 1897.

Thomas and Susan Bayne had six daughters; Sallie and Jessie died young. Nora and Bettie remained at home until 1897. Fannie Bayne Wilson died in 1898. Nora and Bettie raised her daughter and son, Inez and Thomas Bayne Wilson (https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/thomas-bayne-wilson/12238 ), until their father, Benjamin Wilson, remarried in 1903. Maude Bayne married John Morin in 1878; they raised two daughters, Zerelda and Mary Maud. The Morin family moved to California in the 1910s, and Nora and Bettie moved with them.

Robert and Charity Skaggs worked for James Scaggs in Texas, six years enslaved and two as free persons, earning enough money to return to Kansas in 1868 or 1869. William and Thomas Bayne helped them get started farming in Kansas, renting land to them. They bought 50 acres near Big Springs in Douglas County and farmed there for 40 years. They are buried in Eastview Cemetery in Big Springs, along with Charity and Marcus’s mother (and Thomas Bayne’s foster mother), Henrietta Freeman.

In 1871, John Speer reported that James Scaggs, having lost his fortune, was living in Montgomery County, Kansas, renting a cabin from a man he had formerly enslaved.

Marcus Freeman was head cook at the Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence until 1885, when he accepted a position at the Copeland Hotel in Topeka. He was head cook there for nearly 20 years. He owned a barbershop in Topeka, and Mary Ann opened a bakery there in 1894.

They had five children. Only their daughter, Mayme Johns Shane, survived them. Marcus Freeman died in 1905.

According to the Topeka Plaindealer, Marcus Freeman “was one of the best cooks of his day, and was well acquainted with most of the leading men of the state and nation. He was a drawing card for the Copeland as it was often said by drummers and politicians that they longed to get back to Topeka to get some of his cooking.” But in 1901, the Copeland let Marcus Freeman go. “Mark Freeman for many years head shef (sic) at the Copeland Hotel was relieved on Saturday night,” according to the June Topeka Plaindealer in 1901. “His place was filled by a white cook.”

In 1895, Zu Adams of the Kansas State Historical Society, interviewed Marcus Freeman for a collection of narratives about slavery in Kansas. Marcus was reluctant to give her permission to publish his memoir unless she first consulted Thomas Bayne. “Mr. Bayne,” he said, “has always been a good friend of mine, and I don’t want to hurt him. . . He was offered at one time $1,800 for me. A man named Davis wanted me for his father’s farm in the south. Mr. Bayne was kind to his slaves. He would buy cloth for himself and me off of the same piece of goods. . . When the colored refugees came over into Kansas during the war, many of them came up the river as far as Lawrence. They were destitute. Mr. Bayne assisted them in many ways. He invited [them] to come out to his woodland and carry in all the wood they needed for fuel, free of cost.”

When Zu Adams wrote to Thomas Bayne, he responded with a few additions to Marcus’s account, and offered his reaction to her project, “I am not ashamed of having owned Slaves. Of course we knew that we had a great responsibility on our hands but was willing to meet it – we was not like northern people covered solely by prophet. . . but it is of no use to write on this Subject – the northern people don’t now understand what Slavery was and never will.”

This paternalistic attitude was common among Kansas slaveholders, according to Marc Allan Charboneau: “Because they had convinced themselves that slaves had accepted their enslavement willingly, slaveholders placed blame for disloyalty on abolitionists and other free-soilers in the territory. Paternalism relied on a hopeful belief that by treating slaves decently, they would reciprocate with loyalty and docility. Slaveholders had difficulty admitting that perhaps the slaves were not as contented with their condition as they seemed. . . As for the slaves, they rejected any paternalistic attempts of control by the masters and instead chose to take advantage of a unique opportunity for freedom offered by Kansas.”

When Thomas Bayne ran for the Kansas senate in 1892, Marcus Freeman told a reporter, “Tom Bayne is a good neighbor, but he is on the wrong side, and always was, and these times when these fellows are bidding for the colored vote, I feel like drawing history on them. They can’t stand history. I’m a free man, . . . but it is no thanks to Tom Bayne. No self-respecting colored man can vote for him.”

~

* Written and researched by Jane Hoskinson, editor of the Jefferson County Genealogical Society publication, Yesteryears, with research assistance from Liz Leech.  Jane was an editor for University Relations at the University of Kansas for 35 years, but got her start in journalism at age 11 working for her father, John P. Hoskinson, at the Oskaloosa Independent.

Sources:

  • Bald Eagle, Lecompton Historical Society, Vol. 16, No. 2, Summer 1990
  • Bayne, Nora, letter to A.E. Van Petten, Sept. 11, 1926, Kansas Historical Society (printed in Yesteryears, October 1992)
  • Charboneau, Marc Allan, “Slave Territory, Free State: Slaveholders and Slaves in Early Kansas,” M.A. Thesis, Emporia State University, Dec. 18, 1999
  • Cory, C.E., “Slavery in Kansas,” Kansas Historical Collections, Vol. 7, pp. 229-242
  • Cutler, William G., History of the State of Kansas, published by A.T. Andreas, 1883
  • The Kansas Blackman, Topeka, Kansas, Aug. 31, 1894
  • Kansas Historical Society, https://www.kshs.org/, https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/kansapedia/19539, https://www.kansasmemory.org/
  • The Kansas Semi-Weekly Capital, Topeka, Kansas, Nov. 10, 1892
  • Leech, Elizabeth A., “Jefferson County Jayhawkers and Forgotten Freestaters,” https://jeffersonjayhawkers.com/
  • The Oskaloosa Independent, Aug. 15, 1860; Aug. 26, 1865; Aug. 7, 1880; Nov. 27, 1896
  • Patrick, A.G., “Old Settler’s Corner,” Oskaloosa Times, Apr. 18, 1902
  • Portrait and Biographical Album of Jackson, Jefferson and Pottawatomie Counties, Kansas, 1890
  • Territorial Kansas (reminiscences of Marcus Freeman, John Armstrong and John Speer; letters from Thomas Bayne and John E. Stewart), https://territorialkansasonline.ku.edu/index.php
  • The Topeka Daily Capital, Aug. 23, 1879; Dec. 15, 1888
  • The Topeka Plaindealer, Dec. 14, 1900; Apr. 7, 1905

[i] “Scaggs” is the spelling in the earliest Jefferson County documents. “Skaggs” or “Skeggs” is the spelling that appears on the memorial of Robert and Charity Skaggs and in many later documents.

Updated: J.B. Hazen’s “Lawrence Avengers” after the 1863 Quantrill Raid (Capt. Jesse Newell and His Rifle Company, Continued)

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 prepared abolitionist town’s  own  fault it was attacked on Aug. 21, 1863, or whether brokenhearted confederate Missouri brush dwellers slaughtered 150 to 180 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, vandalizing, slavery-opposing  Kansas Jayhawkers or the drunken, fiendish, proslavery  Missouri Bushwhackers who were on the side of right.

Neither the rebel  Lost-Causers’ defense of treason and revenge nor the injustice, horror or meritorious necessity of Kansas’s retaliatory General Order No. 11 interests us here.  All of that and more await you in books, articles, papers, websites, speeches, 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 miscellaneous county militia papers on this page. of the Jefferson County section on kansasmemory.org  Kansas State Historical Society, page 31. Copy and reuse restrictions apply.

Instead, we look north from Lawrence to Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte Hazen in Oskaloosa, Jefferson County, Kansas, to observe an illustration of  the young state’s response to the guerilla Quantrill’s  massacre at Lawrence.

Within three days of the massacre, J.B. Hazen had organized an Oskaloosa militia company called the “Lawrence Avengers” under the state’s call for militias. A good share of the men populating this early roster, including 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, primarily 1856 and 1857.  Oskaloosa women sewed a silk flag for the 1863 militia company, surrounding the gold-lettered “Lawrence Avengers” with gold stars.

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 whole story of Quantrill’s confederate guerrilla slaughter of about 180[1] men, boys and some soldiers. The next day,  a few  newspapers carried haunting snippets about the massacre at Lawrence, the state’s center for anti-slavery partisans since Kansas was opened to settlement in 1854.

The day after 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 in Oskaloosa, decided to go with the little information he had for his weekly newspaper the next day, Saturday, Aug.22.  (See newspaper clipping, “Lawrence Burnt.”)

After another day, other towns’ daily newspaper columns poured out details of  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 soldiers 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 invasions and murders.

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. Residents in four Missouri counties had 15 days to leave. The Union Army burned homes and farms, leaving little or nothing for Missourians to return to. It was an action loudly applauded in Kansas but is said to have turned more Missourians, including Union-supporting Missourians, against the Union. Go to Missouri today and you will find General Order No. 11 well remembered on the border.

Besides the order to eliminate the boltholes feeding and sheltering the confederate guerillas, army recruiters took to the road to fill the Kansas ranks with more soldiers. Charles R. “Doc” Jennison, leader of “Jennison’s Jayhawkers”(the 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry) campaigned 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 before Quantrills massacre and was  sent off with other Oskaloosa recruits (5th Kansas Cavalry) to fight the Bushwhackers on the Missouri/Kansas border. An account of Mitch Newell and a few comrades killing a group of Quantrill’s men in Missouri can be found near the end of this post.)

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 also 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]

In fact, The Leavenworth Times reported that Hazen’s “Lawrence Avengers was the second company in Kansas to report his roll after the governor called upon the militia after the Lawrence attack. Calling Hazen one of the ’56 boys (1856) for his fighting for the freestate cause during the Bleeding Kansas struggles over slavery,  the Times described Hazen’s acceptance of a “Lawrence Avengers” flag with its gold stars. (Read the newspaper clipping here.)

Carrie Macomber, who had two brothers in Kansas regiments, gave the townswomen’s flag to Hazen with a short speech.  Hazen likewise addressed onlookers.

clip hazen lawrence avengers flag The_Leavenworth_Times_Fri__Sep_18__1863_ (2)
This is a portion of an article published in The Leavenworth Times on Sept. 18, 1863, page 2.  Image from newspapers.com. The article may be found here.

“Union,” the Times correspondent for Oskaloosa, wrote several anonymous Oskaloosa regiment articles during the war.  Oddly, the article appears in a Leavenworth newspaper and nothing of the article’s jaunty description and background appears in the hometown Oskaloosa paper, The Independent. The full roster of the original “Lawrence Avengers”  is at the bottom of this post.

Throughout Jefferson County and the state, militia groups coalesced precinct by precinct.  Gov. Carney’s order activated Civil War militia organizations that already existed. 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,  Jefferson County’s proslavery headquarters during pre-statehood days, 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 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 state’s border.

Meanwhile, militias readied to defend their town squares, and incandescent Kansas newspaper editors called for retaliation against Quantrill, his raiders and all Bushwhackers intent on invading Kansas.

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 called for for at the time.

John W. Roberts of The Oskaloosa Independent lauded Ewing’s General Order No. 11 and suggested that if he had issued it before the Lawrence massacre and if Jennison had 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 post-Quantrill’s Raid “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, Jesse Newell’s son who enlisted as a corporal in the Fifth Kansas Cavalry at age 18? He managed to survive the war.   We don’t know much about his service beyond the state’s military records, except for the tale written by an anonymous “Jayhawker” in 1889.

In one of the many war-time reminiscence stories published after the war, a 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 many 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. Copy and reuse restrictions apply.

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. Copy and reuse restrictions apply.

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. Copy and reuse retrictions apply.

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

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 )