Benjamin F. Stringfellow, 1816-1891
Benjamin F. Stringfellow, the fiery proslavery lawyer, politician, and businessman who verbally and physically assaulted Kansas Territory’s first governor, was born on September 3, 1816, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He was reared on his father’s plantation and educated first in common schools and then, at age twelve years, at the preparatory school at Fredericksburg. Thereafter, he attended the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, read law, and was admitted to Louisville, Kentucky, bar in 1837.
Soon, however, the young lawyer decided to pursue his fortune and legal career in the state of Missouri, first at St. Louis and then Huntsville. Later Stringfellow established a successful law practice at Keytesville in Chariton County and quickly became active in Missouri politics. He served for a short time as county circuit court judge, followed by election in 1844 to the Missouri state legislature, and then appointment to the office of state attorney general, a position he held for four years.
In 1853 Stringfellow moved his law practice to Weston, Missouri, where in the following year he helped to form the Platte County Self-Defensive Association. Because of his sympathy for the South and support for the institution of slavery, Stringfellow believe the newly created territory of Kansas must be a slave state, and his association actively supported the Missouri “border ruffians” in their sometimes-violent and fraudulent efforts to secure Kansas. Benjamin Stringfellow also aired his opinion of the issue of the day through the pages of his brother John’s newspaper, the Atchison Squatter Sovereign: “the necessity for labor demands that slavery be brought here, else the people may be driven to seek white labor, not being able to get negroes, and from necessity be forced to exclude negro slavery, that white slaves may be induced to come.”
The Stringfellows lost the political battle for Kansas and actually sold the newspaper to group of freestaters, but Benjamin Stringfellow maintained his financial and property interests in Atchison, and in 1859 he decided to settle in that city. With the slavery issue all but decided, Stringfellow put aside his ideological zeal and began instead to focus his energies on the economic development of the region. He even joined with his former antislavery adversaries in seeking fortune and fame in the free state of Kansas.
Although his younger brother Dr. John H. Stringfellow, a physician as well as the former senior editor of the proslavery Atchison newspaper, returned to Virginia and served in the Confederate army during the Civil War, Benjamin Stringfellow remained a loyal citizen of Kansas. Age prevented his active military service, but Stringfellow supported the efforts of the Union and state to suppress the rebellion and directed his energies toward his Atchison law practice and business investments. He was an active promoter of railroad development in the state of Kansas, first with the Kansas and Western Missouri Railroad Company. Later Stringfellow helped to organize and build the Atchison and St. Joseph Railroad Company, and then he became the company attorney.
The death of Benjamin F. Stringfellow, at the home of his daughter in Chicago, Illinois, on April 26, 1891, marked the end to one of early Kansas’s more colorful political and entrepreneurial lives--a man who proved amazingly flexible and practical in the face of the national upheaval over an issue—slavery—about which he had once been so passionate.
Baltimore, Lester B. “Benjamin F. Stringfellow: The Fight for Slavery on the Missouri Border.” Missouri Historical Review 62 (October 1967): 14-29.
Cecil-Fronsman, Bill. “`Death to all Yankees and Traitors in Kansas': The Squatter Sovereign and the Defense of Slavery in Kansas.” Kansas History 16 (Spring 1993): 22-33.
The United States Biographical Dictionary. Kansas Volume. Chicago, IL: S. Lewis and Company, 1879.