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Immigration and Early Settlement

     Many of the people who settled in Kansas Territory came for land and business opportunities. These settlers were not involved in the debate about whether or not Kansas should enter the Union as a free or slave state. All settlers in Kansas Territory endured the hardships found on any frontier. They raised crops to feed themselves and their livestock. They built houses and stores and established schools and churches. The weather was often a factor, and a large number of settlers left the territory after the bitter winter of 1856.

     Even though the Kansas Nebraska Act "opened" Kansas Territory for settlement in 1854, a number of people already lived in the area. This included several tribes of Native Americans. Plains Indian tribes, the Kansas, Pawnees, and Osages, lived in and moved across Kansas, depending on the season. After 1830, about twenty tribes who lived east of the Mississippi River were resettled west of Missouri under the federal government's Indian removal policy. In 1853 the government began negotiations to move these tribes again. By the end of 1854, the various tribes had ceded much of the land in what had become the Kansas and Nebraska territories to the federal government through various treaties.

     Even before Kansas Territory was opened to non-Indians in the spring of 1854, groups with varied political interests had formed to encourage settlement. The New England Emigrant Aid Society (later Company) and other groups formed to promote and support free state settlement, while Missourians with an immediate stake in the outcome poured across their border with Kansas. The first organized band of New Englanders arrived in the territory in July 1854 and founded the city of Lawrence, making it the focal point of abolitionist activity. Before the end of the year Cyrus K. Holliday and others established the city of Topeka as another free state community.

     On the other side, activity was also swift. David Rice Atchison, Missouri's senior senator from Platte City, and brothers John H. and Benjamin F. Stringfellow, "urged their people to resist the abolitionist plot to surround their state with free territory." These men helped establish the proslavery town of Atchison. Proslavery Missourians founded Leavenworth about the same time.

     It is safe to say, despite the attention paid to the political tumult and violence known as Bleeding Kansas, most of the people who came to Kansas Territory sought land and opportunity. They were not primarily concerned with the free/slave question, but with making a living or surviving on the rough frontier, which by 1859-1860 was made even rougher by a severe drought. Initially, many came from Missouri, but soon people from the states of the Ohio valley, Mid-Atlantic, and upper South, in addition to those from New England, arrived in Kansas Territory in substantial numbers. In many ways these immigrants were quite similar, and, regardless of their particular political persuasion, it is probably safe to say that a big majority wanted Kansas to be free from the institution of slavery and the "Negro." These settlers sought free-soil for whites only. For their part, Missourians may have been as concerned about preventing the establishment of a safe haven for run-away slaves on their western border as they were about having Kansas become a slave state.

     In its early years, Kansas Territory had several relatively distinct "cultural regions" and the settlers in those regions, whether Yankees or Southerners, had different value systems. However, the extent of these differences was often exaggerated in the newspaper stories of the Bleeding Kansas era. According to Lawrence's Kansas Free State, the eastern immigrant came "to Kansas for the purpose of instructing the Western people how to build up a model New England State. . . . They work themselves into a belief that Western men, and especially Missourians, are of an inferior order of people, unfit for social intercourse." Stereotypes on both sides certainly influenced the Eastern press, and were frequently employed by local partisan editors to fan the flames of border conflict.

     In reality of course, most of Kansas' territorial settlers were not "Yankees." The Northern states--New England, northern tier states west of New England, and Iowa--contributed 16 percent of the territory's 1860 population of 107,209, while the "lower South" contributed only 13.5 percent. It was the border states that populated the territory of Kansas: northern border states, 35.3 percent; southern border states (including Missouri), 24.1; the total border state contribution was 59.4 percent. Nevertheless, despite the "relative statistical unimportance of the New England contribution," a mere 3.9 percent, these folks wielded a disproportionate amount of influence, which tended to magnify the differences between early settlers on the slavery issue.

     The Kansas population (1860), in terms of the place of birth of residents, received its greatest contributions from Ohio (11,617), Missouri (11,356), Indiana (9,945), and Illinois (9,367), followed by Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and New York (all three over 6,000). The territory's foreign-born population stood at roughly 12 percent, most of whom hailed from the British Isles or Germany. Racially, of course, the population was overwhelmingly white. The 1860 census takers found only two slaves in Kansas Territory and 625 "Free Colored" residents. One hundred and eighty-nine Indians were listed in the census, 141 of whom resided in Wyandotte County. And, of course, the population was overwhelmingly rural. The territory had only two communities that the U.S. Census Bureau classified as cities: Leavenworth with 5,000 inhabitants, which had the only telegraphic service in Kansas at the time of admission, and Atchison with 2,500 residents. Lawrence had a substantial population (2,000) and seven other towns had over 500 inhabitants.

     The number of slaves in the Kansas territory was never large, but the number of "free" blacks in Kansas grew steadily. During the territorial period, many passed through on the "Underground Railroad" and during the war hundreds of contrabands fled Missouri for freedom in the Union state of Kansas. The number of slaves assisted by this secret, rather ill defined network is impossible to determine. Because of this, its impact has been both exaggerated and inappropriately minimized. Regardless of the railroad's overall impact, however, a number of Kansans were involved; according to one "conductor," commenting on April 4, 1859, "nearly three hundred fugitives" had "passed through and received assistance from the abolitionists here at Lawrence" during the previous four years. It should not be surprising that Missouri would feel threatened. After 1861 enslaved blacks continued to make their way across the border in even larger numbers. Whatever the numbers involved, black flight to free Kansas was an important factor in the relations between Missouri and Kansas, before and during the Civil War.

     Many of the people settling in territorial Kansas came primarily for real and perceived economic opportunity. They acquired land for farms or for businesses and homes in the new towns being established. Most of the farm land acquired by the first settlers in Kansas Territory was claimed under the provisions of the Pre-emption Act of 1841. An individual could claim up to 160 acres of land and pay $1.25 per acre once the public land survey was completed. After that, public land was sold through auctions until the passage of the Homestead Act in 1862.

     Settlers with extra cash and absentee investors often participated in town site speculation. Companies organized to create and promote new towns and they sold shares and town lots to investors and actual settlers. These people hoped that the land, lots, or town company stock would increase in value so they could be sold for a profit. This dealing in town company stock or extra land was often highly speculative and helped create rivalries among new towns. Towns tried to attract new businesses and settlers with promotional information and some towns competed to be on the routes of railroads, which were just starting to be built. Some town companies organized what were known as "paper" towns because they never developed beyond a structure or two. All of this activity, whether based on real or potential prospects, created an atmosphere of economic prosperity during part of the territorial period.

     However, bad weather, bad crops, and destruction of crops and property by the opposing forces often offset this sense of prosperity. Several Kansas organizations and a number of groups in Northern states, such as the National Kansas Committee, sponsored efforts to raise funds and collect clothing and supplies for free state settlers. Food and clothing were then distributed to needy settlers.

     By the time Kansas entered the Union in January 1861, most settlers were focusing on making a living and raising families in their new home.


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This file was last modified September 12 2013 04:09:26 PM.