The Buford Expedition, Part One: Forty Slaves, Fifty Dollars, and “some crazy enough”

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Fleming’s paper is available here (PDF) or in Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume IV (huge PDF).

The State of Missouri, which had born the weight of advancing slavery in Kansas Territory alone for two long years, finally had enough. The free state party had not quietly accepted defeat and gone away, but rather persisted in the green glow of Emigrant Aid Society cash. If antislavery Americans could subsidize emigration to Kansas, then why not proslavery Americans? The Show Me State published an appeal for the South to do just that. In Alabama, this inspired Thomas J. Orme to declare that if the state would hand over $100,000, he would put five hundred proslavery men in Kansas at once. Nobody obliged Orme. Walter Lynwood Fleming, from whom I have all this, doesn’t delve into why. I imagine the state had better things to do with such a massive amount of money than a decidedly speculative venture.

On November 26, eight days after Orme’s stillborn proposal, the delightfully named Major Jefferson Buford came out with his own. An Alabama lawyer and veteran of Second Creek War, Buford took to the pages of Eufaula’s Spirit of the South:

Who will go to Kansas? I wish to raise three hundred industrious, sober, discreet, reliable men capable of bearing arms, not prone to use them wickedly or unnecessarily, but willing to protect their sections in every real emergency.

Buford sounds like he had some mixed feelings about recruiting fighting men. He clearly wants soldiers, but not just soldiers. His expedition meant to go to Kansas to stay, not as a long distance version of a Missourian election raid. If you joined up with the Major and removed to Kansas, to which he hoped to depart by February 20, 1855, Buford promised:

a homestead of forty acres of first rate land, a free passage to Kansas and the means of support for one year. To ministers of the gospel, mechanics, and those with good military or agricultural outfits, I will offer greater inducements.

You could go to Kansas to do more than kill Yankee abolitionists. Buford would set you up nicely and take care of you until he could. He pledged twenty thousand of his own money, which he raised by selling forty of his slaves. He also

expect[ed] all those who know how and have confidence in me and who feel an interest in the cause to contribute as much as they are able.

Like a latter-day PBS drive, Buford promised that for every fifty dollars someone kicked in, he would put a settler in Kansas

able and willing to vote and fight if need be for our section, or in default of doing so, that I will on demand refund the donation with interest

They didn’t have tote bags, baseball caps, or surplus copies of Ken Burns documentaries to hock in the nineteenth century, but you would buy a settler or get your money back. Should the state kick in a nice pile of cash -hint, hint- Buford would break it up into fifty dollar allotments and use it just the same way. So

Here is your cheapest and surest chance to do something for Kansas,-something toward holding against the free-soil hordes that great Thermopylae of southern institutions. This is their great day of darkness, nay, of extreme peril, there ought to be, there needs must be great individual self-sacrifice, or they cannot be maintained.

Every endeavor had its risks; people went west in far less fraught circumstances and failed. But the cause of the South demanded the section produce “some crazy enough to peril even life in the deadly breach” to go save Kansas for slavery at fifty dollars a head.




One comment on “The Buford Expedition, Part One: Forty Slaves, Fifty Dollars, and “some crazy enough”

  1. […] men from South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama had come on a ticket from Major Jefferson Buford of Alabama, having arrived in April 1856 to settle in Kansas and make it a state that allowed […]

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