The Buford Expedition, Part Two: “six blankets, one gun, one knapsack, and one frying pan”

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).

Jefferson Buford of Eufaula, Alabama, sold forty of his slaves to save slavery in Kansas Territory. He wanted proslavery men, “crazy enough” to go to Kansas at fifty dollars a head. But not too crazy. Buford foresaw a place for heroes to defend “that great Thermopylae of southern institutions”, but he didn’t want maniacs. He wanted something more on the order of disciplined adventurers.

How did that work out for Buford? Walter Lynwood Fleming relates that at the end of December of 1855, Buford wrote to the Advertiser and State Gazette of Montgomery with good news. He had

honest, clever, poor young men from the country, used to agricultural labor, with a few merchants, mechanics, printers, and carpenters.

I went looking for the original, but couldn’t find it online. I think Fleming would have quoted a number of Buford gave one, but can’t say for certain. Either way, by January 19, 1856, Buford felt he had enough men on tap to set out. He published an announcement to that effect, laying out the details. He wanted to get going on February 11, but Buford’s colonists wouldn’t be ready in time. Some refused to leave before Spring. Citing that and the winter ice on the Missouri and the Kansas, Buford accepted a delay. He still meant to go, mind you. His men should gather at Eufaula on March 31; Columbus, Georgia on April 3; and Montgomery on April 5th. He would gather up others as he went between those places.

The company will travel from Montgomery by steamers via Mobile and New Orleans, or else by railroad via Atlanta to Nashville, and thence by steamer to Kansas.

The fragmented state of roads and rails in the antebellum South made such circuitous routes the norm. But roundabout or not, Buford aimed to go. He even paid the way for his men, though not for everything. His subsidy for luggage did not of very far at all:

I engage to transport no baggage except six blankets, one gun, one knapsack, and one frying pan to each emigrant. For baggage over and above this the emigrant must himself engage transportation; many will have no more and I must treat all alike.

This must have constituted a change of plans, as Buford then adds:

While I thought my company would be small I expected to be able to take women, children, and slaves; but I find I must leave them to give place to men who are now greatly needed in Kansas to preserve the public peace and enforce the laws. I now expect over four hundred men and I will take no females, nor slaves, nor minors under eighteen years of age. Women and children should not be exposed there in tents in the spring, but the husbands should go first and prepare houses.

One can read that three ways. Buford might very well have gotten far more men than he hoped, or fewer financial backers than he hoped. These four hundred make the first time he’s given a hard number. Even if finances didn’t enter into it, whether from too many interested parties or too few paying subscribers, Buford laid out his plan in public before the Wakarusa War. He might well appreciate now that Kansas would require more than militant bluster to save for slavery. Buford could have imagined a colonial venture with a military sideline back in November, but now realized he needed a military venture with a colonial sideline.

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