The Buford Expedition, Part Three: “For the Privilege of Joining my Party”

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 planned a nice vacation for himself and a few hundred of his most proslavery friends. They would go to Kansas on his dime, but he would take donations and promised to pay passage for a proslavery colonist for every fifty dollars received. To get the ball rolling, he sold forty of his slaves. Come the start of 1856, Buford nearly had everything in place. If not for some of his men refusing to go before the spring, he might have set out in February as planned. They insisted and Buford relented, scheduling departure for the end of March and beginning of April, depending where one came from. He also announced that he would underwrite only limited baggage: six blankets, a gun, a backpack, and a frying pan. If you wanted more, you had to pay for it yourself. Nor would Buford pay for the relocation of slaves, women, or children. In the time between his original November announcement and January, he realized he needed fighting men.

In case someone missed the point, even after Buford’s frequent talk about how you had to come ready for battle and keen on martial glory, he then told the world that he would organize his “regiment” into companies with officers elected by their members. Said officers would “have no emoluments” as “the organization is on the principle of volunteer militia to sustain the laws.” No uniforms, no extra pay, but you would get your chance to kill some abolitionists. That had to count for something, right?

If the growing peril in Kansas did not inspire Buford to promise relocation to noncombatants, then his finances might have done the job. He moved from discussing the military organization back to the ledgers, declaring that he didn’t plan to lose money on this business. In exchange

for the privilege of joining my party, for subsistence and transportation to Kansas, and furnishing the means to enter his pre-emption, each emigrant agrees to acquire a pre-emption, and to pay me, when his titles are perfected, a sum equal to the value of one-half of his pre-emption, which obligation he may discharge in money or property at a fair valuation, at his own option.

Preemption meant you could squat on land, register your claim, and then pay for it at a set minimum price. Buford had previously guaranteed to his adventurers a good forty acres. Now he wanted them to get it themselves and pay him half. That sounds suspicious, possibly rightly so, but Buford may just have not done his homework. He explains the shift in plan on the grounds that he thought you could claim preemptions “before patent”. I think that means he thought you could buy the land at preemption rates before living on and developing it as a prerequisite. Buford learned otherwise “on examining the act”. But he still had good news. Men of legal age, widows, and heads of families who hadn’t claimed a preemption elsewhere, and who did not have 320 acres already to their name, could have 160 acres at $1.25 a pop provided they lived on and improved it. So why wouldn’t you go to Kansas?

I don’t doubt that Buford really wanted to win Kansas for slavery, but it sounds like he meant to make a profit nearly as badly. The plan to have employees “settle” land and preempt it for you goes way back in American history. Buying the land at auction meant paying a fair market price. You might not turn an obscene profit. But get some handy “settlers” and you could claim vast acres for a song.

 

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