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.




Missouri Calls for Help

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Before delving back into the maltreatment of William C. Clark, I wrote about the Kansas Pioneer Association of Jackson County, Missouri. They aimed to do what the Emigrant Aid Societies had done for more than a year: subsidize emigration of politically-reliable white men to Kansas. There they would vote for slavery, vs. the Emigrant Aid Societies’ freedom, and cement the institution’s grip on the nation’s most troubled territory. Missourians had heretofore considered such behavior cheating, but firm principle yielded to clear advantage as often to them as to us. Nor did they come alone to the prosalvery side of the Emigrant Aid Game, though their side did come to the business tardily. Walter Lynwood Fleming explains why in The Buford Expedition to Kansas (PDF). My copy is from Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume IV (huge PDF) on the grounds that I found it first.

Fleming puts proslavery delay down to how “it was doubtful if the anti-slavery party would ever be strong enough to control the elections” but Yankee Emigrant Aid operations got to work at the job.

In the movement of importing men the North had already two years the start, the South being confident that no exertion would be necessary in order to secure Kansas as a slave State. So there was very little pro-slavery emigration into this debatable land before late in 1856 except from the neighboring State of Missouri.

Fleming then recounts how the first territorial elections went in favor of the South. He neglects how the South ensured what, whether he means the delegate election of November, 1854, or the legislative elections of March, 1855. As a member of the Dunning School, Fleming leaned proslavery about as hard as one could at the turn of the twentieth century. That proslavery Missourians invaded Kansas in large numbers to control the territorial elections seems to simply not register as relevant to him. Come late 1855 “the outlook was gloomy for the pro-slavery cause.”


Pro-slavery emigrant aid societies were now organized in Missouri, and soon other similar societies were formed in the remaining Southern States. Missouri appealed to her sister States in the South to come to her assistance.

I haven’t found the original appeal online anywhere; my searching turns up Fleming’s citation and ought else. But he does quote from it. Citing the two years of southern reverses, which Missouri had born alone, the appeal held

The time has come when she can no longer stand up single-handed, the lone champion of the South, against the myrmidons of the North. It requires no foresight to perceive that if the ‘higher law’ men succeed in this crusade, it will be but the beginning of a war upon the institutions of the South, which will continue until slavery shall cease to exist in any of the States, or the Union is dissolved.

The Missourians had it mostly right on both counts. They depicted Kansas as coming to a crisis point, which would last at least through the elections of October, 1856. If the proslavery party could not control matters, they would lose the territory. Kansas required

bolt, determined action. Words will no longer do any good; we must have men in Kansas, and that by tens of thousands. A few will not answer. If we should need ten thousand men and lack one of that number, all will count nothing. Let all then who can come do so at once. Those who cannot come must give money to help others to come.

Failure in Kansas would lead, as always, to the loss of the whole West to freedom and the restriction of slavery to the southeast. Excitement reigned through the end of 1855, with the slave states

now thoroughly canvassed by agents of the pro-slavery emigrant aid societies.

Someone would take Missouri up on the offer. According to Fleming, “Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia” rushed to get in line. An Alabaman named Thomas J. Orme published an appeal of his own on November 18, 1855:

If the people of Alabama will raise $100,000, I will land in Kansas 500 settlers. I have over one hundred volunteers now.

Steve King and the Maltreatment of Reverend William C. Clark

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

In looking over the officers at the meeting which established the Kansas Pioneer Association, George Brown’s Herald of Freedom found names he recognized from the Wakarusa War. Among them he spotted a Colonel Chiles, who had more recent adventures. He had somehow “maltreated” a Reverend William C. Clark.

Who did what now? I make a special effort to highlight occasions of actual and credibly threatened violence as signposts for how far things have gone in Kansas. Doing otherwise would make the whole affair sound like no more than the overexcited outbursts of politicians arguing over constitutional arcana, very much detached from the experience of people living at the time. They had real fears based on real events; what happened to others could very well happen to them. But I missed Clark’s travail. Let’s back up to the twentieth of September, 1855, and see what happened.

Clark had come to Lawrence, but gone back East for New England in September. Since then, he had tried four times to get in touch with George Brown about his travail

with the Algerines of America on the Polar Star. I [Clark] wrote and sent you [Brown] a long and full account the first thing I did after I was able to sit up. I should write more, but the hope of this ever reaching you seems so small that I am almost discouraged in trying.

Clark means the Barbary pirates when he says Algerines, who would abduct and enslave Europeans. They constituted a menace to maritime travel in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean for centuries, their exploits generating a whole genre of captivity narrative which he readers would have known well.

The Reverend knew that the papers had hold of his story, but travel and illness prevented him at first from setting the record straight. Clark told the reader that he traveled seven weeks in Kansas, finding its soil rich, its water pure, its scenery beautiful, and generally the best place in America. He then went home. Reading between the lines, it sounds like Clark went specifically to learn about and then promote Kansas to emigrants. On September 18, he took passage at Kansas City. The Polar Star would take him down to St. Louis.

In short order, Clark found that the other passengers had much to say about the Kansas question. Generally from the slave states, they had precisely the opinions one would expect. Clark let several untrue statements about the Free State party pass unremarked, “not wishing to have a controversy.”

On the second day of the Polar Star’s voyage, the topic of conversation turned to theology. I imagine Clark’s eyes lit up at the opportunity, much as mine do when someone wants to talk history. The discussion covered “modes of baptism, next the perseverance of the saints, &c.” People had murdered each other over such questions, but that happened long ago and far away. Nearer to home

one gentleman present objected to the divine authenticity of the Bible, on the ground that the five races of men never could have had one common parentage, objecting especially to the Indian and Negro races.

This made Clark’s objector quite the radical. Few antebellum Americans believed in separate origins for the races of humanity they imagined existing. The occasional proslavery theorist, particularly Josiah Nott, would make the argument but most thought the idea solidly unBiblical and consequently false.

Clark wouldn’t sit down and let that one pass:

Feeling an interest when I hear the Scriptures assailed, I took the liberty to reply to him, giving my views of the origin of the Indians found on this continent by Columbus, which seemed to be satisfactory to those present. His objection to the common origin of the Negro race was, that their minds had not a capacity for cultivation, and by nature were almost destitute of intelligence; and hence he thought they must have had another and inferior origin.

You can’t go very far in the United States today without hearing that theory of blackness. We don’t often phrase it in quite that way, but express the same meaning in more careful words. In noting that the Republican Party today has racial demographics not far out of line with the Ku Klux Klan, Representative Steve King asked

I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

“Than white people?” Hayes asked, clearly amazed.

“Than, than Western civilization itself,” King replied. “It’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.”

In other words, non-whites don’t deserve a place in a political party. Inferior by nature, their lacks proven by history, they could jolly well bugger off. Only whites count.

With the exception of Monday posts, and not all of those, I don’t try too orient this blog around contemporary America. But sometimes contemporary America comes on its own.

Familiar Faces at the Kansas Pioneer Association

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The Missourians decided, belatedly, that they had best get into the Emigrant Aid Game. For more than a year, the Massachusetts, then New England, and other societies in the North had paid the travel costs of antislavery settlers bound for Kansas. They even ran a hotel or two to put a roof over the heads of new arrivals, albeit one with more sod than shingles. For the previous history of territorial Kansas, the Missourians took all that as cheating the system. Now they would cheat too. Moreover, the people of Jackson County specifically empowered their Kansas Pioneer Association to coordinate with other such groups for a wide-open slave power conspiracy. The same meeting that organized the association also called for a convention of similar associations from every county in Missouri to put their plan into operation.

As the names of the officers chairing the meeting at Lexington which set all this in motion appeared in the papers, the Herald of Freedom gave them a close look. George Brown spotted S. H. Woodson among them, who had telegraphed back to the east that proslavery men needed to come in a hurry to

aid in the subjugation of the ‘d—-d Yankees.’ His dispatches were mistaken in the East for those of the Secretary of our Territory, Daniel Woodson.

Daniel Woodson

Daniel Woodson

Two Williams Phillips before and two Woodsons now. I’ve featured a letter from a Woodson before, straight out of Charles Robinson’s The Kansas Conflict. The letter appears over Daniel Woodson’s name. The full text:

Westport, November 27th.

Hon. E. A. McClarey, Jefferson City:

Governor Shannon has ordered out the militia against Lawrence. They are now in open rebellion against the laws. Jones is in danger.

(Private.) DEAR GENERAL: The Governor has called out the militia, and you will hereby organize your division, and proceed forthwith to Lecompton. As the Governor has no power, you may call out the Platte Rifle Company. They are always ready to help us. Whatever you do, do not implicate the Governor.

Daniel Woodson

While broadly similar to the letter Brown refers to, this Woodson makes no reference to Yankees in any state of grace. Nor does it seem that he sent multiple letters, but rather one specific missive to a militia officer advising him to call out the Platte County men. I don’t think Robinson above slanting things in the slightest, but this doesn’t quite like quite the letter that Brown meant.

Brown recognized other names. N.R McMurry served as Secretary of the mass meeting. He thought that the same as the Dr. McMurry, who came out from Independence for the Wakarusa War. Colonel James Chiles presided:

Whether this man CHILES, who was President of the meeting, was the man (?) who brutally maltreated Rev. Wm. C. Clark on the Missouri river last autumn, or whether he was the person who joined with others in sending dispatches over the wires during our late war […] we are not informed

For the edification of his readers, Brown reprinted Chiles’ dispatch:

There is no doubt in regard to having a fight, and we all know that a great many have complained because they were disappointed heretofore in regard to a fight. Say to them now is the time to show game, and if we are defeated this time, the Territory is lost to the South.

That Missourians came into Kansas, first temporarily and now perhaps to stay, in order to thwart antislavery Kansans hardly made for breaking news. But by linking Chiles’ and the others’ previous hooliganism to their present enterprise in Emigrant Aid, Brown underlined that they served the same ends. And just what kind of Missourian would come over in such an operation? Would they come as ordinary settlers and then turn against proslavery impositions as others had? Maybe, but what if Chiles’ send his buddies from the Wakarusa War? They came set to kill abolitionists and hardly made for the best prospects at a change of heart.

Which leaves the matter of how Chiles’ maltreated William C. Clark. More on that tomorrow.

The Bylaws of the Kansas Pioneer Association

Eli Thayer

Eli Thayer

After a good year of outrage at how Emigrant Aid Societies in northern states had paid the way of antislavery settlers to come to Kansas, Missourians had had enough. If Yankees could cheat by subsidizing migration of politically-reliable men, then so could they. At Jackson County court house, they formed the Kansas Pioneer Association and published their plan. Pauper mercenaries could come from near to Kansas territory just as they could from afar.

The KPA’s founders knew they needed more than hopes, dreams, and occasional extralegal violence to make a go of this. Like a good company, they aimed to sell shares and use the proceeds to fund their emigrants. They would take any sum, but if one wanted a say in how the organization operated it would cost you $20. Operations would begin in earnest as soon as they had two thousand dollars lined up. That didn’t mean they would actually have that cash on hand, but rather they would elect officers and a board of directors who could go out and requisition the funds, up to 25% of what one pledged per quarter.

All of this sounds very normal for the time, up to and including language that the Board would have full control of the funds but promised to use them for the declared ends alone, and the founders

further empower said Board to form a connection with other societies or organizations similar to this in their ends and aims, and blend all of the energies and means of this Society with those of such other societies or organizations, upon such terms as they may deem advisable.

Here the Missourians put on paper what had clearly happened informally in the past. The network of Blue Lodges which had powered their state’s previous operations against Kansas seem to have worked on strictly personal connections and mutual understanding. The expenses of boarder ruffianism came out of the pockets of the filibusters themselves and from the large planters of the area on a case-by-case basis. Now they openly declared coordination, which must have come easier for an organization with clearly legal means and ends. Contrary to proslavery protestations, no precedent of law or custom forbade organizations underwriting westward migration. What Eli Thayer could do, they aimed to do better.