It would be outside the scope of the present discussion to recount in detail the origin and aims of the Emigrant Aid Company. Anyone interested in that phase of the subject is referred to the New England Quarterly of January, 1930. As applied to Kansas, however, the project may be briefly summarized. The New England Emigrant Aid Company, incorporated as a stock company after the first few months of its operation, was a queer combination of philanthropic venture and money-making scheme. Its promoters and managers were genuinely anxious to make Kansas a free state, and believed that everything they did would contribute to that end. At the same time they expected to capitalize the rise in land-values which would come with the growth of settlement, and from this source to repay the capital invested with a considerable profit. The plan of operations was, first, to disseminate information and encourage migration to Kansas; second, to assist eastern emigrants by securing reduced railway and steamboat fares and by organizing them into conducted parties; third, to invest all the capital that could be raised in mills, hotels and other local improvements in Kansas in order to attract settlers from all parts of the North.
Theoretically the plan was a perfectly feasible one, but it met with obstacles at every turn. First of all, its success was contingent upon the securing of capital in large amounts. The stock of the company was attractive neither as an investment nor as a speculation. One of the most active managers of the concern, Amos A. Lawrence, although he put many thousands of dollars into the enterprise, never expected the stock to pay out, and advised prospective subscribers to invest no more than they could afford to lose or were willing to contribute to the cause. The total amount of money raised throughout the period of activity was less than $140,000. Thus the project was handicapped from beginning to end by lack of financial means.
The propaganda work was done almost too well. Eli Thayer, the originator of the idea, spent most of his time during the first year of the company's existence lecturing in New England and New York, and was assisted by Edward Everett Hale and other lecturers of lesser note. A document written by Thayer and Hale in the early summer of 1854, and given wide publicity, indicated that $5,000,000 was to be raised and spent in Kansas and that 20,000 settlers were to be sent at once. Horace Greeley, of the New York Tribune, William Cullen Bryant, of the New York Evening Post, and Thurlow Weed, of the Albany Journal, backed the enterprise editorially. Leading newspapers (as the New York Times carried fanciful tales of the extent of the Aid Company activities, even asserting that the company was establishing a line of packets to bring settlers from Europe. The company issued various tracts, including a pamphlet of information for Kansas emigrants, and encouraged the publication of such books as Hale's Kanzas and Nebraska and Mrs. Robinson's Kansas: Its Interior and Exterior Life, to stimulate migration, while Whittier wrote his well-known Song of the Kansas Emigrant to aid the cause.
Emigration started off with a bang. A "pioneer party" of twenty-nine left Boston even before the promoters had succeeded in forming an organization. Five other parties who went out before the freezing of the Missouri river closed migration for the fall brought the total for 1854 up to about 450. The following spring seven parties took about 800 more. But the excitement in Kansas and the success of the Proslavery party in organizing the territory had a depressing effect on prospective emigrants. Many were deterred by the stories sent or brought back by persons who had been out to Kansas expecting to find fully developed communities with up-to-date conveniences and plenty of work at high wages, while the effort to organize weekly parties continued on through 1857, after June, 1855, the parties were small and irregular, and the number of settlers included in each is not always stated in the record. Beginning in 1857 and continuing through 1859, the company offered individual tickets to persons wishing to migrate to Kansas, but no record has come to light of the number of such tickets sold. It is thus impossible to tell with any definiteness the total number of persons who came to Kansas under the auspices of the Emigrant Aid Company, but it was probably under 2,000, of whom a considerable number, probably a third, returned.
Besides those who came under the direct auspices of the company, there were many persons who were influenced in various ways. First of all, there was an indeterminate number, not large, but including such noteworthy individuals as D. R. Anthony and Dr. John Doy, who joined the Aid Company parties en route. Thayer asserted, without much substantiating evidence, that the parties often doubled before they reached the territory. Then there were those who came to Kansas under the auspices of organizations formed as subsidiary to or in imitation of the New England Emigrant Aid Company. Most notable of these was the group sent by the American Settlement Company of New York, which founded Council City (Burlingame). Other groups were sent by similar organizations in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Then there were some-we can never know how many-who came entirely on their own initiative, but who were influenced in a greater or less degree by the Aid Company propaganda and by the belief that the company was spending $5,000,000 in Kansas.
But even when we add to the most liberal estimate of those who migrated under Aid Company auspices, a reasonable allowance for persons influenced, the number, as compared to the total population of Kansas according to the federal census of 1860, is not impressive. One must agree with those who have published independent studies of the subject that, numerically speaking, the emigrant aid movement was at best a minor factor in the peopling of Kansas. But numbers aside, the effort was important in several ways. In the first. place, the Aid Company effort centered largely in the first and most critical year of Kansas settlement; the company pioneered the movement to fill the territory with free-soilers and gave moral support to those who came independently. E. L. Craik was of the opinion that at the time of the greatest crisis in 1856 more than a third of the free-state strength was from New England, with nearly another third from the middle Atlantic states in which the Aid Company influence was felt. In the second place, the Aid Company colonists were largely town founders, and, as Hale pointed out, the towns were the centers of free-state activity and defense. Finally, those who maintained an active association with the company exercised an influence out of all proportion to their numbers. This was obvious in cases like that of Robinson, agent of the company and foremost leader of the free-state movement. The fact may not be without significance that of the first state officers chosen under the Wyandotte constitution, Robinson, the governor, Pomeroy, one of the two senators, and Conway, the representative in congress, had all been agents of the Emigrant Aid Company; that the subsequent records of these men left something to be desired is another story.
Another way in which the company contributed to the building of Kansas and the furtherance of the free-state cause was in the launching of towns. The three communities which loomed largest as centers of free-state activities, Lawrence, Topeka and Osawatomie, were all, in greater or less degree, creations of the company and its agents. Lawrence, the very heart of the free-state movement, was preeminently an Aid Company town, and was often referred to in territorial days as the "Yankee settlement." The first group to occupy the site was the company's "pioneer party," about August 1, 1854. They were joined a month later by the second party, numbering 114, piloted by Robinson. It was this second party that organized the Lawrence Association and launched the town project, naming the prospective city in honor of Amos A. Lawrence, treasurer of the Aid Company, who had advanced all funds in the company treasury down to that date. These easterners found a number of claims staked out partly overlapping the townsite; out of this grew the inevitable land dispute, without which no frontier project was ever complete, with its usual charges and counter charges of claim jumping. Throughout the period of conflict Lawrence remained the chief center of free-state activities, and the chief objective of proslavery attack. It was recognized by friend and foe alike as the foremost outpost of the Aid Company effort in Kansas.
The case of Manhattan is almost as clear-cut and is in some respects similar. A party of colonists was organized by the Aid Company in Boston in the spring of 1855 under the leadership of "Professor" Isaac T. Goodnow. Goodnow proceeded to Kansas a week ahead of his party and, in conjunction with Pomeroy, selected the site at the mouth of the Blue river. The colony soon arrived, piloted by Luke P. Lincoln, and, as in the case of Lawrence, dispossessing prior claimants without too much regard for "squatter rights," farmed a town association and launched the "Town of Boston." A month later the steamboat Hartford, bearing a group of colonists from Cincinnati, calling themselves "The Cincinnati and Kansas Land Company," ran aground just below the mouth of the Blue. The Cincinnati panty had been financed by persons in New York City and were pledged to call their settlement "Manhattan." To induce them to cast in their lot with the Aid Company settlement, the Boston Town Association agreed to change the name of their settlement to Manhattan. On the way back down the Kansas river the Hartford was burned, and the Aid Company bought the boiler to run its Lawrence sawmill.
The company's part in the launching of Topeka was less direct. The town association was formed in December of 1854 by nine men, seven of whom had come from New England, presumably under Aid Company auspices. Among the group was Charles Robinson, agent of the company, and the original articles of association provided for granting to the company one-sixth interest in the town in return for a promise to locate a sawmill, build a schoolhouse and make other improvements. While the Aid Company never took the interest in Topeka that it did in Lawrence, company agents continued to direct settlers to the place and it was known throughout the territorial period as an Aid Company town.
Osawatomie was projected by a group of three proprietors: Orville C. Brown (the original "Osawatomie Brown"), William Ward, of New York (who never migrated to Kansas), and S. C. Pomeroy, who was admittedly acting on behalf of the Emigrant Aid Company, and who later quitclaimed all his "right, title and interest" in the town project to the company. Thus the Aid Company was in reality one of the original proprietors of Osawatomie and held a one-third interest in the town.
The Aid Company can claim a large share of the credit for the founding of Wabaunsee and Hampden (Burlington), and apparently had some part in the establishment of Humboldt, Zeandale, Mapleton and Milford, but none of these played a conspicuous part in early Kansas history. It later acquired extensive interests in Quindaro and Atchison, but it had no part in their founding.
Of far more importance to the early settlers than the founding of towns, though it appears less spectacular in retrospect, was the establishment of mills in Kansas. This was the activity upon which the Emigrant Aid Company concentrated its major efforts. The most urgent need of any isolated frontier community was a means of sawing lumber for building and of grinding grain for food. No better means could be found of encouraging the development of a community and of inflating the value of its real estate (from which the Aid Company hoped to derive a profit) than by locating in it a sawmill or grist mill. The company is known to have located nine mills in Kansas-at Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan, Osawatomie, Burlington, Wabaunsee, Atchison, Batcheller (Milford) and Claflin (Mapleton), and there is some evidence that one or two others were sent out only to be lost or destroyed. All of these were steam-operated, and all but the one at Atchison were primarily sawmills. At Osawatomie, Manhattan, Wabaunsee and Milford, however, grist mills were established in connection. The cost of mills placed in operation varied from two or three thousand dollars to nearly ten thousand in the case of the Atchison mill.19 Nine or ten small mills do not appear to be a very great contribution to the building of a state until one compares it with the total milling facilities available to the Kansas settlers. Prof. H. A. Richardson, formerly of the department of economics of the University of Kansas, made an extensive study a few years ago of early milling in Kansas. In a very thorough search of the records he was able to discover only twenty-four mills of all kinds established in Kansas prior to 1860 in addition to those belonging to the Emigrant Aid Company. Of these, five belonged to the federal government (located at military posts) and two to Indian missions. Of the seventeen remaining, several were small affairs that operated only for a short time. Hence, it would probably not be far wrong to assert that about half the mills actually accessible to the settlers of territorial Kansas were sent out by the Emigrant Aid Company.
Another activity by which the company set great store was the establishment of hotels for the accommodation of settlers and sojourners. In the summer of 1854 Robinson purchased for the company the old Gillis house in Kansas City. For about a year the company operated it through lessees as the American hotel. In the summer of 1855 a contract of sale was made with S. W. Eldridge. Eldridge, who resold to an irresponsible party from whom he was never able to make collections, failed to complete his payments, so that the title to the building remained in the hands of the company until the final closing out of the real estate in 1862. Throughout the period of the Kansas conflict the American hotel was the chief stopping place of free-state settlers on their way to Kansas, and it served as a sort of general headquarters for free-state people when in Kansas City.
At Lawrence temporary huts were provided by the agents of the company to serve as boarding houses until a hotel could be built. Work on the Free State hotel was begun in the summer of 1855, but such were the delays in construction (due chiefly to lack of funds) that it was just ready for opening when it was destroyed by Sheriff Jones' "posse" May 21, 1856. The building had been erected at a cost of approximately $20,000, and friends of the company asserted that it was the finest hostelry west of St. Louis. Preparations were begun at once to rebuild. The rubbish was cleared and a new basement built. But the work was slow, money was scarce, the crusading spirit had spent itself and there was little likelihood of pecuniary returns. November 11, 1857, the hotel basement was sold to S. W. Eldridge for $5,000. The present Hotel Eldridge stands on the site.
When the company purchased an interest in Atchison in 1857 it acquired, along with other properties, a small hotel there. This building was enlarged and improved, and was operated through lessees until the company closed out its affairs in 1862. Considerable efforts were made through 1857 and 1858 to induce the company to build hotels in Manhattan, Osawatomie and Topeka. It finally did underwrite, to the extent of a few hundred dollars in each place, projects for the building of hotels by private individuals in the first two of these localities, but it never held a major interest in them.
Another activity in which the company was repeatedly urged to engage was the establishment. of newspapers. Its only major venture in this field was the Herald of Freedom at Lawrence. In the fall of 1854, George W. Brown, a Pennsylvanian proposing to found a freestate paper in Kansas, sought and eventually secured a loan of $2,000 from the company with which he purchased his press and other equipment, giving the company a bill of sale of his press as security. The loan dragged on until 1859, when it was finally paid in Quindaro town shares which soon became worthless. In the meantime A. A. Lawrence repeatedly referred to Brown's press as Aid Company property. While neither Brown nor the company officers would openly avow such a relationship, the Herald was universally regarded both in Kansas and in the East as the official organ of the Emigrant Aid Company. It invariably supported the company against all detractors, while the company office in Boston acted as general subscription agency for the Herald for all New England. Many people, both at the time and since, have believed that the Herald, because of its radical tendencies and the tactlessness of its editor, did more harm than good to the free-state cause. Nevertheless, it was a powerful propaganda agency in the East, and for better or for worse, it was the mouthpiece of the Emigrant Aid Company.
The only other newspaper in which the Aid Company is known to have had a direct financial interest was a German-language sheet, Die Kansas Zeitung, first published in Atchison in 1857 by Dr. Charles E. Kob, and later removed by a subsequent proprietor to Leavenworth. The Aid Company advanced the funds for the purchase of type and other equipment; the Zeitung did not own a press. Herbert Flint, who made a study of journalism in territorial Kansas in 1916, was of the opinion that the Emigrant Aid Company owned virtually, if not actually, the Atchison Freedom's Champion (the old Squatter Sovereign, renamed after it passed into free-state hands) and the Quindaro Chindowan. The former was owned for a time by Pomeroy while he was agent of the company, and the latter by Robinson after he had ceased to be an agent. An inspection of the records of the company reveals that the executive committee declined to purchase the Champion when it bought into Atchison, whereupon Pomeroy purchased it himself (to fulfill the agreement with the Atchison Town Association) and resold it at the first opportunity. There is nothing in the records to indicate that the company ever had any interest, other than a purely sentimental one, in the Chindowan.
In the realm of what might be called more definitely social service activities, the company as such did something, and individuals associated with it did more. One of the aims avowed in all of the Aid Company advertising was the encouragement of schools and churches. Rev. S. Y. Lum, sent by the Home Mission Board of the Congregational Churches, accompanied the second Aid Company party to Lawrence, arriving September 1, 1854. His letters tell of the active cooperation of Doctor Robinson as Aid Company agent in organizing the religious life of the young community. Plymouth Congregational Church was organized October 15, 1854, in the "Pioneer Boarding House," a "hay tent" built by the agents of the company to serve temporarily as a hotel. S. C. Pomeroy served as secretary of the meeting and wrote out the articles of association. Amos A. Lawrence, treasurer of the Aid Company, gave funds for the building of a "combination church and schoolhouse" in Lawrence, which was used for a time by the Plymouth church, and subsequently gave $1,000 toward a permanent house of worship for the congregation. Robinson, E. B. Whitman and others connected with the Emigrant Aid Company had a considerable part in the launching of the Unitarian church in Lawrence and in securing in Boston the funds and equipment for a building. The company, as such, donated a building lot to the Lawrence Episcopalians. The minutes of the executive committee of the company abound with requests for aid for territorial churches, and while few of the requests could be acceded to the committee showed a willingness to cooperate by passing these appeals on to individuals, mission boards, and Sunday school boards, and by offering the facilities of the company for the sending out of all such supplies; in numerous instances the minutes and correspondence mention sending out, through company channels, communion sets or other church supplies donated by individuals. During the first year of activities Doctor Webb, secretary of the company, collected several boxes of books for an Atheneum and Sunday School Library at Lawrence, and sent them out. Later he sent at least one such box to Topeka. The company gave the use of a room in its office building in Lawrence for a subscription school, the first opened in the territory, and in 1857 built a two-story brick schoolhouse in Topeka at a cost of about $2,000, of which the community had the use practically rent free.
The Emigrant Aid Company may claim some share, too, in the origin of the institutions which were to become the University of Kansas and Kansas State College. In the fall of 1854 Lawrence wrote to Robinson suggesting the establishment. of an academy for boys in Lawrence. Before the end of the year he had placed $10,000 in the hands of Robinson and Pomeroy as trustees for the founding of a "monumental college" on Mount Oread. Eventually, after several religious denominations had failed in attempts to establish the proposed college, the fund passed to the State University and was used to build Old North College, the first building on the campus. In Manhattan, just as soon as the town had begun to take form, Goodnow, who had been a school man in Massachusetts, began to project a college. There were two Manhattan town associations, one composed of the New England colony, the other of the Cincinnati group. The former, the Aid Company settlers, at once donated fifty town shares (100 lots) to the project; the latter predicated its gift upon the college first obtaining property to the value of $100,000. During 1857 and 1858 Goodnow and other solicitors raised a sufficient sum of money in the East to inaugurate the college. After repeated solicitations the executive committee of the Aid Company voted to turn over to the college a number of town lots in Manhattan to be sold with the understanding that one-half of the sum realized from the sale should go to the college, the other half to be paid to the company. The copies of quitclaim deeds among the company's effects show that nineteen lots were thus disposed of, netting each party $785. In the fall of 1860 "Bluemont Central College" opened its doors with Rev. Joseph Dennison, one of the original Aid Company settlers, as its first president. Three years later Bluemont was adopted by the state and became Kansas State Agricultural College.
In the relief movement of 1856, when money and supplies were being sent to Kansas to relieve the destitution of the settlers, the Emigrant Aid Company took a prominent part. Not only did the company officers participate in the formation of the national Kansas committee and cooperate actively with the Massachusetts state and Boston committees in the general efforts, but it appears to have assumed virtually the whole responsibility for collecting and sending clothing from the Boston area. In October, 1856, Doctor Webb reported that he had shipped 175 boxes and barrels of clothing to Kansas, besides sending considerable money to be spent locally by company agents and volunteer workers in the relief of destitution.
The exact relation which the Aid Company bore to the free-state movement in Kansas is not altogether clear, and probably never will be. At the time it was asserted by all proslavery advocates that the Emigrant Aid Company was responsible for all the trouble in Kansas. Such was the burden of the testimony before the Howard congressional committee and such was the view advanced by Stephen A. Douglas in the United States Senate, and by President Franklin Pierce in two messages to congress. Whether or not, as asserted, it was primarily the pronouncements of the company and the arrival of its parties that incited the invasions of the Missourians can be answered only on the basis of prejudice or personal opinion; there seems to be little room to doubt, however, that the Aid Company propaganda and activities were one factor in arousing the Missourians. It is obvious, too, from the preserved correspondence, that the Aid Company agents, Robinson and Pomeroy, who were among the most active founders of the Free-state party, were constantly keeping the officers of the company informed of their plans and activities, and were receiving advice and financial aid from Boston. The company must stand convicted, also, of arming the free-state settlers. This matter was worked out twenty-five years ago by W. H. Isely, and a careful retracing of his investigations has verified his conclusions, namely, that the rifles, while not authorized by official company action nor paid for out of the company treasury (so that the officers of the company were technically correct in asserting that no weapons or munitions were furnished by the company), were purchased by the directors of the Emigrant. Aid Company and distributed through company channels. Furthermore, the company engaged in an extensive propaganda effort on behalf of the free-state movement. Lawrence corresponded with President Pierce, and on more than one occasion lobbyists were sent to Washington. When a delegation of the Free-state party went East to campaign in the election of 1856 they made the Aid Company office their headquarters, their speaking tours were arranged by the secretary of the company, and they were usually accompanied by Aid Company agents or lecturers. While it is extremely dangerous to draw too definite conclusions regarding the company's relations to the local freestate organization, it would seem safe to say that in addition to its material contributions to the young territory the company was a very real factor in the Kansas conflict.
Whatever may be the judgment of history, the participants in the emigrant aid movement were firmly convinced that their efforts had saved Kansas to freedom. Discounting the extravagant claims of such zealots as Hale, Thayer, Robinson and G. W. Brown, it is noteworthy that conservative men of affairs like A. A. Lawrence, John Carter Brown and Horace Claflin, who had lost thousands of dollars in the enterprise, asserted that they felt amply repaid for their loss by seeing freedom triumph. And yet, if the average Kansan is asked to-day what he knows about the Emigrant Aid Company he will say that he never heard of it. Of course Kansas would have become a state ultimately if the Aid Company had never existed. In all probability it would have been a free state in any case. But certainly Kansas would not have developed in exactly the way it did, and would not be exactly the same to-day, had it not been for the activities of this organization.