Anthony’s Connections to the Harper’s Ferry Raid

When studying D.R. Anthony, there are times when his life takes on a Forrest Gump-like quality, particularly within the abolitionist movement where he frequently appears as an ancillary, yet interesting character. Undoubtedly this phenomenon is true of many historical figures, especially if you study one individual long enough. Nonetheless, as someone who is still learning the trade of writing what amounts to a biography, its been a fascinating phenomenon for me to observe. I have already documented the close relationship between the Anthony’s and Frederick Douglass in earlier posts on this site, and I have hinted at the connections between the Anthony brothers and John Brown and his sons. Keep reading for more on these, and other connections Anthony had to the abolitionist movement.

John Brown conducted his raid on the Harper’s Ferry armory on the night of October 16-17, 1859. He failed in his mission to capture the weapons stored there, but in his eventual execution succeeded in becoming a martyr. The song “John Brown’s Body” became an anthem among Union units, and Company K of the 7th Kansas Cavalry included one of Brown’s sons, John Jr, as well as George Hoyt, who was his defense attorney. Indeed, it might be argued that he accomplished just as much to end slavery in death as he would likely have accomplished had his raid succeeded. However, almost from the moment of his arrest, plans were afoot to prevent his execution entirely. D.R. Anthony worked with R.J. Hinton, Hoyt, James Montgomery and a number of other prominent members of the abolitionist movement on an audacious plan to break Brown out of jail. According to Oswald Garrison Villard’s 1910 biography of Brown, Anthony contributed $300 to the effort.

Another anecdote following the Harper’s ferry raid involved Frederick Douglass. According to a 1920 article in the Topeka Capital, Douglass became a marked man after Brown’s raid, despite his opposition to it. The article claims that the Governor of Virginia put a warrant for Douglass’ arrest, causing the latter to flee to Canada. During this time, Daniel Read and Susan B. Anthony are said to have sheltered Douglass’ children while their father was out of the country. As it is told by Fred Douglass’ son himself, “but for the Anthony’s – Col D.R. and Susan B, I and the rest of my father’s family would have starved.” The veracity of this story is difficult to determine, as research has revealed no conclusive proof that D.R. Anthony traveled east at that time, though he did have plans to do so some time in 1859. He was definitely in Leavenworth as late as October, but a gap in his letters home, and the tone of his next letter to his sister suggest a prolonged absence during the fall of 1859. At a time when the movement was on very thin ice thanks to Brown’s actions.

No good Historian gets far without asking and answering questions about why their subject is worth pursuing, and what its significance is. What this site tries to do is to use facts (in this case D.R. Anthony’s life) to explore major events and themes of the past, all in the quest to better understand both that past, and our present. These small anecdotes from Anthony’s life demonstrate how closely knit the abolitionist movement was, an attribute undoubtedly born out of necessity which also contributed to their success.  I’ll end by saying that, for any students reading this who are fed up with learning history as an endless series of dates, names, and places, know that those facts by themselves are not history. If it helps, think of them as a means to an end; a means by which to explore greater themes.

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Rival Radicals: D.R. Anthony and Charles Jennison

One of the chief characters who frequently appears alongside Daniel R. Anthony is Charles Rainsford Jennison. He and Anthony served alongside one another during the Civil War, but their relationship was often strained, and they eventually became rivals as the different factions of the old free state majority fought for control of Kansas. During their time in the army, Jennison was the “spiritual” leader of the Seventh Kansas Cavalry; officially the commanding officer, he helped provide its abolitionist animus and set the tone for its early activities. However, he was an absent commander, allegedly spending much of the first 8 months of the war away from the fighting, passing his time at poker. Anthony was present with the regiment until his arrest in June of 1862, and was its day to day leader, occasionally receiving Jennison’s instructions from afar.

As commander of the 7th Kansas, Charles Jennison  saw the regiment unequivocally as his, even though he was an absent commander. Anthony frequently bragged about havimg greater skill in maneuvering his men.

As commander of the 7th Kansas, Charles Jennison (pictured above) saw the regiment unequivocally as his, even though he was an absent commander. Anthony frequently bragged about havimg greater skill in maneuvering his men. (courtesy, Kansas Historical Society)

Anthony chafed under Jennison’s leadership and took a dim view of his qualifications. In a February letter to his brother-in-law, he wrote “Jennison has done everything I have asked of him…but he is in reality unfit for any position on account of his poor education…the prestige he has is his name – which is worth a great deal.” Simeon Fox would later relate a story to William Connelly, secretary of the Kansas Historical Society, in which Anthony had a soldier confined under guard for breaking regulations about caring for the horses. When the soldier in question was freed by his comrades, it precipiated a showdown between Anthony and the men under his command. Guns were drawn, and, as Fox tells it, only Jennison’s timely arrival prevented violence.

One of the side effects of the Seventh’s command arrangement was substantial confusion as to who exactly to blame for the Seventh’s wanton destruction and aggressive policy of slave emancipation. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton named Jennison as the leader of the unit in a letter to Missouri politicians who were complaining about the treatment of pro-Union civilians. Union General Henry Halleck credited Anthony with most of these same outrages. Later generations have not been immune to this either. In Cass County and neighboring areas of Missouri, the lone chimneys that remained after house’s belonging to secessionists were burned (giving rise to the area’s moniker ” the burnt district”) were known as “Jennison Tombstones.” Certainly both deserve the fame, or infamy, due them for their prosecution of the war in Missouri.

Jennison was arrested by military authorities in February, 1862 on the not uncommon charge of using inflammatory language towards President Lincoln and other Union officials, and for suggesting that the regiment would disband if he (Jennison) were to resign. According to historian Stephen Starr, Anthony and his fellow officers played a role in Jennison’s arrest. It is no secret that Anthony greatly coveted command of the 7th Kansas Cavalry, which he received as a result of Jennison’s absence and Anthony left the regiment in September of that year, never to return. Both returned to Leavenworth, where Anthony made his first serious foray into politics, becoming Mayor of Leavenworth in April, 1863. Jennison eventually found his way back into a military capacity, first as a leader among a group of pro-Union vigilantes known as a “Red Legs,” and later as commander of a new regiment, the 15th Kanas Cavalry.

As Mayor, just as in the Army, Anthony ruled with a firm hand. When Anthony resisted Union General Thomas Ewing Jr’s declaration of martial law in Leavenworth, Jennison and George Hoyt, a former Captain of the 7th who worked with Anthony to free slaves, let him know exactly how they felt about their former fellow officer: “let it be remembered that while we were friendly to the nomination of the mayor…we did not subscribe to any express or tacit endorsal [sic] of those gross and tyranical [sic] userpations [sic] of authority which have all along marked his official career in this city.” Both would oppose Anthony when the latter ran for reelection the following April. Voting in that election was marred by riots during which Anthony and his supporters were intimidated, and the incumbent mayor himself physically accosted.

Albert L. Lee took over the 7th Cavalry after Anthony resigned. He went on to become a Brigadier General, and commanded Cavalry during the siege of Vicksburg. 

The point illustrated in this relationship is that the majority which brought Kansas into theUnion as a free state, and which was so unified by its common enemy – slavery – suffered from quite a lot of infighting. Once status as a free state was secured, Kansas Republicans (and the vanishingly few Democrats who remained) divided bitterly over several issues. Rivalries between major political players (Jim Lane and Charles Robinson), civilian and military authorities (D.R. Anthony and General Thomas Ewing Jr) and within the military itself (General Ewing and General Blunt, or Anthony and Jennison) all created rifts within the state. The White Cloud Chief recognized the damage done by these rifts when it recommended Albert L. Lee for Congress. Lee was a former Major under Anthony in the 7th Kansas who superseded Anthony after the latter’s arrest. Anthony, true to form, deeply resented Lee as well, but because all of the scandals and infighting had “all passed over without dragging him [Lee] in,” the Chief thought he would make an excellent candidate.





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Getting from New York to Kansas in 1856


(courtesy, Kansas Historical Society)

During the time between his first trip to Kansas in 1854 and his subsequent permanent move their in 1857, Anthony continued working to ensure Kansas’ entrance to the Union as a free state. He worked closely with the New York State Kansas Committee, (NYKC) an organization similar in purpose and loosely affiliated with the New England Emigrant Aid Company. Some of the best documents related to the NYKC are held in the William Barnes collection at the Kansas State Archives in Topeka, KS. Barnes was the secretary for the Committee, and managed one of its most important tasks; providing tickets to people who wished to emigrate to Kansas. According to Barnes’ log books, and his own letters, Anthony served as a point man of sorts for the Rochester and Buffalo areas of New York. In some cases, he may have fronted the funds himself, with the understanding that the would-be emigrant would repay him. Pictured below are two tickets furnished by the NYSKC . One is for an individual named “Mills” from Rochester, the other for Jacob M. Anthony, Daniel R. Anthony’s younger brother, and the youngest of the Anthony children.


Anthony requested tickets by writing to Barnes, or via telegraph’s such as the one pictured at left. All in all, he likely secured tickets for 10-15 people wishing to go to Kansas. (courtesy, Kansas Historical Society)

For many individuals, going to Kansas was simply a means to achieve a fresh start. For others, it was a way to fight against slavery. Like much of that great moving target known as the “frontier,” it attracted men and women from different levels of society, all of whom were looking for something, were willing to fight for their future, and expected take an active role in shaping the state they lived in. This is a huge part of why the doctrine of popular sovereignty proved so critical to Kansas; it (theoretically) placed a great deal of power directly in the hands of the people, which was what they expected in the first place. It was the moment when Missourians appeared to try and deny this right to participation in government – which had been so explicitly promised in the Kansas-Nebraska Act – that Kansas elbowed its way into the avant-garde of the crusade for greater equality. The above documents are another instance where D.R. Anthony’s story weaves in and out of the larger narrative of Kansas’ quest for statehood. Organizations like the NEEAC, or the NYSKS were not unlike modern volunteer organizations; they were minutely organized, down to county and town chapters in the case of New York. Without the efforts of people like Daniel R. Anthony or William Barnes who organized and sustained these organizations, or the courage of the men and women who received tickets, the Kansas story could have been very different indeed.


Sources and Further Reading

Etcheson, Nicole. Bleeding Kansas : Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004.

 William Barnes Collection, Manuscripts, Kansas Historical Society

Nicole Etcheson’s book is a superb and relatively recent treatment of the subject of Bleeding Kansas. Here are two others from past decades.

Rawley, James A. Race an Politics: “Bleeding Kansas” and the Coming of the Civil War. Philadelphia/New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1969.

Watts, Dale. “How Bloody was Bleeding Kansas? Political Killings in Kansas Territory, 1854–1861.” Kansas History 18, no. 2 (1995): 116–129.


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