1854: Emigrant Aid Parties

D.R. Anthony’s first major hands on experience with the quest to end slavery came with his participation in one of the New England Emigrant Aid society missions to Kansas.

(From Wikipedia)

The Emigrant Aid Society has its origins in the time around the passage of the Kansas Nebraska act when Eli Thayer (right) of Worcester, Mass began to organize a company with which to “capture Kansas for freedom.” (Johnson, 1930, 100). Beyond that the development of the company is fairly complex. In short however, with the help of several other wealthy New Englanders, Eli Thayer formed a company that could send a flood of New Englanders to populate Kansas and ensure it became a free state. This accomplished both economic independence for the emigrants and thwarted the southern slave-holders. (SenGupta, 1996 16) This could work under the rules of the Kansas-Nebraska act because that act provided for popular sovereignty, or the ability of a state/territory’s populace to decide their slavery status. The men and women Thayer’s company organized and paid for first came to Kansas in 1854, the same year Kansas-Nebraska passed Congress. Parties for 1854 total between 500-750 individuals (Barry, 1943, SenGupta, 1996). The very first group departed from Boston on July 17,1854 and arrived in Kansas City, MO, on July 29. (Barry, 1943, 118) According to a Rochester Union article, republished in the

The Boston Daily Atlas from July 22, 1854, (right) Anthony joined while the group was passing through Rochester. They landed in Kansas City, MO to a mixed reception. A 1943 article in the Kansas Historical Quarterly contains Anthony’s description of the reception the New Englanders received in Kansas City:

“In St. Louis, and on the boat, a certain class of political hacks, who manifested a great interest in our welfare, told us that we would not be permitted to land at Kansas; that the people of Missouri were determined at all hazards to prevent the settling of Kansas Territory by the emigrants from the Northern states. . . . But how different the result on landing! Many of the best citizens met us, extending to us a hearty welcome, expressing a wish that the thousands yet to come from the free states, would come immediately. Even E. M. McGee, a slave-holder . . . hearing that the party wished to purchase oxen, horses, wagons, &c., called at the hotel with his span of bays and carriage, and took two of our party to his home, and sold them property to the amount of $300”

(From Barry, 1943, pg 121)

Obviously, Anthony, among others, was in Kansas for the explicit purpose of making it a free state, and while the Emigrant Aid Society could not by itself populate an entire territory, it could have an impact through the acts of individuals as adamantly opposed to Slavery as D.R. Anthony and his fellow emigrants were. (Johnson, 1932 431) One such example is the founding of the City of Lawrence, an act D.R. Anthony took part in near the banks of the Wakarusa river on August 1st, 1854. (Admire, 1889, 6-7) Lawrence would eventually become “that oasis of New England culture in Kansas.” (SenGupta, 1996, 80-81) These New Englanders brought with them the virtues of hard work and the qualities of democracy and equality epitomized by their town meetings. These traits were in direct opposition to the chattel slavery system of the south, and Lawrence would eventually become the epicenter of the free-state movement in Kansas.

(courtesy, 19th Century U.S. Newspapers)

Anthony expressed his optimism for the future of Kansas in an 1854 letter to the Chicago Tribune. In it we can see his budding love for the territory and its many virtues. He also argues in favor of making it free from slavery.



Anthony’s activities with the Emigrant Aid Company represent both his first serious foray into the fight over slavery, as well as the beginning of a love affair with the  Sunflower State that would last the rest of his life. Though he would return to Rochester shortly after his stay in Kansas, he would return for good three years later. When he did, the fight over slavery had grown white-hot, and D.R. Anthony would throw himself into the fray with the fearlessness, passion, and conviction of purpose that would mark him all his life.



Admire, W. W. “An Early Kansas Pioneer.” Magazine of Western History 10, no. 5 (1889): 16.

Barry, Louise. “The Emigrant Aid Company Parties of 1854.” Kansas Historical Quarterly 12, no. 2 (1943): 40.

Johnson, Samuel A. “The Genesis of the New England Emigrant Aid Company.” The New England Quarterly 3, no. 1 (1930): 27.

Johnson, Samuel A. “The Emigrant Aid Company in Kansas.” Kansas Historical Quarterly 1, no. 5 (1932): 12.

SenGupta, Gunja. For God and Mammon: Evangelicals and Entrepreneurs, Masters and Slaves in Territorial Kansas, 1854-1860. Athens, GA: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1996.

All Newspaper articles courtesy of 19th Century U.S. Newspapers



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