Massachusetts Street:

Monuments and Milestones

 

The Founding of Lawrence

 

          The topic of slavery in U.S. states and territories during the 1800s was highly controversial. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 admitted Missouri as a slave state, while also prohibiting slavery in the remaining part of the Louisiana Territory. Over the next thirty years, the topic of slavery was revisited each time a new territory was drafted or sought statehood. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 created the Kansas and Nebraska territories, but it also repealed the Missouri Compromise. It stated that the settlers of any new territory were to decide whether they would allow slavery, otherwise known as popular sovereignty. This is where the fight to ratify Kansas as a free state began.
          The New England Emigrant Aid Society was formed in Massachusetts in an effort to claim Kansas as free. The Society aimed to populate Kansas with enough free-state advocates in order to vote Kansas as an anti-slave territory. Dr. Charles Robinson and Mr. Charles H. Branscomb, representatives of the Emigrant Aid Society, were sent to explore the territory to find a suitable location for a new colony. Dr. Robinson led Mr. Branscomb to a hill with a magnificent view he remembered from his previous travels. Both agreed this was to be the site for the new colony. The first party of emigrants from Massachusetts left in July 1854. This party of pioneers, consisting of twenty-seven men, arrived at the selected site on August 1st, eventually settling at the bottom of the hill. They named the hill Mount Oread after Mount Oread Seminary in Worcester, Massachusetts. The founding settlers began to stake a claim for the new colony while a second party expanding to one hundred and fourteen men, women and children began their journey. This second party arrived on September 9th of the same year.

 

A few members of the first party to Lawrence.

 

          The settlers surveyed the site to make streets and organized a voluntary municipal government. Residents of the newly founded colony set up a temporary city of tents, eventually creating primitive housing. The new government began to process land claims for individuals and reserve lots for state buildings, schools, and the future site for the state university. Several months later a saw mill was purchased for the city and the people began to build homes and buildings to replace the log cabins, tents, and sod houses.

 

The first house built in Lawrence.

 

          The new town had not yet been officially named, but had been informally referred to as Wakarusa, Yankee-town, Excelsior, and New Boston. Finally, the townspeople settled on Lawrence in honor of Amos A. Lawrence, one of the first men to endorse the settlement of Kansas as a free territory. Mr. Lawrence financed the pioneer party in addition to contributing twelve thousand dollars to start a state college approximately ten years later.
          Lawrence became a center of the Free State Movement and a focus for the anger of those who supported slavery during the territorial period. Thus began a battle between anti- and pro-slavery factions, resulting in death and destruction even before the first shots of the Civil War were fired.
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