Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Personality Spotlight: Jefferson Buford

The free-state New England Emigrant Aid Company was not the only organized effort to settle Kansas. The pro-slavery element sent contingents of homesteaders too. One of the largest pro-slavery efforts was organized by Major Jefferson Buford of Eufala, Alabama. Buford, who was born in 1807 in Chester County, South Carolina was a lawyer and veteran of the Second Creek War. In the fall of 1855 he placed advertisements in Southern newspapers recruiting men to join him on his mission to Kansas.

Many men, both North and South, saw Kansas as high stakes in 1854 and 1855. The free-state men believed that if slavery was allowed in Kansas, it could spread anywhere. Pro-slavery men thought that if slavery was not established in Kansas then the possibility of gaining new slave states seemed limited. Something had to give.

One of the advertisements that Buford placed said:
"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. I desire to start with them for Kansas by the 20th of February next. To such I will guaranty the donation of 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. Besides devoting twenty thousand dollars of my own means to the enterprise I expect all those who know and have confidence in me and who feel and interest in the cause, to contribute as much as they are able. I will give to each contributor my obligation that for every fifty dollars contributed I will within six months thereafter place in Kansas one bona fide settler, 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 from the day of its receipt...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. In this 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. If we cannot find many who are willing to incur great individual loss in the common cause, if we cannot find some crazy enough to peril even life in the deadly breach, then it is not because individuals have grown more prudent and wise, but because pubic virtue has decayed and we have thereby already become unequal to the successful defense of our rights."

Buford would come to know something about self-sacrifice for "the cause" of slavery. To fund this mission he would sell 40 of his slaves at an average price of $700 each. That was $28,000! Quite a chunk of change in 1855-56.

Finally, in April 1856 Buford and his party of 400 men, not only from Alabama, but also from Georgia and South Carolina, set off for Kansas. From Montgomery they took a steamboat to Mobile, and from Mobile to New Orleans. In New Orleans they picked up a few more emigrants and steamed up the Mississippi River toward St. Louis. They took the steamboat Keystone up the Missouri River from St. Louis to Kansas City, and while in route Buford had $5000 stolen from this personal trunk. On May 2 they landed at Westport, Kansas Territory and started to spread out into the countryside to stake claims.

The desperate fighting that broke out in the spring of 1856 made settling and farming difficult. It was in May that pro-slavery forces burned part of Lawrence and a couple of days later that John Brown and his men killed five pro-slavery settlers near Pottawatomie Creek. Then on June 2 Battle of Black Jack occurred. Some of Buford's men joined the pro-slavery territorial militia while others tried to make their homestead, and others took to stealing and marauding.
In late June Buford sent appeals to Southern states for more men and arms to drive the free-state settlers from Kansas. A week later he left to go to Washington D.C. and several Southern cities to rally support from Southern politicians and the Southern people. In late 1856 Buford returned to Kansas, but found things in disarray. Many of his original party had become discouraged and returned to Alabama, while others joined the U.S. Army and yet others had switched to the free-state side for fear of their lives.

In December, Buford made plans to leave Kansas. His accounting figured that he lost some $10,600 of his own money, not counting the $5000 theft. In 1857 Buford left Kansas never to return. Upon returning to Alabama, Buford moved to Clayton where he died of heart disease on August 26, 1861.
In the next few postings I hope to examine a couple more of these pro-slavery settler-leaders.

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