Why would a settled 54-year-old miller uproot his family from their residence in eastern Missouri and move west to the most violent spot in the nation in 1854—“Bleeding Kansas”?
Uriah Cook had already buried one wife and raised four children to adulthood. With his second wife, however, he still had five children under fifteen, and the youngest was on the way! They were living in St. Clair, Missouri, where Uriah was operating a mill, so why uproot everyone, including a pregnant wife, and head for northeast Kansas, where the pro- and anti-slavery forces were foreshadowing the violence of the Civil War with their unbending positions and sloganeering sure to incite hotheads to commit wrack and ruin.
|18th-century Quaker woman preacher
To understand that, one has to know that Uriah Cook was the grandson of Charity Wright Cook, the famous itinerant woman preacher of the Quaker faith. Charity, who bore eleven children between 1763 and 1786, traveled widely between pregnancies throughout the eastern and southern part of the country as well as in England and Napoleonic France in the grand tradition of Quaker women preachers. Her husband and other family members would take care of the children while she and one or two others would strike out in all kinds of weather and on all kinds of terrain on church business. Charity was virtually unstoppable, and I think her grandson Uriah had a bit of her determination in him as well. When he was persuaded something was the right thing to do, he would do it, trusting in God’s providence for his family’s needs. Thus, as soon as the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed by Congress in1854, Uriah moved west.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was an effort by pro-slavery forces to abrogate the Missouri Compromise, which had prohibited slavery north of the parallel 36º 30' north (Missouri excepted). By allowing settlers of the Kansas and Nebraska Territories to decide whether to allow slavery or not, Congress was exporting its own “fighting mad” attitude to the Missouri-Kansas border. Things had been so hot on the floor of the House in Washington, D. C., that Americans must surely have gotten a glimpse of what was to come.
|Pro-slavery Democrat Henry A. Edmundson attacks free-
soiler Lewis D. Campbell on the floor of the House
Historian Michael Morrison of Purdue University describes it this way: “A filibuster led by Lewis D. Campbell, an Ohio free-soiler, nearly provoked the House into a war of more than words. Campbell, joined by other antislavery northerners, exchanged insults and invectives with southerners, neither side giving quarter. Weapons were brandished on the floor of the House. Finally, bumptiousness gave way to violence. Henry A. Edmundson, a Virginia Democrat, well oiled and well armed, had to be restrained from making a violent attack on Campbell. Only after the sergeant at arms arrested him, debate was cut off, and the House adjourned did the melee subside.”[i]
As soon as the act was passed, both pro- and anti-slavery forces began pouring into the Kansas Territory in order to take advantage of what came to be called “squatter sovereignty”—the principle established in the Kansas-Nebraska Act that the people of the area could decide the issue for themselves. At a pro-slavery meeting in Lecompton (the capital of the Kansas Territory), Col. Ely Moore, an emigrant from New York, explained “in a few happy and pertinent remarks, the objects of the meeting, being to take proper steps in regard to the emigration of permanent law and order settlers in the Territory. . . .” Moore reported on a letter from his brother, still residing in New York, who was “inquiring into the expediency and policy of bringing out four or five hundred men, who would become bona fide settlers, with pro-slavery tendencies, and as to the probable chance of obtaining claims for these men.” The result of the meeting was that the citizens of Lecompton resolved, “[W]e will extend to any such [pro-slavery settler] a most cordial and heartfelt welcome, and will do all that lays in our power to assist them in selecting desirable locations, and will render them such other service as may be conducive to their welfare and comfort.”[ii]
seeking Missourians to
head to the border area
But pro-slavery forces came from places much closer to Kansas as well. Missouri, which was a slave state, was right next door, and Missourians began to flood into Kansas. In the 1850 census, Uriah Cook and his family were in St. Clair, Missouri, which is on the eastern side of the state. This is significant since it is known that at the time Quakers in eastern Missouri were smuggling escaped slaves into Iowa via the Underground Railroad.[iii] The family of Uriah’s second wife, Mary Haworth (sometimes spelled Hayworth), were quite active in the Underground Railroad. Her first cousin (once removed) was James Dillon Haworth (1785-1866). In the 1920s, from his home in West Newton, Indiana, James was instrumental in helping runaway slaves escape. An article entitled “Underground Railroad” published by the Indiana Historical Society tells this story of James’s involvement with Levi Coffin, the oft-dubbed “President of the Underground Railroad”: “There was a party of 4 fugitives at James Hayworth’s house nearby, and it was arranged that the next morning Levi Coffin would take one of them into his carriage and Hayworth would take three in his and they would all proceed north together.[iv]
|Joel Haworth's safe house
in Lyon County, Kansas
Like his kinsmen, the Cooks, James Haworth’s son Joel also moved to Kansas in 1854 as part of the free-state movement sparked by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that year. He arrived “in a prairie schooner drawn by oxen,” built a home, started a school, and established a gristmill in Lyon County, Kansas, near Emporia, a town which had been founded by abolitionist Preston Bierce Plumb. Joel Haworth’s substantial house often served as a safe house where persons of African descent were always welcome. Joel’s biographers recount an incident that happened in 1857: “An attempt was made about the last of December to kidnap a Negro named Charley, who lived with Joel Haworth, about seven miles west of Emporia, on the Cottonwood. He was surprised by a loud mouthed fellow named Freeman, who lived near the junction, and a man who pretended to be his owner, but whose name is not given. Soon the parties with whom Charley was hunting gave the alarm, and some neighbors came to the rescue. After considerable parlaying the Negro hunters agreed to go to Mr. Haworth's house to allow Charley to exhibit his freedom papers. While crossing the river in a canoe, Charley became invisible. After storming around awhile in regular slave-hunting style, Freeman and his friends left, threatening all kinds of vengeance on Mr. Haworth, including the burning of his mill.”[v]
|Platte County, Missouri
Much of the Missouri-Kansas conflict that began in 1854 was centered around an area on the east side of the Platte River, which separates the two states—Platte County, Missouri. From there, pro-slavery forces moved across the river into Kansas, hoping to bolster the numbers of the pro-slavery party as both sides began to duke it out over whether Kansas would become “slave or free.” The Kansas towns of Leavenworth, Lecompton, and Atchison all sprang up in this time period as a result of these efforts. In Atchison, a newspaper called The Squatter Sovereign was quickly set up to promote the pro-slavery cause.
Though Platte County is remembered as a hotbed of pro-slavery activism, it must also be noted that abolitionists were also moving into Platte County. The town of Weston in Platte County, writes Kathy Weiser, “had sympathizers on both sides of the conflict, but given their dependency upon slave labor, most of the population was pro-slavery along with the rest of Missouri. The ‘genteel’ community formed a secret society and drew up a resolution, which provided for the ‘scrutinizing and reporting’ of any ‘suspicious looking persons’ who might be taking arms to Kansas or inciting abolition. There were about 500 members of the secret society who publicly announced their opposition to any pro-abolition members of the community, any businesses who profited from trading with those ‘Bleeding-Kansans,’ and any who objected to the ‘regrettable excesses’ of the vigilantes.
|"Liberty the Fair Maid of Kansas in the Hands of the Border Ruffians"
“Backing this secret society,” Weiser continues, “were the so-called Border Ruffians who were notorious pro-slavery thugs. In 1857, the Chicago Tribune reported these ruffians as ‘a queer-looking set, slightly resembling human beings, but more closely allowed . . . to wild beasts. . . . They never shave or comb their hair, and their chief occupation is loafing around whiskey shops, squirting tobacco juice, and whittling with a dull jack-knife.’
“Fervent abolitionists lived side by side with those whose way of life was built upon the institution of slavery,” and street fighting broke out between them long before the war began.[vi]
Into this political climate strode the Quaker-bred Uriah Cook and his family. Daughter Frances Cook was born in Platte County on 14 December 1854, just seven months after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which indicates just how quickly Cook had pulled up stakes on the eastern side of the state. The Cooks were not the only abolitionists of Quaker background in the area. Fred G. Gaylord, president of Daughters College, in Platte County, also had Quaker heritage.[vii]
Still, there must have been some trepidation on the part of Uriah Cook and his pregnant wife, Mary, as they headed toward the hottest spot in the country in the fall of ’54.
End of Part 1
[i] Morrison, Michael. Slavery and the American West: The Eclipse of Manifest Destiny and the Coming of the Civil War. 1997, p. 154.
[ii] “Pro-Slavery Kansas Emigrants from New York: Public Meeting in Lecompton.” New York Herald, 23 July 1856. http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/kansas/New-York-Herald-7-23-1856-8.pdf
[iii] Gilmore, Donald L. Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border. Pelican. 2005.
[v]Baker, Louise Rhodes, Virginia Baker Schneider, and Aletha Pearl Thomas. Joel Haworth: Lyon County, Kansas Pioneer, Ancestors and Descendants 1699 to 1978. Web. n.d. May 1 1978. http://www.haworthassociation.org/Reunions/2009Reunion/Agenda/Presentations /U-Railroad/Undergroung-RR.html
[vii]Paxton, William McClung. Annals of Platte County: From Its Exploration Down to June 1, 1897. Available on Google Books.