Underground Railroad Association

History of the The Underground Railroad in Douglas County

In the 1850ıs people on the East coast opened their newspapers asking whatıs the
news from Kansas?  Kansas was the news!  

Kansans  began fighting the civil war seven years before historians say the Civil War began.  The Civil War began in 1861, the year Kansas entered the union as a Free State. Kansas history was pivotal in defining the character of our nation.

Yet when the national story of the Underground Railroad is told, Kansas is not mentioned.  This central part of American history has been overlooked, even by Kansans.  We are only now beginning to change that.

Lawrence, Kansas was the abolitionist capital of the 1850's.  Slaves in the bording counties of Missouri soon learned that if they could reach Lawrence they were assured of assistance (Theodore Gardner).  Later the towns, and individuals with reputations as abolitionists would both pay dearly
. Some towns became strongholds, where the Underground Railroad was active. These  were safe havens for runaway slaves.  In response towns and homes were burned by "border ruffians", people killed in the middle of the night, and people shot by a firing squad (Marais d' Cynge massacre).  Quantrillıs raid in 1863, the worst civilian massacre of the Civil War, did not happen in isolation.

William Quantrill played both sides when he lived in Lawrence.
He acted the part of an Underground Railroad conductor like John E. Stewart and Gardner, but was actually a slave catcher. Quantrill would promise the runaway slaves freedom to the North, but would take them instead to Missouri, where he and companion Jake Herd would return them to their masters for the ransom offered.  Quantrill chose Lawrence for his worst revenge, because it was the home of Abolitionists, and those who served on the Underground Railroad. Although none of the abolitionist leaders were killed, innocent lives were lost.
Abolitionist, Major John Abbott said, "hardly a week passed that some way-worn bondsman did not find his way into Lawrence, the best advertised anti-slavery town in the world, and where the slave was sure to receive sympathy and encouragement"  (The Rescue of Dr. John W. Doy Ks. Historical Coll, V4,1890).   

"Freedom and slavery were locked in a deadly embrace" (Julia Lovejoy, Lawrence Kansas 1856). Only one would win. Kansas became referred to as "Bleeding Kansas," largely over the struggle over slavery.  Would Kansas enter the nation as a Free State or Slave State??

- Dr. Tolly Wildcat  


Here are a few excellent Douglas County Underground Railroad web sites.






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