Jefferson Buford, leader of the famous “Buford Expedition” to Kansas Territory, was born on August 17, 1807, in Chester County, South Carolina. After studying law he became a lawyer in Eufaula, Barbour County, Alabama, and during the Creek Indian War of 1836 he served in the Alabama, earning the rank of major for his efforts. Following the war he returned to Alabama where he owned and operated a slave plantation on the Chattahoochee River.
The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 left the slavery question undecided in the newly established territories. The act's proviso allowed the people of the territory to determine the slavery question at the time they ratified their state constitution for admission into the Union of states. As a result, the settlement of the territory of Kansas with actual proslavery voters became a crucial issue, if slavery were to be successfully approved at the ballot box and then incorporated into the written laws adopted under the new, proslavery state constitution.
By late 1855 the border ruffians from Missouri were finding it difficult to maintain a majority voting presence in Kansas because of the large influx of free-state men emigrating from the northern states. The Missourians responded with an open appeal to the other slave holding states to send men to Kansas in order to secure the “peculiar institution” as the predominate socio-economic system in place within the territory.
On November 11, 1855, Buford heeded the call. He enlisted fellow southerners in a colonization effort that would locate in Kansas and make sure the territory entered the Union as a slave state. “Buford's Expedition,” as it became commonly known, encompassed some 400 men gathered mostly from the states of Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia. These men all agreed to settle in Kansas in return for free transportation there, a year's guaranteed means of support while there, and a homestead of 40 acres of first rate land upon arrival. On April 5, 1856, this group of proslavery men finally left by steamboat from Montgomery, Alabama, for Kansas and they arrived in the territory on May 2.
The newly arrived proslavery group was immediately enrolled into the Kansas territorial militia to help arrest several free-state men in Lawrence, who had been indicted by a Douglas County grand jury. The posse, as it became known, was under the leadership of U.S. Marshal Israel B. Donalson. It entered Lawrence and made a few arrests of free-state men. After disbanding, the posse was once more reconstituted under the leadership of Douglas County Sheriff Samuel J. Jones to assist in serving some writs. What soon followed was the sacking and burning of several buildings known to be free-state businesses. After the looting and burning had ended, Buford disclaimed he had come purposely to Kansas to destroy property and condemned the course of action that had occurred in Lawrence.
In June Buford left Kansas for the South and then Washington, D.C., where he attempted to muster greater support among proslavery men for relocating as colonists to Kansas. Late in 1857 he finally returned to Kansas only to find the company of proslavery men he had originally raised in 1855 had disbanded with many returning south to their respective homes. Upon learning of the course of events, Buford also elected to leave Kansas for Alabama. He journeyed to Clayton, Alabama, where on August 28, 1861, he died of heart disease.
Blackmar, Frank W. Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History. Chicago, IL: Standard Publishing Co., 1912.
Fleming, Walter L. “The Buford Expedition to Kansas.” American Historical Review 6 (October 1900): 38-48.
Owen, Thomas M. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography. Chicago, IL: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1921.
Entry: Buford, Jefferson
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: January 2010
Date Modified: March 2013
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