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Slavery in Kansas Territory

$200 Reward for Runaway SlavesUntil Kansas residents voted about whether or not to allow slavery when Kansas entered the Union as a state, owning slaves was legal in Kansas Territory.  That is because territories were subject to U. S. laws.  The first Kansas Territorial Legislature passed an Act to punish offences against slave property in August 1855.  It was patterned after the Missouri slave code.

Slaves wanting freedom fled to Kansas from nearby Missouri as this wanted poster advertising a $200 Reward illustrates. 

One settler observed, "The roads are lined with teams from the border states, and in about every fifth or eighth wagon you will see a sprinkling of negro slaves.  Don't make yourself believe the slaved holders have given up Kansas!"  The digitized version of the Territorial Census, 1855, District 16 documents that there were slaves and free blacks in this particular census district. 

Slavery existed in Kansas Territory, but on a much smaller scale than in the South. Most slaveholders owned only one or two slaves.  Many slaves were women and children who performed domestic work rather than farm labor.

Marcus Lindsay Freeman was brought to Kansas Territory as a slave. When he was 59 years old, he gave the following reminiscence.  Attached to his reminiscence is a note from Freeman saying that he had always liked his master and that he did not want to say anything bad about him.  His comments, though, reveal he was not treated as a free man.

I was born in the year 1836 on the farm of George Bayne in Shelby, Kentucky. . . . He was my owner and gave me to his grandson Thomas when we were both babies. Thomas was three months older than I.  His mother, having died at his birth, he was given to my mother to raise.  We grew up together just as if we had been two little puppies.  When he was big enough to eat at the table, he used to leave a lot of victuals on his plate and some coffee in his cup and bring it out to me to eat; for we slaves did not get such good things as were served as the white table.

Thomas Bayne brought us to his farm near Williamstown, Jefferson County, where he located in the autumn of 1854. He took up a claim there of 160 acres and bought other land. . . . I stayed for a few months, and then with his permission went back to Kansas City and married and rented my time for $200.00 a year for seven years until I was emanicipated. Mr. Bayne gave me a pass which allowed me to go between Missouri and his farm in Kansas.

On February 23, 1860, the Territorial Legislature passed a bill over the governor's veto abolishing slavery in Kansas.

Territorial era primary sources from the Kansas Historical Society are available online in the Bleeding Kansas portion of Kansas Memory and on a cooperative web site (Territorial Kansas Online) with the Kansas Collection, University of Kansas.

Portions from The Kansas Journey.

Entry: Slavery in Kansas Territory

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: February 2011

Date Modified: February 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.