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Titus Sword and Scabbard

Titus  sword and scabbard

This beautiful sword belonged to a proslavery leader in Kansas Territory.

"Col. H.T. Titus, one of the dashing proslavery leaders in Kansas, was repeatedly heard to say that it was impossible to overcome the great preponderance of free-state settlers."--Herald of Freedom, December 13, 1856

Henry Titus arrived in Kansas Territory on the first of May in 1856. His politics were strictly proslavery. Part of a Southern movement to expand slavery, particularly into the tropics, Titus had recently accompanied a private military expedition to Cuba with the intention of forcing Spain into selling the island to the United States. Cuba, a slavery stronghold, looked promising to Southerners worried about the future of the institution in their homeland. But Spain would not be coerced, so Southerners instead turned their attentions to the new territory of Kansas, fast becoming a battleground between anti- and proslavery forces.

Titus' arrival in Kansas coincided with that of Jefferson Buford of Alabama. Buford led one of the first trips by a Southern emigrant company to Kansas, financing the excursion by selling his "personal property" of 40 slaves in addition to selling stock in the company. Together, Buford and Titus reportedly were responsible for bringing nearly a thousand proslavery sympathizers into Kansas.

Titus settled outside the proslavery town of Lecompton, building a fortified log cabin home known as Fort Titus. Within a few weeks of his arrival, he participated in the sacking of Lawrence, a free-state stronghold. It was during this raid that Titus ordered the destruction of the Herald of Freedom's printing presses "for the boys of South Carolina." He also captured a howitzer nicknamed "Old Sacramento" (a brass cannon purchased with donations from Eastern supporters and brought to Kansas by free-staters in 1855). Old Sacramento and other arms were taken to Fort Titus.

A Bad Reputation

After the sacking of Lawrence, Titus' reputation as a looter and a thief continued to grow in the territory. Newspaper accounts and letters report that he jumped territorial claims, stole horses, and harassed anyone supporting the free-state cause. On August 16, 1856, Samuel Walker and a party of Lawrence men seized an opportunity to attack Fort Titus. Their motivations were to avenge the death of a free-state man two days earlier, to weaken the growing proslavery forces, and to recover the stolen cannon and other arms taken from Lawrence (Walker had witnessed the event and vowed to recover the cannon). The "battle" of Fort Titus did not last long. Its final blows were delivered by cannonballs made from the melted type of the Herald of Freedom press Titus had destroyed a few months earlier. James A. Harvey, a 29-year-old who had arrived in Kansas just three days prior, captured the sword pictured here from an injured Titus.

Hilt of Titus swordOver the next day or two, the territorial governor and leaders from both sides negotiated an uneasy peace. In exchange for the prized cannon and other arms, Walker was required to release the prisoners. As a result of the negotiations, Titus went to work for the territorial governor as a "special aide." In this capacity, he twice arrested Charles Hay for the murder of free-stater David C. Buffum.

By December of that year, Titus had decided proslavery forces would never stand up to the ever-increasing numbers of free-state supporters. News came from Central America that Southerners had seized power in Nicaragua, where they had legalized slavery and were inviting colonists to emigrate with slaves. In late December, Titus and a force of 100 men left Kansas for Nicaragua, but before his departure members of both sides--free-state and proslavery--attended a ball in his honor. Thus ended Titus' approximately eight-month stay in Kansas, where his activities would long be remembered.

Titus returned to the U.S. after Nicaragua's short-lived proslavery regime was overthrown. He tried some entrepreneurial ventures that proved less than successful, however, in 1867 he founded the town of Titusville, Florida, which today is the home of the Kennedy Space Center.

The sword and its scabbard were donated to the Kansas Historical Society by the widow of James Harvey in 1883, two years after Titus' death in Florida. It is in the collections of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Titus Sword and Scabbard

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: October 2004

Date Modified: September 2014

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