Hiram Hill Collection
Ms. Collection No. 382
Hiram Hill, of Williamsburg, Hampshire County, Massachusetts, was never a resident of Kansas. However, his involvement with the state, primarily as a land investor, was extensive. The Hiram Hill collection, dating from 1823 to 1910, consists of three boxes of correspondence, business papers, and one diary. The collection was purchased by the Kansas State Historical Society in three separate lots in 1952, 1966, and 1977. There are no restrictions on its use.
According to entries recorded in his 1857 diary, Hiram Hill was born January 14, 1804. Like his father - EphraimHill - and his grandfather before him, Hiram was a successful businessman in the Williamsburg, Massachusetts, area. In the 1840s he bought a small shop that produced wooden button molds, an industry common to the area. In 1861 Hill moved his expanding business to larger facilities originally erected, in 1848, by Williston Thayer. This building was known by the Hill family as the “button shop” well into the twentieth century. Hill was also involved in the operation of the Hill and Warner grist mill that had been built by his grandfather. His local prominence facilitated his election, in 1850, to one term as representative to the General Court of Hampshire County. Hill’s interests, however, extended far beyond the boundaries of his home state.
The Hiram Hill collection is varied in subject matter. The majority of the materials relate to Hill’s investment in five Kansas towns: Lawrence, Quindaro, Manhattan, Emporia, and Clay Center. Many of the more than 1200 documents contained within the collection are letters Hill received from Kansas. There are a few items relating solely to his Massachusetts business interests, and several copies of correspondence that relate to Hill only peripherally.
Box one includes correspondence and business papers dating from 1823 to 1865. The material is not inclusive, however, and it is not until 1855 that Hill’s Kansas correspondence reaches any appreciable amount. The earlier materials are not without historical interest, however. Of note are two items dated 1851 connecting Hill to the Massachusetts Free Soil Party which opposed the extension of slavery into the territories.
By 1855 Hill was making substantial investments in Lawrence. He was involved in both land speculation and urban development. Many of the business papers in the collection consist of deeds, lease agreements, reports from land agents, and lists of construction expenses. Hill, by this time, was connected with the Simpson brothers -Lawrence land agents - and many other prominent territorial figures. Perhaps most notable was Charles Robinson, the future first governor of the state.
Hill’s connection with Kansas was not entirely secondhand. In the spring of 1855 and again that fall, he journeyed to Kansas to evaluate possible investments in the company of emigration parties. His accounts of these first trips reveal the hardships encountered by Kansas immigrants. Frequent references are found in the correspondence to violence in Kansas and to the activities of border ruffians. One letter, dated April 30, 1856, describes the shooting of Sheriff Samuel J. Jones of Lawrence, and letters dated June 16 through 18 are typical of many others which speak of “bleeding Kansas.”
By 1857 Hill was making investments outside of Lawrence, near the Missouri River at the new town site of Quindaro - now part of Kansas City- and in Manhattan. Two letters, dated March 6 and October 6, 1857, reveal Hill’s connections with the New England Emigrant Aid Society. Hill’s Kansas correspondents often reflect on the issues of railroad development and slavery. Interesting contemporary insights are abundant. A letter dated December 12, 1860, for instance, vehemently expresses an anti-South sentiment.
Hill’s Kansas correspondents included former New Englander Nathan Stark of Lawrence, lawyer Charles Chadwick of Quindaro, and businessman James G. Sands of Lawrence. Through these men and others, Hill was kept abreast of Civil War activities and the accompanying economic pressures in Kansas. Poverty and foreclosures were not uncommon during these years. The unexpected raid by William Quantrill and his marauders on Lawrence in 1863 was another hardship Hill and his acquaintances suffered. Two 1863 letters, August 31 and September 7, give eyewitness accounts of the raid. Two accounts of General Sterling Price’s raid the following year are included as well: November 30, 1864, and February 4, 1865.
Box two consists of similar business materials dating from 1866 to 1889. In March of 1866 Hill made another trip to Kansas to inspect his business interests, which had expanded to include property in Emporia.
Insights into the personal habits and interests of Hill are rarely found in the collection. One exception is a printed address of the Massachusetts State Temperance Committee dated June 9, 1868. Another aspect of Hill’s character is revealed in correspondence beginning 1869. In June of that year he loaned $7,500.00 to the Plymouth Congregational Church of Lawrence for the purpose of constructing a new church. The loan agreement includes the names of many of the most prominent men and women of Lawrence who were connected with the Church. References to religious activities, however, are common to the collection, and much of the correspondence is laced with references to the Divine. The apparent prosperity of the Plymouth Church was in contrast to the desperate economic situation many Kansas farmers and businessmen found themselves in during the 1870s. The correspondence of 1874 and 1875, years of drought and grasshopper plagues, is especially noteworthy for its tales of financial difficulties.
The business correspondence for the 1880s is less voluminous than for previous years. Much of Hill’s property in Kansas had apparently been disposed of by this period. However, he was still connected to Lawrence and the Clay Center area by friendships and business.
Box three consists of family correspondence. It does not relate specifically to Kansas. Included is the correspondence of Salome Shaw, a distant relative of Hill’s, dating from 1861 to 1870; letters of Arthur and Kitty Hill (Arthur was Hill’s adopted son) sent from Minnesota in 1871; and additional family correspondence dating to 1910. Common among family correspondence dispersed throughout the collection are the letters of Hill’s brother, Otis G. Hill, a political and business figure of Hampshire County, Massachusetts.
Undated correspondence and papers follow dated material. Included with this material is a partial genealogy of the Hill family. Last is Hill’s 1857 diary, which recounts the events and served as the account book for one of his numerous trips to Kansas. The diary also contains a list of Hill’s siblings and their birth dates.
An 1856 plat map of Quindaro has been removed to the Kansas State Historical Society’s map collection. Two oversized certificates of the Independent Order of Good Templars from Massachusetts and Connecticut have been removed to oversize storage. Electrostatic copies are available in the collection.
Initially prepared by Randy Roberts, Lela Barnes intern, 1983; edited and revised by Leslie Cade, 1991.
|folder 1||Collection provenance correspondence.|
|folder 2||Correspondence and business papers: 1823-1854, scattered.|
|folder 3||Correspondence and business papers: 1855|
|folder 4||Correspondence and business papers: 1856.|
|folder 5||Correspondence and business papers: 1857.|
|folder 6||Correspondence and business papers: 1858.|
|folder 7||Correspondence and business papers: 1859.|
|folder 8||Correspondence and business papers: 1860.|
|folder 9||Correspondence and business papers: 1861.|
|folder 10||Correspondence and business papers: 1862.|
|folder 11||Correspondence and business papers: 1863.|
|folder 12||Correspondence and business papers: 1864.|
|folder 13||Correspondence and business papers: 1865.|
|folder 1||Correspondence and business papers: 1866.|
|folder 2||Correspondence and business papers: 1867-1868.|
|folder 3||Correspondence and business papers: 1869.|
|folder 4||Correspondence and business papers: 1870-1872.|
|folder 5||Correspondence and business papers: 1873-1875.|
|folder 6||Correspondence and business papers: 1876-1877.|
|folder 7||Correspondence and business papers: 1878-1879.|
|folder 8||Correspondence and business papers: 1880-1881.|
|folder 9||Correspondence and business papers: 1882-1883.|
|folder 10||Correspondence and business papers: 1884-1886.|
|folder 11||Correspondence and business papers: 1887-1889.|
|folder 1||Family correspondence, Salome Shaw, 1861-1870|
|folder 2||Family correspondence, Arthur and Kitty Hill, 1871.|
|folder 3||Family correspondence, miscellaneous: 1872-1879.|
|folder 4||Family correspondence, miscellaneous: 1890-1910.|
|folder 5||Undated correspondence, business papers, and miscellaneous|
|folder 6||Diary, 1857.|
|folder 7||Certificates, 1867-1868. [originals removed to oversize storage]|
These subject headings were used in the Kansas State Historical Society manuscripts catalog when the collection was processed; they may not conform to current Library of Congress subject headings.
Civil War 1861-1865
Congregational Church - Lawrence - Plymouth
Emigration and Immigration
Free Soil Party (Massachusetts)
Kansas Real Estate Investment
Lawrence Plymouth Congregational Church
New England Emigrant Aid Society
Price’s Raid, 1864
Quantrills Raid Lawrence
Sands, James G.
Simpson, S. N.
Simpson, W. A.