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Town Development


Town settlement by both pro-slavery and free state factions.

Grade Level:

Middle and High school


This lesson covers the difficulties of town settlement in Kansas Territory between the proslave and free-state factions. Town settlement was at times a race to see who could bring the most emigrants to Kansas Territory, and in so doing influence the vote on the slavery question on a state and national level.

Standards addressed:

Kansas history:

  • KH8B3I2 explain why territorial government was affected by slavery conflict
  • KH8B3I6 analyze how the slave debate affect Kansas statehood
  • KH11B3I1 describe the development of territorial towns in relation to the slavery issue

National Standards:



  • Understand the elements of town development and how it was affected by the conflict over the extension of slavery into the territory


  • Using primary sources (letters, advertisements, government documents)

Essential Questions:

  • Why would town development be important in a new territory?
  • How were towns created in the 1850s?
  • Why was the slave issue connected to town development?


  • Groups of students work together to create and “sell” their towns.


  • Map key locations and geographical features of northeast Kansas during the territorial period.
  • Learn the vocabulary terms preemption, speculation, share, and quitclaim from reading primary source documents.
  • Apply knowledge about town settlement through role-playing as a town surveyor, promoter, city clerk, and town commissioner.
  • Groups of students create fictitious towns and sell town shares to other students. The towns selling the most shares win.
  • Through a random drawing, two towns are determined to be slave towns. The populations of these towns will determine if Kansas is free or slave.
  • Discuss the ramifications.

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