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Willing to Die for Freedom - Slave Auction

A Slave Auction in Kansas Territory

Slave auction, Harper's Weekly, July 31, 1861 This rare account of a slave auction in Kansas was written by E.C. Ford, and published in The Negro History Bulletin. It may be the only written account of a slave auction in Kansas Territory.

In his younger days, the author volunteered as organist at an African American church in the northeastern Kansas town of Highland. After services one Sunday he met a man he referred to only as Uncle Mose, who was about 70 years old. Uncle Mose related the following story which happened in Kansas Territory during the 1850s. It is typical of the posturing between anti- and proslavery factions in the territory at that time.

I was born over in Missouri not far from the Missouri River. My master was a burley, tobacco chewing, boastful man. He was determined that Kansas should become a slave state, and out of pure bravado he was determined to hold a slave auction in front of the store at Iowa Point. The auction was announced for a certain date and bills were scattered far and wide over the country side. On the appointed date, my master and I rowed across the river in a rowboat and walked up to the general store. Quite a group of fifteen or twenty slave sympathizers were gathered there. I was required to mount a box in front of the store, and, then, the auction began. "How much am I offered for this black boy," the auctioneer cried. "See, he is a fine boy, he is about twenty years old, we guarantee his health, he is strong, and he will give you years of service. Step right up and feel his muscles and look at his teeth. You will see that he is a fine specimen of young manhood." The first bid was $100 and the auctioneer kept asking for other bids, first 25, then 10 and even $5 until they ran the bids up to $200, then as he could get no other bids, he sold me for $200. While the auction was going on I noticed a group of twenty-five or thirty men armed with clubs and riding horses hurrying down the ravine. I noticed one of the men was leading a saddled horse without a rider; the two crowds came together with a clash and there was much brawling and cursing, there were many bloody noses, and some heads cracked by the clubs. It was a bunch of 'free soilers' who were determined to break up the auction. The man leading the riderless horse rushed up to me and shouted, 'The moment your feet touched Kansas soil, you were a free man,' and, then, he ordered me to mount the horse and we rode at a fast gallop, leaving the two groups of men to fight it out. The man who helped me to escape took me 10 or 12 miles down the river to a cave in the bluffs not far from the river, and there he hid me until the excitement of the auction had died down.

Ford went on to relate that Uncle Mose returned to Highland after several years and made his home there, marrying another escaped slave from Missouri.

 

Willing to Die for Freedom is an online exhibit developed by the Kansas Museum of History to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Kansas Territory.

  1. Flashpoint - Kansas was the flashpoint for the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.
  2. Politics - Many Americans believed Kansas would determine the future of slavery.
  3. Violence - The territory quickly became known as Bleeding Kansas.
  4. Opportunity - People came here to buy cheap land and influence national politics.
  5. Survival - Making a home in Kansas often was difficult.
  6. Freedom - The name "Kansas" meant freedom to many African Americans.
  7. Legacy  - The territorial era set the stage for both good and bad in Kansas history.
  8. Timeline - Outline of important events in Kansas history, with links to learn more.
  9. Constitutions - Kansas had four constitutions, more than any other territory.
  10. Voting game - Test your knowledge about who could vote legally in Kansas Territory.

Contact us at KansasMuseum@kshs.org