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John Pierce St. John papers

Creator: St. John, John Pierce, 1833-1916

Date: 1859 - 1917

Level of Description: Coll./Record Group

Material Type: Manuscripts

Call Number: Ms. Coll. 494

Unit ID: 40494

Restrictions: None

Biographical sketch: Kansas governor, Prohibition Party presidential candidate, Prohibition lecturer; of Olathe, Kan.

Abstract: Personal and political correspondence and scrapbooks and a great deal of biographical material on John P. St. John and his family. The collection contains considerable material on Prohibition and activities of reform groups during the Progressive Era. Correspondents include Susan B. Anthony; U.S. President Chester A. Arthur; Kansas U.S. Senator S. C. Pomeroy; Reverend Levi Sternberg, patriarch to the famous fossil hunters of Kansas; and Francis E. Willard of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.

Space Required/Quantity: 2 ft. (4 boxes)

Title (Main title): John Pierce St. John papers

Titles (Other):

  • Papers
  • John Pierce Saint John papers

Language note: Text is in English.


Biog. Sketch (Full):

John Pierce St. John was born at Brookfield, Franklin County, Indiana, on February 25, 1833. He was the second son of Samuel St. John and Sophiah Snell. His education consisted primarily of attendance to local public schools, and whatever other means he had at his disposal.

Both Samuel and Sophiah were born in New York State, and moved along with a large group of community members to Franklin County, Indiana. It was during their time in Indiana that both married for the first time. These marriages dissolved for unknown reasons, either death or divorce.

Samuel was born to Reverend Daniel St. John and Mary Oakley on February 10, 1802. His first marriage was to Martha Marcy. Samuel St. John was a farmer, with natural ability, and some attainments. However, at some point Samuel developed a drinking problem, which would later inspire John Pierce St. John in his Temperance campaigns. One might infer there were other issues as well, since St. John was a prominent advocate of women’s rights, primarily suffrage.

Sophiah Snell was the daughter of Captain Michael Snell, who fought in the War of 1812. She was born April 21, 1797. Her first marriage, in 1817, was to Matthew McClain. This marriage resulted in the birth of at least one child, Ida McClain in 1819. John deeply loved and cared for his mother, whom he credited with inspiring his love for education.

Samuel St. John and Sophiah Snell married on February 19, 1824. Their oldest son, Matthew “Mack” St. John was born on December 25, 1826. John Pierce St. John was their second child. The youngest, Judith Emily or “Emmer,” was born October 24, 1835.

In 1848, John moved 150 miles with his parents, sister Judith Emily, and brother Matthew to Olney, Richland County, Illinois. Hardship forced John to quit school at first to help with the farming. Eventually, he took a job as a store clerk for six dollars per month. Their mother, Sophiah, died in June of 1851.

John P. St. John married Mary Jane Brewster March 28, 1852 in Olney, Illinois. Their son, Henry Clay St. John was born February 11, 1852.

Sometime in 1852, he took a job driving an oxen team, and he crossed the plains to California, where he worked as a miner and lumberjack as well as a clerk. He also made extra money by selling deer he killed to the local miners. During 1853 and 1854, he also fought in the Modoc Indian Wars in northern California and southern Oregon. It was through his participation in this conflict that John experienced battle for the first time. He also suffered battle wounds on two separate occasions during the conflict, and carried a flint arrowhead tip in his leg for the rest of his life.

During these harsh experiences, he rediscovered his passion for law, saved enough money to buy a set of law books from a Sacramento attorney, and studied at night. He also visited the Hawaiian (Sandwich) Islands, parts of South America, as well as Mexico and Central America. Once young St. John explored all these areas, he was ready to return home and study law full time.

In 1859, he returned to Illinois. Sometime immediately following his return to Illinois, he and Mary Jane Brewster divorced. At this time, he completed his law studies at Charleston under the tutelage of the law offices of Starkweather and McLain. He gained admittance to the Illinois Bar in 1860. It was in Charleston that he met and married Susan Jane Parker on March 28, 1860. Susan was the daughter of Nathaniel “Old Uncle Max” and Elizabeth “Betsy” Parker. William St. John, born in 1861 and the couple’s first child, died during infancy. John and Susan celebrated the birth of their next son John St. John, Jr. on February 9, 1862.

Shortly after the birth of his son, John Pierce St. John enlisted for military service on June 23, 1862 as a captain. He served with the Illinois 68th Infantry Regiment, Company C, from Camp Butler, Illinois. The organization of this regiment resulted in response to a call for men willing to serve three months as state militia. However, a petition circulated among the men and officers requesting a change from militia to volunteer status and that the regiment be sent to serve in the field. The regiment received their marching orders July fifth, and left Camp Butler by rail. They traveled to Wheeling, West Virginia, and then went on to Washington, D.C., where they served the remainder of their enlistment in the Alexandria, Virginia, area. John P. St. John had the honor of assisting Virginia’s military governor, Brigadier General John P. Slough, as his aide-de-camp and assistant adjutant general during the company’s time in Virginia. Company C mustered out on September 26, 1862.

St. John then worked to organize the Illinois 143rd Infantry Regiment, Company S, where he re-enlisted on the eleventh of June 1864 as a lieutenant colonel. The regiment moved to Memphis, Tennessee, on June sixteenh. On June nineteenth, the regiment was assigned to the 3rd Brigade. They then received orders to report to Helena, Arkansas, to see Brigadier General Buford, where he assigned the group to garrison duty. The regiment began their return trip to Mattoon on September tenth. Company S mustered out on September 26, 1864, in Mattoon, Illinois.

John and Susan welcomed their second child, a daughter they named Lula, on February 8, 1865. In April of the same year, the family moved from Charleston, Illinois, to Independence, Missouri, where John practiced law for four years in partnership with Susan’s brother Martin V. E. Parker. However, John’s ardent Republicanism and defeatist sentiment in this Southern-leaning part of Missouri did not mix. In the Presidential election of 1868, General Ulysses S. Grant won the Presidency. Amid threats to their persons and business, the family moved to Olathe, Kansas, in April 1869.

St. John practiced law in Olathe. He also worked as an investor, speculating in mines and other economic ventures. Business and law partners of St. John’s included his brother in-law Martin Parker and I. O. Pickering, among others. For several years, St. John operated his law firm independently and practiced on his own.

He entered the political arena when he championed a movement in 1872 to displace U.S. Senator Samuel E. Pomeroy, a former friend, in favor of his opponent John J. Ingalls. In 1872, citizens of the Ninth District elected St. John to the State Senate, where he represented them from 1873 to 1874. In 1876, the Prohibition Party solicited him to run for governor on their ticket. However, St. John refused the nomination. In 1878 and 1880, he won the gubernatorial election, and represented the Republican Party as governor of the State of Kansas.

In his inaugural speech of 1878, St. John raised the issue of Prohibition, stating that the money spent on alcohol in Kansas would pay for the operation of that State’s government for a year. Viewing alcohol as a social and economic pariah, St. John advocated its elimination as a source of evil from the state, and eventually the country as a whole. St. John advocated social rights be offered to all people, regardless of their gender, race, or economic status.

Governor St. John faced several high profile crises while in office. Federal troops left the South after the end of the Reconstruction period, and racial discrimination resumed. From 1878 to 1879 the “Great Exodus” of African Americans, mainly former slaves, arrived from the Southern states in search of a better life. The term “Exodusters” came to represent the freedmen who believed Kansas was their “promised land.” Advertisements spread by Benjamin “Pap” Singleton and others telling of the opportunities to own land in Kansas prompted their migration. The 1862 Homestead Act provided 160 acres of land to anyone who paid the filing fee and lived there for five years. The Desert Land Act of 1877 also provided for the sale of up to 640 acres of land at $.25 per acre.

Many people arrived by boat - having traveled up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, Missouri, and then by steamboat on the Missouri River across the state of Missouri - to arrive in the city of Wyandotte. This city was located at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers, and is now part of present day Kansas City, Kansas. This was a trip of almost one thousand miles for those traveling from Louisiana. Today that trip would take fourteen hours to drive, however, in 1879 the trip took at least six days if done non - stop. For most “Exodusters,” due to lack of money and the slow speed of their vessels, the trip took somewhere around twenty days to complete.

Several thousand refugees arrived in Wyandotte in one month; fifteen thousand arrived in 1879 alone. The number of refugees became so large and so disproportionate to the number of permanent residents, that Wyandotte’s residents begged for assistance in sheltering, clothing, and feeding the poor and homeless, who often spent everything they had just to get to Wyandotte. Wyandotte’s residents donated food, clothing, and shelter for the refugees, but their resources were limited, and quickly stretched beyond their limits. At one point the situation was so desperate, that steamboats were banned from landing in Wyandotte, on the Kansas side of the Missouri River, and forced to land in Kansas City, on the Missouri side. Other cities in the region - such as Leavenworth and Atchison, Kansas - found themselves inundated as well. Militant citizens even made threats against the boat captains who continued to provide passage for refugees. The federal government denied assistance, and the State of Kansas found itself responsible for thousands of homeless and impoverished people.

To assist the Exodusters and the citizens of Wyandotte, Governor St. John established the Freedman’s State Central Association, which he headed. St. John knew the refugees were trustworthy and could not help being poor and homeless. The African American refugees were sent to neighboring towns and communities until, finally, Governor St. John advocated bringing them all to Topeka by train and establishing a camp to help them. Many of the refugees were sick with diseases such as measles; pneumonia; pleurisy, an inflammation of the lungs; and the bloody flux, intestinal bleeding, a form of dysentery.

On top of the large influx of new citizens, St. John was also dealing with disturbances in the southern part of the State. “Indian” raiders were attacking settlers along the southern border with Indian Territory, now present-day Oklahoma. St. John received messages from many citizens concerned about the situation. St. John sent a mounted guard to protect this part of the State from the unwanted visitors.

St. John, besides averting disaster with his forethought and cool head in many chaotic situations, also strove to improve the State’s infrastructure. He opened coal mines at the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing to help make the facility more self-sufficient. St. John also oversaw the addition of the west wing to the Statehouse in Topeka, as well as rebuilding the State Normal School in Emporia, now Emporia State University, following a disastrous fire.

During the summer of 1879, United States President Rutherford B. Hayes visited the state, and Governor St. John took him to the Woodson County Fair. In June of 1880, Governor St. John hosted United States President Ulysses S. Grant during his visit to Kansas. However, these famous and influential visitors were not the only ways that Governor St. John brought notoriety to the State of Kansas.

In 1880, with the support of the National Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.) Governor St. John proposed an amendment to the State constitution that would prohibit the “manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors” in the State. A majority of Kansas’ voters approved the amendment, and the Legislature and House ratified the Prohibition amendment in November 1880. This legislation, while not adequately enforced, paved the way for other states to prohibit alcohol, and eventually in 1919, with the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, prohibition of alcohol was nationwide. Kansas would remain “dry” if only in law until 1948 when laws regarding alcohol became a local option once again.

He was defeated for a third term as Governor in 1882 by George W. Glick. This defeat was due mostly to the population’s distaste for third terms. However, this unintended slight coupled with a broader party-wide reluctance to advocate a nation-wide ban on saloons and alcohol. This situation came to a head following a disrespectful reception for Frances E. Willard at the Republican National Convention, and St. John’s affiliation with the Republican Party ended.

St. John was a Republican until 1884. He then officially joined the Prohibitionist Party and was reluctantly the Prohibitionist candidate for President of the United States in that year. While already a national figure among temperance advocates, St. John began to gain notoriety as a prohibitionist and national political figure due to the 1884 presidential election. Vocal members of the public widely criticized St. John during and after the election.

Mobs burned him in effigy, he received death threats, was openly mocked in the press, and his earlier marriage and divorce was publicized in a less than flattering manner. Republicans felt he was a traitor to his former party. St. John anticipated this reception by some Republicans, and took some persuading to accept the nomination. The election was close, decided by only 26,000 votes.

Following his failed Presidential bid, St. John engaged in numerous temperance activities. On December 3, 1887, St. John and a group of followers bought 10,000 acres of land in Newhall, California, to establish a “dry” community. Land sales for this project were minor, probably due to the terms of the contract, which stipulated that purchasers forfeited their land if authorities caught anyone imbibing alcohol there, even trespassers.

During this period of his life, St. John traveled some 350,000 miles and made over 4,500 speeches on behalf of Prohibition, women’s suffrage, “free silver,” and direct election of U.S. senators by citizens. St. John spoke in large halls and small communities. He was hailed everywhere as the “father of Prohibition” in the United States.

Henry Clay St. John, John’s eldest son from his first marriage with Mary Jane Brewster, died in 1889. John’s daughter, Lula, married Henry L. Page of Fort Scott, Kansas, sometime between 1880 and 1900 and died on April 8, 1903, possibly due to complications associated with childbirth. From 1880 to 1916 John Pierce St. John, Jr., moved around the country, living in Missouri, Texas, Washington, and eventually returning to Kansas. J. P. St. John, Jr., married Rose J. Enloe of Missouri after 1900. Their first child, a daughter they named Lula, in memory of John Jr.’s sister, was born in 1905. Their second child, Ruth E. was born in 1907, while they were living in Texas. In 1916 John Pierce St. John, Jr., was working for the State penitentiary, in Lansing, Kansas.

At some point during his Prohibition campaigns John Sr. began suffering from Bright’s Disease. Now known to be one of many forms of kidney failure, St. John experienced bouts of extreme fatigue, back pain, and water retention. These symptoms alternated with periods of miraculous recovery.

Following a June 26, 1916 speech on Prohibition in Jetmore, Kansas, St. John suffered from heatstroke and exhaustion. He spent several weeks recovering and then traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota, on July 30th to attend the National Prohibition Party Convention. The stress of the trip reversed his recovery, and he was bedridden thereafter. He died at his home in Olathe on August 31, 1916. His wife, Susan Jane Parker St. John, and his son John Pierce St. John, Jr., survived him. Former Kansas Governor George H. Hodges; the then current Governor of Kansas Arthur M. Capper; as well as H. O. Farfa of Chicago, the representative for the National Prohibition Party, eulogized John Pierce St. John, Sr.

Scope and Content

Scope and content:

There are four letterpress books contained in the collection. Susan B. Anthony, the noted women’s rights advocate; members of the Parker and St. John Families; I. O. Pickering, a Civil War veteran and Kansas lawyer and politician; and Francis E. Willard, the temperance and suffrage activist, were among the recipients of John Pierce St. John’s letters. These letters are primarily personal in nature, but deal with a wide variety of subjects, including temperance, conflicts with Native Americans in southern Kansas, and women’s rights. The letters are sometimes difficult to read, as the handwriting is variable depending on the secretary writing it as well as fading of ink and water damage. However some of the letters are typewritten. These letters are an excellent resource for those interested in social, cultural, economic, and political history. Most of the books have name indexes at the front, however the completeness of these indexes are questionable. Entries are not by recipient, but sometimes there are individual notations for each letter; at other times recipients’ names and letter abstracts are listed together.

Other items in the collection include copies of speeches, a collection of quotations, and some correspondence that is not bound. There are sixteen scrapbooks in the collection, making up the bulk of the materials. These scrapbooks were apparently compiled during St. John’s illness, as most appear to be a collection of letters and clippings that he pasted in to books with no real sense of order that is immediately apparent. However, a few scrapbooks are in chronological order. Occasionally related items are together. It appears that St. John read an article about something in the past, and he then tried to find any primary information he had about that event. However, this is not always true, and browsing the scrapbooks will lead the researcher to interesting discoveries.

This collection is well suited for the social historian looking for information on activities of reform groups during the Progressive Era.

St. John's official gubernatorial records are in the state archives holdings of the Kansas Historical Society, record group 252. An on-line finding aid is available: http://www.kshs.org/archives/306047

Contents: Ser. 1. Letter press books, 1879-1899 (box 1) -- ser. 2. Quotations and unbound mss., 1885-1917 (box 2) -- ser. 3. Scrapbooks, 1859-1916 (boxes 2-4).

Contents: Series Descriptions

Series 1. LETTER PRESS BOOKS, 1879 - 1899. 0.4 ft. (4 v.) (Box 1)

These letters cover a wide range of subjects, dealing primarily with John Pierce St. John’s personal business, family, and political ties. St. John corresponded with a number of prominent and influential persons throughout his political career. While only a number of the letters he received from these persons are still existing, the tone and subject of his correspondence in response to their letters gives the reader an idea of the subject and relationship between the individuals. Correspondents include Susan B. Anthony; U.S. President Chester A. Arthur; Kansas U.S. Senator S. C. Pomeroy; Reverend Levi Sternberg, patriarch of the famous fossil hunters of Kansas; and Francis E. Willard of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

Volumes arranged chronologically.

Series 2. QUOTATIONS AND UNBOUND MSS., 1885 - 1917. 0.2 ft. (1 v. + 1 folder) (Box 2)

This series consists of a bound volume of quotations and a folder of unbound manuscripts. Most of the unbound materials relate to memorials and honors being arranged for St. John following his death in 1916. There is some early correspondence in this folder, as well as a biography and obituary.

Series 3. SCRAPBOOKS, 1859 - 1916. 1 ft. (16 v.) (Boxes 2 - 4)

Contains various newspaper clippings, pamphlets, and fliers related to the interests of the St. John family. Most of the articles relate to crime, temperance, family life, religion, politics, military conflict, and the St. John & Parker families. Most of the articles are not marked as to their source or date. The information contained in these books will give the researcher an excellent idea as to the topics that attracted the St. Johns. The information relating to the St. John and Parker families is varying in nature, covering their acclaims as well as their criticisms. There are some letters pasted in the books, some with famous or influential persons.

Some volumes with identifiable dates arranged chronologically.


Locator Contents
007-05-05-03 to 007-05-05-06   
091-02-02-01  Processors' Notes 

Related Records or Collections

Other Finding Aid/Index: Finding aid available from the Kansas Historical Society (Topeka) and on its website, John Pierce St. John Papers, 1859-1917.

Indexes: Each letterpress book (ser. 1) contains a name index to recipients of letters.

Related materials: John P. St. John's official gubernatorial records are in the state archives holdings of the Kansas Historical Society, record group 252. An on-line finding aid is available: Governor John P. St. John records.

Related materials:
Arthur Capper collection, no. 12: http://www.kshs.org/archives/40012
George W. Glick misc. collection: http://www.kshs.org/archives/41720
George H. Hodges collection, no. 58: http://www.kshs.org/archives/40058
Carry Amelia Nation collection, no. 744: http://www.kshs.org/archives/40744
Temperance history collection, no. 645: http://www.kshs.org/archives/40645

Index Terms


    Saint John family
    Scrapbooks -- Kansas -- Olathe
    Kansas -- Politics and government -- 1865-1950
    Olathe (Kan.)
    United States
    United States -- Politics and government -- 1881-1885
    Anthony, Susan B. (Susan Brownell), 1820-1906
    Arthur, Chester Alan, 1829-1886
    Pomeroy, S. C. (Samuel Clarke), 1816-1891
    Sternberg, Levi, 1814-1896.
    St. John, John Pierce, 1833-1916
    St. John, John Pierce, 1833-1916 -- Family
    Willard, Frances E. (Frances Elizabeth), 1839-1898
    Governors -- Kansas
    Lecturers -- United States
    Presidential candidates -- United States
    Progressivism (United States politics)
    Prohibition -- Kansas
    Prohibition -- United States
    Social problems -- United States

Creators and Contributors

Additional Information for Researchers

Restrictions: None

Use and reproduction: Information on literary rights available in the collection finding aid.

Ownership/Custodial Hist.: Scrapbooks, letter press v. 4: Previously owned by John P. St. John's niece, Effie Parker.

Cite as: St. John, John Pierce. Papers, 1879 - 1917, ms. collection 494, Kansas Historical Society.

Action note: Described by Samantha L. Harper, Lela Barnes intern, 2006.

Accumulation/Freq. Of Use: No additional donations of papers are anticipated.