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John Speer Papers

Creator: Speer, John, 1817-1906

Date: 1861 - 1901

Level of Description: Coll./Record Group

Material Type: Manuscripts

Call Number: Manuscripts Collection 506

Unit ID: 40506

Biographical sketch: John Speer was born 27 December 1817 in Kittanning, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. At the age of twelve he came a United States mail carrier, working on horseback, and in 1835 he became an apprentice with the "Indiana Register" of Indiana, PA. By 1839 he was publishing his own Whig paper, though in 1840 he went west to Ohio to be a journeyman printer with the Portsmouth Tribune.

In 1842 he had moved further west, establishing the Harrison Gazette in Corydon, Indiana. That same year he married Elizabeth Duplisses McMahon of Corydon. They had eight children: John, Robert, William, Mary, Eva, Joseph, Hardin, and Rose.

In 1843 Speer established the Democratic Whig in Medina, Ohio, which he ran until 1854. After the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, however, Speer came with his brother Joseph to Lawrence, Kansas, Speer's family following the next year. The brothers printed the "Kansas Pioneer," an anti-slavery newspaper, dated from Lawrence but actually printed from Medina, Ohio. They later changed the name to the Kansas Tribune and then moved it to Topeka, Joseph retiring and John taking on a new partner. Speer sold the paper but then revived it in 1863 in Lawrence.

Speer remained active throughout the troubled territorial years of Kansas, denouncing slavery, attending the Topeka constitutional convention of 1855 and serving in the first Free State Legislature in 1857, and taking part in the 1855 Wakarusa War. Speer's son eldest son John was killed in Quantrill's 1863 raid, and son Robert burned in the "Lawrence Republican" office, which Speer had purchased in 1859.

Speer served in both the Kansas Senate and House of Representatives. He was also a delegate to the 1864 national Republican convention re-nominating Lincoln as President and continued to edit and work with newspapers. Other public offices Speer held included state printer and a United States revenue collector. He was also involved in the establishment of the University of Kansas and of Baker University, and he published a biography of James Lane.

Speer's wife Elizabeth died of cancer in Lawrence in 1876. In the 1880s he moved to Garden City, Finney County in western Kansas and in the 1890s lived briefly in Wichita before moving to Denver, Colorado. John Speer died at his daughter Eva's home in Denver in 1906.

Abstract: The collection includes articles and other manuscript material written by Speer on such topics as Kansas history and Methodism and the 40th anniversary of Baker University, deeds and town share certificates with other land ownership documents, some letters by Speer to other, a speech by Speer at the 1895 Pennsylvania Settlers Reunion held in Salina, and other miscellaneous materials. The collection also includes a timeline and family chart for Speer's and his immediate family's lives.

Space Required/Quantity: .25 cubic feet (1 box)

Title (Main title): John Speer Papers

Scope and Content


Locator Contents

Index Terms


    Baker University -- Centennial celebrations, etc.
    Kansas -- History -- 19th century
    Speer, John, 1817-1906
    Methodism -- Kansas
    Newspaper editors -- Kansas
    Real property -- Kansas -- Ownership

Creators and Contributors