Lawrence was founded as the western outpost for the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company, in an effort to populate the debatable territory of Kansas with free-state advocates. Other communities of free-state advocates were founded, but the Lawrence group seems to have been the most militant, and it was about Lawrence that much of the border strife centered in the six or seven years before the Civil War.
The natural westward trend of emigration had brought many people from Missouri, a recognized slave state, into the eastern part of Kansas, and it was in recognition of the tendency and the ease with which Missourians could settle Kansas that anti-slavery advocates of the North made special efforts to send free-state men into the new territory.
The Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company was formed for the purpose of disseminating information about Kansas in the east and to aid emigrants, both by obtaining low-priced tickets for them and sending agents with them to see that all went well.
First party numbers 30
The first Massachusetts party, consisting of a score or more of artisans, left Worcester, Mass., on July 18, 1854, and reached the mouth of the Kansas River 10 days later. From there it was an overland trip, and on Aug. 1, the party reached a sightly promontory described to it by Dr. Charles Robinson, who had passed through Kansas a few years previously on his way to California.
The party, now grown to 31 members, camped on the promontory, voted to stay there and to urge the aid society to make this point its western headquarters. Officers were elected, and a day or two later more permanent dwellings were fashioned and preparations made for the winter. On Sept. 15, a large party arrived. It numbered more than 100 people, including Robinson.
The first houses were built by erecting two rows of saplings, bending their tops together and covering the resulting slopes with prairie grass. Some were covered with sod part way up the side, but apparently there were no real sod houses built here. The first log cabin was erected from the small, twisted logs found along the banks of the river and was situated not far from the river bank (about 100 feet southeast of Sixth and Massachusetts streets). A frame house was erected before the end of October for the Rev. S.Y. Lum.
The new community at once settled down to organize community life. Church services first took place Oct. 1, and Plymouth Congregational Church was organized two weeks later. Robinson was elected president of the Lawrence Association at a town meeting Sept. 18. School, supported by voluntary contributions, was started early in the next January. In February, the population was 400. Two weekly papers were started in 1854, and on July 4, 1855, John Speer started a daily paper -- the first in Kansas territory. It existed for one week.
Election to choose a member of congress was held Nov. 29, 1854, the pro-slavery candidate winning. One of the 17 Kansas districts was designated "Lawrence." It cast 300 votes, only 46 of which were for the pro-slavery candidate.
Voting across state line
The following March, an election was held to choose members of a territorial legislature. More than 1,000 men from Missouri -- "residents for the day" -- voted at Lawrence, and similar numbers at all other districts, resulting in the election of a legislature predominately pro-slavery. The people of Lawrence, and many other free-staters, refused to recognize any laws passed by what they called a "bogus legislature." (All its acts were repealed before Kansas became a state.)
A Kansas Free-State Society was formed Feb. 1, 1855, and during that year many meetings were held in Lawrence to determine the course the free-state advocates should take in view of the attitude of those in authority at the time.
Thus, Lawrence became the center of free-state activities, a "city of refuge" for free-state advocates and the object of attack by those opposed to the free-state program.
-- Reprinted from the Official Souvenir Program of the 75th Anniversary, printed by the Journal-World in 1929.