Biography of Samuel N. Simpson

Samuel N. Simpson. A notable life came to a close with the death of Samuel N. Simpson on November 27, 1915: Important though his achievements were in the field of business and in the development of many useful enterprises and undertakings in the cities of Lawrence and Kansas City, Kansas, it is because his activities and influence were so vitally identified with the primitive period of the territorial Kansas that his individual history bulks so large in the annals of the state and furnishes a chapter that may be read with instruction and profit by every student of Kansas annals.

The story of his early experiences was well told in his own words. He wrote them at the request of his children, and it was due to a modesty which was one of his characteristics that he never used the pronoun I in the entire recital. It is a narrative simply told and with a personal detachment and candor that makes it one of the most illuminating chapters in Kansas history. There is every propriety in permitting the readers of this publication to see through the eyes of Mr. Simpson the conditions as he saw them in the early territorial period.

He begins his narrative with a brief description of the conditions which prevailed as a result of the struggle between the free state and pro-slavery elements for the possession of Kansas. He tells how by the wholesale importation of voters from Missouri a slavery territorial legislature was elected in 1855, a code of slave laws enacted to govern the territory, and how the machinery of the Federal Government and its army were used to bank up these iniquitous measures. As a result, he says, by the summer of 1856 one-third of the free state settlers had left the Kansas territory because of the normities of the slave power. From that point his story can be quoted in his own words:

“At this time when there seemed to be total darkness, a man commenced shaping events without knowing it himself or attracting any attention from even his neighbors. A kind Providence now seemed to take matters in hand, using forces that were not appreciated. In September, 1854, he arrived in what is now called Lawrence, having walked through Missouri. He had been reared in New Hampshire. On the first Sabbath after he arrived he organized a Bible class. On the first Sabbath in 1855 he gathered the few children in town together in his office and commenced a Sunday school, which became the Sunday school of the Plymouth Congregational church of Lawrence. During 1855 he organized a Sabbath school at the home of Mr. Lyons, four miles up the California Road. Mrs. Sarah T. D. Robertson and Mrs. Kellogg were teachers.

“In the winter of 1855 and 1856 the Plymouth Congregational church asked this man to go East to raise money for a church building. He accepted, and in raising this money came in contact with Dr. Post of St. Louis; Dr. Thompson, of Buffalo; Henry Ward Beecher and Dr. Bellows in New York and Brooklyn; Dr. Todd, in Pittsburg; Eli Thayer, J. M. S. Williams, Amos A. Lawrence, Leonard Bacon, Dr. Cabbott, Dr. Webb, Edward Everett, Robert Winthrop, Dr. Wallace and many others in New England. In May, 1856, he organized a Sunday school at Franklin, a small town three miles west of Lawrence, settled mostly by families from slave states. Charles Edwards, of Lawrence, was a teacher. During the dark period in 1856 there were some thirty young men from different southern states scattered throughout Douglass county, boarding with families from Southern states. These young men received thirty dollars per month from the states from which they came. Their occupation was to create such a state of society by burning houses, barns, hay and grain stacks, killing stock and occasionally killing a man, as in the case of Barber, Hoyt and Dow, that free state settlers would cease to come to the territory and many of those already there would leave rather than live under such conditions.

“Dr. Charles Robinson and several other free state men were held as prisoners by United States troops in a camp about eight miles west of Lawrence. Dr. Robinson was the leader of the free state cause and party in Kansas Territory during the struggle. This unnamed man visited the camp and talked over the conditions. They agreed that a vigilance committee should be formed with two by-laws, viz: To obey orders and to keep secrets and to make it their first business to force out of the country the men who were committing the depredations and murders.

“This man returned to Lawrence and invited to his office Turner Sampson, a democrat from the State of Maine, and Milton Guest, of Indiana, both men being over forty-five years of age. The conditions in the county were discussed and it was agreed to organize a vigilance committee with the above by-laws. The three agreed to meet that evening after dark at a vacant house near the Blood Mill. They met and decided upon three persons who should be invited to meet at the same place the next night. At the next meeting there were six persons present and at the next twelve. In a short time the committee had grown to have two hundred members and they wished to elect this man dictator. He refused and a Mr. Green, who operated a saw mill, was elected dictator. Mr. Green was true and brave and very quiet. His orders were law. It is only when society is in desperate straits that it consents to a dictatorship. The organization did its work well and after a few of the marauders had been visited at night the rest left for Missouri.

“One day soon thereafter, when this man was superintending his Sunday school at Franklin, a Southern man, whose children attended the school, asked him to step to one side and said: ‘I think that I ought to tell you that an army from Missouri will be up here in a short time to destroy Lawrence. They are using a certain log cabin in town as a fort, and already have a cannon there to use against the town when they come up. Please do not give me away.’

“This unnamed man went up to the camp the next day and informed Dr. Robinson. It was agreed that the fort at Franklin and any others which might be learned of should be taken before the army arrived from Missouri and the cannon secured. The free state party had been on the defensive long enough, and besides, it was known that a company of men under General Lane from the free states was on its way through Iowa and Nebraska to help the free state settlers of Kansas. It was thought well to strike a blow before assistance came. This man returned to Lawrence and the order came to eighty men of the vigilance committee to meet at two points near Franklin after dark the next night. Upon arriving at the points designated one party was to attack the fort at Franklin from the south side and the other party from the north side, and to take it. The men drew near upon their hands and knees so as not to be seen and to expose themselves as little as possible.

“They all had Sharp rifles and they used them but to no good purpose. A space had been left open between the logs of the fort about five feet from the ground and those inside could fire through this opening. One free state man was killed and others wounded. The free state men were obliged to withdraw. And now what should be done. Some said the fort could not be taken without a cannon. The men were wet with the dew upon the grass. It was nearly midnight. The pale moonlight and the dying companions afforded a said picture. This man declared that the fort must be taken if they had to pry the logs apart. The cannon within must come into their hands. It was finally decided to load upon a wagon some hay and dry fencing and what tar and rosin could be found in town to set the log fort on fire. When the load was ready a call was made for volunteers to draw the fuel against the fort. Captain Bickerton, Caleb Pratt, S. C. Smith, Reuben Randall, Edward Russell, this man and two or three others took hold and drew the wagon close to the fort, then lighting the hay. The light illumined the town. It was agreed that a stream of bullets should be fired steadily into the door of the fort to prevent those inside from pushing the wagon away from the building. Soon a white flag was run up over the fort, and the cannon captured and taken out with gun carriage and wheels. In the moment of success and victory the cost of victory is forgotten. The men embraced the cannon even in that dark hour.

“After further deliberation it was planned to take by storm before daylight the fort on Washington Creek, six miles south of Lawrence; and that the cannon should be moved west upon the California road to Fort Titus twelve miles west of Lawrence. Kimball brothers and this man returned to Lawrence and fished out of the Kansas river the type which the border ruffians had taken from the office of the Herald of Freedom, the Kansas Tribune and the Kansas Free State, a few weeks before and thrown into the Kansas river at the time they destroyed the Free State Hotel and burned Dr. Charles Robinson’s house. The lead was run into three bullets for the cannon to be used at the taking of Fort Titus. All the forces with the cannon must be brought against the last fort and it must be taken before night.

“The company which had come through Nebraska arrived during the night that Franklin and Washington Creek forts were taken and assisted the free state army in taking the last of the three forts. The news of the two victories in the night spread with the morning light and the free state army numbered several hundred armed men before it reached Fort Titus. Colonel Shombry, of General Lane’s party, in behalf of himself and his men, offered to take the fort by storm. They were not successful and the colonel lost his life in the attempt. The free state army, out of range of the rifles in the fort now waited for the cannon with the three bullets.

“A man was found who had served in the English army–Captain Bickerton. The cannon was placed in his hands and after loading it he announced that he would give the enemy a copy of Kansas Herald of Freedom. The bullet went through the log fort. The cannon was loaded again and with a voice that all could hear the Captain announced that they should have a copy of the Kansas Tribune. After this bullet went through the fort up came a white flag. Titus and eighteen prisoners were taken. The return to Lawrence in the latter part of the afternoon with the prisoners and the triumph of the three victories cannot be described.

“Colonel Titus, who was wounded, and the other prisoners were placed in the hands of this man, and he secured Dr. S. B. Prentice to attend to the wounded. The battle of Franklin was the Bunker Hill in the Kansas warfare, except that the victory was more telling and the results came sooner. The prisoners were soon exchanged for free state prisoners who were being held under the bogus territorial government under sham charges that they might be prevented from working for the free state cause. The people of Missouri went on preparing for the taking of Lawrence, for they realized it would be impossible to hold slaves in a state with such a town as Lawrence in it. Three armies were recruited in Missouri and were on their way to Lawrence. This was in September, 1856, and an election for president of the United States would be hold in November. The democratic leaders in the East decided that the war in Kansas must be stopped or the party would be defeated. If Lawrence should be destroyed by Missourians, the election would go against them. Governor Shannon, the territorial governor, was withdrawn and Mr. Gerry was appointed to fill his place. He arrived in the territory while the army from Missouri were on their way to Lawrence. Governor Gerry ordered some United States troops, a battery of flying artillery, from Fort Leavenworth into Douglass county, stationing them near Lawrence.

“The Missouri army was then encamped a few miles east of Lawrence on the Wakurusa Creek and the advance guard was so near Lawrence that it was exchanging shots with the Cabbott Guard Company, which company had been raised by this man. The rifles had been furnished him by Dr. Cabbott, of Boston, in case he could raise a company. Every free state man was in his place and the women of Lawrence were doing their part. On Sunday night or Monday morning the attack would be made, despite the fact that the Missourians had twenty-eight hundred men to the free state’s six hundred. At this stage, Governor Gerry located this battery of flying artillery upon the hill south of Lawrence and asked the Cabbott Guard to support their artillery in case of a battle. The governor then went to the headquarters of the Missouri army and told them they must return to Missouri. If Lawrence were destroyed, then the election would go against the democrats and all would be lost. The officers, supported by the men, informed the governor that they had come to wipe Lawrence from the earth and that they intended to do it. The governor replied that he had the United States troops ready and that he should use them to protect Lawrence; that he had orders from the President of the United States to do so. The Missourians deliberated all night but finally saw that they could not hope to succeed with the United States troops united with the free state men, and so returned to Missouri. Thus ended the contest in Kansas Territory to make it a slave state by force of arms.

“There was fighting in Southern Kansas later which grew out of local difficulties. The successful capture of the fort at Franklin and the other two forts was the death knell of the introduction of slavery into Kansas. The loss of Kansas to the South brought secession. Secession brought the war, and the war brought emancipation. Thus Providence often seemingly employs the most insignificant means to bring about very important results. In this case there has been built a mighty nation which may yet control the governments of the world.”

In the veins of Samuel N. Simpson flowed the blood of freemen, and it is not strange that he became an actor of importance in the critical days of Bleeding Kansas. The Simpson family was founded in New England in 1631, the first of the name coming from Scotland. There were Simpsons in the French and Indian war, and John Simpson, grandfather of Samuel N., enlisted from his native town of Deerfield, New Hampshire, at the beginning of the revolution. He arrived in time to take part in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the family tradition is that he fired the first gun in the battle and was promptly arrested on charge of disobeying orders. Later, on the same battlefield, he was commissioned major. His flintlock musket and his commission descended as heirlooms and were greatly cherished and prized by the late Mr. Simpson of Kansas City.

Samuel N. Simpson was born at Deerfield, New Hampshire, October 3, 1826, a son of Samuel and Hannah (Pearson) Simpson. His father came out to Kansas in 1857, was an early settler at Lawrence, and died there at the age of eighty-two, his wife having passed away at seventy-nine.

Supplementing his own recital of early times at Lawrence, it should be stated that Samuel N. Simpson was one of the party of six persons who were the first settlers of that town. It was at his suggestion that the town was named Lawrence in honor of Amos A. Lawrence, of Boston. Mr. Lawrence, on being informed of this compliment, sent a draft for $10,000, directing that the money be used for educational purposes. The fund later increased to $14,000, and when Kansas established its State University the City of Lawrence offered this fund as an aid to the institution provided it should be located at Lawrence, which was done.

After the war Mr. Simpson engaged in business at Lawrence and he always considered that city his home, though he was a resident for many years of Kansas City, Kansas. He was laid to rest at Lawrence. He organized the Simpson Bank at Lawrence, became prominent in real estate affairs, and in 1877 he extended his business to Wyandotte County. He was the first to propose changing the name of Wyandotte to Kansas City. He also built the first bridge where the new Central Avenue bridge and viaduct is now being constructed. Mr. Simpson was one of the first white men to buy land from Split Log, the Wyandotte Chief, and received from him the right of way for the bridge. The late Mr. Simpson, together with his sons, improved and developed many of the most valuable parts of Kansas City, Kansas, and in the real estate field he was long pre-eminent. Mr. Simpson was devoted to the prohibition cause, was a republican in politics without aspirations for office, and was a sincere and devout Christian, being a member with his wife of the Congregational Church.

In 1864 Samuel N. Simpson returned to Columbus, Ohio, and married Miss Kate Lyon Burnett. Her, father, Judge Calvin Burnett, a native of Vermont, was for many years a well-known citizen of Lawrence, Kansas. Mrs. Simpson was a highly educated and cultured woman, and for many years gave the distinction of her presence to one of the most hospitable homes in the State of Kansas. She was born in Vermont in 1833 and died in 1900. There were three children: Charles Lyon, Burnett Newell and Nellie Josephine, an adopted daughter, the latter being the wife of William A. Ackenhausen.

Charles Lyon Simpson was born in the City of Lawrence November 23, 1865, and his brother, Burnett N., was born there in July, 1869. Charles Lyon was a student in the Boston Institute of Technology three years, and then became associated with his father in the real estate business. He is now one of the oldest established men in real estate circles in Kansas City, Kansas, and has promoted some of the largest deals and has brought about some of the most notable improvements on both sides of the state line. He is at the present time actively concerned with something like thirty-five additions in various parts of Kansas City, Missouri. In 1913 he served as president of the National Association of Real Estate Boards, was president of the Kansas City Real Estate Board two years, 1911-12, and is a member of the Country Club, the Blue Hills Club and the University Club. On January 5, 1893, he married Mary Miner Gamble of Kansas City, Missouri. They have two children: Dorothea and Hamilton Simpson, both of whom are attending school at Washington, D. C.

Burnett Newell Simpson is a graduate of Harvard University. After studying law at Harvard University, he began its practice in Kansas City, Missouri, and later formed a partnership with Charles A. Boaley. He is vice president of the Banking Trust Company and represents several large eastern estates in their western investments. He was an incorporator, and for several years, the secretary, of the University Club of Kansas City and also member of the Kansas City Country Club and the Blue Hills Club. In 1903, he married Caroline C. Gamble, grand-daughter of Governor Gamble of Missouri.


Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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