1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 23

CHAPTER XXIII

ROBINSON

Lane's vindictive rival and most relentless detractor was Dr. Charles Robinson, resident agent at Lawrence of the New England Emigrant Aid Company. Charles Robinson was born at Hardwick, Massachusetts, July 21, 1818. He received a good education. He began the practice of medicine at Belchertown, Massachusetts. In 1843 he was married to Miss Sarah Adams, of West Brookfield. He espoused the cause of John W. Noyes, who established a perfectionist (free-love) colony in New York, and it was charged by the Missourians that he had been an inmate of the Noyes community, but this is probably untrue. His biographers gave his connection with Noyes as standing by him in persecution for his efforts to gain followers. Robinson opened a hospital at Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1845, in connection with Dr. J. G. Holland. In 1846 his wife died. He then moved to Litchburg, Massachusetts. In the winter of 1848 he was attracted by the intelligence of the discovery of gold in California and joined a Boston company bound for the Pacific Coast.

In California Dr. Robinson headed a band of squatters making an effort to seize the estate of the pioneer Sutter. Sutter had obtained a grant of land from Mexico, and this grant embraced a large portion of the valley of the Sacramento River. As in the case of all Spanish grants, the boundaries were vague and indefinite. Sutter had built a fort, mill, and other factories on his land, and had been in possession of it many years. Robinson was the proprietor of a boarding-house, and he saw in this movement an opportunity for leadership. He placed himself at the head of the squatters, invoked the Higher Law as his justification, and took up arms against the authorities. A battle ensued in which Robinson was wounded. At the election for the Legislature he was chosen a member by this irresponsible element. He later realized, however, that his course in California would not carry him into any extensive leadership, and would not give him a prominent place in the future of the State. He returned to Massachusetts. His course in California has been condemned by the historians of that State.

In the practice of his profession Dr. Robinson had not met with great success. He had depended much on a galvanic battery. Wealth was his chief desire. When Eli Thayer organized the New England Emigrant Aid Company, Dr. Robinson applied for service. In the meantime he had married Miss Sara T. D. Lawrence, of Massachusetts. Having passed through Kansas on his way to California, he recalled the beauty of the land. He was employed by Mr. Thayer as resident agent in Kansas Territory at a salary of $1,000 per annum, and directed to proceed to Kansas and select a point for the first settlement of the promoted emigration. He and Charles H. Branscomb selected the site of Lawrence. His judgment in that matter was good, as his judgment in every business transaction always was.

We have seen that Dr. Robinson arrived with a company of emigrants just in time to participate in the election for members of the Legislature. The site at Lawrence had been taken up by pre-emption before the coming of the first party of New England emigrants. The claim of Clark Stearns was purchased for the Aid Company by Charles H. Branscomb for $500. This purchase was not approved by Dr. Robinson, who had determined on another method of securing title to the town-site. Very nearly the same conditions arose concerning the Lawrence site that had existed in California in regard to the land of Sutter. In his account of the matter, Dr. Robinson says the Lawrence conditions were the California conditions on a smaller scale. The dispute about the land distracted the settlers contending for it and those living about it for several months. It was finally settled by compromise.

Dr. Robinson was the leader and recognized head of the promoted emigration in Kansas. In this emigration were many very excellent people. They settled in a body about Lawrence and always acted together. They were well educated, and they were schooled in the matter of public discussion and the formation of resolutions. They brought with them the training engendered by the New England town meeting. At no other town in Kansas were there ever so many public meetings and so many resolutions as at Lawrence. The New England people were always in the minority in Kansas, and even in Douglas County, but they exerted a great influence from the beginning, because of their ability and cohesion. They stood like their own granite hills against slavery. They wrote most that was first published on the early history of Kansas, emphasizing the part played by the New England Emigrant Aid Company, saying little or nothing about the presence or achievement of people from any other part of New England than Massachusetts. They came finally to believe that Kansas was the child of Massachusetts, and that no other State did much towards making Kansas free. The New England people did their full share and proportion and did it well. Few of them attempted to cultivate the soil. They engaged in professions, as teaching, medicine, law, etc. They established boarding-houses and opened trading establishments.

Dr. Robinson knew instinctively that a rival, and an exceedingly troublesome one, had arrived in Kansas, the moment he beheld James H. Lane. They acted together for a time, but there was never any real friendship between them, and neither one was deceived as to the attitude and feeling of the other. Lane always had a great majority of the Free-State people with him. They were Western men from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and other States, and scattered throughout the Territory and without any organization. They were ideal pioneers and were opening homes and their time was fully occupied with their own affairs. Because of this condition, the contests were sometimes close between these two men. Robinson pursued Lane after his death, charging many crimes to him when he could not speak for himself. He attacked Lane's moral character, particularly his conduct toward women, as a reference to his Kansas Conflict will show. But in that particular Robinson was the greater sinner. Both were lecherous and lewd.

Robinson was one of the best business men Kansas has ever had. He accumulated a fortune, becoming the most wealthy citizen of the State in his time. Lane cared little for money - cared nothing for it beyond what it would immediately contribute to the support of his family and himself. A fortune did not appeal to him. Love of money because it was money he could not comprehend. He knew that money was power, but he preferred to move men by a different power.

Robinson was shrewd, cold, suspicious, calculating. Lane was impulsive, warm-hearted, generous, magnetic. Robinson kept to the office, the companionship of men. Robinson looked well beyond every transaction, political and otherwise, to the dollar at the other side. He would establish a free State, but he would compel the process to yield him a fortune for his efforts. He was patriotic, but his patriotism was not free from selfish motives. Lane found his recompense in the joys of leadership. His patriotism was not tainted with self-interest. He sought office for the political power it gave him. He was a follower of Jackson, and a spoilsman. He believed in a political organization, a political machine. He was the greatest political organizer Kansas ever had, and his work - his methods - remained in evidence a generation after his death. Indeed, though our institutions are modified, the political methods of Lane still survive in Kansas. The result of his genius was the establishment of Kansas as a free State. It is not contended that he did that glorious work unaided. Many helped. But Lane was the leader. He was a politician, as he was compelled to be. But he was more. His political action was a means to an end - and that end was the exaltation of Kansas - patriotism - statesmanship. He forced the building of the Kansas Pacific Railroad up the Kansas River, not as a promoter, but in the interest of the State. He was for an educational system in the interest of the people. He gave a tract of land for the Kansas University. Robinson was always credited with a similar gift, but no evidence has been found that he ever gave an acre until by will and after death. No two men were ever more directly opposite in temperament, method, the paramount objects of life. Yet Kansas needed both. Property rights are only subordinate to human rights. There must always be men who see to it that property rights are developed, conserved, protected. This office Robinson performed for early Kansas.

Dr. Robinson had been one of the fourteen armed supporters of Governor Reeder at the Shawnee Mission, April 6, 1855, when the Pro-Slavery members of the Legislature, armed with their certificates of election, announced that they would ignore the supplementary election for the members thrown out. It may have been determined at that time by Governor Reeder and his armed friends, that the existing Territorial Government, or at least that the enforcement of the actions of the coming session of the coming Legislature would be resisted by force, for Dr. Robinson immediately sent George W. Deitzler to Boston to secure a stock of Sharps' rifles. Mr. Deitzler presented the letter of Reeder to Eli Thayer at Worchester. Going at once to Boston, Mr. Thayer called the Executive Committee of the New England Emigrant Aid Society into session. This committee, within an hour, delivered to Mr. Deitzler an order for one hundred Sharps' rifles, and he left at once for Hartford, arriving there Saturday evening. The rifles were packed the next day, Sunday, and Deitzler started back to Kansas with them on Monday. They were marked "Books." Deitzler had taken the precaution to remove the cap-tubes from the guns, carrying them with him. This would render the rifles useless should they fall into the hands of the Missourians. It may have been intended that these rifles should be used in repelling the Missourians should they come over to contest the supplementary election.1

Dr. Robinson also sent James B. Abbott, July 26, 1855, to Boston, to secure more guns. He says he did so because of the satisfaction felt in Kansas over the presence of the first shipment of Sharps' rifles. Mr. Abbott secured his guns through Amos A. Lawrence - one hundred Sharps' rifles. He also secured a small brass howitzer. He brought these arms safely into Kansas. Both he and Mr. Deitzler brought with the rifles a large supply of ammunition for the same.2

In the letter given Abbott, Robinson says, "In my judgment the rifles in Lawrence have had a very good effect, and I think the same kind of instruments in other places would do more to save Kansas than almost anything else." In the same letter Dr. Robinson stated a great truth, saying: "We are in the midst of a revolution, as you will see by the papers. How we shall come out of the furnace God only knows. That we have got to enter it, some of us, there is no doubt, but we are ready to be offered." There were Free-State men living at Lawrence who did not agree with Dr. Robinson as to the advisability of having these guns shipped into Kansas for use by the Free-State people, as will be shown by the letter of E. D. Ladd, dated May 23, 1855, and quoted by Dr. Robinson in his Kansas Conflict.

LAWRENCE, KANSAS, MAY 23d.

An intense excitement was produced in the minds of a few of our citizens - I need not say who - preceding the election, by the arrival on the Emma Harmon of five boxes of books, which, on being opened, proved to be, instead of books, one hundred of Sharp's rifles, capable of discharging 1,000 shots per minute. Threats and imprecations were loud and long. "If not sent back immediately they would be thrown into the Kansas;" "there would be an armed force from Missouri here to take them;" "it was the work of the Emigrant Aid Society, for the purpose of overawing and holding in subjection the Western men;" "it was opposed to the Constitution of the United States;" - Heaven save the Constitution if these men are its defenders! - "if there were two or three days before election, they would give us occasion to use them." Such were the feelings and expressions. Even Colonel Lane, the distinguished ex-Congressman of Indiana, who is now one of our citizens, advised their being sent back. No, gentlemen, they never go back, and if they go into the Kansas, we go with them, and we don't go alone.

Having the guns it was necessary to organize a force to use them. A secret order was formed at Lawrence which was variously called, "Defenders," "Regulators" and "Danites." There was a secret ritual for the initiation and observance of members. Dr. Robinson says that a California bully, named Dave Evans, possibly an old Sacramento friend, was employed to use fist and revolver on the Missourians.3

On the 4th of July, 1856, Dr. Robinson delivered an address at Lawrence. The following quotations from that address would seem to make it clear that he was of the opinion that it would be necessary to soon use force in the conflict then developing with the Missourians.

Should we fail to speak in utter detestation of slavery, and to hurl defiance at the monster on this anniversary of freedom's natal day, especially when the tyrant has already placed his foot upon our own necks, why, the very stones would cry out.

Fellow-citizens, let us for a moment inquire who, and where, and what are we?

Who are we? Are we not free-born? Were not our mothers, as well as our fathers, of Anglo-Saxon blood? Was not the right to govern ourselves, to choose our own rulers, to make our own laws, guaranteed to us by the united voice of the United States?

Where are we? Are we not in the most beautiful country that human eye ever beheld? Is it not, for surface, soil, and productions, worthy to be styled the garden of the world? A wilderness, yet already budding and blossoming like the rose? A new country, yet having the appearance in its diversity of meadow and woodland, hill and dale, of a land long inhabited, and most beautifully and tastefully laid out into parks and groves? With a mild and salubrious climate, a dry, pure atmosphere, must it not soon become the resort of the invalid from the consumptive East and the ends of the earth?

Our situation, geographically, is in the center of this Republic, at the half-way station between the Atlantic and Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico and the British possessions. The "Father of Waters" extends to us his great right arm, and proffers the commerce of the world and a market for all our productions; and the line of steam and telegraphic communication that is soon to encircle the globe will, of course, pass directly through this Territory, thus bringing to our very doors the commerce of China and the Indies.

What are we? Subjects, slaves of Missouri. We come to the celebration of this anniversary, with our chains clanking about our limbs; we lift to Heaven our manacled arms in supplication; proscribed, outlawed, denounced, we cannot so much as speak the name of Liberty except with prison walls and halters looking us in the face. We must not only see black slavery, the blight and curse of any people, planted in our midst, and against our wishes, but we must become slaves ourselves.

In the light of what had occurred in the Territory, anticipation of future trouble was justified. While a different course a year before would have avoided trouble, it was too late, in the summer of 1855, to remedy that primal error. Trouble was inevitable, now. Robinson saw the truth, and was right in preparing to resist by force the aggressions and outrages of the Pro-Slavery Missourians then operating in Kansas. It was certain that their outrages would increase in frequency and ferocity. Robinson was condemned for his preparedness, but there was sound reason and sound sense in his action. If the Free-State men had stood aloof and had not taken sides with Governor Reeder, serious trouble might have been avoided in Kansas, but it is not probable that it would have been. And it was but natural that the pioneers opposed to slavery should be pleased with the Governor's attitude and do what they could to sustain it. Force did not win the victory for freedom in Kansas ultimately, but it did aid much - it held back the Missourians until the anti-slavery settlers from the Ohio Valley had arrived in sufficent numbers to wrest the Territorial Government from the Missourians at the polls.

The charge that the actions of the Free-State men in Kansas were revolutionary, matters little. They were revolutionary - in fact they became insurrectionary, justifiably so. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise was dangerously near a revolutionary proceeding, as was the organization of promoted emigration for Kansas. But the settlers in favor of a free State had had little part in determining those matters. They stood defenseless on the Kansas plains, their lives in jeopardy. For them it was no theory, but a condition they were not responsible for. To prepare to defend their cabin homes was the beginning of wisdom.


1 For Deitzler's statement describing how he was sent to Boston for these guns and how he brought them to Kansas, see his letter to James S. Emery in the Kansas Memorial, page 184. See also the same work for the bill for said Sharps' rifles sent to Thomas H. Webb, Secretary of of[sic] New England Emigrant Aid Company. Eli Thayer crossed himself in his testimony on this matter before the committee sent out to investigate the trouble in Kansas. See his testimony at page 884, Reports of the Special Committee on the Troubles in Kansas. He said:

"The company furnished these emigrants with no articles of personal property, and never, directly or indirectly, furnished them with any arms or munitions of war of any kind, and never invested a dollar for any such purpose."

2 For correspondence covering the transactions of Mr. Abbott and Mr. Lawrence, see the Kansas Conflict by Charles Robinson, pages 124, 125. 126.

3 The account given by Dr. Robinson at page 129, The Kansas Conflict, of the effect of these rifles and the employment of the bully is as follows:

"Notwithstanding the wholesome influence of the Sharp's rifles, petty annoyances were continued by the pro-slavery men whenever the advantage of an encounter was on their side. Two or more in company would pounce upon a Free-State man when unarmed and alone, and do more or less bodily harm. To put an end to this, a secret organization was effected of men pledged to stand by each other under all circumstances, and to see that these assailants were properly cared for. Also a California bully was engaged, and paid by the month to devote his time to the business in hand. This policy proved to be most successful. The name of this man was Dave Evans, and his only instructions were to act on the defensive with his fists and revolver, while with his tongue he might take the offensive according to the merits of each case. While from first to last it was the policy of the Free-State men to do no wrong, and commit no crime, self-defense was always in order. This the pro-slavery men could not understand. Because of the discreet conduct of Free-State men they were at first thought to be cowardly, but by degrees their opponents opened their eyes to the situation."

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998.

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