Bleeding Kansas Timeline


1856 map showing slave states in gray, free states in pink, U.S. territories in green, and Kansas in white.

1856 map showing slave states in gray, free states in pink, U.S. territories in green, and Kansas in white.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 instituted a policy known as popular sovereignty in the Kansas Territory, allowing the settlers to decide by vote whether the territory would be admitted to the Union as a slave or free state. Activists from each side flooded the territory in an attempt to influence the outcome, leading to violent, often deadly, clashes that foreshadowed the Civil War to come.

May 30, 1854 – The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed and signed by President Franklin Pierce, and Kansas Territory was organized and opened up for settlement. Its boundary included eastern Colorado, west to the Continental Divide. The purpose of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was to open the country to transcontinental railways. The Act was responsible for causing the label “Bleeding Kansas.” The incorporation of popular sovereignty made the territory’s residents responsible for the question of slavery in their own backyard. The proximity of Kansas to slave-owning Missouri and the lack of any natural border between the two regions prompted an influx of pro-slavery individuals into the new territory when it opened up for settlement.

Summer 1854 – Eli Thayer of Worcester, Massachusetts, founds the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society to promote the settlement of anti-slavery groups in Kansas with the ultimate objective of making it a Free-State. This company helped to found Lawrence, Kansas which was named for Amos A. Lawrence, a promoter of the Emigrant Aid Society.

August 1, 1854 – Twenty-nine northern emigrants mostly from Massachusetts and Vermont are the first to arrive in Lawrence, Kansas. A second party of 200 men, women and children arrive in September.

Kansas Voting

Kansas Voting

November 29, 1854 – First election held in Kansas. Pro-slavery Missourians flooded the state to vote, where armed pro-slavery advocates intimidated voters and stuffed ballot boxes. Andrew H. Reeder was elected as the first territorial governor of Kansas.

March 1855 – Territorial Legislature election held where again pro-slavery Missourians flooded the state. After winning the territorial legislature, the proslavery officials ousted all Free-State members, secured the removal of Governor Andrew Reeder, adopted pro-slavery statutes. and began to hold their sessions in Lecompton, Kansas about 12 miles from Lawrence.

July 1855 – The first territorial Capitol of Kansas was completed of native stone at Pawnee on the Fort Riley reservation. However, it was only used for four days, before the Missourians in control voted to move the capital to a site closer to the Missouri border.

July 16, 1855 – The pro-slavery capital was moved to the Shawnee Methodist Mission in what is now Fairway, Kansas.

October 1855 – In retaliation of the illegal first territorial legislature, the abolitionists set up a rival government at Topeka and a Free-State constitution was framed in Topeka. However, it did not receive serious consideration in Congress.

John Brown, 1850s

John Brown, 1850s

October 7, 1855 – Abolitionist John Brown arrives in the Osawatomie, Kansas area to join his 5 sons who had become engaged in the fight of the Free-State cause. He stays in the log cabin home of the Reverend Samuel and Florella Adair, his half-sister.

December 1, 1855 – A small army of Missourians, acting under the command of “Sheriff” Jones, laid siege to Lawrence in the opening stages of what would later become known as “The Wakarusa War.” The intervention of the new governor, Wilson Shannon, kept the proslavery men from attacking Lawrence.

1856 – The proslavery territorial capitol was “officially” moved to Lecompton, a town only 12 miles from Lawrence.

April 1856 – A three-man federal congressional investigating committee arrived in Lecompton to look into the Kansas troubles. The majority report of the committee found the elections to be fraudulent, stating that the Free-State government represented the will of the majority. However, the federal government refused to follow its recommendations and continued to recognize the proslavery legislature as the legitimate government of Kansas.

The Sacking of Lawrence, Kansas

The Sacking of Lawrence, Kansas

May 21, 1856 – The Sacking of Lawrence – A motley group of some 700 armed pro-slavery enthusiasts raided Lawrence, the stronghold of the abolitionist movement. They destroyed the Free-State Hotel (now the Eldridge Hotel), smashed the presses of two Lawrence newspapers, and killed one man.

May 22, 1856 – After making a fiery speech called “The Crime Against Kansas” in the United States Congress, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner was beaten unconscious by Preston Brooks, a congressman from South Carolina.

May 24, 1856 – In retaliation for the Lawrence raid, a band led by the abolitionist crusader John Brown murdered five innocent pro-slavery men in the Pottawatomie Massacre.

June 2, 1856 – Battle of Black Jack – Anti-slavery forces, led by the noted abolitionist John Brown, attacked the encampment of Henry C. Pate near Baldwin City, Kansas.

June 4-5, 1856 – Battle of Franklin, near Lawrence. Under direct orders from President Franklin Pierce, Edwin Vose Sumner leads 200 infantrymen into Topeka, Kansas, unlimbered his artillery and informs the Free-Staters they may not hold a convention.

August 1856 – The town of Osawatomie is attacked by 400 pro-slavery Missourians. John Brown, along with 40 other men defended the town, but in the end, all but four homes at the settlement were burned by the invaders and John Brown’s son Frederick was killed. Four wagon loads of dead and wounded were brought into Boonville, Missouri when the invading army returned.

Fort Titus, Lecompton, Kansas today by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

Fort Titus, Lecompton, Kansas today by Kathy Weiser-Alexander

August 16, 1856 – The Battle of Fort Titus occurred at Lecompton, Kansas when about 400 free-staters under the command of Samuel Walker attacked Fort Titus.

August 30, 1856 – Battle of Osawatomie – John Brown leads a raid on proslavery sympathizers in a small Kansas settlement on the Pottawatomie Creek. It is the first battle over slavery in the U.S. Five men are killed. The division in the Kansas territory over slavery leads to much violence in “Bleeding Kansas”.

September 16, 1856 – The Battle of Hickory Point occurred when James H. Lane led a force of Jayhawkers against Hickory Point, a proslavery settlement in Jefferson County, Kansas

1857 – Men in favor of slavery meet in Lecompton to hammer out a constitution, a necessary prerequisite for statehood. The group’s views are not representative of the populace in Kansas, and the words of the Lecompton Constitution will cause additional bloodshed and compound the growing frustration leading to the Civil War.  Former Ohio schoolteacher, William Clarke Quantrill, moves to Kansas. He hones his violent nature by living with thieves, murderers, and brigands, and commits several brutal murders.

1858 – Captain Nathaniel Lyon takes command of a detachment of soldiers at Fort Scott to restore law and order during the chaos of “Bleeding Kansas.” Despite the dubious validity of the Lecompton Constitution, President James Buchanan recommended that Congress accept it and approve statehood for the territory. Instead, Congress returned it for another territorial vote, moving the nation closer to war.