The Time New England Colonized Kansas


In 1854, one ill-advised bill turned the Great Plains into a war zone.

To understand why, we’ll need to wind back the clock. Thirty-four years earlier, America’s government  had decided that—with the exception of what’s now Missouri—slavery wouldn’t be allowed in the Louisiana Territory above the 36° 30’ latitude line. But everything changed when Congress voted in favor of the divisive Kansas-Nebraska Act, which enabled territories to decide for themselves if they’d legalize slavery upon entering the Union as states. This meant that slave states might soon outnumber free ones. So, in order to tip the scales, citizens of all stripes started getting mobilized—and fast.

On the pro-slavery front, activists called “Border Ruffians” crossed into Kansas by the hundreds. This group’s voting presence would theoretically ensure that America’s peculiar institution carried the day there. “If Kansas is not made a slave state,” declared a sympathetic magazine, “it requires no sage to foretell that there will never be another slave state.”

Meanwhile, their opponents were also busily moving in. Enter Eli Thayer of Massachusetts. A politician/businessman, Thayer had vocally opposed slavery while serving in Congress.  Naturally, the idea of a Kansas overrun by its practitioners appalled him. But Thayer lived and worked over 1600 miles away. What could he possibly do? 


Thayer soon convinced the Bay State’s House of Representatives to grant a special charter for the creation of what eventually became known as the New England Emigrant Aid Company. Headquartered in Boston, this organization offered financial aid to help anti-slavery northeasterners pack up and begin new lives in Kansas. Those who purchased tickets from the NEEAC would see a 15 to 25 percent reduction in travel costs. Upon arriving, newly-built hotels and sawmills would be waiting for them.

Effective advertising was among the initiative’s strongest assets. Skip ahead to 1:45 in this video, and you’ll hear the winner of an 1855 NEEAC poem-writing contest—“A Call to Kansas” by Lucy Larcom: 

On June 29, 1854—less than a month after the Kansas-Nebraska act passed—the first wave of transplants arrived in Kansas City, Missouri. After entering Kansas proper, they established the picturesque city of Lawrence, named in honor of NEEAC treasurer Amos A. Lawrence. New Kansans relocated by the company would also help found Topeka, Manhattan, and Osawatomie. Come July 1855, more than 1500 ex-New Englanders had taken residence there. 

As you might expect, Border Ruffians didn’t take kindly to these Yankees. Lawrence was famously besieged by pro-slavery forces in 1856, a raid that destroyed two printing establishments and an NEEAC-operated hotel.  So-called “Bleeding Kansas” grew so thoroughly divided that both sides wound up establishing their own, competing governments—the abolitionists operated from Topeka whilst their rivals set up shop in Pawnee.

After many dark years marred by confusion, sectionalism, and guerilla warfare, Kansas was finally admitted to the Union on January 29, 1861. Thanks in no small part to Thayer and the NEEAC, she came in as a free state.  

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6 Amazing Facts About Sally Ride

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are six things you might not know about the groundbreaking astronaut, who was born on May 26, 1951.

1. Sally Ride proved there is such thing as a stupid question.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. Had she taken Billie Jean King's advice, Sally Ride might have been a professional tennis player.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. Home economics was not Sally Ride's best subject.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. Sally Ride had a strong tie to the Challenger.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. Sally Ride had no interest in cashing in on her worldwide fame.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

6. Sally Ride was the first openly LGBTQ astronaut.

Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61, following a long (and very private) battle with pancreatic cancer. While Ride's brief marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley was widely known to the public (they were married from 1982 to 1987), it wasn't until her death that Ride's longtime relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy—a childhood friend and science writer—was made public. Which meant that even in death, Ride was still changing the world, as she is the world's first openly LGBTQ astronaut.