Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Albert Dwight Searl: A Free-State Surveyor in Bloody Kansas

August 13th, 2019

In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act opened the Kansas Territory for settlement, destined to become a free or a slave state by popular vote. Conflict between settlers from slave-holding Missouri and anti-slavery New England inspired the nickname “Bleeding Kansas.” Although a free-state Kansas constitution was adopted in 1861, the Civil War prolonged the strife until 1865.

Among the first Kansas settlers were land surveyors needed to lay out land claims and towns. Albert Dwight Searl (1831-1902), a civil engineer from Massachusetts, reached the Lawrence town site in September 1854 with the second group of settlers.

The first group had arrived a month earlier and roughly laid out land claims. As one settler wrote: “After pacing off a half mile square, we drive down a stake at each of the four corners; on one of the stakes we write: I claim 160 acres of the lands within the aforesaid bounds, from the date of claim. This is then copied and taken to the register and recorded.” After Searl arrived they pooled their already staked claims, and he began “to survey farm lots in number equal to the claimants in both parties.” When Searl and an assistant surveyed the Lawrence town site in September, the tall prairie “grass wore out their pants to the knees till they had to cover them with flour sacks for protection.” Searl “established the meridian line …by setting a row of lights up and down Massachusetts Street in the evening and running a line by the North Star.”

Picture of the 1854 Searl Map of Lawrence housed in the Spencer Research Library Lobby

Searl’s plan of Lawrence arrived from the Boston lithographic printer in January 1855. “Map of Lawrence City, Kanzas, Surveyed in Oct. 1854 by A. D. Searl,” which is on display in the Spencer Research Library lobby. Click image to enlarge.
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An 1869 bird’s eye view shows Lawrence expanding to fill the grid laid out by Searl. University of Kansas, Spencer Research Library call #: RH Map R140

An 1869 bird’s eye view shows Lawrence expanding to fill the grid laid out by Searl.
Ruger, A. Bird’s eye view of the city of Lawrence, Kansas 1869[Place of publication
not identified: Publisher not identified, 1869]. Call Number: RH Map R140. Click image to enlarge.

He also laid out Topeka, Osawatomie, Palmyra and Prairie City. An 1855 newspaper article said, “Mr. Searl … seems to us well qualified for getting up a complete map of Kansas, and we hope he well [sic] be induced to prepare one immediately after the completion of the surveys.” Soon the Territorial Legislature hired Searl to undertake the map project with a partner, Edmund Burke Whitman. They spent a year traveling the Kansas Territory. In April 1856 the local newspaper praised their draft map for including “all rivers and creeks, with their names, main-travelled roads to the various sections, post offices, towns, trading posts, forts, mission stations, Indian reserves, noted mounds, guide meridians, base and township lines.” In May 1856, before the map was published, pro-slavery raiders attacked Lawrence and burned down the Eldridge Hotel, the Free-State headquarters. The views on Searl and Whitman’s 1856 map of Kansas show the Eldridge Hotel newly built in April and as burned ruins after the May raid.

Searl described damage to his own nearby office: “I had among my papers notes of surveys of different parts of the Territory; … I also had notes of the surveys of Lawrence and Topeka … The transit instrument was injured, the axis of the telescope was bent, and the screw that secures the axis to the upright pieces that support the telescope was broken and rendered the instrument unfit for use; … The door of the office was broken open, some window lights broken, two chairs injured; the drawing table besmeared with whisky and sugar, and the house dirtied up by oyster cans, &c.”

Undeterred, Whitman and Searl opened their Emigrant’s Intelligence Office in Lawrence in May 1856. As general land agents they offered to help clients seeking land in Kansas. According to their prospectus, Searl, who had laid out the city of Lawrence, could “trace back all the lots to their original holders, and show the valid titles.” They were also “prepared to lay out town sites and to survey farm claims, – to negotiate the sale and transfer of town property generally, – to investigate the validity of titles, – to superintend the erection of buildings, and to act as Agents for the care of property owned by non-residents.” The partnership was brief, though, and Burke left Kansas in 1858.

However, Searl, his wife and two children remained in Lawrence. In November 1855 he joined a Free-State Army unit, the Kansas Rifles No.1. Short in stature like most of its members, Searl proposed renaming it the Stubbs. The Stubbs saw much action during 1856. In 1861 Searl joined the 8th Kansas Volunteers as a private, later transferring to the 9th Kansas Cavalry and mustering out as a captain in 1865.

From 1866 to 1871 he supervised the construction of a railroad line from Pleasant Hill in northern Missouri to Lawrence, Kansas.

In 1868 Searl and William Fletcher Goodhue, a younger civil engineer also employed in Kansas railroad construction, undertook a detailed map of Lawrence. A newspaper article said the map would measure 4’4” x 5’10” and cover “three miles square, or nine miles of the country in and about Lawrence.” The margins would include 25 to 30 representations of public buildings, businesses, and the better class of private dwellings. Holland Wheeler, then Lawrence City Surveyor, saw and approved a draft. Goodhue was supposed to oversee the lithographic printing, but errors in numbering city lots occurred when copying the map at the printer. Searl rejected the printed maps sent to Lawrence in August 1870. The defective maps were turned over to a local bookseller. Attempts to use the map in land transactions attracted severe criticism of its errors. Wheeler, Searl, and Goodhue responded in print, defending their work and laying the blame on the printer.

In 1866 Searl and Almerin Tryon Winchell, former manager of the Eldridge House Saloon, became partners in a Lawrence billiard parlor and saloon. Still advertising in 1871, they had ceased business by 1875.

From 1874 to 1875 railroad work took Searl to Ohio. By 1877 he was surveying the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in Colorado. He also undertook Colorado mining ventures. An 1878 visitor commented that the “indefatigable A.D. Searl… and his lop-eared pony have traveled nearly one thousand miles since he came out. … He looks as tough as rubber.”

However, Searl’s family remained in Lawrence, and he returned often. During one visit in July 1881, friends surprised Searl at his Lawrence home to celebrate his 50th birthday. In 1883 his daughter was married in Lawrence, but by 1890 Searl and wife were living in Leadville, Colorado with their children and grandchildren. When Searl died there in 1902, though, his final wish was for burial in Lawrence.

Karen S. Cook
Special Collections Librarian

To learn more and consult citations, please see Karen’s longer article on the subject:

Cook, Karen S. “Partisan Cartographers During the Kansas-Missouri Border War, 1854–1861” in: Liebenberg E., Demhardt I., Vervust S. (eds) History of Military Cartography. Lecture Notes in Geoinformation and Cartography. Springer, Cham. 2016. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-25244-5_14

Happy Birthday, John Brown

May 8th, 2019

Spencer Research Library holds three letters written by American abolitionist John Brown, who was born in Connecticut on May 9, 1800. Brown was raised in a deeply religious family, and his father taught him that slavery was a great sin. This conviction was so ingrained in Brown that he worked his entire life to end it. “Though a white gentleman,” Frederick Douglass said, Brown “is in sympathy, a black man, and as deeply interested in our cause, as though his own soul had been pierced with the iron of slavery.” Eventually, Brown came to believe that the only way to rid the United States of slavery was through violence. He played a large role in the chaos that reigned in Kansas during the late 1850s.

Image of a letter from John Brown to Orson Day, February 21, 1856

Letter from John Brown to his brother-in-law Orson Day, February 21, 1856.
John Brown Letters. Call Number: RH VLT MS P2. Click image to enlarge.

John Brown wrote the first letter in Spencer’s collections approximately four months after he arrived in Kansas in October 1855. He joined his five sons and his brother-in-law, Samuel Adair. Brown’s eldest son, John Brown, Jr., had moved to Kansas in the summer of 1854, after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He named his settlement Brown’s Station, and, like his father, was heavily involved in the abolition cause.

Osawatomie, K T [Kansas Territory], 21st Feby, 1856

Orson Day Esqr [Esquire]
White Hall
NY

Dear Sir

Yours of the 17th Jany is at last received. Deep Snow drifts have prevented the arrival of the Mail several times of late. We shall endeavour to be ready for you by the first of April; & I think you need not hesitate about starting with a view to reach by that time. Such has been the state of the weather; that we could not well undertake to set a time for you before. I know of no further hints to give you; than those which I & my Son John Jr have previously sent you. There should be a regular Mail Waggon to leave Westport every Monday Morning but it sometimes fails. Westport is Three or Four Miles from Kansas City. This route is direct to this place; & is much the most convenient. It is 35 Miles from Browns Station, to Lawrence; & no regular carriage conveyance. When you get here; inquire for Mr Adair who will receive you as a friend. He is a half Brother in Law of mine; & a Missionary to Kansas. We are about 60 Miles from Kansas City; which is near the Missouri line. I think that Free State people who go quietly along their way will not now meet with any difficulty in Missouri. I have been a number of times of late into the State; & though I always (when asked) frankly avow myself a Free State man; have met with no trouble. I would advise to frankness; & quietness. The Contractors on the route from here to Westport are good Free State men; & Friends. Can think of no more to say now.

Respectfully Your Friend
John Brown

Image of a letter from John Brown to his children, August 11, 1856

Image of a letter from John Brown to his children, August 11, 1856

Letter from John Brown to his children, August 11, 1856. John Brown
Letters. Call Number: RH VLT MS P2. Click images to enlarge.

The second letter in Spencer’s collections illustrates Brown’s single-minded focus on destroying slavery and his increasing militancy. Much had occurred in the six months since the first letter. On May 22, 1856, South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks severely beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of the U.S. Senate, responding to Sumner’s “Crime Against Kansas” speech days earlier. When he heard of this, Brown said that “we must fight fire with fire. Something must be done to show these barbarians that we, too, have rights.” On the same day, Lawrence, Kansas, a free-state headquarters, was raided and sacked by Missouri pro-slavery men. Two days later, on May 24th, Brown – with four of his sons and three others – directed the brutal murder of five pro-slavery settlers in a settlement near Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas. On June 2nd, Brown and his men defeated a larger pro-slavery force at the Battle of Black Jack, Kansas.

Topeka, Kansas Ter[ritory], 11th Aug 1856

Dear Children every One

We all reached Nebraska (near Iowa line) well or much improved. I there left the company to return back with the long looked for L [Lawrence] emigrants. Left the train all safe yesterday at day light. Got in here last night. May be on hand for a good while; & may go off in another half hour. Have made by particular request of those who have charge of the contributed Eastern funds a statement of the suffering of yourselves, & brothers; which I have no doubt will receive attention; & that some part of your losses will [be] made up to you. At all events let none of you be disheartened for God still lives; & “blessed be his great & holy name.” The boys may go on soon for the East; & may hold on for me to join them. Say to Mr. Day that I have never had the most distant thought of wronging him to One Cent; & that so soon as force of circumstances will allow me to take up his matters I shall do so; & have them made right on my part at least. If he or his wife think; that I have had no responsibilities resting on me that call for my attentention before I should make up with their account & have a full settlement; I must differ with them on that point as I came on a particular business to the territory; & I supposed they understood that fully when they requested my assistance in their business. I feel that I have done all in the discharge of my duty to them that they could have any right to have expected untill I am further relieved for other cares. I trust they will be inclined to do right by Henry. I send you a kind of order on my friend Jones. If you or John ever get any thing on that account I wish you to divide it between you equally. Have heard no word from home since in June. Found one of henrys brothers amongst the emigrants; but only saw him for a few moments. Have received a little assistance within Three or Four days past. May possi[bly] be out to see you very soon. Shall write you when I can. May God for Christs sake abundantly bless & finally save you all.

Your Affectionate Father
John Brown

Image of a letter from John Brown to his daughter Ellen, May 13, 1859

Letter (photocopy) from John Brown to his youngest child, five-year-old Ellen,
May 13, 1859. John Brown Letters. Call Number: RH VLT MS P2. Click image to enlarge.

John Brown wrote the third letter in Spencer’s collections six weeks before he left for Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, with the intention of seizing the federal armory and starting a slave uprising. Brown, with twenty-one men, led his attack on October 16, 1859. After two days, U.S. marines stormed the building, capturing Brown and six of his men. Ten men, including two of his sons, were killed. Brown himself was wounded.

Boston, Mass. 13th May, 1859.

My Dear Daughter Ellen

I will send you short letter.

I want very much to have you grow good every day; to have you learn to mind your Mother very quick; & sit very still at the table; & to mind what all older persons say to you; that is right. I hope to see you soon again; & if I should bring some little thing that will please you; it would not be very strange. I want you to be uncommon good natured. God bless you my child.

Your Affectionate Father
John Brown

Convicted of treason, multiple first-degree murders, and inciting insurrection, Brown was hung on December 2, 1859. His last words, written shortly before his execution, prophesized the coming Civil War: “I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done.” On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter.

Kathy Lafferty
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