Quindaro Settlement (founded 1854) A gateway to freedom. When Kansas Territory was opened for settlement in 1854, a number of towns sprang up along the Missouri and Kansas Rivers. Some settlements were predominantly proslavery, including Leavenworth, Lecompton, and Atchison, and others were Free-Soil, such as Lawrence, Topeka, and Quindaro. These towns competed with one another to draw people and business to their growing communities and when the struggle to claim Kansas was over, some towns remained and prospered while others crumbled and faded away. The town of Quindaro was among the latter; however, it would not fade away until leaving its mark on the Missouri-Kansas border war and laying the foundation for an African American community that would build and support one of America’s first all-black colleges.
The land for Quindaro was purchased from the Wyandotte Indians and the name Quindaro in Wyandotte Indian Language means “bundle of sticks,” and the town’s founders interpreted this as a metaphor for strength in numbers, united against the proslavery forces in Kansas Territory.
The town thrived initially and quickly grew to have 600 residents; a newspaper; a four-story, 45-room hotel; a brewery; two churches; dry good stores; the largest sawmill in Kansas; and a lumberyard. During the peak traveling season, as many as 36 steamboats per week made portage at the Quindaro landing.
The town’s newspaper, the Quindaro Chindowan, co-edited by abolitionist and suffragist Clarina Nichols, expressed antislavery sentiments and gave the town a reputation as a hotbed of abolitionists and as a station on the Underground Railroad.
Helping slaves escape was a federal crime, and because of the secret nature of the Underground Railroad there is a paucity of written evidence for Quindaro’s role in helping slaves escape from Missouri. In her memoirs, however, Clarina Nichols recounted the town’s role in a few tales of what she described as “emancipation without proclamation.” Oral histories and local lore further support the contention that Quindaro was a way station on the Underground Railroad.
Quindaro had an antebellum free African-American community, and some residents of the town, local farmers, and the Wyandotte Indians networked to help slaves escape into Kansas. At times, they confronted slave catchers directly and refused to cooperate in returning runaways to their owners.
Quindaro’s dramatic two-year growth spurt came to a halt when the economic depression of the Panic of 1857 began to ripple through the regional economy. By 1858, the struggle to possess Kansas for the Free-State cause was over, and Quindaro began to decline. The Civil War drew many residents away and the town continued to decline until the winter of 1862, when the state legislature revoked the city’s charter and the 9th Kansas Volunteers, using the town as an outpost, dismantled and burned many of the abandoned buildings for firewood.
In 1862, even before the war was over, Presbyterian Reverend Eben Blachly and his wife, Jane, began educating free Blacks and escaped slaves in Quindaro. After the war they continued operating one of the first high schools for young Black men. With support from the state of Kansas, the community, and the A.M.E. Church (African Methodist Episcopalian), a group of men chartered the Quindaro Freedmen’s School on the bluffs above the old Quindaro townsite. (See Black History Facts day 10 for more details about the Quindaro Freedmen’s School/Western College.)
After the close of the school/college in 1944, the Quindaro townsite continued to decline. By the 1950s, only the remains of a few of the original structures could still be seen. The old town was all but forgotten until the 1980s when a proposed sanitary landfill threatened to destroy the site. Descendants of the community, archeologists, and historians organized to halt the landfill, and portions of the Quindaro townsite were finally placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
In 1911, as an indication of their gratitude for his sacrifice, and as a symbol of their faith in education as a means toward progress for African Americans, the citizens of the community and college erected a statue of abolitionist John Brown holding a graduation diploma in his right hand. Today, the John Brown statue still stands in a memorial plaza and there is a public overlook from which one can view the archeological park and ruins of the old Quindaro town.
Want to learn more about the history of Quindaro, stop by the Old Quindaro Museum at 2429 N. 29th St., in Kansas City, KS.
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Kansas Black History Facts are compiled for The Community Voice by Donna Rae Pearson.