Pioneer days in Kansas

Chapter 4

Early Days in Plymouth Church

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PLYMOUTH CHURCH, Lawrence, was the first church of any name formed in Kansas, except among Indians. As soon as the settlement commenced, the American Home Missionary Society commissioned Rev. Samuel Y. Lum, of Middletown, New York, to labor in Kansas. He arrived in Lawrence the last of September, 1854. He came about the same time as the second party of Boston immigrants. His first service was held the first day of October. There had been religious services before this, but they had been conducted by laymen, and consisted of devotional exercises and the reading of a sermon. Mr. Lum had been pastor of the church in Middletown, New. York, where he had a delightful parish, and where he was very highly esteemed. His wife was the daughter of a New York merchant, whose home was in one of the beautiful New Jersey suburbs. She had never known anything of the trials and roughness of


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pioneer life. But they were enthusiastic over the idea of Free Kansas. He was the first minister on the ground, preached the first sermon, organized the first church, and built the first dwelling-house in Lawrence. The house was roofed and sided with "shakes," a sort of board split from logs each board about four inches wide and about two feet and a half long. The house was well ventilated, but was not blizzard-proof. A blanket of snow on the bed, and a carpet of snow on the floor, were no unusual greeting in the morning as they arose. They wore their winter wraps while cooking over a red-hot stove, and water often froze on their clothing while their faces tingled with the heat of the fire. But it was "like priest like people." They all fared alike and there was no murmuring. The discomforts of pioneer life were borne with fortitude. In the troubles of 1855 and 1856, Mr. Lum took his place with the rest in the defense of the town, bearing his portion of the burden and the loss. His horses were stolen by the border ruffians; and once he was threatened with personal violence, but was finally released without harm.

The first services were held in what was called


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the "Pioneer Boarding House." This was a sort of hay tent. It was built by setting up two rows of poles about twenty feet apart, the rows inclining toward each other, and coming together at the top. The sides were thatched with prairie hay. The ends were filled up with sod after the manner of a sod house. The door was at the end, through the wall of sod. This gave a room some fifty feet long and twenty feet wide. The ends were all gable and the sides were all roof. This served as the principal hotel of the town. On Sunday it was put in order for religious services. Three trunks set one on the other served as a pulpit, and the congregation seated themselves on the beds and boxes and baggage of the boarders. There was always a good congregation, as everybody attended church.

The forming of a church was one of the things talked of from the first - even before the coming of Mr. Lum. They all wanted a church - some because they loved the church, and some because a church was the proper thing.

October 15th a meeting was held to form a church. It was not large, but it was harmonious. Mr. O. A. Hanscom was a member of the Mount


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Vernon Church, Boston, and had with him a copy of the manual of that church. This was used as a guide in drawing up the rules and covenant for the new church. The brethren gathered in a group near the center of the room. Samuel C. Pomeroy, afterward United States Senator, acted as scribe, and wrote on the crown of his beaver hat. Joseph Savage held the candle as Mr. Pomeroy wrote, and O. A. Hanscom held the inkstand. When it came to the question, What shall we call it? "Plymouth Church" was the unanimous response. They said their circumstances and their purposes corresponded with those of the Plymouth pilgrims. There were ten original members of the church, though probably twice that number participated in the meeting. The others, not yet having their letters, united at a later date. Of these members Mr. Lum says in The Home Missionary: "Those who have as yet united in our church movement are, for the most part, prominent members of New England churches. They are men who have been influenced to come here, not by the desire for wealth, but to plant the standard of the cross, and to secure all of its attendant blessings. Our ordinary congregations


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number about a hundred. It has been over this at times."

As soon as they had a church, they wanted a Sunday-school. One difficulty confronted them at the outset. There were no children. But this they did not consider material. The people remained after the service for Bible study, and so kept up the old memories. The first Sunday in January, 1855, a Sunday-school was regularly organized by Mr. S. N. Simpson, who was chosen the first superintendent of the first Sunday-school in Kansas. Some families had now arrived and there were a few children. The school met in a little building on Massachusetts Street, twelve by fourteen. It was a frame building, boarded up and down, and intended for battens, but the battens had been omitted, and the cracks supplied their place. Twenty or thirty scholars met here every Sunday. Later on, as the troubles increased, it was not easy to maintain either Sabbath-school or Sabbath worship. During the following year the people were subject to constant alarms, and the school was not held regularly, but called together from Sabbath to Sabbath. If on Sabbath morning the danger was not too


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pressing, a bright boy would run round and notify the children that "there would be Sunday school that day." The children were always ready, waiting for the call, and would come from all quarters. When the exercises were over they would disperse and wait for another call. They all became so accustomed to this state of things that any Sunday they could get the school together in an hour. The citizen soldiers would come in, hang up their rifles, and sit down to study the word of God.

During the years 1855-6 there were turbulent times. The whole country was in a ferment all that summer. Bands of ruffians were passing here and there constantly. Murders were frequent on the highways, and there was a general state of unrest and insecurity. The public services of the church were often interrupted by a call for the men to rally against some threatened attack. At other times, only the women and children met, the men being away on duty. Of this period the pastor writes : "All the public buildings are turned into barracks, the preaching hall with the rest, and nothing is thought of but the best means of defense."

During this time Plymouth Church was liter-


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ally a "church militant." The men were in the "army" and the women at home prepared ammunition and supplies. Often the men were out on duty all day Sunday, and at other times they were called out from service to rally for defense.

During this time the church was planning for a building. In the autumn and winter of 1855, Mr. Lum, and after him, Mr. S. N. Simpson, visited Eastern churches to ask aid in erecting a suitable house of worship. They met with a very liberal response, but also had some unique experiences. Nearly 4,000 were secured from first to last. Amos A. Lawrence of Boston, an Episcopalian, after whom the town was named, gave $1,000, and was among the first to give encouragement. The rest was from all over New England, and from New York and Brooklyn.

As usual the committee began to build a church which would cost double the money they had in hand. The result was that the money was gone before the house was anywhere near completion.

In the spring of 1857, Mr. Lum resigned on account of ill health, and the church was vacant for several months. In December of the same


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year the writer of this came to Lawrence and became pastor of the church. I arrived Wednesday, December 2, 1857.

Plymouth Church was then three years old, and had about twenty- two resident members. They had begun to build a house of worship. It was of stone, substantial and well built, and of good size. They had enclosed the building and laid the floor, and then had been compelled to stop for want of funds. In fact the funds had been exhausted some time before, and they had borrowed nearly $2,000. The windows had been put in without casings, the walls and ceilings were without plaster, and the doorway was boarded up with rough boards, one board being left to swing for an entrance. The winter winds used to laugh at these loose boards, and run in through the cracks, and cool the ardor of the congregation. The roof was said to be a good one, but in spite of this the snow would sift through and powder our heads as we worshiped. The seats were rough benches, and along the sides by the wall a row of seats had been made by placing boards on nail kegs and boxes. The pulpit platform was simply a pile of rough lumber which was forever threatening to


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tip over and spill the preacher out. It required careful balancing to keep one's poise on such a foundation. If the speaker had once forgotten the ground he was on, there is no knowing what might have happened. The rough limestone; walls without plaster, the uncased windows and the open joists overhead gave abundant ventilation, but not much comfort. The winter winds found all the openings, and it was a dismal place on a cold day. Two large stoves doing their best made little headway against the cold winds of a winter morning. On cold days the congregation would gather around the stove and the pulpit was moved down to them. The expenses of the church were not large. A good portion of my salary was paid by the Home Missionary Society. The fuel was partly donated by persons having woodlands. The sexton's work was done by members of the congregation in rotation - a rotation that did not always rotate.

The church, however, was as good as the houses the people lived in, and nobody complained of it, or absented themselves on account of it. The congregations were good and very inspiring. It was a wide-awake lot of people that found their way to Kansas at that time, and


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though they were as wide awake in church as anywhere else. In that congregation, at different times, there were young men who have since made their mark on the state and nation. Lawrence was then the political and social center of the territory and everybody who came to Kansas came to Lawrence as a matter of course. There were always many strangers present. One Sunday - my second Sunday, I think - there was a young man in the center of the room who attracted my attention in an unusual degree. There was such a bright glow on his face, and such a peculiar twinkle in his eye, that I noticed him at once. And he seemed to listen with such interest that every time I glanced up I found myself unconsciously looking at him. I inquired about him after service, and found that he was the editor of the Quindaro paper, The Chin- dowan. His name was Walden, and he had gained some distinction already in the discussion of public questions. I do not think I had ever met him, but his features and expression that Sunday morning fastened themselves in my mind, and to this day they are like a distinct picture in my memory. I followed his history, therefore, with some degree of interest, though I


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have never known him personally. He soon after left Kansas and entered the Methodist ministry, and became one of the leading bishops of the Methodist Church, with his home at Cincinnati. But this was only one of many cases which made congregations in that bare, unfinished church of rare interest. A man could feel that he was speaking to the State that was coming.

This rough, unfinished building probably served the times more effectively than a better building would have done. Its unfinished condition made the trustees less particular about its use, and it served many important purposes besides those for which it was specially designed. It was the only large room in town, and was used for nearly all public purposes. Some of the most important political conventions ever held in the territory met in this building. Many other important meetings were held in this church, and many thrilling scenes occurred in it. One of these very vividly comes to my mind. In the spring of 1858, a traveling troupe of singers was giving a concert in the old church. The church was full and the concert very satisfactory. In the midst of the performance a message was sent up


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to the platform to the effect that "a gentleman at the door wished to make a statement to the audience." The singers sat down, and the people held their breath, and wondered what was coming. In a few moments a middle-aged gentleman came slowly down the aisle, supported on either side by a friend. He seemed very feeble, and his two friends had almost to lift him on the platform, and then support him while he spoke. He was introduced as Rev. Mr. Read, a Baptist clergyman of Osawatomie. He seemed to be well known and was listened to with intense interest and full confidence. His story ran somewhat as follows: "Yesterday morning about daybreak, a gang of mounted men rode up to my house and ordered me to follow them. They went to other houses in the same way, and ordered the men to follow until they had eleven. I did not know who my captors were, nor why they had taken me, nor what they proposed to do with me. The houses were so scattered that there was no chance for any alarm to be given, or any relief to be obtained. They marched us off to a secluded ravine and ordered us into line. Then they fired upon us, and the whole eleven fell as if dead. The ruffians remained around to


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make sure of their work, and one of them dismounted, kicked the bodies about and shot one or two a second time. After a while they rode off and left us. As soon as they were at a safe distance, the living ones in the ravine began to stir. It was found that five were dead, five more wounded and one unharmed. I was wounded badly, and was very weak, but was able to crawl out on the prairie, where our friends soon found us and we were all cared for. Now I have come to Lawrence to ask you to send help to your wounded comrades, and to the families of the dead." He told his story in a calm, simple way which left no question as to its thorough truthfulness. The whole bearing of the man was such as to assure every one that he never could have given occasion for such treatment. His whole air was that of a candid, kindly, Christian man. His voice gave evidence of weakness, and we could all see that he was suffering severe pain. The moment we sat down, the concert troupe sprang to their feet and sang the Marseillaise hymn. The effect was thrilling. When they came to the words, "To arms! to arms!" men all over the house instinctively put their hands on their revolvers. When the audi-


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ence broke up it did not take long to organize a company to ride down to the border to chastise the villains who had committed such an outrage. This was our first knowledge of what has since been known as the "Marais des Cygnes Massacre." The affair produced a tremendous excitement, and there was a hot pursuit. But the assassins made good their escape and were never brought to justice.

The period from 1857 to 1860 was a depressing time. The question of a free state was settled and the rush of immigration had ceased. A great many people left the territory, some going back East - and still more going West to the new gold and silver fields of Colorado. They who remained could do little more than hold on and wait till the tide should turn. Plymouth Church held on with the rest. There was but little progress made during these years, and that little was only made by steady work and slow degrees.

We completed our house of worship by piecemeal a little at a time as we could. Our first movement was to put in the outside doors. This was our worst opening to the weather. About Christmas, 1857, a few energetic ladies undertook the task of raising the money, about thirty dol-


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lars. They found it no small task. It required a thorough canvas of the entire congregation, and involved many a cold ride out on the prairie. But they succeeded, and the doors were put in and our worst draught stopped. It still needed some $2,000 to complete the building. As the summer of 1858 wore away, we felt we must plaster the walls before another winter. We bent all our efforts to this end, and in the autumn the work was done. The church was now comfortable and we could wait for the rest.

The plan was to finish off the interior with walnut, as this was the commonest and cheapest lumber to be had. The forests along the river were largely of walnut, and walnut was used for. everything, for boards, siding and shingles in building, for fences on the farm, and fires in the house. But there was no seasoned walnut to be had. The lumber was taken as fast as it could be sawed and used green. How to get some seasoned wood was a puzzle. The only way seemed to be to buy some lumber green and stack it up and let it dry. But how to get money to buy lumber a year in advance of its use was not an easy question. One day in my rounds I came across an immense walnut log lying in a swampy


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place. The team hauling it had evidently been stalled and the log had been rolled off. It was the finest walnut log I had ever seen, and I stood looking at it and wondering if I could find the owner and buy it for the church.

Just then a voice behind me cried out :"What do you want of my log? " I turned about and saw a well-known citizen, not a member of my congregation, and I told him I was wishing I could buy that log for our church. "Well, if you want it for the church I will give it to you." I thanked him both for myself and the church, and asked him if he knew where I could get a team to haul it to the mill. "Oh, I will haul it for you." The next day he brought his team and hauled the log to the sawmill. The manager of the mill said he "would saw it for me free since it was for the church." This gave me as fine a lot of walnut lumber as one would care to see. I had it stacked up to season and wait till we were ready to use it. Whenever we were able to do a little work on the church we had that fine seasoned lumber always ready. First we cased the windows; then we finished off the gallery, and finally put in the pews. This work was stretched over a season of five years, and Novem-


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ber 16, 1862, we dedicated the completed church. Rev. R. D. Parker, of Wyandotte, preached the sermon from the text : "Faith is the evidence of things not seen." The building was sixty-five feet long by forty feet wide, with a singers' gallery in the rear. It would comfortably seat three hundred and fifty people and had cost about $8,000. As soon as the building was finished, the church assumed self-support, and thus relieved the Home Missionary Society of any further responsibility. There were now about seventy members, and all departments of the church were flourishing.