Kansas Collection Books: The Abolitionist, by George W. Schiller

Chapter 2:
Back Home in Ohio

     Word of Albert's arrival home soon spread up and down Brushy Fork, a settlement near Cadiz. As was the custom, word traveled fast among the numerous members of the Barrett clan. Plans were made for a family gathering immediately following church services the following Sunday. In the meantime, Albert paid a visit to his 65-year-old mother, Winifred, mother of eleven. Family history recalls that Winifred's parents, the Kirbys, had been traveling together with the Arthur Barretts from Virginia to Ohio. En route, the Kirby wagon overturned and rolled down the mountainside, killing Winifred's parents. She was adopted by the Barretts, and as a young lady married a Barrett son, David. Winifred and David became Albert's parents. David had long since passed away, and Winifred, the matriarch widow, looked to Albert for strength and guidance. She and Albert were very close.

     The get-together following the church service drew many family members and friends to the nearby shady spot known as Brushy Fork Grove. It was a time for fellowship, food, and family fun. After the meal, the family members listened quietly as Albert described his ventures and findings in the Kansas-Nebraska Territory. The mounting questions were: When will the territory be open for settlement? Will there be slavery?

     Albert's opinions were straightforward on both matters: "I think the Kansas-Nebraska Act will pass Congress soon. The slavery question is still under debate. Hopefully, we will have an answer in the very near future."

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     Albert described the forty sections of choice timberland he had selected in the Vermillion Valley, and ended the discussion by inviting them all to come to the meeting of the Ohio Town Company the following day to hear more details. Albert's eagerness about the new territory was obvious to all. However, he recognized the magnitude of the project and some of the complications involved. He felt a sense of excitement and knew that his world was about to change from the drab existence in the Allegheny Mountains to an adventurous one on the Great Plains. As the group broke up and headed to their homes, Albert bid them farewell and promised to meet with them on the morrow at the Quaker meetinghouse near Cadiz.

     It was a beautiful fall day in 1853 when the Ohio Town Company met to hear Albert's report. The Quaker meetinghouse was packed when the Barrett family arrived. The meetinghouse was typical of Quaker places of worship, a rectangular wooden building with a doorway at each front corner. One window on each of the four sides allowed light and ventilation. Eight rows of wooden benches occupied the back of the room, each row slightly higher than the row in front of it. Across the front of the room was another wooden bench facing the elevated rows. This opposing front bench was for leaders, speakers and officials. A movable wooden partition in the center divided the rows of seats. During religious services this partition was in place. Men and boys sat on one side, women and girls on the other. The partition was removed this day for the meeting of the Ohio Town Company. There was light banter among the group, but a somber atmosphere prevailed.

     The Company, composed of numerous Quaker families from the surrounding area, had been organized a short time before. Most of the members were anxious to

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make a move from the mountainous countryside of eastern Ohio. They wanted to pioneer the new lands and make new homes somewhere in the Louisiana Territory. The Company had raised funds to send Albert to explore the territory and find a place to settle.

     Harrison County, Ohio, offered limited possibilities for livelihood to support their families. Albert's sawmill was suffering the lack of mature timber to produce quality lumber. Discouraged by the meager living he could make as a millwright, a miller, and a builder, Albert was hoping to persuade the group that it was time to move to a new land and start a new life on the western frontier.

     The purchase of this vast Louisiana Territory from France by President Jefferson had doubled the size of the United States. Very little was known about the territory until Lewis and Clark explored it in 1803 and 1804. Most of the inhabitants were native Indians, but there were others such as trappers, traders, and explorers who had invaded the territory. It was not until 1843 that John C. Fremont traveled through the area with wagons, establishing what later became the Oregon-California Trail. Through this avenue, Albert had traveled to the Vermillion Valley in what became northeast Kansas.

     Perhaps Albert had the "itchiest" feet of all. He had been gone on his mission for more than a month. He felt it necessary to explain in some detail the results of his findings. In his concise way, Albert had compiled many pages of a report he was about to deliver to the Ohio Town Company. Although it was the Quaker custom for major decisions to be discussed and made by men only, this decision affected all members of the families. To move to a new land that was mostly unsettled, primitive and occupied

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by a wide variety of people, presented a challenge of some magnitude; and the women and children would all be involved. Many members of the Ohio Town Company were descendants of those who had moved to Harrison County, Ohio, from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia a half century earlier. Some of them remembered the hardships and sacrifices of pioneering in a new land; others did not.

     The meeting was called to order by the chairman of the Ohio Town Company. He explained that the purpose of the meeting was not for spiritual reasons. Then his Quaker upbringing prevailed and he opened the meeting with a short period of silence. He then went on to explain that the purpose of the meeting was to hear Albert's report.

     Albert described his journey down the Ohio River to Cairo, Illinois, where he had boarded another riverboat to St. Louis on the Mississippi River. Traveling from St. Louis to Westport on the Missouri River was the best and quickest route to the territory. From Westport, he had followed the overland Oregon-California Trail northwestward.

     He went on to describe his meetings with some of the pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail to Oregon and California. There were many families moving west, looking for new homes and a place to put down their roots. Most of the travelers were headed for the Oregon Territory, where the valleys were green, lush, and fertile. Leaders in the Oregon Territory were fearful that the British, who were claiming ownership of the area, would be successful in their efforts. Thus, word was sent back East that settlers could claim 320 acres of land, in contrast to the 160 acres being proposed in the Kansas-Nebraska Territory. It was hoped that the offer would attract additional American settlers to maintain numerical superiority over the British. The offer was apparently attractive to many on the Trail as they traveled westward. Numerous freighting teamsters were

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engaged in hauling provisions from the Missouri River ports to the pioneer outposts located along the 2,200-mile Trail. Trappers, traders, venture-seekers, outlaws, and land speculators comprised a living strand of humanity ever moving westward.

     Albert's occupation as a millwright and a builder influenced him to be alert along the Trail to large stands of timber for quality lumber. He described the valley of the Black Vermillion River and the large area of mature trees. The valley was more than a mile wide and drained an area of nearly forty miles. Several small tributary streams emptied into the Vermillion River. Albert visualized that this river, which emptied into the Big Blue River about a dozen miles to the southwest, would be a source of waterpower for his mills.

     The Vermillion Valley was beautiful and seemed to be the ideal place to settle. Albert described the rolling, grassy hills beside the valley and the abundance of wild game. The land contained various types of soil, and there were numerous wild fruits and berries growing on the hills and in the river bottoms. Albert had found suitable outcroppings of limestone rock that could he thought could be mined for building materials. The thousands of miles of golden, waving prairie grasses supported large herds of deer, buffalo, antelope and small game. He told them about the campground for weary travelers where he had camped for a few days to closely survey the area.

     The details of legally claiming the land had not yet been fully authorized, but the common practice was to mark the trees bordering the plots. As soon as the Kansas Territory established a government and petitioned the U.S. Congress for statehood, the forty-section plot of land could be officially claimed by the Ohio Town Company members. Albert had followed the latest instructions available to claim the land for the

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Ohio Town Company and hoped he had done his task correctly. However, Congress was still wrangling over the final wording and making changes.

     The nation's railroads were putting pressure on Congress to open the territory so they could lay rail tracks to the West Coast. These requests were further complicating the settlement of the area.

     The Ohio Town Company meeting was opened for discussion. One member asked about shelter while living on their claims. Albert explained that any sort of structure would qualify and told of houses that were being built of prairie grass sod. The idea of a sod house was new to the group, so Albert described how they were built. He went on to say that most any kind of shelter, such as a tent or a cabin of logs, would satisfy the requirements for a claim to the land. He emphasized that he planned to take a sawmill to provide lumber for framed houses but that it would take some time to put the mill into operation.

     Another member asked about the climate on the Great Plains. Albert answered that he had spent only the summer months on the Plains and had found the weather variable, from hot sun to cool days with sudden thundershowers. He could not tell them about the weather in winter, but reports indicated that the weather could be severe in some cases. Albert indicated that he would ask for more information about winter weather on the Plains from those who had recently returned. He indicated that proper shelter from the severe weather on the Great Plains was as important as sufficient food supplies.

     The members of the Company, having lived in the mountains for years, gave little or no thought to the sources of water. Albert mentioned that there were several streams

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flowing in the area and that adequate supplies of water were available. However, Albert had not spent an entire year on the Plains and had made several assumptions, some of which proved to be problems later on.

     After a time, the question of slavery came up. For many years the Quakers, especially those in the Eastern states, had opposed slavery. The Ohio River, which divided slave from the non-slave states, had for some time been the route of many runaway slaves headed for freedom. The passage of the federal Fugitive Slave Law enabled slave owners who could catch their runaway slaves to prosecute those who had aided and abetted the slaves in their escape. Quakers usually ignored the slave law and supported the Underground Railroad, a secret organization that helped slaves travel northward to freedom. Generally, the Quakers despised slavery and its impact on the lives of the enslaved people.

     A grizzled Quaker stood and asked, "What about the slave question? Is slavery going to be permitted in this new territory?"

     "I cannot tell you for sure about slavery in the territories. Congress is debating the matter. At this point, no one knows the outcome. I personally think slavery will not be permitted, but the decision has not yet been made."

     The bearded one retorted, "I want nothing to do with slavery. I have despised it for years and will move only to a place where slavery is prohibited. We have been plagued with it for years and I want no more of it. Unless they ban slavery in the new territories, I will not go there."

     There were mutterings in the crowd as some agreed with him. Another stood, pointed his finger at Albert, and said, "We have supported the Underground Railroad for

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many years. Now we can be arrested and imprisoned for helping the black people escape. Will the new Fugitive Slave Law apply out there?"

     Albert, who was becoming somewhat vexed by the intensity of the questions, replied, "The Fugitive Slave Law is a federal law and would apply to any and all states. However, you have ignored it for several years in dealing with the Railroad. I doubt that the law will be of much use in the territories if enough abolitionists settle there to oppose slavery."

     The man sat down with a frown.

     Many "quiet-minded" members of the Company had visions of moving to a land devoid of slavery in order to escape the very stigma of it. They were anxious to move to a new place and leave the slavery question behind them. But some were having second thoughts about moving into another possible slave-abiding area. Albert expressed his opinion that Quakers had a divine obligation to prevent slavery anywhere, especially in the new territories.

     This division precipitated a lively discussion among the members. Albert explained again that with the United States Congress evenly divided, it was difficult to pass meaningful legislation concerning the slavery question. He indicated that those in the Harrison County area, who had opposed slavery for these many years, should seize the opportunity to go to the territory and strive to prevent slavery in the new lands. The meeting erupted into a babble of voices.

     Albert went on to explain that the neighboring state of Missouri, which bordered the territory on the east, had been a slave state since its inception in 1821. The Missourians were actively engaged in trying to bring the new states into the Union as slave states.

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     The rumble of conversation grew louder. The chairman attempted to restore order and continue the discussion. However, the members who would avoid the slavery question altogether spoke the loudest. They simply did not want to become involved and preferred to resume their "quietism" stance, avoiding the slavery matter and hoping it would die for lack of support. Albert assured them that the question of slavery in the new territories was far too important to ignore. He predicted that whoever settled in the territory most certainly would be faced with the matter of slavery at some point in time. His approach was to go to the territory, settle there and strive to abolish slavery and bring the new state into the nation as one free from slavery.

     Albert was reinforcing his abolitionist stance and made no bones about the position he would pursue. It was obvious that he was faced with vocal and determined opposition from some members of the Ohio Town Company. He again expressed confidence that the Kansas-Nebraska Act would pass within a year, possibly sooner.

     The Ohio Town Company arguments became increasingly bitter. Albert attempted to control his emotions, but when name-calling erupted, he lost his temper. His disposition did not fit the mold of a typical Quaker, especially one who clung to the quietism beliefs. Not a man to be quiet and let nature take its course, Albert believed in direct action, the sooner the better. He was impetuous, did not always keep his temper in check, and sometimes offended those who were on the receiving end of his anger. He was quick to challenge those who disagreed with him. His mind was sharp, and he tended to follow precise patterns established by his engineer mindset. His dynamic

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leadership was not in keeping with the concepts of some of the quietism-minded Quakers in the group.

Albert Gallatin Barrett     Albert stood and spoke in emphatic terms: "I came here with valuable information about settling in the Kansas-Nebraska Territory. I spent over a month surveying the area and gathering data needed for this group to make plans to settle there. I cannot answer for sure how the slavery question will be solved. I am confident that if more people who oppose slavery settle there, the better the chances that slavery will not prevail. I intend to take my family and migrate to the Kansas-Nebraska Territory as soon as possible. If any of you would like to join me, feel free to do so. If you do not wish to go with me, that is your privilege."

     With that Albert donned his flat-brimmed hat, gathered his family and left the meetinghouse. A number of other families followed. After untying their horses, several of the Quakers gathered around Albert and indicated they agreed with him and would like to meet again to make plans to move. Albert nodded grimly as he drove away. His temper was seething and he did not trust himself to speak.

Mary Phoebe McKeever Barrett     In the quiet of their home, Albert and Mary discussed the Ohio Town Company meeting at length. Mary sensed that Albert had made up his mind to go to the territory and nothing would change it. She knew a whole new world was opening up for them. As a wife and mother, she was prepared, even eager, to share Albert's enthusiasm for the great adventure about to take place. Thus, the Albert Barrett family began making preparations for a move that would have a profound effect upon their lives far into the future.

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     The next few days found Albert busily gathering items he would need when he returned to the territory. His main concern was to find a sawmill he could transport by riverboat. The mill he had operated for many years was old and well worn. He needed one that was newer in design and could be disassembled for transportation. Albert traveled to Cincinnati and finally found just what he wanted. He purchased the mill and made arrangements to have it crated and shipped at a later date to Fort Leavenworth on the Missouri River. He would pick up the mill in Fort Leavenworth and move it to the Vermillion Valley. Albert also gathered the many tools that he would need to build his mill and some kind of temporary housing.

     Albert was hesitant to leave his family again so soon. He had talked with Mary, and they had decided that they must wait until shelter was built before bringing the children to the territory. She would keep them in school until they moved, and then she would instruct them at home until schooling was available.

     Albert's first task was to decide on some kind of temporary shelter. His choices were a large tent, a log cabin or a sod house. Albert settled for a large tent and made arrangements to have the tent and all his other goods and materials shipped by riverboat. He would accompany the shipment to be sure it arrived in time and in good shape. Although he anticipated hardships, little did he realize the problems and scope of his undertaking.

     To discuss the planned move, Albert invited to his home those members of the Ohio Town Company who had indicated that they would accompany him. The list of names included D. C. Auld, John Roland, J. G. Radcliffe, W. S. Blackburn and Mr. Poe. In addition, Albert invited most of his ten siblings. His brothers William, Thomas, Uriah,

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Joseph and John responded, as did his sisters Ruth and Winifred. However, some of them were reluctant to go so soon.

     Albert was also having second thoughts about going back to the territory in the fall of the year. While there were no official reports about the weather conditions on the Great Plains, he had had conversations with two different pioneer scouts who had spent the winter on the Plains. The scouts both had cautioned that the winters were sometimes severe and that adequate shelter was necessary. Several members added their concern about spending the winter before some sort of shelter was built.

     It was Mary who offered the deciding factor: "If I may offer some thoughts to this discussion, I would say that the matter of moving to the territory is a major change for all of us. To go to a new place before being well prepared would be foolish. There is too much at stake here to invite disaster. After all, Congress has not yet passed legislation opening the territory for settlement. Until they do, you cannot lay claim to the land. Wait until next spring."

     The group silently digested Mary's sobering remarks. Albert trusted Mary's opinions about important matters, and her remarks were well taken. After additional small talk, the group voted unanimously to wait until the spring of 1854 to make the move.

     Albert's siblings reinforced the decision and indicated they were hoping to move to the territory, but none of them was prepared to go as soon as the next spring. Albert was disappointed, yet he was encouraged that his family was prepared to join him, to make the biggest move of their lifetimes. There were several other Barrett families in the Harrison County area, and Albert hoped that some of them would join him later. He told

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them that he could provide land for them if they wished to go with him. Two of his brothers and a nephew finally decided to accompany him. Several other Barrett relatives came later.

     Albert felt that he would have enough settlers joining him later to have a thriving community in the Vermillion Valley. He was eager and pleased, yet apprehensive about the outcome. It was Mary's quiet assurance and her belief in his venture that helped him regain his confidence.

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