A Ride Through Kanzas
An 1856 travel narrative by abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, detailing his tour among antislavery immigrants to Kansas. Digitized by the Antislavery Literature Project.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911) was a prominent US abolitionist, social reform advocate, and writer. His Army Life in a Black Regiment (Boston: Fields, Osgood and Co., 1870) was one of the best-known Civil War histories of the era. Higginson’s extensive published works include co-editorship with Mabel Loomis Todd of the first edition of Dickinson’s collected poems, Poems by Emily Dickinson (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1892).
Higginson was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, graduated Harvard in 1841, and became a Unitarian minister at Newburyport and then Worcester until 1858. He maintained continual involvement in antislavery work and allied with the American Anti-Slavery Society. In 1854 Higginson participated in the unsuccessful effort to break into Boston City Jail in order to free imprisoned fugitive slave Anthony Burns; he was indicted for murder together with other defendants, but charges were dropped.
During the Civil War, Higginson became an officer in both the Massachusetts 51st Volunteers and then the First South Carolina Volunteers, a unit composed of ex-slaves. In his post-war career, Higginson came to represent a model of an engaged intellectual and attained great prestige in American letters.
His novels include Malbone: An Oldport Romance (Boston: J.R. Osgood and Co., 1869) and Oldport Days (Boston: J.R. Osgood and Co., 1873), together with volumes of essays such as Out-Door Papers (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1863). He wrote extensively against slavery (Massachusetts in Mourning: A Sermon, 1854) and in support of women’s rights (Woman and Her Wishes, 1853).
Higginson traveled 1856 to ‘Bloody Kansas’ in behalf of the New England Emigrant Aid Company, which involved itself in settling antislavery migrants in Kansas territory. The company was responsible for establishing a number of Kansas towns and Higginson reported on the civil conflict that accompanied this effort. He visits anti- and pro-slavery towns to describe their scenes; enters a prison to record the conditions of antislavery prisoners taken in the fighting; and re-tells personal stories of the conflict. Higginson concludes that this is the prelude: he argues that “slaveholders and freemen are always two nations” (21) and predicts “a struggle which will convulse a continent before it is ended.” (24)
For further reading, see The Magnificent Activist: The Writings of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Howard N. Meyer [ed.] (New York: Da Capo Press, 2000). Digital editions cited from the Gutenberg Project and the Making of America Collection, University of Michigan.
- Joe Lockard