Jump to Navigation

John J. Ingalls Papers

John IngallsCollection 177



John J. Ingalls (1833-1900) was a well known nineteenth century Kansan. He helped found the town of Sumner after his arrival from Massachusetts in 1858. He moved to Atchison in 1860, and served in the territorial and state legislature until 1872. He was elected to the United States Senate by the legislature in 1872 and served until 1891. He also gained some fame as a writer of essays and other prose.

The collection includes personal and political correspondence, genealogical and biographical material, diaries, scrapbooks, compositions, speeches, and other miscellaneous items.

The Kansas State Historical Society received the collection from several sources. Two of the donors of correspondence and other memorabilia were Mrs. Warren Price and Mrs. Sally Keith, granddaughters of John Ingalls. Mr. Ingalls’ children, Ethel Ingalls Blair, Constance Ingalls Schick, Sheffield Ingalls and his wife, and Ellsworth Ingalls all donated items to this collection. Mr. Ingalls’ private secretary, Mr. A. R. Banks, donated scrapbook material. The donations were made after Mr. Ingalls’ death in August, 1900. There are no restrictions on the use of materials in the collection.


John James Ingalls was born on December 29, 1833, in Middletown, Massachusetts, the son of Elias T. and Eliza Chase Ingalls. Part of his childhood was spent in Haverhill, Mass. He attended local schools and, in 1855, graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. He returned to Haverhill to read law in the office of John J. Marsh and was admitted to the Essex County Bar in Newbury, Massachusetts, in 1857. He decided to leave Massachusetts for Kansas Territory soon after his admittance to the bar. He helped found the town of Sumner in the new territory in 1858.

He entered politics soon afterward and held various local offices including police judge, probate judge, and territorial legislator. His interest in territorial politics began with his election to the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention.

His service in the United States Senate began in1873. His legislative interests included opposition to women’s suffrage and support of Negro civil rights. He opposed the tactics of the banking conglomerates and railroads. He viewed speculative practices as being dangerous to the public welfare. He was opposed to the centralization of capital or wealth in the hands of a few. He favored the free coinage of silver because he felt it would benefit the average working man.

His speeches and writings document his sometimes changing beliefs and views very clearly. He was in great demand as a speaker and served as eulogist at the funerals of many members of Congress. He also served as President protempore of the Senate.

His home and family were important to him. His relationships with his parents and brother, Francis Ingalls, a minister who served parishes in Olathe and Atchison, were very close.

He married Anna Louisa Chesebrough in 1865. She was the descendant of an old New York and New England family. Both she and her husband could trace their lineage back to Puritan forbearers. They were both proud of their heritage and were devoted students of family genealogy. Their family included eleven children, seven of whom lived past childhood.

John J. Ingalls was a very complex, eccentric, capable human being, who was one of the leading public figures of an interesting era in Kansas and national history. He was a well known Senator and he found his work in Washington so stimulating that he admitted missing political life after leaving office in 1891.

His health deteriorated after that and he spent time traveling through the southwestern United States in an effort to improve it. His physical deterioration continued, however, and he died on August 16, 1900, in Las Vegas, New Mexico. His funeral and burial in Atchison’s Mt. Vernon Cemetery attracted wide spread newspaper coverage. The eulogies and character assessments at the time his death described John James Ingalls as one of Kansas’ most capable, though controversial, public servants.

Scope and Content

The John James Ingalls collection covers his entire lifetime. The bulk of materials relate to the period following his arrival in Sumner, Kansas Territory, in the fall of 1858. His first reactions to Sumner are revealed in a letter to his father, Elias T. Ingalls, in Haverhill, Massachusetts, dated October 5, 1858. He told his father that he had just landed, “in that Promised Land supposed to be flowing with milk and honey. My notions never having been exaggerated, I was not surprised at not finding a Boston or New York.” Additional reactions such as this to life in a new territory and town are valuable parts of the collection as this was a vital period in the history of the prospective state. The excitement of gold fever in the western portion of the territory added to the interest in and growth of prospects for the area.

The collection includes correspondence with his wife’s family and his parents and relatives in Massachusetts. Some of the correspondence dates from the period he served in the territorial legislature in Lawrence. In a letter to his father in January of 1859, he admits that “as the session of the Legislature advances, my duties are growing more arduous, but not sufficiently so to be particularly wearisome; five or six hours a day suffices for all the work I have to do.”
Mr. Ingalls’ Senatorial correspondence is candid, informative, and interesting. For example, his letter to his wife on March 10, 1874, states that, “I am now acting as Vice President of the United States, sitting in the chair and presiding over the deliberations of the Senate. Mr. Terry of Michigan is making a long dreary speech on finances. . . Mr. Sumner is lolling on a sofa talking over the condition of Massachusetts politics, I suppose.” The same is true of his descriptions of official Washington life, such as that sent to his wife in a letter in January, 1875, “I returned about an hour ago from the ‘calling’ expedition, commencing with the President at eleven thirty. The reception at the Executive Mansion was very brilliant. The diplomatic corps and the army and navy were in full uniform. There were many finely dressed ladies and male civilians present.”

The correspondence contains Ingalls’ descriptions of people in public life, including the Presidents. His description of President Grant, to his wife in February, 1875, is an example: “after breakfast I called. . . on the President who was quite cordial and seemed glad to see me. He is looking very heavy, dull, and gross this season; evidently drinking a great deal and showing it badly.” Other examples are comments such as the following in a letter to his wife in June, 1888: “The nomination of Harrison must be a terrible blow to Sherman. . . Harrison climbed too fast and Sherman’s last chances are gone.”

His correspondence, while on the Chautauqua speaking circuit after leaving the Senate in 1891, is revealing and interesting. His letter to his daughter, Ethel, in January, 1893, contains an example: “my life is much like that of an actor except that I have no company, wear no costumes and carry no scenery.”

He describes the diagnosis of his illness to Ethel in July, 1899; “The examination was quite satisfactory, but what the doctor discovered was not entirely so. It was like one of those successful operations from the effect of which the patient dies the following day.” He was on his way to Washington at the time. His correspondence during the period of his travels after leaving the Chautauqua circuit gives many insights into his views and philosophy about life.

Several diaries and scrapbooks are part of the collection. The one kept by Mrs. Sheffield Ingalls concerned her husband’s activities and career. Her diary was written in the first person and is an interesting account of her activities in Washington and New York. Another diary for the period 1902-1907 was written from the viewpoint of Sheffield Ingalls’ oldest son Robert by his mother, Lucy Van Halsen Ingalls. It gives a “flavor” to the period after John Ingalls’ death and contains entries such as the following. “Sunday Papa, Mamma and I spent the day at Aunt Rilla Challis’, I had more fun than I can tell playing with the children there.”

Diaries of other family members are in the collection. The diary of Anna Louisa Ingalls for the year 1869 is handwritten in pencil and is very difficult to read. The diaries of her daughter Ethel are dated 1898 and 1899-1900 respectively. One of the entries in May of 1898 relates that “Cousin Ellsworth Hughes was drowned in the lake at St. Mary’s College yesterday. Only seventeen years old and his life done. A short piece of work was all that was required of him.” Ethel was a frank observer of life around her and the diary reflects this.

Also included in the collection is a scrapbook kept by Mr. A. R. Banks who was John Ingalls’ private secretary. The scrapbook contains everything from Ingalls’ letters to Banks while on the Chautauqua circuit to news articles plugging Ingalls for the Presidency to discussions in the papers of Ingalls’ philosophy and farming practices.

One example of the Presidential promotion was an undated Kansas City Star article which read “Blaine is out of it; Harrison is out of it. . . McKinley is out of it. . . The next Republican candidate must be very near a farm and a free silverman. Can it be that the finger of fate is pointing at Ingalls? He or Plumb alone answers the requirements.” The following notice was found in the Star on April 14, 1891; “It seems to be settled that Mr. Ingalls won’t come to Kansas City to speak at this time for anybody on any subject. It is mighty hard to get a grand old farmer to leave home as spring is opening.”

The collection contains historical information about early days in Sumner, Kansas, including a surveyor’s report by John P. Wheeler in 1857 which stated that the Sumner town site “is admitted to be the best starting point on the river for Salt Lake, California and Oregon. Persons interested to examine northern Kansas will find Sumner the best place to land where they can now find good hotel accommodations and facilities for getting into the interior country.”

Genealogical information in the collection includes lists of children of Mr. Ingalls’ English ancestors dating from 1661. There is also an Ingalls family genealogy by W.T.F.M. Ingalls, Greenhithe, Kent, dated August, 1881. “The Genealogy of Sally Ingalls” (Keith Sheffield Ingalls’ daughter) gives interesting information on the Ingalls’ American genealogy. There is also a small book which was given to John Ingalls by his father in the 1870s. It states that the earliest American Ingalls, Edmond, “came from Lincolnshire, England, to Lima, Massachusetts A.D. 1639.” It lists ancestry for 200 years, with very few gaps. There is also genealogical information about Anna Louisa Ingalls’ family listed under the heading “First Families of America.” Information about the Ingalls family’s involvement in the founding of Lynn, Massachusetts is also part of the collection as is a genealogical chart of the family in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Both John and Anna Louisa Ingalls were very interested in the history of their families so the collection contains quite a bit of genealogical material.

The research strengths of the collection are numerous. Correspondence between various members of Anna Louisa Chesebrough Ingalls’ family is included. A June 1, 1842, letter from Anna’s father, Ellsworth Chesebrough, to his mother and father is an interesting example of nineteenth century marriage rites: “the day of our espousal is fixed four weeks from today, the twenty-ninth of June we are to be married at half past four and receive calls from five o’clock till nine o’clock. I have taken a pew in Dr. Pott’s church and we shall attend there after our marriage.”

John Ingalls’ correspondence following his arrival in Kansas Territory in 1858 is very valuable. “Being once fairly embarked, I am ready for any movement which gives promise of success. Gold-digging is all the talk here now. The Pikes Peak fever rages high. I have several chances to go into business.’ He continued, in a letter in October, 1858, “if I choose to do so, and am at present uncertain whether to do so, or to adhere to law, or combine the two. Meanwhile the law business opens very well.” His activities give vivid glimpses of life during Kansas’ early history. He wrote in April, 1860: “Kansas is as quiet and stagnant as ever. Since I have been here. . . the actual exports of the country; corn, pork, and hides has not yet been enough to pay for the whiskey that is drank every month. . . peaches, grapes, pears, apples and fruit of all kinds flourish. The social condition is rather uninviting to one who doesn’t like the idea of being perforated or lynched but all accounts unite in declaring the country extremely healthy and picturesque.”

From the time he moved to Atchison in 1860, he was involved in local and state affairs and politics and this period of state history is reflected in his correspondence. His letter to his father on January 8, 1863, indicates that “our border position gives us a practical illustration of the beauties of Emancipation, and the nooks and crannies of the town are rapidly filling with our sable and fugitive brethren. . . very decent, quiet, honest and respectable they are, too. Industrious and useful, and by no means obtrusive or annoying.” Another letter to his father in January, 1865, indicates the fact that “Our political campaign has just terminated by the election of Jim Lane as one of our Senators for the next six years, and so the curtain falls on the fifth act (year) of the drama. I have done what I could to prevent such a consummation, but it seemed otherwise to the Gods, and I am once more outside the ring.”

A telegram sent from Topeka to Atchison on January 28, 1873, announced that Ingalls “was unanimously nominated for the Senate tonight by the anti-Pomeroy causes. Fifty-seven votes are already pledged and the feeling is very enthusiastic.”

A letter to Louisa Ingalls in Feb., 1887, tells of his nomination as President pro-tempore of the Senate. “I was in doubt whether to accept the place, but the desire seems to be general. I can get out whenever I want to, upon the assumption that Sherman ought to have the office if he wants to.

He was certain that Blaine would be Republican candidate in 1876. His own lack of interest in national office is shown in a letter to his father in February, 1876, “I care nothing about the Vice Presidency and would prefer to remain where I am.” He thought he would be nominated for Vice President if Blaine received the nomination. Events did not unfold that way, but correspondence such as this adds insight into Ingalls’ political career.

He was reelected by the Legislature to the Senate in1879, and continued work for his pet issues; tariff, reconcentration of economic power, the Negro problem. Social life in Washington was described in his correspondence as well as in the diary of his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Sheffield Ingalls.

The diaries of various family members—Mrs. Louisa Ingalls, Ethel Ingalls, and Mrs. Warren Price, a granddaughter—form part of the collection. A family biography by his daughter, Ethel, provides background.

There are some weaknesses in the collection. Most of the correspondence in it had one author, John Ingalls. Correspondence from family members, such as Mrs. Ingalls, and contemporaries in government and society if rarely found in the collection.

The diaries and scrapbooks are of differing value depending on research interests. Those of Mrs. Sheffield Ingalls were more interested in New York and Washington society and customs than in Ingalls family life. Those donated by Mrs. Price, Mrs. Keith and Mrs. Ingalls concern family members.

The biographical and genealogical material on the Ingalls and Chesebrough families is valuable. John Ingalls was one of the most diverse, complex figures in Kansas history. The diaries and scrapbooks and his writings and correspondence in the collection provide a good picture of the man and his complex personality.

Contents List

Series Description

The John J. Ingalls Collection is made up of several different types of material. One series is composed of Ingalls family correspondence, organized chronologically. Correspondence dates from the years 1841 to 1955. The bulk of the correspondence covers the years 1858 to 1890 when Mr. Ingalls was involved in territorial, state, and national politics and government. Subjects of special interest in this series include his descriptive correspondence regarding his first impressions upon reaching Kansas Territory. Valuable information is also included regarding political and social issues in the territory. His political views and his impressions of official Washington during his three terms in the senate are also valuable. His position of influence in the Senate makes these descriptions even more noteworthy. His travels on the Chautauqua circuit and in the southwest are interesting parts of the series also.

Another series is made up of the scrapbook and journals of John Ingalls’ daughter-in-law, Mrs. Lucy von Halsen Ingalls. There is also a small file of memorabilia of her husband, Sheffield Ingalls. Her journals, diaries, and memorabilia encompass the years 1890 to 1946. Ingalls is rarely mentioned in this series. The material reflects her interest in and coverage of her husband, Sheffield Ingalls’ career. Most of the rest of the series concerns itself with her social activities while at the University of Kansas, in Washington, in New York, and in London. Some information regarding issues of this period is included in her coverage of Sheffield Ingalls’ political activities. One interesting aspect of one of the diaries is that it was written by her from the viewpoint of one of her young sons.

Another series is contained of the diaries of family members and friends. These include Mrs. John Ingalls, Miss Ethel Ingalls, and Miss Harriett Marshall. Miss Marshall was the fiancé of John Ingalls’ son Ellsworth Ingalls. These diaries cover the years 1869-1900. These diaries are of interest for several reasons. Mrs. John Ingalls’ diary includes many vivid portraits of his life and the life of the family. Ethel Ingalls’ diaries contain interesting description of social life while she was in school in Washington as well as providing information about the lives of the Ingalls family. Miss Marshall was a talented person whose untimely death prevented her from joining the Ingalls family. She was an intelligent, versatile person, whose cultural and social views were interesting and informative parts of the series.

Another series contains the scrapbooks donated by John Ingalls’ granddaughter, Mrs. Warren Price. This series occupies part of one Hollinger box and describes events from 1890-1926. The first scrapbook had been the property of his daughter, Muriel, and was begun in 1904; making it an interesting and vivid portrayal of the activities, thoughts, and speeches of John Ingalls’ lifetime. His views on the issues were especially valuable. They were covered in two of the scrapbooks in the series. The third scrapbook in the series contains many editorials about John Ingalls and every aspect of his life.

One very interesting series in the collection contains the scrapbook of Mr. A. R. Banks, who was John Ingalls’ private secretary. The series occupies part of one box and deals with the years from 1865 to 1920. This interesting scrapbook contains several pages of obituaries reflecting various opinions of Ingalls. Historians of his life would be interested in the many sketches, some of which were complimentary and some were not.

Another series in the collection contains the charter of the territorial town of Sumner, Kansas, as well as a listing of the early inhabitants. The series occupies part of one box and covers the years from 1857 to 1865. The series is of interest to social historians who have an interest in frontier town formation or in the family histories of the residents of Sumner.

John Ingalls’ poetry, and prose make up another series in the collection. Essays in this series covers several topics: prohibition, special interests legislation such as railroads and commerce, his opinions on history, government and philosophy, etc. The poem “John Brown’s Final Departure from Kansas” is included in the series.

Biographical and genealogical information of the John Ingalls family makes up the final series in the collection. It covers family history and biographies from 1540 in England to 1950 in the United States. Charts, correspondence, booklets and other printed materials are included in this series. The material is of special interest to social historians and others. The material about the three Ingalls daughters, Ethel, Constance and Ruth gives interesting information about the family. Ethel Ingalls’ biography of her parents is descriptive of family life. The last wills and testaments, as well as the distribution list of Anna Louisa Ingalls’ estate also describe family life.

--Paul Young
Summer, 1986

Box List

Box 1 Family Correspondence  
  Chesebrough Family 1840-1864
  Ingalls Family 1841-1857
  John J. Ingalls 1858-1889
Box 2 Family Correspondence  
  John J. Ingalls 1890-1955
Box 3 Journals & Diaries of Mrs. Sheffield Ingalls  
  Mrs. Sheffield Ingalls' Journal  
  Mrs. Sheffield Ingalls' Diary 1902-1907
  Lucy & Robert Ingalls' Diary 1902-1907
  London Diary 1951
  Lucy Ingalls' Memorabilia 1896-1946
  Sheffield Ingalls' Memorabilia 1890-1930
Box 4 The Diaries of Family & Friends  
  Mrs. John J. Ingalls 1869
  Miss Ethel Ingalls, 2 vols., 1897-1900
  Miss Harriett Marshall, 2 vols., 1889-1897
Box 5 The Scrapbooks of Mrs. Warren Price  
  Press clippings, Articles, Eulogies, 1890-1900
  The Scrapbook of Mr. A. R. Banks  
  Press clippings, Letters and Ingalls Philosophy, 1860-1920
Box 6 The Summer Town Company Charter and Census  
  The Philosophy, Opinions & Poetry, "John  
  Brown's Departure from Kansas."  
Box 7 Genealogical & Biographical Material of the  
  John J. Ingalls Family  
  Mrs. Anna J. Ingalls-Ingalls family material  
  The Ingalls Family-Ruth, Ethel, and Constance  
Box 7 (cont.)    
  Ethel Ingalls' Biography of her parents  
  Genealogical & Biographical material  
  Political & Biographical material