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Thomas Wentworth Higginson Collection

Thomas Wentworth HigginsonMicrofilm Roll MS 127




This collection consists mainly of letters received by Higginson from 1855 to 1860. Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a Massachusetts minister and author who was active in the anti-slavery movement before the U.S. Civil War.


1855-1860, 1907 (bulk 1855-1860).


1 microfilm reel


Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1823-1911.


Thomas Wentworth Higginson papers.
Other title: Papers


MS 127. Forms Thomas Wentworth Higginson papers, manuscript coll. no. 380.


This microfilm may be borrowed through interlibrary loan. Information on interlibrary loan is available from the Kansas State Historical Society and on its web site: http://www.kshs.org.


Kansas State Historical Society (Topeka)


Thomas Wentworth Higginson was a Massachusetts minister and author who was active in the anti-slavery movement before the U.S. Civil War. In 1854 he led a failed attempt to break Anthony Burns, a captured fugitive slave, out of the Boston Court House jail. Beginning in 1855 he worked with militant abolitionist groups who advocated the admission of Kansas into the Union as a free (non-slave) state. Higginson travelled to Kansas Territory with a company of free state settlers in fall 1856 and published his letters from there in the New York tribune titled, "A Ride through Kanzas" with the signature "Worcester".

Higginson was one of the group of New England abolitionists that included Gerrit Smith, Reverend Theodore Parker, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, George Luther Stearns and Franklin Sanborn, that financially supported John Brown's anti-slavery activities in territorial Kansas and later his raid on Harper's Ferry, Va., Oct. 16, 1859. At the beginning of the Civil War he was appointed colonel of a regiment of freed slaves and was wounded at Wiltown Bluff, S. C., Aug. 1863. After the war he served as chief of staff to Mass. Governor John D. Long in 1880, was a representative to the state legislature in 1880 and 1881 and was state military and naval historian from 1889-1891. His published writings include histories, biographies and essays.

Scope and Content

The early letters document Higginson’s involvement with the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee. The correspondence between the members of the committee and Higginson discusses their fundraising activities in Massachusetts and differences of opinion over how the funds are being spent. There is an August 1855 letter from Charles Robinson (later the Governor of Kansas) explaining the political situation in Kansas.

Martin Stowell’s letters describe the journey of the Massachusetts Kansas Company that was sent to Kansas Territory from Worcester in 1856. They formed a town near Lexington fort in Brown County named Plymouth, but they were forced to flee to Nebraska City by pro-slavery forces. Stowell sent an itemized account of all of the company’s expenses to Higginson in response to charges that the committee’s funds were being misused.

Higginson received correspondence from people wanting assistance to go to Kansas. The families of people the Worcester group had already sent wrote him for information on their relatives. Most of the letters from Kansas describe the political events in the anti-slavery towns of Lawrence and Topeka during the territorial period. There are accounts of the state voter census and the votes that were held in Lecompton, the pro-slavery capital. There are many references to John Brown’s activities in Kansas.

Letters from 1860 concern John Brown’s disastrous attack on Harper’s Ferry, Va., the possibility of rescuing some of his men and the subsequent arrest of some of Higginson’s associates.

Organization of the Collection
Arranged chronologically.

Contents List

MC 380 Thomas Wentworth Higginson papers
Box 1:
Folder 1 Correspondence, 1855-Oct. 16, 1856
Folder 2 Correspondence, Oct. 17-Oct. 31, 1856
Folder 3 Correspondence, Nov. 1856
Folder 4 Correspondence, Nov.-Dec. 1856
Folder 5 Correspondence, Jan.-Feb. 1857
Folder 6 Correspondence, Mar.-Dec. 1857
Folder 7 Correspondence, 1858
Folder 8 Correspondence, 1859-1860, 1907
Folder 9 Correspondence, undated
Folder 1 Miscellaneous material, no date

Microfilm is available on a self-service basis in the Research Room or may be borrowed from the Kansas State Historical Society through interlibrary loan.

Related Records and Collections

Related materials

Microfilm includes letters written by Higginson from other KSHS manuscript collections, including:
- James B. Abbott papers, 1815-1898
- James Blood ms. collection
- Richard J. Hinton papers, 1850-1905
- William Hutchinson papers, 1855-1902
- Thaddeus Hyatt papers, 1843-1898
- George L. Stearns papers, 1856-1864

Separated Material

Daguerrotype photograph of one of the first Free State batteries in Kansas presented to Higginson by one of its officers at Topeka, Kansas, Sept. 1856.

Other Finding Aid

Copies of this finding aid are available in the Research Room of the Kansas State Historical Society; on its web site, /ms/mc380.htm


See list of letters by date (PDF file). Itemized list of letters arranged alphabetically by correspondents’ names published in the 16th biennial report of the Board of Directors of the Kansas State Historical Society, July 1, 1906-June 30, 1908, pgs. 141-143.


Edelstein, Tilden G. Strange enthusiasm, a life of Thomas Wentworth Higginson. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968.

Higginson, Mary Thacher, editor. Letters and journals of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1846-1906. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1921.

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. A Ride through Kanzas. [S.l.: s.n., 1856]. (Originally published in the New York Tribune, 1856.)

Index Terms

Personal names

· Brown, John, 1800-1859.
· Cutter, Calvin, 1807-1873?.
· Eldridge, Shalor Winchell, 1816-1899
· Higginson, Thomas Wentworth, 1823-1911.
· Hinton, Richard J. (Richard Josiah), 1830-1901.
· Howe, S. G. (Samuel Gridley), 1801-1876.
· Hurd, Harvey B. (Harvey Bostwick), 1828-1906.
· Lane, James Henry, 1814-1866.
· Pomeroy, S. C. (Samuel Clarke), 1816-1891.
· Pratt, Caleb S.
· Redpath, James, 1833-1891.
· Robinson, Charles, 1818-1894.
· Sanborn, F. B. (Franklin Benjamin), 1831-1917.
· Smith, Gerrit, 1797-1874.
· Stearns, Geo. L. (George Luther), 1809-1867.
· Stowell, Martin.
· Tappan, S. F. (Samuel Forster), d. 1913.
· Thayer, Eli, 1819-1899.

Corporate names

· Massachusetts State Kansas Committee.
· National Kansas Committee.
· New England Emigrant Aid Company.
· Massachusetts Kansas Company.

Geographic names

· Kansas--History--1854-1861.
· Kansas--Politics and government--1854-1861.
· Lawrence (Kan.)--History.
· Lecompton (Kan.)--History.
· Lexington (Brown County, Kan.)--History.
· Plymouth (Brown County, Kan.)--History.
· Tecumseh (Kan.)--History.
· Topeka (Kan.)--History.


· Antislavery movements--Kansas.


- Abbott, James B. Papers, 1815-1898. Microfilm MS 1258.
- Blood, James. Ms. coll.: Blood.
- Hinton, Richard J. (Richard Josiah). Papers, 1850-1905. Ms. coll.: Hinton.
- Hutchinson, William. Papers, 1855-1902. Ms. coll.: Hutchinson.
- Hyatt, Thaddeus. Papers, 1843-1898. Microfilm MS 571-MS 572
- Stearns, George L. (George Luther). Papers, 1856-1864. Microfilm MS 171

Additional Information for Researchers

Restrictions on use

Notice: This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). The user is cautioned that the publication of the contents of this microfilm may be construed as constituting a violation of literary property rights. These rights derive from the principle of common law, affirmed in the copyright law of 1976 as amended, that the writer of an unpublished letter or other manuscript has the sole right to publish the contents thereof unless he or she affirmatively parts with that right; the right descends to his or her legal heirs regardless of the ownership of the physical manuscript itself. It is the responsibility of a user or his or her publisher to secure the permission of the owner of literary property rights in unpublished writing.

Preferred citation

Thomas Wentworth Higginson papers; microfilm MS-127; library & archives division, Kansas State Historical Society.

Acquisition information

Originals gift of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Jan. 28, 1908. Accession no. 788.