Episode 130 – The Exodusters Show Notes

In 1879, at least 40,000 Black people left states along the Mississippi River for Kansas in search of better opportunity following the Civil War. Others traveled as far as Utah or Colorado, with some stopping in St. Louis. Learn the history of the Exodus of 1879, the multitude of states involved, relief organizations records created, and the impact on African American genealogy and family history.

Previous Episodes:

Background on the Exodusters and the Movement

Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

  • “The Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise, created two new territories, and allowed for popular sovereignty.” Popular sovereignty established that Kansas and Nebraska would have slavery, or not, determined by how the population voted for either.
  • Created a “violent uprising known as “Bleeding Kansas,” as proslavery and antislavery activists flooded into the territories to sway the vote.”
  • By 1860, there were 625 free people of color living in Kansas. In 1870 there were 17,108 blacks in the state.

The closure of the Freedmen’s Bureau

The Compromise of 1877 and the Rise of Jim Crow

  • Points of compromise
    • “The removal of all remaining U.S. military forces from the former Confederate states. At the time, U.S. troops remained only in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, but the Compromise completed their withdrawal from the region.
    • The appointment of at least one Southern Democrat to Rutherford Hayes’ cabinet.
    • The construction of another transcontinental railroad using the Texas and Pacific in the South Legislation to help industrialize the South and restore its economy following the Civil War and Reconstruction.
    • The right to deal with black people without northern interference.”

Who are the Exodusters and why should we care about them?

  • The mass movement of Black people out of the deep south for states like Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado and more
  • Named after the biblical exodus from Egypt
  • Beginning as early as 1869 and as late as 1900
  • “The 1879 exodus removed approximately 6,000 African-Americans primarily from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.” Others came from states like Tennessee.
  • Other numbers cite a total of 7,432 Black people who settled between two colonies in two different counties in Kansas
  • People traveled by railway and steamboat, sometimes landing in cities along the river like Wyandotte, Atchison, and Kansas City
  • Settlements established all over but of note:
    • Baxter Springs, Cherokee, Kansas
    • Nicodemus, Graham, Kansas
    • Lyons County, Kansas
    • Chautauqua County, Kansas
    • Coffey County, Kansas
  • Motivations
    • Articles, advertisements, and news stories
    • Railroad Industry
      • “…several railroad, notably the Baltimore and Ohio, offered to certain active and influential colored men $1 per head for all the passengers they could procure for the respective lines.”
  • Organizers of Note
    • Benjamin “Pap” Singleton
      • Formerly enslaved man about about 1808 from Nashville who self-emancipated to Canada
      • Attempted to set up a Freedmen’s settlement in Tennessee after returning but ran into roadblocks
      • Lead a group to Baxter Springs, Cherokee, Kansas
    • Samuel L. Perry of North Carolina
      • Ushered Black people from that state to Indiana and eventually to Kansas
    • George F. Marlow of Alabama
      • Hired to go and check out Kansas and report back on the conditions there to people in Alabama in 1872
  • Don’t assume that your ancestors stayed in the deep south continuously after the Civil War; they may have left and and come back
  • The Promise and The Reality
    • Sick, hungry and destitute – the need for relief organizations
      • Establishment of relief of organizations
      • May 8, 1879 – Kansas Freedmen’s Relief Association created by Kansas Governor John St. John – https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/210613/page/4
        • “The Association was created in 1879 to aid freedmen, refugees, and immigrants who were migrating to Kansas. The KFRA relied on private donations from philanthropists, religious organizations, and distinguished persons such as the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, among others.”
        • A Statement by Mrs. E.L. Comstock, Correspondent of the Kansas Freedmen’s Relief Association – Statement – https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/456894/page/4
    • Perceptions
      • A lesson from The Exodus – https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/210621
      • “At Topeka on the 17th one hundred and seventeen colored refugees arrived by the Kansas Pacific from Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. They are mostly able-bodied, young married men and their wives, and in regard to the health, financial condition and intelligence, rank above any of this class of emigrants yet arrive.” The Nickerson Argosy, Wednesday, June 25, 1879
      • “Wichita has refused to receive the exodusters. A dozen or so were sent down there from Topeka, and were returned with the injunction not to send any more.” The Humboldt Union, Saturday, July 26, 1879

What types of records can we find that document this movement?

  • Census – Federal and Kansas State
    • 1865, 1870, 1875, 1880, 1885
  • Letters and Ephemera
  • Vital Records
  • Newspapers
  • Property records  – deeds/conveyances/mortgages, tax
  • Probate/Successions
  • Occupational research – railroads
  • Kansas Historical Society


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