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Monday, June 20, 2016

Little-Known Kansas City History

Early Kansas City home, possibly belonging to Bernoist Troost. Slave cabin in rear.

To dispel any notion that Kansas City was anything but a Confederate city, one has only to take a look at the town settlers. The first company, formed in 1839, consisted of 14 men and was spearheaded by John C. McCoy, William Gilliss, and a fur trapper from Kentucky named William Sublette. Town founder McCoy, according to the 1850 census, owned five slaves at his home on Pearl Hill. Gilliss, born in Maryland, was a slaveowner. The 1850 census shows he owned three male slaves, ages 18 -36. Although banished by Ewing in 1863, Gillis was allowed to stay, perhaps due to his age, wealth, position in the community, and by showing evidence that he had freed his last slave in 1862.

Fry P. McGee was a son of early settler James Hyatt McGee of Kentucky, reputed to have brought the first slaves to Kansas City in the late 1830’s. The 1860 slave census shows that Fry McGee, his brothers and his mother owned slaves. Jacob Ragan of Kentucky arrived in Jackson County in 1837. He was a known Confederate and was included on at least one of the Provost Marshal’s lists of “bad men.” William Miles Chick was born near Lynchburg, Virginia. He came to Kansas City in 1836. Chick, too, was a known Confederate and was one of the Provost Marshal’s “bad men.” Chick’s warehouse was located next to Jesse’s on the levee. Both were burned by Union soldiers in 1862. Col. Chick was was John C. McCoy’s father-in-law.

Five men of the 1839 company were farmers and slaveholders residing in Blue Township, Jackson County, just east of Kansas City:

Oliver Caldwell arrived in Jackson County in 1833. He farmed at Blue Valley and organized the Christian Church in Independence. The 1840 census shows that he owned 9 slaves; the 1850 census shows Oliver 58, wife Ann 54, 3 children 17-24, and 11 slaves.

George Washington Tate arrived in Westport in 1838. He became a Missouri state legislator in 1842. The 1850 census for Blue Township identifies Tate as a 53 year-old merchant, residing with his wife Lovey 46, and 3 children 14-27 and 1 male slave, age 15.

William Collins was a Kentucky native who lived in Liberty. The 1860 census for Liberty Township shows him with 4 slaves. James Smart of Virginia was a farmer who came to Jackson County 1834 with his brother Thomas and became Jackson County judge in 1846. He was a founder of the Christian Church in Independence and was Oliver Caldwell’s brother-in-law. The 1850 census for Blue Township shows Thomas 53, Nancy 48, and 3 children aged12-20. The 1860 slave census show that he owned 15 slaves.

Russell Hicks of Massachusetts came to Jackson County around 1827. He was a teacher, lawyer and judge who was called “one of the most eccentric members of the Kansas Town Company.” After the war he practised law in Sedalia and was counsel to Senator Thomas Hart Benton. The 1850 census places Hicks, 65, in Blue Township with two female slaves, ages 4 and 23.

The vast majority of the personal wealth in Jackson County prior to the war was contained among men who had been born in Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. These men and their families supported the Confederacy and its institutions. The children of the original town members were coming of age during the years leading up to the Civil War, as were the children of the thousands of southern settlers who came to Jackson County in the 1840’s.

--Text by John Dawson

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