In 1863, Abraham
Lincoln abolished slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation. Three years
later, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments brought all slavery to an end in
America and granted citizenship and voting rights to freed slaves.
system provided by Reconstruction ended in 1877. This meant a return to the
unjust and prejudicial practices of pre-Civil War society for
African-Americans. Seeking escape from a seemingly hopeless situation, these
people looked West and took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862.
1878 and 1880, about 20,000
African-Americans migrated to Kansas. John Brown and his fiery abolitionist
friends made Kansas seem like a fair place where they would be welcomed. The
rumor was that Kansas would provide “40 acres and a mule.” These migrants
became known as “Exodusters” because their migration resembled the Israelites’
exodus from Egypt in the Hebrew bible.
Gov. John P. St.
John (1833-1916) encouraged the Exodusters to come to Kansas. A colony of them came
to Stafford County and settled mostly in Ohio Township in sections 6, 14, 17,
20, 27 and 30.
In 1994, local
historian Colen Hoover (1909-1995) noted in the St. John News that the
ex-slaves survived and thrived on the Kansas prairie “because of their experience
in operating every aspect of the southern plantations where they had been
enslaved. These pioneers knew how to take care of livestock; cultivate soil and
plant seeds; make mortar and bricks and lay them; build houses and store
harvests; butcher animals and preserve meat. They could make soap, hominy and
molasses in large amounts.
developed the planting of corn in deep furrows called ‘lister plows’ in order
to protect young corn from hot southwest winds. In those early days, there were
many water ponds in the grasslands where they raised fish. They also had
orchards and poultry.”
pioneers established Martin Cemetery in Ohio Township, 1½ mile west of the
junction of highways 281 and 50 on the north side of Highway 50. It still
stands as a testament and memorial to the hundreds of African-Americans who
made a new life here. The earliest death date on a gravestone there is 1906,
but there are at least 14 people believed to be buried there without markers.
Although the cemetery is no longer used, it is maintained by
the City of St. John. A large stone marker with its name inscribed was placed
there by the Stafford County Board of Commissioners in 1993.
the south side of St. John,
there were two African-American churches – a Baptist church, which did not last
long, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church organized in 1887 and built in
1892. It was located on the southeast corner of Pearl and Hoole streets.
Washington Walker was
born Nov. 14, 1849 in Washington, D.C. His early life was spent in Oklona, MS
where he received his education in private schools. At 21, he went to Paducah,
KY where he taught school. On Jan. 11, 1875, he married Catherine Harris of
Paducah. (She was born in 1859). They had 12 children. Mr. Walker arrived in
Great Bend in 1880 and walked from there to stake his claim in Stafford County,
settling in Seward Township. He worked hard and saved his money until he had
enough to pay train fare for his wife and children. In 1884, they removed to
Byron Township. In 1938, oil was discovered on their 480-acre farm. It gave
1,600 barrels daily. Catherine Walker died May 7, 1940. Her obituary noted that
all four daughters were college graduates and all four sons were successful
farmers. George Walker died Jan. 24, 1943. Mr. and Mrs. Walker are buried at
Great Bend Cemetery. Several articles and Mrs. Walker’s obit state they were
both ex-slaves. There is no mention of that in Mr. Walker’s obituaries.
Rev. John A. &
Julia R. Scott
A. Scott was born into
slavery in 1828 and his wife Julia R. in 1840. According to their
granddaughter, Cosa Mae Vaughn, John was something of a rebel. As a slave, he
was beaten and shot because he refused to beat a fellow slave. After the Civil
War, the family faced other dangers. Around 1870, the Ku Klux Klan went to John
Scott’s home in Louisiana, looking for him. The family left for Indiana the
next morning with only the clothes on their backs, leaving behind two adult
children they never saw again. They took a wagon train from Indiana to Salina,
fording the Arkansas River. John & Julia walked from Salina to Stafford
County in 1886, staking a claim south of St. John. They lived in a dugout and
gathered cow chips for fuel. John and Julia had 16 children. John died in 1893
and Julia in 1914. They are buried in Fairview Park Cemetery at St. John.
short eight-line death
notice, tucked in the inside pages of the June 2, 1905 edition of the St.
John Weekly News, belies a long, courageous, industrious, life lived out
against the backdrop of one of the darkest and most tumultuous chapters in
was born into slavery in 1825. In 1860, he led his entire family to freedom
from a Missouri plantation in a daring late-night escape fraught with danger
and hardship – and the knowledge that runaway slaves who were caught were often
beaten to death or shot. The Graceys made it to the shores of the Missouri
River where Union soldiers helped them cross into the free state of Kansas.
To avoid being
sent back to their old master as a result of fugitive slave laws, Samuel
changed the family’s name from Grayson to Gracey. In 1878, the Graceys
homesteaded in Stafford County. Samuel Gracey died in May, 1905, at his home in
Byron Township and is buried at Eden Valley Cemetery in Stafford County.