New England Emigrant Aid Company
NEW ENGLAND EMIGRANT AID COMPANY
NEW ENGLAND EMIGRANT AID COMPANY. Founded by Eli Thayer, of Worcester, Massachusetts, and seeking to assist Northern emigrants to settle in the West, mainly in the Kansas territory, the New England Emigrant Aid Company was incorporated as the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company on 26 April 1854; it changed its name in February 1855. Thayer and his supporters were alarmed that the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which overturned a territorial ban on slavery imposed by the Missouri Compromise of 1820, would close off economic opportunities to non-slaveholding laborers and immigrants. The Company was both a philanthropic undertaking and a money-making operation. It solicited investors and negotiated discounted transportation, provided conductors, and financed construction of hotels, schools, churches, and mills. Its expenditures totaled approximately $192,000. Company-backed settlers who went to Kansas, some three thousand in all, founded Lawrence, named for Amos A. Lawrence, the Massachusetts anti-slavery captain of industry and largest financial backer of the Company; Topeka; Manhattan; and Osawatomie, a town made famous when the zealot John Brown fought proslavery forces in its vicinity. The Company involved itself in the Kansas free-state movement by dispatching antislavery political advice and covertly supplying settlers with hundreds of the deadly Sharps breechloading rifle as well as cannons and a howitzer. When these operations were discovered they outraged proslavery forces, as well as the Democratic administration of Franklin Pierce. In the fight to determine whether Kansas would enter the Union slave or free, proslavery Missourians pointed to the Company's covert operations to justify their fraudulent voting. On the other hand, the rising Republican Party used the controversy surrounding the Company to build momentum. By 1857 settlement in Kansas by free labor migrants had grown to the thousands and the Company's efforts subsided. In 1861 the Company's assets, valued at $100,000, were liquidated to pay debts. During and after the Civil War the Company funded token efforts to establish colonies in Oregon and Florida.
Johnson, Samuel A. Battle Cry of Freedom: The New England Emigrant Aid Company in the Kansas Crusade. 1954. Reprint, Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1977.