No history of the Kelsey family can be complete without understanding why they left Connecticut to come to Kansas. The year was 1856. Kansas and Nebraska were slated to become states, but Congress decided to let the citizens of those states decide whether they would come into the union as free or slave states. Only residents would be able to cast votes to make this decision.
The most famous man in America at the time was the preacher and noted orator Henry Ward Beecher. He was one of the most vocal abolitionists in the country and he traveled throughout New England giving speeches on the evils of slavery and the duty of good Christians to oppose slavery. He advocated for New Englanders to literally vote with their feet, to move their families to the prairies of Kansas and Nebraska, where they could be a part of the historic vote.
Beecher knew that the road would be hazadous. Pro-slavery forces in Missouri were already skirmishing on the Kansas border and the term “Bloody Kansas” was both a warning and a battle cry. So, when Beecher arrived in New Haven to speak, he knew that the families who would make the trip to Kansas from Connecticut would face more than just the hardships of the prairie. They would also be sending themselves into the heart of the battle.
The following is transcribed diretly from an old mimeograph from the 1950s produced by the Beecher Bible and Rifle Church:
“The Beecher Bible and Rifle Church
Brief History of the Church
The church, known by a number of names including: The Wabaunsee Beecher Bible and Rifle Church, The Wabaunsee Congregational Church, or The Beecher Bible and Rifle Congregational Church, originated with the Connecticut Colony which was organized and led by Charles B. Lines in the winter and spring of 1856.
In the Connecticut colony the phrase “Beecher’s Bible and Rifle Company” had its origin. In 1856, when the interest in the Nebraska-Kansas bill was at its height and the New England states were more than usually awake to the importance of the new territory being a free state, a meeting was held in New Haven, Connecticut, to enroll men to go to the new country and live and fight. Mr. Lines had invited Henry Ward Beecher to give an address on the ‘Kansas Question’ before starting the colony for the ‘Battleground of Freedom.’ The object was partly to raise money to pay expenses, but there was no thought of rifles. Henry Ward Beecher made a stirring address. At the close it was announced that one hundred men had joined the party but that while they were well prepared to dig and plow they were not prepared to fight.
Professor Stillman, of Yale College, arose and proposed to raise the money there and then, to furnish fifty Sharp’s rifles to the company. He pledged one rifle himself, and others followed with similar pledges. Mr. Beecher promised to see that half of the rifles were furnished by his church. In a few day guns were sent for every man, $626.00, having been paid by Mr. Beecher’s congregation for that purpose. Along with the guns were a Bible and a hymn book for each colonist.
On the last day of March 1856, the company, seventy strong, left New Haven watched by thousands. They landed at Kansas City and went up the valley of the Kaw to Wabaunsee arriving in April. On the way they formed a co-operative organization and bought tools with which to fit themselves and their families, who were to come after, with homes.
In June 1857, the colony gathered for the purpose of forming a church organization. Meetings were held on June 21, 27 and 28, when the organization was perfected. Original members included: John Willig, John S. Nesbit, Daniel B. Hiat, Julius F. Willard, Rev. Harvey Jones, Miss Cornelia Lines, Mr. & Mrs. H. Isbell, Mr. & Mrs. A. N. Allen, John S. Avery, Jeremiah Platt, Moses C. Welch, Franklin H. Hart, Mrs. Caroline Foss, Hezekiah M. Selden, Mr. & Mrs. C. B. Lines, Mr. & Mrs. E. Dwight Street, Hiram Maybe, S. H. Fairfield, Mrs. Mary Read, William F. Cotton, Friend W. Ingham, Mrs. Austin Kelsey, Mr. & Mrs. C. E. Pond.
The Rev. Harvey Jones, who had been preaching in the neighborhood for about a year previous under the commission of the American Missionary Society, was chosen pastor. The Rev. Jones held meetings in a grove, and later in a tent.
The Rev. S. Y. Lum, of Lawrence, preached the sermon at the church’s organization, and Rev. C. E. Blood gave the ‘fellowship of churches.’ Moses C. Welch was elected the first clerk and Chester E. Pond the first treasurer. Moses C. Welch and Harlow Isbell were the first deacons.
In 1860 they erected the church building of stone that yet stands, a monument to the early days. At the time Charles B. Lines, president of the colony wrote of the church members ‘They left the walls of their own homes unplastered, that the wall of their church be not bare.’ It was the New Haven colony that Wittier’s poem ‘The Kansas Emigrants‘ was written.”
Learn more about the Connecticut-Kansas pioneers, the church they founded and their contribution to the abolitionist movement at MountMitchellPrairie.org