When you think of the Underground Railroad, Kansas may not be the first place that comes to your mind.
Many people think southern states were the only ones to have the escape trails, but Kansas historians say that’s not true. While slavery wasn’t in Kansas, one city made it tough for Missouri slaves to escape.
The slave journey to freedom starts in Lecompton, Kan. Lecompton served as the temporary capital in 1855. It’s inside the Lecompton Constitution Hall where lawmakers legalized slavery in the state.
“It was a pro-slavery town,” said Tim Rues, from Lecompton Constitution Hall. “It was a Democratic party town, which in the mid-19th century, the Democratic party was the pro-slavery, pro-southern party. It was bookended by strong abolitionist towns, Topeka and Lawrence, and it was the capital of the territory.”
From Lecompton, one of the first stops for slaves in Topeka was the Ritchie House.
“It became an Underground Railroad stop,” said Bob Totten, Shawnee County Historical Society. “Basically, fugitive slaves from Missouri and other places ended up going through this place as well as others throughout the state. But, this was one of those on their way to Canada .”
Abolitionist John Ritchie and his wife, Mary, would serve slaves food and water before sending them to the next Topeka station Constitution Hall. While lawmakers sat inside of this building, slaves were hidden underneath it, inside a basement, before heading north to Canada.
“So this building was used to write the first Kansas constitution, which banned slavery in the future state of Kansas,” said Chris Meinhart, Topeka Constitution Hall. “Around 1856, the people who were using this building recognized the need for a northern escape route and trade route, because people were coming through Kansas, escaping slavery.”
When people think of the Underground Railroad, Kansas isn’t the first thought. But right outside of your backyard was a trail leading fugitive slaves to freedom.