July 9, 2020
I grew up in several small Kansas towns except for a few years in western Colorado. The town I claim to be “from” however is Manhattan. We moved there as I entered High School and although I tried other schools, I received my undergraduate degree from Kansas State University in Manhattan. Manhattan prides itself as the Little Apple, in difference to the Big Apple in New York City. Despite my long connection to the town, I had never heard of its history, until today.
I was forwarded an article which had been reposted by a cousin of mine about the founding and early history of Manhattan. The idea of Manhattan had been born in the early 1850s amid the controversy surrounding the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Missouri Compromise was passed in 1820 allowing Missouri to be admitted as a slave state and Maine as a free state. It also prohibited slavery in Louisiana Territory above the 36⁰ 30’ Latitude. Nebraska was therefore assured to enter the Union as a free state, but Kansas was in question, as it was below this line. That is when a group of new Englanders hatched the idea of settling in Kansas to increase the free state voters in any upcoming territorial election.
Ely Thayer founded the New England Emigrant Aid Company to recruit volunteers to settle in the territory. Six hundred volunteers were sent to Lawrence in 1854, but more were needed to secure the vote. That same year Isaac Goodnow took up the cause and vowed to establish a new settlement at the site that was to become Manhattan. Goodnow recruited 100’s of people to emigrate to Kansas and left in 1855. A combination of poor travel conditions and constant harassment through Missouri meant only 50 arrived to establish the town in April of 1855. Manhattan continued to grow and established one of the first Agricultural Colleges in America 1861. It is odd how much we forget about what we should know.
THOUGHTS: I find it interesting that Lawrence and Manhattan were both founded by New Englanders for the same reason, yet now they are interstate rivals due to the presence of sports teams. We often start out on the same path but allow small differences to become huge obstacles. That is what is happening today. Everyone wants an end to the pandemic and wants an open economy, but we have allowed politics to get in the way of resolution. The goal everyone wants will only be achievable when we put aside our differences and work together. If you can, work to keep the conversation going.