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Samuel N. Simpson letter

Call Number: RH VLT MS P16


A letter from S.N. (Samuel Newell) Simpson of Lawrence, Kansas to John Brown in Boston Massachusetts dated November 18, 1859, two weeks before Brown’s execution. Simpson sent a circular about the establishment of Monumental College in Kansas and a letter of explanation. The circular is the first edition, and second known copy of the solicitation for funds to establish a college in Kansas.


  • Creation: 1859


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Biography of Samuel Newell Simpson

(October 3, 1826 – November 27, 1915)

The son of Samuel and Hannah Pearson Simpson of Deerfield, New Hampshire. Family tradition attributes the first shot for the American side at the Battle of Bunker Hill to Samuel N. Simpson’s grandfather, John Simpson. Samuel N. Simpson was among the party of the first sixty settlers to found Lawrence, Kansas. He is credited with suggesting the town’s name – after Amos A. Lawrence. Simpson was involved in establishing Sunday Schools and churches. He is attributed with discovering the Franklin plots to destroy Lawrence, Kansas, as well as establishing the Free State Vigilance Committee. Simpson was also active in the Free State cause, acquiring arms and ammunition from the East to aid in the defense of the town. Samuel Newell and his brothers Henry M. and William A. Simpson were proprietors of Simpson Bank for several years. Samuel Newell Simpson worked with John Brown during Brown’s eighteen months of activity in Kansas. Simpson was in charge of guns and ammunition, as well as burying victims. Simpson married Kate L. Burnett of Ohio in 1864. The couple had three children, Charles Lyon, Theodore (died in infancy), and Burnett Newell. Samuel Newell Simpson was active in real estate and established the town of River View near Kansas City, Missouri. Samuel N. Simpson died in 1915 and is buried in Lawrence, Kansas.

Biography of John Brown

(May 9, 1800-December 2, 1859)

John Brown was born in Connecticut to Owen and Ruth (Mills) Brown. He hoped to become a Congregationalist minister, but lacked the money to finish school. He ran a variety of business ventures including tanneries, horse and sheep breeding, and land surveying in both Ohio and Pennsylvania. He married Dianthe Lusk in 1820. In 1831 after the death of one of his sons, Brown fell ill and accumulated large debts. His wife died shortly after the death of a son in 1832. He married 16-year-old Mary Ann Day in 1833, with whom he had 13 children. Brown lost his property in the economic crisis of 1839 and was declared bankrupt in 1842. Four of his children died of dysentery in 1843. The Brown family moved to New York in 1848. In 1855 Brown and several of his sons were involved in anti-slavery activity in Kansas.

John Brown was an abolitionist who promoted armed attacks as a means to end slavery immediately. His public campaign against slavery began in 1837, inspired by the murder of Elijah P. In New York, his family worked with poor African Americans who purchased land grants from Gerrit Smith. Several of Brown’s adult sons lived in Kansas. In 1855 Brown learned from his sons that Kansas was vulnerable to attack by militant pro-slavery groups. After attending an anti-slavery convention in Albany, Ny, Brown went to Kansas to help organize anti-slavery resistance. In response to information that the Brown family was targeted for an attack, John Brown killed 5 pro-slavery settlers in Pottawatomie, Ks. He also helped defend Palmyra, Kansas against pro-slavery attacks. His son Frederick was killed at the Battle of Osawatomie in August, 1856. John Brown helped fortify Lawrence, Kansas for an anticipated attack in September, 1856. However, the Governor, John W. Geary, was able to disband both factions. Brown then left Kansas to raise money for the anti-slavery cause.

In 1858 the elections determined Kansas a free state. Brown continued to fight against slavery elsewhere. In 1859 Brown traveled through Ohio, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts to gain support for his cause. Brown and his men attacked Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in October, 1859. He was imprisoned and tried in November and hanged on December 2, 1859.


1 folder

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The circular about Monumental College discusses the need to educate children in Kansas, the acquisition of land for the college, and the situation of Kansas in relation to free and slave states. The college is advertised as a means to perpetuate Free State sentiments, a memorial of the struggle for "Liberty, Intelligence, and Justice", and a way to prepare the next generation to lead a civilized and Christian society. The Trustees of the college are listed and the help of the New England Emigrant Aid Society is mentioned.

Simpson's letter to John Brown discusses having met the Brown family in Kansas during the struggle for freedom. He explains that the founders of the college intend to bury the bodies of those killed in Kansas's struggle for freedom beneath the main college building. Simpson requests Brown's permission to transfer the body of Brown's son, Frederick, who was killed in Kansas, to this site.

Physical Location


Guide to the Samuel N. Simpson Collection
Samuel N. Simpson letter
Finding aid prepared by tw, 2010; Finding aid encoded by tw, 2010
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in <language encodinganalog="language">English</language>
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Samuel N. Simpson Collection, Kansas Collection, RH VLT MS P16, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States