1856: Emeline (Washburn) Grout to her Aunt

This incredible letter was written by Emeline—“Emma”—(Washburn) Grout (1831-Aft1900), the wife of master cabinetmaker, Chester “Gilbert” Grout (1828-1903). Gilbert was raised in Bratteboro, Vermont, the son of John Grout (1788-1851) and Azubah Dunkle (1793-1866). After his marriage to Emeline, Gilbert lived in Kansas [Territory] for a time but left there during the “period of violence” days and went back East to Berlin, Sangamon county, Illinois, where this letter was datelined in September 1856. Gilbert must have traveled to Kansas Territory with an older brother, Admatha Grout (1817-1855)—a theologically trained graduate of Dartmouth and the Union Theological Seminary—who died in Osawatomie on 6 September 1855.

Voting records indicate that Gilbert cast a vote at Lawrence on 29 November 1854 when the territory selected its first delegate to Congress, and again on 9 October 1855 at Osawatomie when a “proper” election for a delate to Congress was held. Emma’s fifth paragraph refers to the gathering of Missourians south of Lawrence threatening to attack and the murder of a horseback rider. I feel certain that she is referring to the murder of Thomas Barber and the otherwise bloodless standoff which became known as the Wakarusa War. This would suggest that Gilbert and Emma made the journey back to Illinois during the middle of December 1855. Gilbert’s name does not appear on Kansas Territory land claims which is understandable given that he was not a farmer but a craftsman.

At the time of the Civil War, Gilbert and Emma were living in Agency, Wapello county, Iowa, where he enlisted as a corporal in Co. F, 7th Iowa Infantry and rose in rank to sergeant. He was discharged in January 1864 to accept a lieutenant’s commission in Co. A, 3rd Alabama (African Descent) Infantry which became the 111th USCT. After the war he returned to Kansas, settling in Augusta, Butler county. In the 1870 US Census, the couple were enumerated in Ottumwa, Wapello county, Iowa. In 1880, they were enumerated in El Dorando, Butler county, Kansas. By 1900, the couple had moved to Esculapia, Benton county, Arkansas. Gilbert’s death notice was published in the Windham county Reformer as having occurred in Magazine, Arkansas, on 28 February 1903. The couple do not appear to have had any children.

Missourians coming into Kansas Territory to vote before Election Day

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Rob Morgan and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Berlin, [Sangamon county,] Illinois
September 28, 1856

Dear Aunt,

I have neglected writing you too long. I thought when I got your letter I would answer immediately but my time has been so much occupied that I have not got at it.

There has been a family in the neighborhood that has been very sick & I have been there a great deal. The lady was taken with the typhoid fever, got a little better, & the erysipelas set in & she died. And her eldest daughter—about 9 years old—was taken the same way; got almost entirely over the fever & the face began to break out with the erysipelas. She lived a few days & died. A little boy about 6 years old was taken with the fever but they broke it up so it did not have a full run. But the day the little girl died, his face began to break out & swell. They got a physician from Springfield that succeeded in stopping it. Some think he is gaining slowly & some think he will never get well. He is not able to sit up any now. They have a little babe left, 6 months old, without a mother. He is a pretty little thing. I have had him & took care of him 2 weeks. They carried him home to his grandfather yesterday. With the exception of this family there has been no sickness in this vicinity this summer.

My health is quite good. I cannot endure so much since I had the ague as I could before, but am quite well. I have had no chills this summer. Mr. Grout’s health is not good. He has the ague every little while & I sometimes think he always will. He is so apt to work part of the time. He is now at Springfield, Illinois, at work at his trade where I expect to go in a few weeks if we do not get any land. Gilbert wants to get him a piece of land somewhere if he can but he has not the means to do as we should like to do. 

You asked me to write what I know about was in Kansas. I cannot write half as well as I could tell you if I could see you. I have seen companies of Missourians by the hundreds come in there to vote having large wagons filled with provisions & whiskey, come in 4 or 5 days before the elections, rob & burn houses, & kill Free State men—or men that come from free states if they had said they were in favor of free Kansas, or [even] if they said nothing about it if they come from a northern state. There was one of our neighbors shot at at the first election because he would not resign his place as judge of the election to the Missourians when he was appointed by the Governor. Two men [were] killed within 20 miles of our house & their house burnt to the ground & their families left to do what they best could. Others drove off their claims & their houses burned.

A week before we left, there was a man from Lawrence that we were acquainted with that said a day or two before he came away, a man living 5 miles from there came to the store to do some errands, was riding home horseback between sundown & dark. [He] said nothing to anyone, [yet he] was shot off his horse & killed instantly. At that time they were gathering for a fight at Lawrence & were camped about 5 miles south of Lawrence. They then stopped every team & took whatever they had & [took] the drivers as prisoner. They thought in that way they should starve them out of Lawrence. They did not dare to attack Lawrence. [They] stopped there until they quarreled among themselves, killed 2 of their own men, [then] broke up and went home rather ashamed of themselves & a great many other things.

I could tell you if worthwhile but I will tell you what I think is the great cause of it—it is their being all the time, or most of the time, intoxicated. They never go into the Territory without as much whiskey as they can drink & drunken men will do almost anything you know. 

There has been a great battle at Osawatomie within a few weeks. 1 Several men [were] killed & others drove from their homes and everything they had in the world left there to be destroyed. Two of the men went through Springfield & Gilbert saw them but I have not seen them & do not know whether they was anyone we knew or not. Gilman & his brother was out there that day & saw them & said that they were drove from their farms 1 mile from Osawatomie and left everything to be destroyed if they chose.

I think the New York Tribune [would] give the most correct news of any other paper there is. I do not see how the North can sit still & see such outrages go on & not say or do anything about it—& especially now since the President says he will not do anything to prevent these outrages. I should think they would begin to look around themselves & think what they were coming [to Kansas Territory]. I only wish that some of those eastern editors that do not believe there is any outrages or bloodshed in Kansas were obliged to go to some of these towns near Missouri, Osawatomie, or Lawrence & stay one month, let them know that they were northern men, & then see what they think. I do not think stories about the outrages have been exaggerated but very little. [There is] no knowing where this will end.

I am writing too long a letter. You will get tired reading. Please accept much love from us all for yourself & family. Write soon. Yours as ever, —

1 Emma is referring to the “Battle of Osawatomie” that took place on 30 August 1856.

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