Monday, January 27, 2020

East Meets West on the Rapidan –– a teaser

This is what I am working on now.

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, (1816 - 1891) and his brother Dr. John H. Stringfellow, (1819-1905) were born to Mary “Polly” Plunkett, the 2nd wife of Robert Stringfellow of Retreat Farm, also known as Robert II.

Retreat Farm was adjacent to Raccoon Ford along the Rapidan River though the family purchased the property well after the Stringfellow brothers’ formative years.  In September & October, 1863, the 13th MA was picketing the river in this area, and Retreat Farm was the picket-reserve command post.  And therein lies a tale.

These two Stringfellow brothers were educated in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia, and went on to acquire higher degrees elsewhere, before moving west at different times.  Both ended up prominent figures in the State of Missouri.  Ben, pictured right,  was Attorney General 1845 - 1849.  He subsequently gained the prefix, ‘General’ Stringfellow.  With this appellation B.F. Stringfellow was synonymously associated with Senator David Atchison, the leading proponent of bringing slavery to Kansas during the bleeding Kansas territorial period, 1854 - 1860.  Both Stringfellow’s were vigorously active allies of Senator Atchison in his efforts to bring thousands of Missouri residents into Kansas Territory to vote for pro-slavery candidates in early elections.  Ben lobbied Southern Congressmen to encourage their Southern slave owner consituents to move and settle in Kansas.  Dr. John Stringfellow helped found the town of Atchison, and with partner Robert S. Kelley, founded the vociferous pro-slavery weekly, Squatter Sovereign, issues of which you can read on-line at the Library of Congress, Chronicling America site.  I highly recommend it for insight into one side of those turbulent partisan times.

Kelley wrote most of the articles, but Dr. John, pictured left, frequently ran pro-slavery polemics penned by brother Ben, and Uncle Thornton Stringfellow, the most widely respected clerical apologist for slavery in the South.  And when Dr. John Stringfellow became Speaker of the House of the 1st Kansas Territory Legislature, he reported in the pages of his newspaper their daily proceedings.

Because of the huge number of pro-slavery voters imported from Missouri,  the Free-State settlers of Kansas Territory refused to recognize the legitimacy of the representatives elected.  This “Bogus Legislature,”  passed draconian pro-slavery laws, including hard labor and the death penalty for even speaking about abolition in the territory. 

In protest, the Free-Staters formed their own rump government, and elected as their choice for a future State Governor, Dr. Charles L. Robinson, pictured right, of Massachusetts.  Robinson was an educated man, a Massachusetts native, with many frontier experiences.  A California 49er, he served a term as representative in the California State Legislature.  Robinson returned to Massachusetts in 1851, married and founded the Fitchburg News. When the Kansas-Nebraska act became law,  Robinson became an agent for the abolitionist Emigrant Aid Company, and led the organization’s first group of 29 free-soil settlers to Kansas.    They founded the town of Lawrence.  Robinson was a great coalition builder, and his political skills were such that he strengthened the free-soil movement in Kansas Territory.  Consequently he was one of the Stringfellow brothers arch rivals during this time of Kansas’ history.  This history by the way is a great primer on what followed in the tragic Civil War.  I highly recommend readers learn more about it.

And now for the climax of this story.  On October 1st & 2nd, 1863, Lieutenant Edward Fay Rollins, 13th MA commanded the picket post at Retreat Farm.  He was called to the porch of the house to sit and visit with the current owner of the property, Dr. John H. Stringfellow, former Kansas Territory Speaker of the House.  Dr. John left Kansas in 1858 when his father Robert II died, and took over ownership of Retreat Farm.  Rollins and Stringfellow spent an agreeable two days in conversation debating slavery, and the prospects for the outcome of the war, then in progress.  Rollins was an editor by profession and had worked at the Fitchburg News.  His former employer was Dr. Charles Robinson, who in 1863 was the first Governor of Kansas, the free state arch rival of Dr. John.  Rollins wrote, “I had not met so agreeable a Southern man to talk with the whole two years I had been in the service. I could express my sincere views on the questions talked about without his taking offence, and I did my best to sustain my side of the argument.”  Then, “when relieved by another detail, he came to me and bade me good-bye, and presented me with a half blood-hound and half setter puppy which I had been admiring the previous day."

There is more, and the full story will be posted on my website, when the new pages are completed.  This is the last essay being developed for that new section.  And, if any readers know of where I might find a photo of Edward Rollins, please contact me. ––Hoping this generates some interest.