Augustus Wattles (1807-1876) was born into a Quaker family in Lebanon, Connecticut. He attended Oneida Institute in Whitestown, New York, where young men were prepared for "the millennial struggle of transforming American society." Students performed manual labor with their studies and were taught to apply their Christian ideals with practical action for reform. With the encouragement of his classmate, Theodore Dwight Weld, Wattles moved to Cincinnati in 1833 where he entered Lyman Beecher's Lane Theological Seminary, then a hotbed of anti-slavery sentiment. [Getz, Partners in Motion,102]
Wattles' Home 1857
The ruins of the home in Moneka, Linn County, where John Brown wrote
his "Parallels" defense in 1859. Photo taken in 1940.
[Kansas State Historical Society]
Wattles soon became part of a radical group of students operating a boys school for freed slaves and runaways. The seminary began to divide on issues of race and Beecher outlawed debates between students in an attempt to maintain unity. A large number of abolitionists withdrew from the school to attend the new Oberlin College to the north, but Wattles remained in Cincinnati running the boys school. [Morse, Wattles, 290] Lyman Beecher's son, Charles, said the seminary students were "an unusual group--a little uncivilized, entirely radical, and terribly in earnest." They were "daily hissed and cursed, loaded with brutal and vulgar epithets, oaths and threats, filth and offal were often thrown at them." They received letters "filled with threats, to be executed unless they discontinued [their activities]." [Harding, Magnificence, 352]
Wattles believed in "colonization," establishing a home in Africa for former slaves. In the meantime, however, he worked actively in the Underground Railroad transporting runaways north from the Ohio River. He collected money and bought 30,000 acres in Mercer County for a Black settlement called Carthagena. The settlement was divided into small farms and Wattles bought 190 acres for a school for boys which he operated at his own expense. In 1841, he persuaded the trustees of a New Jersey Quaker fund, the Emlen Institution for the Benefit of Children of African and Indian Descent, to buy the school, Wattles staying on as superintendent. The town of Carthegena was laid out near the institute and thrived for a while as an active Underground Railroad center with runaways being forwarded on from points to the south. White neighbors began to buy the farms as early as 1846, but the school continued until the Wattles family left for Kansas in 1855. The Emlen Institute trustees sold the school site in 1857. [Balser, Underground Railroad]
In 1836 Augustus had become an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society and he traveled widely on behalf of abolitionism. He made frequent trips to the East, lecturing and raising money for the cause. At home in Ohio, he helped found at least 25 more schools for black students throughout the state. Always he depended upon his wife, Susan, as a partner in his efforts. [Getz, Partners in Motion,111] Anxious to serve the free- state cause, the Wattles family moved to Kansas early in 1855, settling on Washington creek in Douglas County. Wattles was a candidate in the March 1855 "Bogus Election," and again in the second, May 1855 election. Securing a certificate of election from Governor Reeder, he went to Pawnee to take his seat, only to be rejected by the "Bogus Legislature." Wattles was a delegate to the Big Springs meeting and was elected to the Topeka Convention. [Goodin, Topeka Movement, 239]
Wattles began writing for the Lawrence "Herald of Freedom" soon after arriving in the territory and in November 1856, became assistant editor. He carried on alone while editor G.W. Brown was in the Lecompton prison for his free-state activities. [Morse, Wattles, 297] Wattles wrote a "Complete History of Kansas" and printed it in installments in the newspaper, from January to November 1857. His narrative ran from the French exploration until the winter of 1857, and was a highly personalized view of history. Wattles saw the repeal of the Missouri Compromise as a slave owner conspiracy in which Missouri was an unwitting partner and Popular Sovereignty as a catchphrase allowing first inhabitants to determine the rights of all who followed, undemocratically denying a later majority the ability to alter the government. Writing about the Big Springs meeting where he was a delegate, Wattles saw its division over race as between men from New England, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio who had "enlarged views of human rights" and western and southern men who did not. Wattles did not think the Topeka Movement should have asked for statehood in 1855. He said a majority said they favored statehood but felt most never really expected it to happen so early. [Malin, Notes on the Writing of General Histories, 202ff]
In winter 1857, the Wattles family moved to Linn County where the struggle for Kansas continued unabated. Wattles left Lawrence in part because of his break with Charles Robinson and G.W. Brown, believing they had abandoned the Topeka Movement by calling for free-state voting in the Legislative election in October, 1857 and thus participation in the authorized government of the territory. The Wattles extended family located in the new town of Moneka where Augustus and his brother John Wattles had earlier been incorporators. In 1858, the town's population reached 200 before dwindling away. Most of the incorporators were progressives: abolitionists, spiritualists and believers in women's rights. A large hotel was built, housing many visiting free-state leaders on their visits to the area. Moneka was the educational center of Linn County, with an academy run by the Wattles family far surpassing any other educational institution in the county. [Stearns, Moneka,429]
Soon after the "Marais des Cygnes Massacre" in May 1858, Wattles was instrumental in bringing John Brown back to Kansas and specifically to Linn County. Brown soon was raiding into Missouri. As a Quaker, Wattles believed in freeing slaves but opposed violence. Following a raid on December 20, 1858, Brown brought eleven slaves and two white hostages to the Wattles home in the middle of the night, cold and hungry. After learning a slave owner had been killed in the raid, Wattles and John Montgomery began to censure Brown for breaking Governor Denver's "Sugar Mound Peace Agreement" that Brown had signed only a few weeks earlier, promising to "in good faith discontinue, and thoroughly discountenance acts of robbery, theft, or violence against others on account of their political differences." After listening to Wattles' and Montgomery's concerns, Brown replied "I have considered the matter well; you will have no more attacks from Missouri; I shall now leave Kansas; probably you will never see me again; I consider it my duty to draw the scene of the excitement to some other part of the country." Brown then delivered a written rationale for his raids, entitled "Parallels," comparing Missourians' deeds to his own and drawing parallels between them. [Morse, Wattles, 298]
Wattles continued to correspond with John Brown and when Brown was captured at Harpers Ferry, in October, 1859, Wattles, Montgomery and two others met at the Moneka Hotel to plan Brown's rescue from the Charlestown jail. While others advocated use of force, an assault by 100 men from Kansas, Iowa and the East, Wattles thought the idea impractical. He favored some sort of deception and the group traveled to Hagerstown, Maryland to reconnoiter. They met with Brown but he refused to be rescued. He had pledged good behavior to his jailers and he saw death on the gallows as fulfillment of his mission. The group returned to Kansas disappointed. Wattles was later summoned to Washington to answer Congressional questions about his role in the Harpers Ferry Raid, of which he denied any foreknowledge. [Morse, Attempted Rescue, 214ff]
In 1861, Wattles toured among the Kansas Indian tribes on behalf of the War Department. He discovered, with few exceptions, they were anxious to exchange their homes in Kansas for a place in the Oklahoma Indian Territory, a place presumably neutral during the Civil War. In February, 1862, the House of Representatives asked for the Wattles Report, which he delivered to the Secretary of War in March. In advance of congressional authorization, the Kansas tribes began to negotiate to move with encouragement from White Kansans. Despite all the idealism of Wattles and others who wished only well being for the tribes, "every advantage was taken of the Indian's predicament, of his pitiful weakness, political and moral." [Abel, Civil War, Part 9] Wattles died in Mound City at 69 years of age.