Stark Mad Abolitionists: A Selected Bibliography

October 19th, 2017
A town at the center of the United States becomes the site of an ongoing struggle for freedom and equality. In May, 1854, Massachusetts was in an uproar. A judge, bound by the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, had just ordered a young African American man who had escaped from slavery in Virginia and settled in Boston to be returned to bondage in the South. An estimated fifty thousand citizens rioted in protest. Observing the scene was Amos Adams Lawrence, a wealthy Bostonian, who “waked up a stark mad Abolitionist.” As quickly as Lawrence waked up, he combined his fortune and his energy with others to create the New England Emigrant Aid Company to encourage abolitionists to emigrate to Kansas to ensure that it would be a free state. The town that came to bear Lawrence’s name became the battleground for the soul of America, with abolitionists battling pro-slavery Missourians who were determined to make Kansas a slave state. The onset of the Civil War only escalated the violence, leading to the infamous raid of William Clarke Quantrill when he led a band of vicious Confederates (including Frank James, whose brother Jesse would soon join them) into town and killed two hundred men and boys. Stark Mad Abolitionists shows how John Brown, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher, Sam Houston, and Abraham Lincoln all figure into the story of Lawrence and “Bleeding Kansas.” The story of Amos Lawrence’s eponymous town is part of a bigger story of people who were willing to risk their lives and their fortunes in the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality. Bob Sutton discusses Stark Mad Abolitionists: Lawrence, Kansas, and the Battle over Slavery in the Civil War Era on Saturday 10/21, 3pm at 57th Street Books.

Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era by Nicole Etcheson (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2004) - This is the most comprehensive recent book on the Bleeding Kansas period.
A History of Lawrence, Kansas from Earliest Settlement to the Close of the Rebellion by Richard Cordley (1895) - This book is out-of-print, but available online at
Kansas: It's Interior and Exterior Life by Sara Robinson (1856) - It is out-of-print, but available online at

About Bob Sutton: Robert K. Sutton retired as Chief Historian of the National Park Service in 2016, after having served in the position for nearly nine years.  He came to this position following his tenure as the Superintendent of Manassas National Battlefield Park for the previous 12 ½ years.  From 1986 to 1990, he directed the Historic Preservation and Historical Administration public history programs at Arizona State University.  He has published a number of books, articles and reviews on various public history topics.  One of his primary interests as Chief Historian and as Superintendent at Manassas Battlefield was leading the emphasis on expanding the interpretation of the Civil War for the Sesquicentennial. As part of that effort, he encouraged Civil War battlefields to expand their interpretive programs to focus more attention to the social, economic, and political issues during the Civil War Era. Dr. Sutton is currently serving as a consultant to the American Battle Monuments Commission, assisting commission staff in developing interpretive programs to commemorate the Centennial of World War I. In that program, he edited a collection of essays by leading World War I historians released in April 2017. He is currently working on a book on World War I aimed at middle school children. Dr. Sutton has continued teaching. He teaches courses in the Johns Hopkins Osher Senior Adult program on the Civil War and the American West. He will be the Resident Historian for Viking Ocean cruises as well. Dr. Sutton also has written a book on the Civil War Era in Kansas, published by Skyhorse Publishing in August 2017. Sutton and his son, Lee, are editing an autobiography written by his father (and Lee’s grandfather).
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