John Butler Chapman

John Butler Chapman (1797-1877) was a man of wide and varied experience when he arrived in Kansas. He was born in Harrison County, Virginia and had little formal education. At 15 he began work in his father's grist mill and at 18 became a hotel clerk. In 1816, he went west to Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana and piloted a boat to the Red River in Texas. He returned to Virginia the next year and read medicine with a practicing physician. After ten years as a doctor in several states, he read law and was admitted to the bar, locating in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He farmed in Indiana, as well, moving several times within the state, making a claim on Turkey Creek near Leesburg and becoming first postmaster of the area. After serving as local agent of the Indian reservations nearby, he was elected prosecuting attorney for the northern circuit of Indiana and representative in the Indiana legislature. [Dolbee, Third Book on Kansas.240]

Tadeusza Kosciuszki (1746-1817)

Colonel of Engineers for Washington's Revolutionary Army. As a child, Chapman read about Kosciuszki and later named an Indiana county for him. [Juliusz Kossak: Portrait of Tadeusza Kosciuszki., 1879, Muzeum w Lancucie]

In the legislature, he was active in town founding and railroad chartering. He led the organization of Kosciusko County, and its county seat, Warsaw. Although there was some opposition to the unfamiliar county name, Chapman persisted. "When I was a boy in the army in Norfolk, Virginia," he wrote, "I heard some old veterans of the revolutionary war speaking of the noble traits of character of Koscius(z)ko. I always thought he had been neglected by the American people as a patriot of the revolution." [Pinkowski, Kosciuszko]

Chapman considered himself "an all-around eccentric" who wanted "continuous action and change." He was a Jacksonian Democrat and was a "persistent meddler in politics." In 1849 "partial deafness compelled him to relinquish the practice of law" and he went to California with the gold rush. He traveled on to Oregon and Alaska, laying out three towns in Oregon during his three years there. [Dolbee, Third Book on Kansas.241] He became the first lawyer north of the Columbia river and seized on local discontent with the Oregon Territorial Legislature, thought to be ignoring the region. In August 1851 he was elected as a delegate to a convention petitioning Congress for creation of separate territory (now Washington State.) Chapman wrote the 1,500-word "Memorial to Congress," over five handwritten legal pages long, listing the problems facing settlers north of the Columbia and their complaints about the Oregon Territorial Legislature. The document was filled with errors and exaggerations, however, and no bill was introduced in Congress. [Weber, Creation of Washington Territory]

He was in the nation's capital when the Kansas-Nebraska bill was being debated in 1854. He had been promised a political post in Washington Territory but was not named because of opposition from old enemies on the west coast. So he decided to "identify himself with the [free-state Kansas] people and labor to promote their interest." He traveled to Kansas and wrote a book, History of Kansas and Emigrant's Guide, describing the towns, political sympathies and prophesizing the future. . [Dolbee, Third Book on Kansas. 242]

Chapman was a National Democrat, committed to popular sovereignty. He ran for Congressional Delegate from Kansas Territory in 1854, "asserting a willingness to abide by the decision of the people on slavery." Defeated in the election by John Whitfield, he soon turned his attention to founding the new town of Whitfield, in honor of his opponent. [Malin, Topeka Statehood,36] After publishing his book in Indiana, he returned to Kansas and attended the Big Springs meeting and issued a prospectus for a free-state newspaper in Whitfield, the Kansas Intelligencer. He was a delegate to the Topeka Convention and began to claim credit for the whole Free-State movement. [Dolbee, Third Book on Kansas. 269] There is some basis to believe Chapman did originate the plan to apply for statehood at the 1855 Topeka Convention. Chapman was said to have given it to Josiah Miller of the Lawrence Free State, who gave it to Charles Robinson, who disapproved. [Malin, Notes on Writing, 209]

In Autumn 1856 Chapman was captured by "Georgia rangers from Tecumseh" and taken to Fort Leavenworth, where he was held for a while, in fear for his life, until released under order to leave the territory. he returned to Indiana where he spoke and wrote on Kansas topics. In 1857 he moved back to the town of Leavenworth, writing for the Leavenworth Times, often critical of the established free-staters in Lawrence. [Dolbee, Third Book on Kansas. 272]

Chapman's time in Kansas ended in scandal. In the winter of 1857, he fell in love with a much younger woman to whom he transferred $9,000 in promise of marriage. She failed to marry him as promised and he sued to recover his property. Her defense was that she had learned since the courtship that he was still married, though he had told her his wife was dead. Enemies Chapman had made in the free-state press delighted in the story and he was widely ridiculed. In 1858 he left the territory, living in poverty before finally receiving a long promised patronage job in Washington, D.C. He died back home in Warsaw in 1877. [Dolbee, Third Book on Kansas. 274] In his last year of life, he wrote extensively about the early days in Warsaw. []

Charles Clark