First Meeting House of the Second Congregational Church, Holyoke Massachusetts
Richard Knight served as Minister 1853-1855. "A man of ability, he was fully conscious of its possession."
Richard Knight was an English clergyman who traveled to Kansas with his family in the 4th Spring Party of 1855 of the New England Emigrant Aid Company. From 1853 until that spring, he had served as minister in the Second Congregational Church in Holyoke, a large parish in Hampden County, Massachusetts. [www.holyokemass.com] The Hampden colony arrived in Kansas City on April 14, 1855. They had intended to settle in Lawrence but were diverted by Samuel Pomeroy, agent for the company, to the Neosho River valley. The Hampden colonists bought supplies in Kansas City and arrived at the Hampden town site in Coffey County on April 26. One of the party who had surveying experiences laid out 70 claims and they drew lots for them. [Cutler, History, Coffey County]
The Reverend Knight was charged with the religious instruction of the colony. He had a low opinion of the state of religion on the frontier. He wrote in August 1855:
"Our Sabbath meetings are attended by many for a distance of 6 or 8 miles who would otherwise have nothing but the teaching of ignorant men form some of the Western States who have come in as Emigrants and who have already had meetings advancing some of the crudest and strangest notions perceivable." [Lindquist, Religion in Kansas, 425]
Until late in the summer the settlement prospered and the colonists built homes and raised crops. Knight wrote to a friend on June 12:
"Rev. Asa Bullard, -- Dear Brother, -- You may probably have heard of my flight to Kanzas. I gave up my charge at Holyoke to accompany the Hampden County Colony, as their Pastor. My family are with me, and so far we have not regretted the step, although we have had to endure considerable privation and inconvenience, believing that we are in the path of duty. We have dwelt in a cotton tent for six weeks, exposed to all weather, and sometimes entirely drenched with rain; but the Lord has been gracious to us. We have none of us taken any cold. Mrs. K., especially, has not enjoyed such good health for many years.
" Our Colony has located in a most beautiful country, on the banks of the Neosho (clear water) the second river in Kanzas. We are about 80 miles south of Lawrence; and from the beauty of our situation, and its probable commercial advantages, we anticipate a rapid growth. Already we have quite a population, -- about 150. And when the families of many now here, come out in the fall, we shall have quite a community. Our congregations are good. We meet in a beautiful grove. I have a pulpit of wood between two very large oak trees.... There too, assembles a Sabbath school; and from 40 to 60 children and adults weekly study the sacred oracles. "
In late August the colony was struck with "ague," probably malarial fever. All were sick at the same time and helpless to care for each other. Five or six members died and many who recovered returned to the East. In December 1856, one settler wrote: : "Out of the one hundred men, women and children who came here one year ago last April, thirty only remain." [Barry, Parties of 1855, 255]
Knight was elected as a delegate to the Topeka Constitutional Convention in October 1855 and delivered the opening prayer of the session. [Connelly, History, Ch.26] William Addison Phillips, correspondent for the New York Herald attended the convention and gave a candid opinion of Knight:
"The Rev. Richard Knight was an Englishman and a clergyman. A man of ability, he was fully conscious of its possession. As chairman of the Committee on Education, he devoted much of his attention to that department. An ultra antislavery man, he carried his opinions to an extreme which prevented him from having sufficient respect for those who differed from him. He was tall, and striking in figure, but not handsome. Cold, self- possessed, and selfish, he walked through the convention not loved, but respected." [ Phillips, Conquest, 135]
When elected to the Topeka Convention, Knight moved his family to Lawrence, becoming another of those leaving the Hampden Colony. His 40 year old wife, Marianne, and his 13 year old son, Robert both died in Lawrence in February 1956. Knight soon returned to the East. [Pantle, Death Notices, 302ff]