Joseph Campbell Anderson was born in Jessamine County, Kentucky in 1830. About the time of his birth, his father Oliver Anderson, already a successful businessman, began growing hemp and manufacturing rope and bagging. His export business to Europe was particularly strong, involving shipping hemp bales down the Ohio and Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans. Political instability in Europe after the uprisings in 1848 lessened demand for hemp and caused reverses in the business in Kentucky. In 1850, the family moved to Lexington, Missouri and Oliver Anderson bought acreage in the Missouri River bottom. Both Joseph and his brother William had trained as lawyers in Kentucky and began practices in Missouri while Oliver Anderson continued in the hemp business with his son-in-law, Howard Gratz, as a partner.
Oliver Anderson House, Lexington Missouri
Owned by the Missouri State Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and Historic Preservation.
Oliver Anderson finished construction of his Missouri rope making plant in 1853, and built a grand residence on the bluff overlooking it. The historic Anderson House is now owned by the State of Missouri. In April 1853, Anderson shipped over 1,700 coils of hemp to St. Louis, the largest shipment ever received there in one day. By 1854, Anderson & Gratz was the largest manufacturer in Lexington, nearly doubling the output of competing factories.
As a large-scale hemp grower, Oliver Anderson was also one of the largest slave owners in Missouri. The family was active in Senator Atchison's efforts to make Kansas a slave state and prevent a free-state victory. In a letter to his wife Oliver Anderson justified slavery on a biblical basis:
"...Slavery is a scriptural institution, and... Abolitionists, as they exist here, are infidels. They are unwilling that God shall be a judge of what is proper and right, and desire themselves to determine what is proper, and that too, in direct opposition to God's revealed law as given to the Hebrews. Hence they say they want an Antislavery Bible and an Antislavery God." [Missouri Parks, Battle of Lexington, http://www.mostateparks.com/lexington]
Joseph Anderson was elected to the Bogus Legislature from the Fort Scott area although it is likely he never lived there. He told the Howard Committee that he had moved to Ft. Scott, [Howard Report, 241] but during the entire territorial period he continued his very successful Lexington, Missouri legal practice. [Robley, Bourbon County, 36] Anderson was said to be the author of the infamous "Black Laws" passed by the Bogus Legislature in aid of the national Fugitive Slave Act. The "Black Laws" imposed draconian penalties for interfering with slave ownership or even stating a belief that one "had not the right to own slaves." [Blackmar, History, 189]
After the legislative session, Anderson was a founder of the Law and Order Party at its convention in Leavenworth in October 1855. He was not a member of the Kansas Militia but was active in Kansas as an attorney during the Border War period. He acted as prosecutor in the trial before Federal Judge Cato of free-state soldiers accused of murdering a pro-slavery man named Grayson, who had been acting as a guide for Militia troops through free-state lines near Lawrence.
In 1862 Anderson along with his father Oliver and brother William were arrested for refusing to sign an "oath of allegiance" to the Union. It was rumored that they were members of a secret militant group, the "Southern League," thought to be smuggling arms to the Confederacy. Their property was confiscated and they were jailed, first in Lexington and later at the Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis. [Frazier, Mendenhall Diary, 67] At the end of the Civil War, the Andersons returned to Kentucky, where Joseph resumed his legal practice. John Stringfellow, remembering Anderson, said:
J. C. Anderson, now, I think, of Kentucky, (was) a very intelligent lawyer, and (a man) of unblemished personal character." [Cutler, History, Brown County]