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Abigail Morse Column

Abigail Morse Recalls Living Through Quantrill’s Raid of Lawrence

Written by Sam Dick - July 1, 2001

Abigail Prentice Barber graduated from Wheaton Seminary in Massachusetts in July of 1857, and married the Rev. Grosvenor C. Morse in Massachusetts in September. The newlyweds reached Emporia on October 19, only a few months after the town was founded.

Rev. Morse, a recent graduate of Dartmouth College and Andover Seminary, immediately held religious services, and in 1858 formally organized the Congregational Church in Emporia. He also helped raise money for the first school which opened in October of 1858 with Mary Jane Watson as the first teacher. He campaigned hard for the establishment of the Kansas State Normal School, now Emporia State University, and journeyed to Illinois in December of 1864 where he hired Lyman B. Kellogg as its first president. He spoke at some of the earliest teachers institutes in Manhattan and elsewhere, and served a term as Lyon County Superintendent of Schools. He was accidently killed while digging a well on their claim southeast of Emporia in 1870.

Abigail, left with three children under the age of 10, went to work to support her family. She taught in the Emporia Public Schools and, for six years, was principal of the high school. She also taught history, literature, and rhetoric at the Normal School and served as preceptress (dean of women), where she gave guidance and counsel to many students.

Abigail Morse Hall at ESU was dedicated in her honor as a women's residence hall in 1923. She died December 6, 1925, one day short of her 92nd birthday. Each year on her birthday for many years after her death women students attended memorial services at the Congregational Church.

Her widowed sister, Mary Carpenter, was remembered by William Allen White as the helpful librarian at the Emporia Public Library (located upstairs over a store in the 1880s) who first exposed him to Emerson and other American writers. Mary later married John C. Rankin, a farmer and legislator from Quenemo; she died in 1917.

Abigail Morse had been a frequent speaker at community and church gatherings and was often asked on Kansas Day to give her account of Quantrill's guerilla raid on Lawrence in August of 1863, while she was there visiting her sister, Mary. Most blacks fled the Missouri bushwackers, knowing they faced certain death from these defenders of slavery and the Confederacy, but some white males, not expecting a massacre, remained. Only women and children were spared. Following is Abigail Morse’s account, which was published in the Emporia Gazette two days after her death, on December 8, 1925:

My sister, Mary E. Barber, a graduate of Mount Holyoke Seminary, came from Massachusetts to spend a summer with us. She taught the next year in the Baldwin public schools, and the year following that in the Lawrence high school. She was married at our home by Mr. Morse, October 10, 1862, to Judge Louis Carpenter, a young lawyer of Lawrence. The next summer -- August, 1863 -- I went to visit her in her new home, just finished, a 2-story brick at 943 New Hampshire street. We spent a pleasant two weeks together.

At noon on the 20th of August, Mr. Carpenter came home and said, incidentally, "There is a story on the street that Quantrill is coming to Lawrence to destroy it, as he has so long threatened to do. But," he added, "we have had so many reports of that kind no one believes them." Then he said, "It would be impossible for him to get here with his band without our being reliably notified."

Afterward it was found that messages had been sent, but failed to reach the city. One, in excitement, was sent to Kansas City instead of Lawrence. Another messenger, a boy, when he learned the destination of Quantrill's band, mounted his fastest horse and started for Lawrence. The horse fell, leaving the boy crippled and helpless. No news reached to the city of the terrible doom impending.

We were aroused at about 5 o'clock Friday morning, Aug. 21st. The clattering of the hoofs of 400 horses, the shouting and yelling of the riders, the shooting of revolvers, all united, made the most hideous noise we ever had heard. We rushed to the windows and had a full view of this terrible invasion.

They saw us and shot at us, as they rushed past our house. They went on to the center of the town, and there they stopped in front of the Eldridge house. They seemed to expect some show of defense. For years, Lawrence never had been so unprotected. The few soldiers there were colored troops, and they fled for their lives. Our first spoken words were, "Quantrill is here!" We stayed in the house, planning what we could do. Those in the other part of town had a chance to get away, but here every avenue was guarded, and all those who tried to escape were shot down ruthlessly. We watched the Eldridge house burn, and saw fires all over the town. Diagonally across the street, a fine home was burning, and in the next house to ours, a man had been murdered, but his home was saved.

Quantrill's band was composed of two kinds of men. His gang was angry, determined to kill every free state man and to wipe Lawrence from the map. Others were farmers whom Quantrill had compelled to join his forces. They were easily convinced they had not found the "right man." They were fed and treated hospitably, and went away satisfied. There was no anger in their hearts. Mr. Carpenter, it was said, by his pleasant manner and tact, had saved his life and the destruction of his home.

At about 9 o'clock, we watched the gathering of the clan for its departure, and we began to breathe free again, and to hope we were safe. The men were loaded with loot, and seemed anxious to leave. Just then there came a terrible pounding at our front door, and Mrs. Carpenter opened the door. Mr. Carpenter, coming down the stairs answered the question, "Where are you from?" He said, "New York," and the man replied, "You New York fellows are the ones we are after." He pushed Mrs. Carpenter aside and rushed up the stairs after Mr. Carpenter, shooting, and swearing at the top of his voice.

They entered different rooms, giving Mr. Carpenter a chance to come down and go to the cellar. There was no protection in the cellar, as the house was new and there were no partitions. Another man had come to help, and each one stationed at a window controlled every part of the cellar. Still they kept on shooting. Mr. Carpenter, bleeding and full of their bullets, left the cellar by the outside steps, and fell in the backyard. Mrs. Carpenter fell over him, covering him, her arms about his head. The two assassins appeared and raising her arms, gave the fatal shot, then left to join the departing forces. Mrs. Carpenter said, "They have fired the house," so I put out the fire.

It was one of the most terrible tragedies in all the dreadful work of that day -- that dreadful day. I climbed a high fence that I never could have climbed except under great excitement, calling at the top of my voice for help, but there was no response until the band had all left. Left what? One hundred fifty men killed, 150 buildings burned, and a million and a half of property destroyed. Left -- no pen can tell!

When I should have finished my visit Mr. Morse was to come for me some Friday and preach for Doctor Cordley the following Sunday. He came that dreadful Friday, about three hours after Quantrill had left. On his way he heard of Mr. Carpenter's death. A rude box was made by our friends, and Mr. Carpenter's body was laid in the yard.

Friday night came, the most terrible night I ever spent. Fires were burning all over the town. The smoke was suffocating, and the barking and howling of dogs helped to make the night frightful. There was no sleep that night. In "Pioneer Days" Doctor Cordley wrote, "So we laid our dead away and turned our attention to the living."

The Sunday following we held a service in the old stone Congregational church. There was a large congregation, mostly women and children. Some of the men were in shirt-sleeves, not having saved even a coat, women in sunbonnets, some with hoods or shawls or handkerchiefs over their heads. Many of the women were newly-made widows, there with their fatherless children. There was a brief devotional service, but no sermon. I do not recall [what was said] except the scripture lesson read by Mr. Morse. It was the 79th Psalm. Everyone was startled when he read it. It seemed to have been written for the occasion. Mr. Morse seemed as much inspired in choosing it as the author in writing it.

"Oh God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance. The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven; the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth. Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem, and there was none to bury them."

The congregation went away in silence.