Hidden History: Burlingame always open to friends of freedom – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Hidden History: Burlingame always open to friends of freedom

By Wendi Bevitt

Burlingame began as a town in support of a “Free State” Kansas. The community was of such concern to the pro-slavery movement that in 1862 they built a fort in the middle of town to protect the city well against a feared attack by William “Bloody Bill” Anderson, an associate of William C. Quantrill. So it is no surprise that members of the community were involved in raids into Missouri to liberate slaves from bondage during this turbulent time.

One such incident involved the family of John Dennis and their savior Thomas Russell. The Osage County Chronicle carried a news snippet in May 1890 about the Dennis family, which stated they had been “brought to Burlingame by Mr. Thomas Russell in 1860, from Missouri where they had been slaves”. In those days however, people of color didn’t travel from a slave state to a free one without contention. And this was no exception.

According to the Burlingame Enterprise “Thomas Russell was an active participant in the heroic struggle which was then at its height, and brought many a border ruffian to justice … his home was always open to the friends of freedom and was frequently a resting place of Osawatomie (John) Brown, General (James) Lane and many others whose name adorn historic pages.” These acquaintances were not of merely a casual nature. All of these men, including Russell, belonged to a secret society known as the Danites. This society upheld its abolitionism through the promotion of free-state politics to the more radical actions of leading raids into slave holding areas of Missouri and Kansas, and even assassination attempts. The probability of the Dennis family being freed during a Danite raid is fairly likely.

The citizens of Burlingame were not just involved in the freeing of slaves, though, they started these refugees off with a firm foundation under their feet. People such as Marmaduke Rambo donated land for those brought to new freedom and built them homes. The extent of the community’s abolitionist beliefs did not stop merely at freeing the slaves, or through monetary means, but also in the treatment of their fellow man. Moses Turner, brother-in-law of freed slave John Dennis, was able to participate in a jury in 1872. Nationally African-Americans were not allowed to serve on juries until the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

The community stood out as such an abolitionist beacon that many of the Civil War regiment that was mustered out of Burlingame as Co. I of the 11th Kansas Cavalry went on to serve as officers in the United States Colored Troops when those regiments were established by the federal government during the war.

Though Thomas Russell died in the early part of the war, his legacy lived on in his son Ezra, who served with the Co. I of 11th Kansas and was subsequently involved in and escaped from the massacre at Platte Bridge (which the Osage County News featured in an article earlier this year).

John Dennis went on to participate in the Civil War within the 1st Kansas Colored Regiment, which later became the 79th United States Colored Troops. The 1st Kansas Colored is notable because it was the first all black regiment formed for the war in the fall of 1862. So while the 54th Massachusetts receives fame as from the movie Glory (1989), 1st Kansas pushed the racial boundaries in the United States first. They were the first “colored” soldiers to be tested in battle in the Union Army and because of their actions began to show the world that courage was not bound by color.

wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She has lived in Osage County for 18 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.

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