New England Emigrant Aid Company

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Trade sign used at the Boston headquarters of the New England Emigrant Aid Company[1]

The New England Emigrant Aid Company[n 1] (originally the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company[4]) was a transportation company founded in Boston, Massachusetts[5] by activist Eli Thayer in the wake of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which allowed the population of Kansas Territory to choose whether slavery would be legal. The Company's ultimate purpose was to transport anti-slavery immigrants into the Kansas Territory. The Company believed that if enough anti-slavery immigrants settled en masse in the newly-opened territory, they would be able to shift the balance of political power in the territory, which in turn would lead to Kansas becoming a free state (rather than a slave state) when it eventually joined the United States.[6][page needed] The New England Emigrant Aid Company is noted less for its direct impact than for the psychological impact it had on pro-slavery and anti-slavery elements. Thayer's prediction that the Company would eventually be able to send 20,000 immigrants a year never came to fruition, but it spurred Border Ruffians from nearby Missouri, where slavery was legal, to move to Kansas to ensure its admission to the Union as a slave state. That, in turn, further galvanized Free-Staters and enemies of Slave Power.

Thayer's intention was to capitalize on anti-slavery sentiment in the Northern United States and to send settlers to Kansas to purchase land and build houses, shops, and mills. They could then sell the land at a significant profit and send the proceeds back to Thayer and his investors. At the behest of several investors, who found the notion of profiting from the anti-slavery cause distasteful, the company's model was shifted to that of a benevolent society, and it was renamed the New England Emigrant Aid Company in 1855. While the company achieved neither a profit nor a significant impact on the population of Kansas, it played an important role in the events that would later be termed Bleeding Kansas.


The Company was formed in the midst of the sectional crisis that preceded the American Civil War. To the Northern United States, the concept of popular sovereignty, which stated that the population of each new U.S. state should be allowed to decide if it allowed slavery, was an attempt by Southerners to gain power. When the Kansas–Nebraska Act threatened to extend popular sovereignty into the new Kansas Territory, Eli Thayer, a second-term Congressman from Massachusetts, hatched the idea of an Emigrant Aid Company in the winter of 1853–1854. His primary partners in the venture were Alexander H. Bullock and Edward Everett Hale, and together, they set Thayer's plans in motion on March 5, 1854.[7] Thayer announced the Company at a rally against the impending passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act in Worcester on March 11. Shortly thereafter, the Company's charter was approved by the Massachusetts Legislature for up to $5,000,000 in capital.[8][9]

Officially, the Company was a profit-making venture, and how the settlers voted was of no consequence to the company. For example, the company secretary, Thomas Webb released a pamphlet in 1855 stating that although the settlers sent to the territories would not be required to vote for one side or the other, they were expected to support the free-state movement.[8] A number of abolitionists questioned the profit motive behind the company, and even many of Thayer's potential investors balked at the notion "that people might say we were influenced by pecuniary considerations in our patriotic work." Although Thayer personally disagreed with such hesitations, in 1855 the Company reorganized as a benevolent society and changed its name to the New England Emigrant Aid Company.[10]


The success of the endeavor prompted other aid assistance companies to form back East, in New York and Ohio, with new companies such as the Worcester County Emigrant Aid Society.[11][12]


The company was directly responsible for creating the Kansas towns of Lawrence and Manhattan, and it played a key role in founding Topeka and Osawatomie. Lawrence was named after the Company secretary, Amos Adams Lawrence.[13] Multiple politicians were found in the emigrants who left for Kansas, such as Daniel Read Anthony, Charles L. Robinson, Samuel C. Pomeroy, and Martin F. Conway, who would later be Kansas's first US Representative.

The exact number of people who left for Kansas is unknown. James Rawley puts the numbers somewhere around 2000, about a third of whom returned home,[14] but the Kansas Historical Society puts the number at around 900 for those who left for Kansas in 1855 alone.[13]

The Company's mission was ultimately successful, and Kansas entered the United States as a free state in 1861.


  1. ^ Sometimes referred to as the New England Emigrant Aid Society,[2] or abbrevaited as the NEEAC.[3]


  1. ^ New England Emigrant Aid Company papers, 1854-1909
  2. ^ Goodrich (1998) p. 10
  3. ^ E.g. Etcheson (2004).
  4. ^ Purpose and plans of the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company. July 28, 1854. Retrieved Feb 22, 2022.
  5. ^ New England Emigrant Aid Company, n5 Winter Street, Boston. Boston Directory. 1855
  6. ^ Thayer, Eli (1887). The New England Emigrant Aid Company, and its influence, through the Kansas contest, upon national history. Worcester, Massachusetts: F. P. Rice.
  7. ^ New England Emigrant Aid Company (2009). Minutes, New England Emigrant Aid Company Annual Meetings. KSHS: Territorial Kansas Online. p. 1. Retrieved August 3, 2009.
  8. ^ a b "New England Emigrant Aid Company". Kansas Historical Society. 2009. Retrieved August 2, 2009.
  9. ^ Thayer (1889), pp. 15-25.
  10. ^ Davis (1984), pp. 40–41.
  11. ^ McLaurin, Melton Alonza (1991). Celia, A Slave. Georgia: University of Georgia Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-8203-1352-8. New England Emigrant Aid Company.
  12. ^ Johnson, Oliver (1887). The Abolitionists Vindicated in a Review of Eli Thayers' Paper on the New England Emigrant Aid Society. F.P. Rice. p. 28.
  13. ^ a b Barry, Louie (August 1943). "The New England Emigrant Aid Company Parties of 1855". Kansas Historical Quarterly. Kansas State Historical Society: 227–268. Archived from the original on 2009-04-19.
  14. ^ Rawley (1979), p. 85.


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