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Franklin County, Kansas

Franklin County witnessed numerous violent acts during Bleeding Kansas, 1854-1861. There in the midst of antislavery and proslavery activity, abolitionist John Brown led an attacked, killing five proslavery men in May 1856. A group of French settlers established a silk-producing commune in the county in 1870. This was also a destination for Exodusters in 1879.

Franklin County, Kansas, in the northeast part of the state, is in the Osage Cuesta region featuring gently rolling plains. It was named for colonial figure Benjamin Franklin. This was one of the original 33 counties established by the Kansas territorial legislature in 1855.

Many Native American tribes from the eastern United States were removed to Kansas in the 1830s, as a permanent Indian frontier. These tribes were assigned reservations near the lands of native peoples already living in the region. Members of the Delaware, Great and Little Osage; Piansha, Wea, and Peona; Chippewa and Munsee; Potawatomi, Sac and Fox, and Shawnee all lived in the county at some point.

Violence erupted during territorial times when antislavery and proslavery factions clashed. One of the most well-known events of Bleeding Kansas happened in Franklin County. On May 24, 1856, John Brown and his followers murdered Charles Doyle, his sons, and other proslavery men. The Pottawatomie Massacre was one of several that year that shocked the nation and helped build Kansas’ bloody reputation. As a result of the massacre, the Browns were forced into hiding, and Brown himself was more radicalized. 

During the territorial period, Kansas held four conventions to write a constitution for admission to the Union. Kansans voted for delegates to represent their interests at the conventions. Centropolis held an election in 1857 to select delegates for the convention along with other offices. Minneola, founded in 1858; was named capital of the territory through a bill in the territorial legislature in Lawrence; the bill failed.

County seat disputes began in the early 1860s and lasted for years. St. Bernard was the original county seat. Minneola was elected county seat in 1860, with no majority of votes. Another election was held between Peoria and Ohio City. Several more elections followed, complicated by statehood in 1861, a lawsuit, and a Kansas Supreme Court decision. In 1864 voters finally selected Ottawa as county seat by a clear majority.

African Americans began leaving the South and coming to Kansas after the Civil War. Southern elections in 1878 making life more dangerous, and state and federal resolutions in the North encouraging migration, resulted in the Exoduster Movement beginning in 1879. Thousands of African Americans came to Kansas to seek a better life. About 250 Exodusters settled in Ottawa. Here they encountered segregated communities and school. Families began to test the laws that kept students in separate classes. Elijah Tinnon v. Board of Education of Ottawa (1881) was the first Kansas Supreme Court case related to segregation. The court upheld a decision in favor of Tinnon’s son, who wanted to attend his neighborhood school.

Franklin County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places include the Franklin County Courthouse, Silkville, Tauy Jones House, and Judge James Hanway House. Silkville, also known as Kansas Cooperative Farm, Prairie Home and Valeton, was established by Ernest Valeton de Boissiere in 1869. A decade later, the community’s silk industry was drawing considerable attention to the area. The Tauy Jones House was home to the missionary who founded what became Ottawa University. The Judge James Hanway House was home to a member of the Pottawatomie Rifles, a group of abolitionists supporting John Brown. In Ottawa Historic District, which is in the National Register, is the Plaza Cinema, named the oldest cinema in the world still in operation.

Notable figures with connections to Franklin County include Governor George Anthony; U. S. Senator Gary Hart; Bert and Elmer Underwood; pioneer photographers and producers of stereo views; and Kansas Supreme Court Justices Daniel Valentine and Alfred Benson.

Quick Facts

Date Established: August 25, 1855
Date Organized: 1855
County Seat: Ottawa
Kansas Region: Northeast
Physiographic Region: Osage Cuestas
Courthouse: October 3, 1893


1855 - Franklin County is established on August 25. It is organized the same year.
1856 - Pottawatomie Massacre occurs on May 24.
1860 - 1864 - County seat disputes occur until Ottawa is finally chosen as the county seat in 1864.
1869 - Silkville is established by Ernest Valeton de Boissiere.
1881 - Civil Rights case Kansas Supreme Court case Elijah Tinnon vs. Board of Education of Ottawa

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Entry: Franklin County, Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2010

Date Modified: July 2023

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.