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Thomas W. Barber

Free State settler, killed in the "Wakarusa War."  Born: February 22, 1814.  Died: December 6, 1855

Originally from Pennsylvania, Thomas W. Barber was the son of Thomas and Mary Oliver Barber. He came to Kansas Territory in 1855 from Richmond, Indiana, where he was a manufacturer of woolen cloths.

Once in the territory, Barber took a claim north of the Wakarusa River (Bloomington vicinity), some eight miles southwest of Lawrence, and became involved in the free-state cause. He was shot and killed by a member of the proslavery party—reportedly George W. Clark, the Indian agent—on December 6, 1855, on a road four miles southwest of Lawrence. Barber, who was in the company of his brother Robert F. Barber and Thomas M. Pierson at the time of the shooting, had gone to the aid of his Lawrence neighbors during the so-called "Wakarusa War."  While his assailant was reportedly bragging that he had "sent another of these d--d abolitionists to his winter quarters," Barber's body was being taken to Lawrence where he became an instant martyr.

This incident perhaps influenced Governor Wilson Shannon to increase his efforts to work a truce between the two factions who stood on the brink of open warfare. Poet John Greenleaf Whittier memorialized Barber's murder in his poem, "Burial of Barber," which became a well known abolitionist call to arms.  The following year another Barber brother, Oliver, moved to Kansas where he was active in territorial and state politics, serving as a Douglas County commissioner and in the territorial and state legislatures.

Entry: Barber, Thomas W.

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: December 1969

Date Modified: January 2013

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