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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 888


This is the grave of Thomas Barber.

Born in 1814 in Pennsylvania, Barber later moved to Indiana, where he worked in the wool clothing business. As was common for lots of people during these years, he continued to move west. He moved to Kansas Territory in 1855, continuing in his wool business. But while there, like many northern settlers, he was outraged by the attempt to blow up the Missouri Compromise with the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the onslaught of pro-slavery fake settlers to the territory. So he became active in the free state cause.

Barber had a homestead outside of Lawrence, about 8 miles away from what became the abolitionist center of the territory. As the violence between pro and anti-slavery settlers rose, Barber became involved in it. This was the so-called Wakarusa War, where the two sides shot at each other a lot over a period of about three weeks in November and December 1855. Barber, along with his brother and another guy, were on their way to Lawrence to help. Some proslavery thugs started shooting. Barber was hit and was killed, a martyr to the abolitionist cause in Kansas. He was 41 years old.

This death caused the territorial governor to try and keep some peace and full-scale massacres were avoided for the time being. But Barber became a legend in the abolitionist world. He is remembered today because John Greenleaf Whittier composed a poem in his honor that became tremendously popular. “Burial of Barber” is what is written on the tablets next to his grave, pictured below.

Here’s an excerpt:

Bear him, comrades, to his grave;
Never over one more brave
Shall the prairie grasses weep,
In the ages yet to come,
When the millions in our room,
What we sow in tears, shall reap.

Bear him up the icy hill,
With the Kansas, frozen still
As his noble heart, below,
And the land he came to till
With a freeman’s thews and will,
And his poor hut roofed with snow.

One more look of that dead face,
Of his murder’s ghastly trace!

Of course, Kansas would not remain nonviolent after this murder, as John Brown would ensure.

Thomas Barber is buried in Pioneer Cemetery, Lawrence, Kansas.

This is the 6th of the 64 graves I visited on my recent trip to the south central part of this nation. If you would like this series to visit other abolitionists, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Abby Kelley Foster is in Worcester, Massachusetts and Martin Delany is in Cedarville, Ohio. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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