When the subject is Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, attention is usually focused on Washington, D.C. Perhaps you remember that the assassin John Wilkes Booth leapt from the president’s box in Ford’s Theater to the stage after committing murder on a Friday night; perhaps you know one of the engravings of the deathbed scene in the early morning of Saturday, 15 April 1865–in which each artist imagined different headboard and wallpaper for the scene. In standard accounts, authors then cast sideways glances at the rest of the country: the tragic news spreads, the people mourn, shock grips the nation, the excitement of peace is undermined by tragedy. Historical details are thus brushed away. Consider the revealing record left by one witness in Leavenworth, Kansas.
The news radiating out from Washington reached Leavenworth on Saturday in two telegrams sent at different times. Susan B. Anthony, a diarist since a teenager, noted events on the page pictured above.
Morning Telegram reported President Lincoln assassinated at Fords Theatre in Washington–and Secretary Seward stabbed in his sick bed–
Stunning– Soon another that Lincoln was dead–
Anthony spent 1865 in Leavenworth, working for her younger brother Daniel Read Anthony, or D. R., at his daily paper, the Leavenworth Bulletin, and helping his very young wife through her first pregnancy. Both of her brothers moved to Kansas before the Civil War as young abolitionists committed to making Kansas a state free of slavery, and this was the first of many trips Susan would make to visit them over the next four decades. With his military service behind him, D. R. returned to Leavenworth with political and business ambitions and served as postmaster as well as newspaper publisher and editor.
Set along the Missouri River north of Kansas City, Leavenworth had long been a destination for fugitive slaves headed to freedom, but it also attracted slaveholders, drawn by business and urban life. Before the war, 627 African Americans were counted by the federal census in all of Kansas Territory. By 1865, when the state took its own census, the number had surged to 12,527. Of those men, women, and children, many of them refugees from the South, there were 2,400 in Leavenworth, a city of about 20,000 people.
On Sunday, April 16, Susan B., D. R., and D. R.’s brother-in-law John Osborne spread out across the city to sample its religious services. Again, refer to Anthony’s diary.
D. R. went to M[ethodist] E[piscopal] Church–Mitchell gave a stirring word– John Osborn went to the Irish Catholic they did not mention the occurrence– I went to the Episcopal merely mentioned the fact– In eve I called at Colored M.E. & Colored Baptist–but the jam was too great–
Reactions to Lincoln’s death, even in a loyal state, were not uniform.