Samuel Lyle Adair, 1811-1898
Samuel Lyle Adair, who made his mark in Kansas Territory as a Congregational missionary and abolitionist, was born on April 22, 1811, in Ross County, Ohio. His early education was in the local country schools and at age seventeen he apprenticed to a local blacksmith and wagon maker. After deciding to enter the ministry, Adair attended the Western Reserve College for a short time and then entered Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, an institution whose well-know positions on slavery and human rights more closely resembled those of Adair. He graduated from the college in 1838 and the theological seminary in 1841, and during the latter year, Adair was married to Florella Brown, also an Oberlin graduate and a half sister of John Brown, from Hudson, Ohio. For the next thirteen years the Adairs served a series of Congregational churches in Ohio and Michigan. Then, in 1854, under the auspices of the American Missionary Association, they traveled to Kansas with the second New England Emigrant Aid Company party and organized the Osawatomie Congregational Church. They also took a claim and built a log home a few miles northwest of Osawatomie in 1855.
Strong free-state supporters whose house reportedly sheltered many a fugitive slave during its first decade, the Adairs settled in Kansas Territory shortly before the Brown family started moving west. The Adair cabin served as a frequent refuge for John Brown after his arrival in the territory in the fall of 1855, and Samuel Adair provided considerable spiritual and material assistance to Brown and his cause, as well as the free state movement generally. He received and distributed financial aid from friends in the East who, like the Reverend Joseph Gordon, were “deeply interested in the cause of fredom [sic] in Kansas, & not only in the cause in Kansas; but sympathize with oppressed, downtrodden & suffering humanity every where. . . . Permit me now,” wrote Adair on February 19, 1857,
. . . to acknowledge . . . the receit [sic] of $104.00, contributed by friends of fredom at & near Yellow Springs, for the benefit of sufferers, in the cause of fredom in Osawatomie and vicinity in which benefit myself & family are to share. Thanks, everlasting thanks to the kind & generous donors. . . . I have still some of the money on hand & shall disburse it from time to time as I find cases of real want, & where I think it will do most good. . . . Matters here are comparatively quiet; but God only knows how long they will continue to be so. Slavery is not dead, nor asleep, nor yet abandoned her hope of Kansas. On the other hand the ranks of freedom is becoming stronger & more determined than ever. A repetition of the outrage of last summer, I think, will not occur here again; But yet there may be strife – and much as I deplore it, yet I much fear that when Slavery dies it will be in a conflict of arms, or in some other violent manner. What a fearful doom awaits our nation – awaits us – when God shall mete out to us the measure we have meted to others? – to the down troden [sic] & oppressed slave? Timely repentance may avert the evil. But where are the signs of repentance? Let each one of us see to it, that our heart repents, reforms, humbles itself & does it duty before God. Ten righteous men would have saved Sodom. May enough be found in the land to save our nation.
During the dreaded war that followed, Adair served for three years as a military
chaplain at Fort Leavenworth, where in 1865 Florella Adair died. The Reverend
Adair returned to Osawatomie, where he faithfully served the church he founded
and the people of Kansas generally until his death on December 27, 1898.
Harris, Harry Jasper. “My Story.” Kansas Historical Collections, 1919-1922 15 (1922): n. 557.
McFarland, Gerald W. A Scattered People: An American Family Moves West. New York: Pantheon Books, 1985.
SenGupta, Gunja. For God and Mammon: Evangelicals and Entrepreneurs, Masters and Slaves in Territorial Kansas, 1854-1860. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1996.