Lovejoy, Julia Louisa

Encyclopedia entry by ,
University of Kansas
Julia Louisa Lovejoy. Image courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society.

Biographical information:

  • Date of birth: March 9, 1812
  • Place of birth: Lebanon, New Hampshire
  • Maiden name: Julia Louisa Hardy
  • Claim to fame: Abolitionist writer; early settler to Kansas with the New England Emigrant Aid Company
  • Date of death: March 15, 1882 (some sources say February 6, but her gravestone reads March 15)
  • Place of death: Palmyra, Kansas (present-day Baldwin City)
  • Final resting place: Vinland Cemetery, Douglas County, Kansas

Julia Lovejoy and her family lived in Kansas Territory during the height of the “Bleeding Kansas” border tensions over the issue of slavery. She was a prolific writer and recorded the violent struggles between the Free-State and proslavery causes in letters she sent to Eastern newspapers. Her detailed descriptions of the events during this time provide important insight on the causes and consequences of the border wars.

In March 1855, Julia, her husband Reverend Charles Lovejoy, and their children moved to Kansas from their home in New Hampshire as part of the New England Emigrant Aid Company, an organization that recruited antislavery settlers to move to the new territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. While Julia acknowledged the difficulty of leaving behind her family in the East, she piously pronounced that she and her husband have “usefulness to our fellow-creatures” and trusted in God to direct them on their journey. In addition to their work as abolitionists, Julia viewed this move as an opportunity to do missionary work on behalf of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the new territory. The Lovejoys initially settled in Manhattan and took part in the founding of the town, while Charles served as a traveling minister in the surrounding areas.

The Lovejoys arrived in Kansas at the height of the border tensions, witnessing firsthand the violent struggles between the Free-State and proslavery causes. Julia recorded the hardships of the territorial pioneers in her diary and in letters she sent to newspapers. One of these papers was the Independent Democrat in Concord, New Hampshire, in which Julia provided detailed accounts of the tensions over slavery on the Missouri-Kansas border. In her letters she often included a plea for money and supplies to support the abolitionist cause. These letters attracted the attention of many Easterners, as well as the proslavery Missourians she was writing against. Julia continued to ardently support the Free-State cause despite the fury it brought down on her from the Missouri border ruffians.

At the time when Julia was writing for newspapers, female correspondents were uncommon, full suffrage for women was still decades away, and women’s involvement in politics was not generally accepted. Julia recognized the unusual nature of her participation in political activities, yet she justified it by explaining that the atmosphere of Kansas could only inspire zealousness for universal freedom. In one of her letters to the Independent Democrat, Julia instructed women on how to balance involvement in politics while still remaining in their “proper sphere.” One of her tactics was to appeal to these women as mothers and wives when asking for support for the Free-State cause.

In August 1856, the Lovejoys moved to Lawrence and lived there for two years. Julia recounted an attack by border ruffians on September 14, in which she carried her infant son to safety outside of town. In reference to a form of mid-19th century photography, her letter described the scene as a “daguerreotype that will never fade from memory's vision.” Women and children were fleeing, men were running to fight, and smoke and flashes were permeating the air. At the end of her letter she called upon her “friends of freedom,” the wives and mothers back East, to help replace what the ruffians destroyed. While the Civil War would not start for another five years, Julia repeatedly referred to the violent events of the border tensions as “war,” providing a sense of urgency to her numerous requests for aid from the East.

While she emphasized that her letter was not a prophecy, merely a fear, she ended it with a wish for God to protect them from the “gathering storm that will ere long burst upon our devoted land.”

In 1859 John Brown began his infamous crusade that took him from Kansas to Harpers Ferry. Julia’s letter of February 1859 referred to Brown as “our champion” and the “old hero,” admiring the risks he took for the “holy cause of freedom.” Several months later Julia did not have the same level of admiration for Brown, clearly stating that she did not approve of his violent assault on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. While she distanced herself from Brown’s actions, she emphasized her unwavering belief in the abolition of slaves, as long as it occurred in a bloodless manner.

Despite this desire for a peaceable end to slavery, Julia’s letter of December 1, 1859 reveals a prophetic insight. She viewed Harpers Ferry as the preface to the first chapter, the end of which would see blood running through the streets as it did during the reign of terror in revolutionary France. While she emphasized that her letter was not a prophecy, merely a fear, she ended it with a wish for God to protect them from the “gathering storm that will ere long burst upon our devoted land.”

While Julia lived to see a victory by the Free-State cause in Kansas, she recognized that the battle over slavery was not over. Her experiences and eyewitness accounts of the events in Kansas indicated to her the tragedy that could occur if this war spread on a national scale. Julia and her husband continued their missionary work after the border tensions ended, moving to Illinois for a brief period before returning to Kansas and settling in Palmyra (now Baldwin City), where Julia died in March 1882.

Suggested Reading: 

Kansas Historical Society. "Julia Hardy Lovejoy's Diary."

Kansas Historical Society. "Julia Louisa Lovejoy."

Kansas Historical Society. "Letters by Julia Lovejoy." Kansas Historical Quarterly. Published in a series:

Pierson, Michael D., ed. "'A War of Extermination:' A Newly Uncovered Letter by Julia Louisa Lovejoy, 1856." Kansas History 16, no. 2 (Summer 1993): 120-123.

Cite this page: 
Bell, Sarah. "Lovejoy, Julia Louisa" Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. The Kansas City Public Library. Accessed Nov, 21, 2017 at http://www.civilwaronthewesternborder.org/encyclopedia/lovejoy-julia-louisa

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