Fort Scott National Historic Site News Release
Fort Scott National Historic Site
Old Fort Boulevard
Post Office Box 918
Release Date: April 24, 2013
Contact: Bill Fischer, firstname.lastname@example.org, (620) 223-0310
Fort Scott National Historic Site Now A Certified Underground
Fort Scott National Historic Site named a Railroad Network To Freedom Site
FORT SCOTT, KANSAS: The National Park Service has announced that Fort Scott National Historic Site is now included in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom because it significantly contributes to the understanding of the Underground Railroad in American history and meets the requirements for inclusion as a site.
The Underground Railroad refers to the effort of enslaved African Americans to gain their freedom by escaping bondage. Wherever slavery existed in the United States, there were efforts to escape. Slave holders called them “runaways” and existing laws declared such people “fugitives.” However, in retrospect, they more accurately may be called “freedom seekers.” Most freedom seekers began their journeys unaided and many completed their self-emancipation without assistance. Yet, there was an increasingly active effort by those opposed to slavery to aid escape, particularly after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 became law. The Underground Railroad then became deliberate and organized, despite the illegality of such actions. With little regard for personal safety, people of all races, classes, and genders participated in this widespread form of civil disobedience as they helped seekers find freedom. Free African American communities in the United States became destinations as did foreign countries that had previously abolished slavery. Because of its secrecy and temporary nature, the many people and places associated with the Underground Railroad are difficult to properly document.
The town of Fort Scott, established in 1855 by auction of the former US Army garrison, became a center of “Bleeding Kansas” intrigue as abolitionists, free staters, and pro-slavers fought to determine the political, social, and economic destiny of Kansas Territory. Fort Scott National Historic Site maintains the former frontier fort and interprets its history from 1842 to 1873.
During the Civil War, many freedom seekers sought the protection and liberty provided by the United States Army. Fort Scott was one such safe haven. As the main citadel protecting Kansas’s southern flank from invasion, the militarized town served as a major Union Army supply depot, general hospital, and recruitment and training center. From Fort Scott, soldiers pressed the offensive into the neighboring Trans-Mississippi. Wagons returned with the sick and wounded as well as with refugees and freedom seekers hoping to find sanctuary. Although life at Fort Scott proved difficult for lack of basic necessities, thousands displaced by war found the town to be a critical, if temporary, respite
along their journey to freedom.
Many able bodied free and formerly enslaved African American men were recruited at Fort Scott to form elements of the First and Second Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry regiments. These soldiers acquitted themselves well in the face of the enemy, with the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry being the first African American unit to serve in combat, at Island Mound, near Butler, Missouri, in October 1862. The First and Second Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantries were federalized and reorganized as the 79th and 83rd United States Colored Troops, respectively. At least one formerly
enslaved African American woman served as a nurse at the US Army General Hospital at Fort Scott; she later received a U.S. government pension for her Civil War service.
On the eve of the Emancipation Proclamation taking effect (January 1, 1863), William Matthews, an African American businessman, conductor on the Underground Railroad, and military recruiting officer from Leavenworth, Kansas, participated in celebratory festivities at Fort Scott. Besides helping organize earlier African American units, in 1864 Matthews recruited many men at Fort Scott for the First Regiment, Kansas Colored State Militia. Matthews was one of roughly 125 known African American commissioned military officers to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War.
In 1865 the Freedmen’s Bureau established a school for African Americans just north of the current historic site grounds. Fort Scott’s first public school for African Americans opened in 1872 in the former post hospital (Fort Scott National Historic Site’s visitor center); it’s most famous student was future humanitarian and inventor extraordinaire, the formerly enslaved George Washington Carver.
Fort Scott National Historic Site takes great pride in being a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom certified site. We honor the heroic sacrifices of freedom seekers and those who assisted them. Fort Scott National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park Service.
About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities. Learn more at www.nps.gov
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