Modern-day Topeka is the capital city of the state of Kansas. However, this city has a rich and full history that predates the statehood of Kansas and even the formation of the United States. Here is a brief overview of this state’s early history, up to the late 1800s.
Before the United States was even formed, the area we now call Kansas was the territory of the Plains Indians. After European colonization, this area was first claimed by the Kingdom of France. It was then ceded to Spain in 1762 after the French and Indian War, and then once again returned to France in 1802.
Kansas Territory became part of the United States in 1803, as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Topeka itself was founded in 1854 by anti-slavery pioneers from Lawrence, Kansas. These founders were considered part of the Free Soil Movement, which opposed extending slavery westward into the territory. Clashes between pro- and anti-slavery groups occurred before and during the American Civil War.
Kansas was admitted to the United States in 1861, becoming the 34th state. Topeka was officially named as the capital at that time. The state capitol building was begun in 1866. However, it would take an additional 37 years before it would be completed! In the interim, the seat of the state government was Constitution Hall, nicknamed the “Free State Capitol.”
Topeka’s anti-slavery roots continued to affect its population, as many former slaves traveled from the South to settle in Topeka in the 1870s. The first kindergarten for African-American children located west of the Mississippi was established in the African-American part of town in 1893.
A speculation boom in the 1880s nearly spelled disaster for the fledgling capital city. Property lots in the city were massively overvalued. When the bubble burst in 1890, many of the investors were ruined. However, thanks to a large increase in population during the boom, the city itself managed to weather the storm and remained prosperous.
From the Native Americans to the French to the early American settlers, the area which is now called Topeka, Kansas has passed through many hands and cultures. Topeka as we know it today was founded on abolitionist ideals, which at the time were controversial enough to cause problems for the city for years after its founding. The “Free State Capitol” has never forgotten its early ideals and continues to represent freedom and equality even today.