"Preserving and interpreting the little stone house at 1116 Madison assures that a rare artifact of early Kansas remains available to successive generations for insights gained by studying those who have gone before. Built by John and Mary Jane Richie about 1856, the house represents the struggle to make Kansas a land of the free. Their lives typified the generation of Kansas pioneers whose dedication and energies laid the foundation for the state."

 

William O. Wagnon

Professor of History Emeritus, Washburn University "

John & Mary Jane Ritchie

John & Mary Jane Ritchie

 

     John Ritchie 1817 - 1887             Mary Jane Ritchie 1821- 1880  

 

 

   John Ritchie (also Ritchey) was born on July 17, 1817, in Uniontown, Muskingum County, Ohio. His father was a physician and practiced medicine in Franklin, Johnson County, Indiana. The younger Ritchie first came to Kansas Territory in the autumn of 1854 to look over cheap land for sale on the frontier. His surveying trip took him to Leavenworth, Lawrence, and the town of Topeka formed in December, 1854 along the Kansas River.  Topeka was a free-state community committed to the prohibition of slavery in Kansas. He selected a homestead site south of town and returned to Indiana. In March, 1855 he returned to Kansas bringing with him his wife Mary Jane and two children, son Hale and daughter Mary to settle.

 

   For about a year, the Ritchie's lived in a dug out cabin which they constructed on their land in Topeka, while John began construction on a new two story home. The home was completed in late 1855 or early 1856.  He  also partnered with two other businessmen to build the first block of brick structures in the city, which later became known as the Ritchie Block.  After completion of his new home, he and his wife became actively engaged in the underground railroad, making their home a "station" where fugitive slaves were aided in their flight of freedom to the north. Ritchie was known in the community as an antislavery man dedicated to keeping Kansas free of the “peculiar institution.”

 

   Ritchie joined other free-state men to capture goods from proslavery towns, once the opposing forces captured their own supply wagons. Following an attack on Hickory Point, the governor of the territory sent a U.S. Marshal and federal troops to Topeka to arrest free-state men. On September 18, 1856, Ritchie was among those arrested and sent to Lecompton. On November 19, 1856, he successfully escaped from jail and made his way back to Indiana where he found refuge with family members. For about a year he remained in Indiana, until Governor John W. Geary finally pardoned him in March of 1857. Ritchie then returned to Topeka.

 

   As Kansas Territory struggled with the issue of slavery, a series of constitutional conventions were held to determine the future makeup of state government. As a political leader in his community, Ritchie was selected to represent his locale in both the Leavenworth (1858) and Wyandotte (1859) constitutional conventions. In the later convention, he sought to eliminate the word “white” from the article that established a militia and fought to restrict the sale of liquor in Kansas. However, both of these measures failed to pass the convention.

 

   In January 1859, Ritchie’s free-state beliefs led him to assist John Brown and a party of eleven slaves fleeing capture from U.S. troops at the Battle of the Spurs. The free-state forces used the favorable terrain around the city of Holton to out run the mounted federal troops and make their safe escape into Nebraska.

 

   On April 20, 1860, Ritchie found himself once more a hunted man. U.S. Deputy Marshal Leonard Arms came to his Topeka home to arrest him under a warrant issued in 1856. In the struggle that ensued, Ritchie shot and killed the marshal. A trial followed in which he was quickly acquitted of the crime of murder.

 

   At the onset of the Civil War, Ritchie enlisted in the Union Army. He served first as colonel of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry Regiment and later as colonel of the Second Indian Home Guards Regiment. Then on February 21, 1865, he was brevetted a brigadier-general.

 

   In later years, Ritchie involved himself in philanthropic pursuits. He donated land for the establishment of Washburn College in Topeka. He also gave away land to incoming blacks, who agreed to improve the property. He even established a “free” cemetery in the Knollwood section of the city. On August 31, 1887, Ritchie died leaving behind a well-developed and prosperous community.

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Fitzgerald, Daniel C., ed. “John Ritchie: Portrait of an Uncommon Man.” Shawnee County Historical Society Bulletin Number 68. Topeka, KS: Shawnee County Historical Society, 1991.

Hunt, Roger D. and Jack R. Brown. Brevet Brigadier Generals In Blue. Gaithersburg, MD: Old Military Books, 1990.

Jarboe, Mary E. Ritchie/Shelledy Family History. Des Moines, IA: Author, 1984.

Kansas State Historical Society and University of Kansas. Territorial Kansas Online. http://www.territorialkansasonline.org