Augustus Wattles was born to a Quaker family in Lebanon, Connecticut on August 7, 1807. He attended the Oneida Institute in Whitestown, New York, and later entered the Lane Theological Seminary near Cincinnati, Ohio. There he began organizing schools for African American boys and became very interested in the abolitionist cause. He traveled to New York to lecture on the subject, and he arranged to buy land in Ohio upon which to settle former slaves from Kentucky so that they could provide for themselves. This soon became a center for the Underground Railroad. At about this same time, he married Susan E. Lowe, from Whitesborough, New York.
In 1855, soon after Kansas Territory opened for settlement, Wattles moved his family to Washington Creek in Douglas County. They came in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed territorial settlers to elect legislatures that would determine whether the territory would enter the Union as a free or slave state. Wattles soon became a writer and Assistant Editor for the Herald of Freedom in Lawrence, Kansas, a candidate at the Big Springs Convention, and was elected to the Topeka Constitutional Convention in 1855.
In 1857 they moved to Linn County, Kansas, where Augustus and his brother John O. Wattles, helped to found the town of Moneka. There, they became acquainted with John Brown. Though Wattles did not agree with Brown’s violent methods, he was a supporter and Brown stayed at his home several times after the Marais des Cygnes massacre.