Blue Lodges were secret pro-slavery societies formed in the South to assist in promoting the interests of slavery.
Many of these lodges were established in western Missouri in 1854 to thwart Northern anti-slavery plans to make Kansas a Free-State under the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
One formation of the Blue Lodges was in opposition to Eli Thayer, who founded the New England Emigrant Aid Company in 1854. Proposing to send as many as 20,000 people into Kansas each year to support the Free-State cause, it failed to attract many numbers. However, it did arouse pro-slavery advocates to create the Blue Lodges.
The society was known by different names, such as the “Friends Society,” the “Social Band,” “Dark Lantern Society,” and the “Sons of the South,” but, the objective was always the same. A branch of the famous Knights of the Golden Circle, many members were slave owners, but the society also included others who believed in the extension of slavery, especially in Kansas.
Each member took a solemn oath, after which he was given the signs, handshakes, and passwords of the order. The oath required members to be fully pro-slavery and to protect their country from abolitionists. Each lodge was led by lieutenants and captains who would call upon the members to help with capturing and punishing abolitionists who were actively interfering with slavery. Severe penalties were provided for any violation of the oath, or for divulging the secrets of the organization, and in a few instances, these penalties were executed upon offending members.
“The Blue Lodge embraced great numbers of the citizens of Missouri and was extended into other slave states and into the Kansas Territory. Its plan of operating was to organize and send men to vote at the elections in the territory, to collect money to pay their expenses, and, if necessary, to protect them in voting. It also proposed to induce proslavery men to emigrate into the territory, to aid and sustain them while there, and to elect none to office but those friendly to their views.”
— William Addison Phillips, Conquest of Kansas
In Missouri, a man named Joseph O. Shelby and his friends were wealthy slave owners who strongly opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. These men established the first few Missouri Blue Lodges. Knowing that they could not take on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, they worked to influence Kansas elections in 1854. Some of these men included Jo Shelby, brothers David R. Atchison, Benjamin and John Stringfellow, and Claiborne Jackson. All the leaders of the organization were desperate men, willing to accept any hazard, and it was under the auspices of this society that a number of the forays into Kansas were planned and executed.
“Stringfellow and Atchison have organized a secret association, the members of which are sworn to turn out and fight when called upon to do so, and which is to be governed by the following rules: All belonging to it are to share in the damages accruing to any member when prescribed, even at the price of disunion. All are to act secretly to destroy the business and character of Northern men, and all dissenting from their doctrines are to be expelled from the territory.”
— George Park, editor of the Parkville, Missouri Luminary, whose newspaper office was destroyed by a mob, presumably composed of members of the Blue Lodge, in a letter to the St. Louis Democrat, May 1855
In the end, the Free-State sentiment was too strong for even an oath-bound society to combat, and the Blue Lodge succumbed to the inevitable.
By Kathy Alexander/Legends of Kansas, updated February 2022.
Bleeding Kansas & the Missouri Border War
Organizations & Associations in Kansas History
Blackmar, Frank W., Cyclopedia of State History, Volume I, Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912.