Major David Starr Hoyt was a Free-State advocate who was killed by pro-slavery men during the days of Bleeding Kansas.
Hoyt was born in Deerfield, Massachusetts on February 17, 1821, to Horatio and Hannah Starr Hoyt. When he grew up he served under General Winfield Scott in the Mexican-American War. He was in every battle from Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico, considered a brave and valuable soldier, and was promoted to Major.
In 1856, he led several thousand men to the fighting in Kansas and took an active part in the Free State cause. On May 21, 1856, the Sacking of Lawrence occurred when pro-slavery men marched into the city, went to the newspaper offices, destroyed the presses, and into the river. They then began the work of destroying the Free State Hotel by firing on it with a cannon. When the cannonball missed, the building was set afire and by evening was a roofless, smoldering ruin. The troops then began to rob various locations before burning the home of Charles L. Robinson. One person died during the melee – ironically, it was a pro-slavery proponent who was killed by falling masonry. This attack is considered by some as the true first battle of the Civil War that would not officially begin for five more years. It further inflamed both parties fighting over Kansas and led to more skirmishes.
Soon, Hoyt was selected by the Lawrence citizens to try to arrange for some truce or cessation of guerrilla warfare. Hoyt traveled to Fort Saunders, a pro-slavery stronghold about 12 miles southwest of Lawrence, on August 12, 1856. After making efforts to negotiate some agreement, he departed making his way back to Lawrence, but his mutilated body, partially buried, was found by a party of his friends the next day.
On August 15th, Free State leader James Lane led a number of men to attack Fort Saunders in retaliation, however, the southerners fled, and the fort was burned. The abolitionists then made another assault the next day on Fort Titus, near Lecompton. After surrounding and making an assault upon Fort Titus, one free-state man was killed. Finding that rifles made no apparent impression on the log fort, the free-state men then brought out a cannon and trained it on the blockhouse. Six shots were fired when a wounded Colonel Titus signaled that he wished to surrender. One or two of his companions were killed.
Major David Starr Hoyt, who was described as being “too brave,” was buried at the Pioneer Cemetery in Lawrence. The 35-year-old military officer left behind a six-year-old daughter.
Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of Kansas, updated July 2021.
Bleeding Kansas & the Missouri Border War
Territorial Kansas & the Struggle for Statehood
Lawrence – From Ashes to Immortality
Connelley, William E.; A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, 1918.
Find a Grave