Kansas Town Company Records (KC352)
Native Sons Archives (NSA)
On February 1, 1831, French-Canadian fur trader Gabriel Prudhomme patented 271 acres of land in Jackson County, Missouri for $340.00. The land, originally part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, contained a natural rock ledge on the south bank of the Missouri River that would later be known as “the levee” that proved to be an excellent steamboat landing site. After an altercation in 1831, Prudhomme died leaving a complex legal battle among his heirs. The courts finally declared that the land should be auctioned-off and the proceeds equitably distributed among his children.
On July 7, 1838, James H. McGee as a guardian for the Prudhomme heirs auctioned the land. He received $1,800 for the land from Abraham Fonda but the courts ordered a new sale due to charges of a lack of adequate advertising and a suspicion of collusion between the two men. The land, including the landing for the loading and unloading of materials on the Missouri River, had begun to be used regularly by businesses as early as 1836.
The second auction of the estate was advertised as far away as St. Louis and cried-off on November 14, 1838. A group of men, led by William M. Sublett made a bid of $4,220.00 and successfully purchased the tract of land. Next, the group formed a corporation with the intent of using the landing and its nearby surroundings as a business settlement, complete with warehouses.
The corporation originally consisted of 14 members and shortly after the sale allowed an additional three members. Members included John C. McCoy (the city’s first surveyor), Fry P. McGee (the group’s first financial officer), and William M. Chick (Kansas City’s first Postmaster). Other members of the group were: Oliver Caldwell, William Collins, Abraham Fonda, William Gillis, Russell Hicks, Samuel C. Owens, Jacob Ragan, James Smart, George W. Tate, and Moses G. Wilson. The additions were Robert Campbell, William B. Evans, and Henry Jobe.
The initial order of business for the group was what to name the proposed town. “Town of Kansas” was selected because of the Kansas River and the Kansas Indians. The next order of business was to survey and plat the land, which McCoy accomplished in early 1839.
By May of 1839, the first land sale was offered yet the population of the new town remained at a few hundred because of complications surrounding the filing of the deed to the land. By 1846, this issue was settled and the Kansas Town Company offered a second sale on April 30, 1846 with Pierre Chouteau acting as an attorney-in-fact for the company and handling the deeds.
The last meeting of the organization occurred on September 30, 1847, recording the sale of the remaining lots. The meeting occurred nearly a decade after Squire Tate of the already established Westport, had auctioned off the Prudhomme estate. On February 14, 1850, the Jackson County Court incorporated the town as the “Town of Kansas ”. This incorporation, however, was declared void and the town was re-incorporated on June 3, 1850. Three years later on February 22, 1853, the town, with a population now in the thousands, was again incorporated but this time as the “City of Kansas” by a special act of the Missouri State Legislature.
The collection consists of the original records of the Kansas Town Company. The company, organized in 1838, recorded into two volumes the minutes and financial accounts of the corporation. Entries included are: lists of lots sold, notes receivable, distribution of proceeds, holdings, and minutes of the proprietors’ meetings. These manuscripts document the founding of Kansas City from its inception at the sale of the 271 acre Prudhomme family estate. A land sale advertisement of the original townsite, plats of the early years, and an abstract of the Prudhomme property are included in the papers. Also in the collection is a significant amount of research conducted by the Native Sons of Greater Kansas City and the History of Kansas City Project with research principally done by Mildred C. Cox. Their research includes information on the townsite, the Town Company, its Founders, and the Town of Kansas from its origin until 1850. The research cites a variety of original sources. 1831–1957.
© WHMC-KC, University of Missouri
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Kansas City
(816) 235-1543 WHMCKC@umkc.edu