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Rev. Josiah B. McAfee was one of the remarkable men of the State of Kansas, and it would be difficult to mention any line of activity or notable development from early pioneer days without giving a full measure of credit to this honored citizen. All over the great expense of the commonwealth may be found the material results of his foresight, judgment and unselfish public spirit, and many of the established educational and religious institutions of the Sunflower State have incorporated in their usefulness the work of his willing hands, great brain and sturdy heart.
The birth of Rev. Josiah B. McAfee occurred August 6, 1830, at McAfee Town, in Juniata County, Pennsylvania, and he was the son of James and Sarah McAfee, whose parents were old and respected residents of that particular section. On the death of the father, in the fall of 1837, he and his older brother helped their mother in providing for the wants of the little family–a younger brother and a baby sister. All of the property, after his father’s death, had been taken to pay debts, many of which were believed to have been fictitious because of the lack of system in keeping the accounts of those early days. His early education was secured at what was known as Bottom, or Freedon, Schoolhouse, which he attended for ten or twelve weeks each winter term. In the fall of 1848 he went to Peru, Indiana, but returned to his home in 1849 and in the winter of the same year taught the district school in the same building in which he had formerly been a pupil. A protracted meeting was in progress at the “Dutch Church” in the neighborhood of his home, and it was during this meeting that he first felt the strong desire to prepare for the ministry. His education had been a liberal one and in 1854 he was admitted to the ministry of the Lutheran Church by the Maryland Synod.
Selecting Kansas as his field of labor, on the first of April, 1855, with his wife and little daughter, he started on his long journey to the then territory of Kansas. Travel in those days was necessarily slow and painful. The railroad carried him as far as Wheeling, Virginia. Here he boarded an Ohio River steamer for Cincinnati; at that point he changed boats, taking one bound for St. Louis down the Ohio and up the Mississippi rivers. At St. Louis, he boarded another steamer that plied between that point and Leavenworth, then a frontier town that was located on the eastern border of Kansas, which was to be his future home. The journey on the waters of these mighty rivers, of over 1,500 miles, covered a period of fourteen days and was full of interest and experience for the young preacher. He held a series of religious services on the boats en route. In the earlier parts of the journey, his fellow-travelers were people largely of his own sympathies; but when he entered the waters of the Missouri he began to come into contact with the disagreeable snags of slavery. An aged man on board the boat desired to have religious services held, but found the several elderly clergymen on the boat unwilling to conduct them; but, learning that this young minister from the East had held services on the Ohio River boat, he asked him to take the helm, which he did. A certain young skeptic on the boat at this point declared that the ministers were ashamed of their religion in the western country, where men thought for themselves. After giving out the hymn,
“Am I a soldier of the cross, A follower of the Lamb,”he preached from the text, “Ye are my witnesses,” taking advantage of the occasion to exhort all believers to fidelity to Christ and His Gospel. The closing hymn was “Jesus, and shall it ever be A mortal man ashamed of Thee.”
On the 15th of April, 1855, Reverend McAfee’s boat moored at a small wharf at Leavenworth, and the young man found this a small pro-slavery settlement on the banks of the river near the fort of the same name, that had been laid out only a few months previous. Leavenworth was the home of a rank pro-slavery newspaper called the Leavenworth Herald, and every passenger, almost as soon as he alighted on the soil, was interviewed as to his position on the subject of slavery. Reverend McAfee was an anti-slavery man, and shortly after his arrival in Leavenworth he was waited upon by a committee and asked to preach a sermon on the subject, “Slavery is a divine institution and ordained of God.” He refused to do this, and was then peremptorily notified to “Leave town or hang.” A week after his arrival, he preached the gospel in a room secured for that purpose, and kept this up, preaching twice every Sunday, as long as he remained at Leavenworth. He took an active part in favor of freedom and consequently was constantly harrassed and annoyed by the pro-slavery element. In May, 1855, he assisted in organizing the first Sunday school in the territory, aside from those established at United States government posts and Indian schools. Reverend McAfee also opened a small private school about the same time, which was the first school opened on Kansas soil aside from the mission Indian schools. This was called the Leavenworth Collegiate Institute. It was a day of small beginnings, but the small school room was soon filled and afforded him enough of an income to support his family. He continued to preach every Sunday while conducting this school, and for this service he refused any compensation, a rule to which he adhered all his life, even refusing wedding fees.
Reverend McAfee delivered the first Fourth of July oration ever given in the territory, in 1855. In August of the same year, he organized the first Lutheran Church in Kansas, and during the same month succeeded in erecting a small union church building. In those days of lawlessness, many good men suffered for their outspoken opinions, and Reverend McAfee continued, without fear or favor, to teach and preach against slavery and took sides on other questions at issue in early days of the territory. A man of such decided opinions and such fearlessness in advocating them, could not be held down by the old canons of observance, and in 1855 he took an active part in the political campaign, visiting his old home at this time, where he aroused enthusiasm for Gen. John C. Fremont, the republican nominee for the presidency. It was during his absence at this time that threats which had formerly been made were put into execution, and he returned home to find his house in ruins. While on this eastern trip he stopped in Ohio to interview Gov. Salmon F. Chase about the Kansas troubles, and while in Maryland was ordained to the ministry. He then left Leavenworth and established his home at Grasshopper Falls, now Valley Falls, where he engaged in farming and stock raising. He organized a Sunday school here and later organized a Lutheran Church, and the people set themselves with a will to erect the first permanent Lutheran Church building on Kansas soil, and which is still being used for church services, the church and the schoolhouse at Leavenworth having been taken in his absence by the United States Government for their stores and the donation of the lots by the Leavenworth Townsite Company having been cancelled, and redonated for a public school site. It was while preaching at Grasshopper Falls that Reverend McAfee organized a Lutheran Church at Moravia, a small settlement fifteen miles distant, and also established preaching points at Pardee, in Atchison County, and Crooked Creek, in Jefferson County, later organizing churches at these places. He preached to this charge of four churches for three years, and to serve it was obliged to travel on horseback over a circuit of forty-five miles every other Sunday. A short time later, he became financially able to invest in a rude, two-wheeled springless cart, in which he and his wife would often make the round. At one time his congregation raised $50 for their salaryless pastor and offered it to him as a compensation for his services, but he positively declined to accept it. His wife did not share with him his peculiar views about a salaried minister, and though cheerfully sharing his hardships pleaded with him to take the money and use it for the purchase of a more comfortable conveyance; but he continued to refuse it and throughout all his long life never accepted any money for his religious services. It may be noted here, that Reverend McAfee’s income was all derived from farming and stock raising, all his services in the cause of religion, education and temperance having been given freely for the benefit of his fellow man.
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There are few Lutheran churches of the Ceneral Synod in Kansas in which Reverend McAfee had not some money. His hand was as open as the day to every appeal. His gifts to the Topeka church, where he made his home for many years and where he later died, amounted to many thousands of dollars. His total gifts, including the increased value of property purchased by him for church purposes, could not be estimated. Pastors of that faith have had occasion to remember him with gratitude for substantial help while passing through the seasons of drouth and plague in the early days of Kansas. The organization of the Topeka church was effected April 7, 1867, in the executive office of the governor of Kansas, Reverend McAfee at that time being private secretary to Governor Crawford.
During 1855 and 1856, the Border Ruffian war raged in Kansas, and Reverend McAfee had several narrow escapes from lynchers of this type of desperado. On September 1, 1862, Reverend McAfee enlisted as a private in the Eleventh Regiment, Kansas Volunteer Infantry, and was unanimously elected first lieutenant of the company. He afterwards changed to the cavalry arm of the Union service. He was a participant in four battles and during 1862, 1863 and 1864 served in various capacities, as lieutenant, captain, and superintendent of the refugees at Fort Smith. In 1863, he resigned his commission as first lieutenant of Company I, to accept the chaplaincy of the Fourth Regiment, Indian Home Guards, at Fort Gibson, Cherokee Nation. Subsequently, he acted as chaplain at the hospital with different detachments of troops at Fort Gibson until September 15, 1863, when he was mustered out of the service by order of the War Department, with all the other officers of the Fourth and Fifth regiments. He was then appointed chaplain of the Second Regiment, Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry, and served with that regiment until March, 1864, when he was assigned for duty as post chaplain at Fort Smith and superintendent of refugees, where he had much arduous labor to perform, and during which time he shipped several thousand refugees from that point, some by steamer and some by train, to Kansas. On January 16, 1865, Reverend McAfee resigned as chaplain and superintendent of refugees to accept the position of private secretary to Col. S. J. Crawford, who had just been elected governor of Kansas; Governor Crawford was reelected for a second term, and in August, 1867, Reverend McAfee was appointed adjutant general of Kansas and served in that capacity under Governors Green and Harvey, until March 3, 1869, when he tendered his resignation to attend to other business. During his term as adjutant general, he organized two battalions for service against the hostile Indians who had risen in Western Kansas. He wrote and compiled from reliable data the official military history of Kansas regiments in the war for the suppression of the Great Rebellion.
In 1870 Reverend McAfee was elected mayor of the City of Topeka, Kansas, and during his term of office not a single license to sell liquor was granted. But, owing to the fact that whisky interests were largely controlled by the city officials, who, in turn, were controlled by them, little progress was made in behalf of the cause of temperance. One day Reverend McAfee was informed that a faro bank was in operation in a room over the offices of the Wells Fargo Express Company. Armed with a warrant, the intrepid minister-mayor, accompanied by several policemen, started to raid the building where the game was running. Finding the entrance to the building closed, the mayor ordered a large meat axe to be brought, and then instructed the marshal to use this weapon as a means of effecting an entrance. The order was promptly obeyed and the door fell open. The faro bank and fixtures were seized and the same day were publicly burned in the streets of Topeka. The pugnacious Col. C. R. Jennison had his faro bank burned in Topeka in 1871 while he watched its burning. Mayor McAfee was a veritable terror to evil-doers and was one of the first to fearlessly and consistently advance the cause of temperance, even contributing his salary during the third year of his occupancy of the office of mayor to the advancement of temperance.
In 1870 Reverend McAfee was elected president of the Shawnee County Agricultural Society. For four terms he was a member of the Kansas Legislature and served on the temperance committee while a member of that distinguished body. In 1893-94 he delivered more than 100 lectures and sermons from as many Kansas pulpits in the interests of prohibition, when the anti-prohibitionists were trying to elect a Kansas Legislature for the purpose of calling a convention that would annul the prohibition amendment of the constitution of Kansas. He labored and traveled in Kansas, in the work for prohibition, under the auspices of the Kansas State Temperance Union, at his own expense, and likely did more than any other man in Kansas to thwart the plans and hopes of the liquor men of his state. Though he was not a party prohibitionist, yet the prohibitionists were more willing to trust him on this subject than was his own party. The Kansas Prohibitionist, a party paper, said of Reverend McAfee: “He is the peer of any man that is named in connection with the office of chief magistrate. A live and temperance man, he is without blemish. A fearless defender of the right, his integrity is unquestioned. If the people of Kansas want a prohibition governor, there stands J. B. McAfee. Match him.”
In 1873, Mr. McAfee, suffered a bleeding of the lungs for the third time, and was so low that he was speechless. Two of his neighbors were very ill at the same time, and their doctors gave them brandy as a remedy and affirmed that it helped them very much. Reverend McAfee’s doctor also urged him to take some brandy, informing him that if he did not do so he would be in the next world before morning. He refused to take the liquor, and, as he could not speak the words, wrote on the slate: “Well, doctor. I will be sober when I get there.” The doctor missed his guess, for Reverend McAfee lived for many years afterward, while the two patients who took the brandy never recovered, but died shortly afterward.
It was through the influence of J. B. McAfee that the first five Lutheran churches of Kansas were organized, and they long felt his influence, both of his presence and his purse. He was a valued member of Lincoln Post No. 1, Grand Army of the Republic, and was also a member of the Kansas State Historical Society.
Reverend McAfee was married March 20, 1852, in the parlor of the Theological Seminary, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Anna R. Yowler. Three children were born to this marriage: Celeste, who, in 1874, became the wife of D. H. Forbes, of Topeka, Kansas; Emma Virginia, who was married on the same day to Judge DeWitte C. Nellis, of Topeka; and Henry W., who married the sister of Judge Nellis in 1880.
In a résumé of the life work of Reverend McAfee in Kansas it may be said to his honor that he built the first church in the Territory of Kansas, outside of government stations, and he built most of it with his own hands. He established the first educational institution, the Leavenworth Collegiate Institute; he delivered the first Fourth of July oration; and he was the first prohibiton mayor in the state who, although Topeka was a licensed city, granted no liquor licenses during his terms of office. He also commenced the temperance and suffrage movement in the territory, and he also issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation.
Reverend McAfee died May 19, 1908, at his home at Topeka, at the age of seventy-eight, full of years and of honor, his death resulting from a stroke of paralysis which he had suffered eight months previous.