Campbell vs. Sproul – 1855

Louisa T. Campbell; Mary Sproul
Images courtesy of the History Museum for Springfield-Greene County

John Polk Campbell was one of the first pioneers of European ancestry to settle in present day Springfield, Missouri. The Campbell family was instrumental in the establishment of Springfield and Greene County. As Springfield grew, so did the Campbell’s prosperity. On August 11, 1851, John created his last will and testament, bequeathing all of his “property, real & personal, monies and effects” to Louisa T. Campbell, his “dearly beloved wife.”1 With Springfield firmly established, John began to explore southward into Indian Territory and Texas. He eventually died on May 28, 1852 in Oil Springs, Cherokee Nation.2

After John’s death, Louisa attempted to secure his property and entered into a dispute over a mulatto girl named Margaret with Samuel Sproul. Louisa claimed Sproul wrongfully and unjustly detained the girl, even though she was rightfully left to Louisa through John’s will. Sproul responded that he had been the girl’s true owner since 1850, as she was a gift from John Polk Campbell to him and his wife, Mary. Mary Frances Sproul was the second daughter of John and Louisa, and was the first Caucasian female to be born in present day Springfield. Mary and Samuel lived in Greenfield and had no children.

The family unsuccessfully tried to settle the disagreement outside of the court system. In June 1855, Leonidas Campbell, John and Louisa’s son, visited his sister’s home and demanded they turn over the slave. Samuel refused, so Leonidas kidnapped her. He grabbed Margaret and rode back towards Springfield with her on the back of his horse. Samuel chased after Leonidas, and was able to reclaim Margaret and brought her back to his home.

Unable to settle the dispute, Louisa sued Samuel for $1,000 in damages and custody of the girl. On March 11, 1856, the court authorized Louisa T. Campbell to “collect and secure all and singular the goods & chattels rights and credits which were of the said John P. Campbell at the time of his death in whomsever hand and possession the same may be found….” This disagreement over Magaret did not split the Campbell family, but this case represents the circumstances many civilians faced before the Civil War. Rivalry over property, debt, murder and other preexisting issues often fueled feelings of revenge and hatred causing the Civil War to become even more personal and violent then it was already destine to become.

Contributed by the Greene County Archives and Records Center

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  1. John Polk Campbell Will, 11 August 1851, Campbell vs. Sproul, 1855. African America Circuit Court, Folder 10. Greene County Archives and Records Center, Springfield, Missouri.
  2. “Lucy M’Cammon’s Home, Built in 1851, Holds Memories of Civil War Visitors” in The Springfield Leader, 3 June 1932, pg 15.