Arny, William F. M.

Born: 1813-05-09 Washington, DC

Died: 1881-09-18 Topeka, Kansas

Flourished: Chicago, Illinois

William F. M. Arny was a secretary, evangelist, farmer, anti-slavery advocate, postmaster, territorial legislator, and federal government official. Arny grew up in Washington, DC, and attended school in Georgetown. In 1831, he fled the city and his family for Norfolk, Virginia, where he joined the Restorationist Christian Church and became associated with Alexander Campbell. He moved to Bethany, Virginia (now West Virginia) with Campbell and soon became his private secretary. Arny married Selina Bakewell Craft in 1836 in a ceremony presided over by Campbell, and the couple had three children. When Campbell founded Bethany College in 1840, the Board of Trustees appointed Arny as its first secretary. He remained in that office for a decade. During the last few years of Arny’s tenure, Campbell sent him on evangelizing missions to the frontier, especially Illinois and Missouri.

Having fallen out with Campbell, Arny moved to Bloomington, Illinois, in 1850 and became a farmer. After a few years, Army began forming associations with other farmers in McLean County and, later, the entire state. One of the primary accomplishments of Arny’s involvement with these associations was the first Illinois State Fair in 1853. Two years later, he began publishing the Illinois Teacher to promote education in the state. In 1857, Arny helped found Illinois State Normal University as a teachers’ college. Politically, Arny supported the Whigs after his arrival in Illinois but he grew increasingly supportive of the anti-slavery movement, despite having owned at least one enslaved person in Virginia, and eventually became one of the organizers of the state’s Republican Party.

Following the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Arny took an active role in promoting the migration of Free-Soilers to Kansas and moved to Anderson County in the territory in 1857. Once in Kansas, Arny became a prominent part of the Free Soil movement. In September 1857, Arny was appointed postmaster of the U.S. Post Office at Hyatt, a position he held until May 1858. Arny attended the 1858 Leavenworth constitutional convention, and he served in the Kansas Territorial Legislature. In 1860 and 1861, he worked as a general agent for the National Kansas Committee in charge of distributing aid collected in the east to Free-Soil settlers. In January 1860, Arny traveled to Washington, DC, to testify before the U.S. Senate committee investigating John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. Abraham Lincoln appointed him Indian agent for the New Mexico Territory in 1861 and then as secretary of the New Mexico Territory in 1862.

U.S., Passport Applications, 1795-1925 (Lehi, UT: Operations, 2007); Lawrence R. Murphy, Frontier Crusader: William F. M. Arny (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1972); U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Bloomington, McLean County, IL, 21; Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-1971, NARA Microfilm Publication, M841, 145 rolls, Records of the Post Office Department, RG 28, 1855-1867, 21:476, National Archives Building, Washington, DC; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Anderson County, KS Terr., 51; S. Doc. No. 278, 36th Cong., 1st Sess. (1860); The Commonwealth (Topeka, KS), 20 September 1881, 4:2.