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James S. Rollins (1812 – 1888)

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James Sidney Rollins was born in Richmond, Kentucky, on April 19, 1812, to Anthony Wayne and Sallie Harris Rodes Rollins. He married Mary E. Hickman on June 6, 1837, and they had eleven children. Rollins studied at Washington College in Pennsylvania and graduated from the University of Indiana in 1830 and from the law department at Transylvania University in Kentucky in 1834. In 1832 he served in the Black Hawk War and received the title of major.

Rollins practiced law in Columbia, Missouri, and became involved in Whig Party
The Whigs were an American political party that existed from the mid-1830s to the mid-1850s. Because it was formed as a protest against the amount of power claimed by President Andrew Jackson, the Whig Party borrowed its name from a British political party protesting the amount of power claimed by the king of Britain. The Whigs were made up of several different groups in the North, South, and West, and were mostly united by their dislike of Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party. As such, they were often divided on many issues. Although they disagreed about the morality of slavery, most Whigs agreed that slavery should be limited, and several opposed allowing slavery in new territories or letting slave regions like Texas join the United States. Many Whigs were in favor of a stronger national government (though not a stronger presidency) and wanted to raise taxes on foreign goods being sold in America so that the money could be used to build national improvements like roads, canals, and railroad lines. The Whig Party fell apart in the 1850s over disagreements on several issues, such as opposition to immigration, and about whether or not slavery should be abolished. Many former Whigs went on to support the Republican Party.
politics. He was elected to the state legislature in 1838, 1840, 1846, and 1854, and devoted his efforts to the establishment of the University of Missouri in Boone County. He also worked for railroad construction and river improvement and opposed extension of slavery to the territories. In 1848 and 1857 he was the unsuccessful Whig candidate for governor.
A sketch of Rollins’s residence Sketch of Rollins’s residence A sketch of Rollins’s residence, “La Grange,” included in a letter from Bingham to Rollins dated December 26, 1853.

[Rollins, James S. (1812-1888), Papers, 1546-1968 (C1026), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-Columbia]
From 1860 to 1864, Rollins served two terms in the U.S. Congress. He was a strong unionist, introduced railroad and telegraph construction legislation, supported land grants for agricultural colleges, and advocated the Thirteenth amendment, the abolition
The goal of the American abolition movement was to end the system of slavery that existed in the United States from its early colonization until the Civil War era. From the late 1770s to the early 1800s, several northern states abolished slavery by passing antislavery laws that called for slaves in those states to be gradually emancipated (freed) over a period of time. From the 1830s onward, the abolition movement grew quickly and began to call for the immediate emancipation of all slaves in America. In the 1850s, tension between people with proslavery views and those favoring abolition dominated American politics. The fight over abolition was one of the main issues leading to the Civil War. Abolition was formally adopted in Missouri in January of 1865. Later that year, slavery was ended in America with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
of slavery. In 1866 and 1868 he was again elected to the state legislature and worked to establish an agricultural and mechanical college at the university. In 1872 he lost the Democratic nomination for governor and retired from political life.

Rollins was president of the board of curators of the University of Missouri for nearly twenty-five years until his retirement in 1886. He played a vital role in the founding, location, growth, and development of the university and its agricultural college.

As a businessman, Rollins was involved in agriculture, real estate, and improving railroad and river transportation. He helped establish the North Missouri Railroad Company and was involved in numerous other railroad ventures.

Rollins died in Columbia, Missouri, on January 9, 1888, at the age of seventy-five.

Text by Elizabeth Uhlig with research assistance by Todd Barnett

Meets Show-Me Standards SS: 2, 6, 7; 4th grade GLE 2a.A.

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References and Resources

For more information about James S. Rollins' life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about James S. Rollins in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.


  • Articles from the Missouri Historical Review
  • Articles from the Newspaper Collection
    • Feasts in Memory of M. U.’s Founder.” University Missourian. April 19, 1909. pp. 1, 3.
    • “Gone to Rest.” Jefferson City State Times. January 20, 1888. pp. 2-3.
    • “Hon. James S. Rollins.” Columbia Statesman. January 30, 1880. p. 2.
    • Honors to James S. Rollins.” Jefferson City Peoples’ Tribune. June 19, 1872. p. 1.
    • “In Memory Maj. Jas. S. Rollins.” Columbia Daily Tribune. April 20, 1912. pp. 1, 3.
    • Railroads.” Jefferson City Peoples’ Tribune. August 14, 1867. p. 2.
    • “Maj. James S. Rollins Dead.” Jefferson City Weekly Tribune. January 11, 1888. p. 8.
  • Books and Articles
    • Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 655-658. [REF F508 D561]
    • Davis, Walter Bickford, and Daniel S. Durrie. An Illustrated History of Missouri. St. Louis: A. J. Hall and Company, 1876. pp. 577-582. [REF F550 D299]
    • History of Boone County, Missouri. St. Louis: Western Historical Company, 1882. [REF F609 H629]
    • Nagel, Paul C. George Caleb Bingham: Missouri’s Famed Painter and Forgotten Politician. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2005. pp. 19-28, 54-60, 70-1, 93-4, 96-8, 102, 123-4, 141-42, 149-51. [REF F508.1 B513na]
    • Olson, James and Vera. The University of Missouri: An Illustrated History. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988. [REF UM 378.778 E2]
    • Priddy, Bob. “The Father of the University.” Across Our Wide Missouri. Independence, MO: Independence Press, 1982. v. 1, pp. 233-235. [REF 550 P932 v. 1 1982]
    • Shoemaker, Floyd Calvin. Missouri’s Hall of Fame: Lives of Eminent Missourians. Columbia: Missouri Book Co., 1918. pp. 184-189. [REF F508 Sh73 c. 2]
    • Smith, William Benjamin. James Sidney Rollins, Memoir. New York: De Vinne Press, 1891. [REF F508.1 R655s].
    • Stephens, Frank Fletcher. A History of the University of Missouri. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1962. [REF UMC. 378.778 E20]
    • Viles, Jonas. The University of Missouri, a Centennial History. Columbia: University of Missouri, 1939. [REF UMC 378.778 E 19]
    • Wood, James Madison. James Sidney Rollins: Civil War Congressman from Missouri. Master’s thesis. Stanford University, 1947. [REF F508.1 R655w]
  • Manuscript Collection
    • Rollins, James Sidney (1812-1888), Letters, 1870-1885, (C3014)
      Letters discussing Missouri and national politics written by James S. Rollins, a Missouri politician, lawyer, and businessman, to Carl Schurz, U.S. Senator from Missouri, 1869-1875, and Secretary of the Interior, 1877-1881.
    • Rollins, James Sidney (1812-1888), Papers, 1546-1958, (C1026)
      The papers of James S. Rollins, a Boone County, Missouri, lawyer, politician, business-man, and curator of University of Missouri include correspondence with family, business and political associates, and George Caleb Bingham and other friends. The papers covers state, national, and Whig party politics from 1830 through the 1880s, the Civil War in Missouri, internal improvements and the North Missouri Railroad, and education at University of Missouri.

Outside Resources

These links, which open in another window, will take you outside the Society's Website. The Society is not responsible for the content of the following Websites:
  • Fine Art Investigations: James Sidney Rollins
    This blog, which is primarily concerned with Rollins’s friend, George Caleb Bingham, contains several posts devoted to James Sidney Rollins in a series titled “James Sidney Rollins—Warmest Personal Friend.”
  • James Sidney Rollins, Memoir
    A free online version of William Benjamin Smith’s James Sidney Rollins, Memoir, provided by the Library of Congress at the Internet Archive.
  • Spirits of Mizzou: James Sidney Rollins
    This webpage from the University Archives at the University of Missouri contains a short biography of Rollins and includes images of his portrait and grave site monument.
  • War & Reconciliation: The Mid-Missouri Civil War Project: La Grange
    This website about the historic Rollins family home, “La Grange,” is an excerpt from the article “Stories of Crimes, Trials and Appeals in Civil War Era Missouri” by University of Missouri law professor, Frank O. Bowman, III.


Historic Missourians: James S. Rollins
James S. RollinsJames S. Rollins.

[The State Historical Society of Missouri, Photograph Collection (1961-0006)]

James Sidney Rollins

Born: April 19, 1812
Died: January 9, 1888 (age 75)
Category: Leaders & Activists
Region of Missouri: Central
Missouri Hometown: Columbia
Related Biographies:
George Caleb Bingham