The Free State Militias, Part Five

A cartoon attacking the Catholic Church's perceived attempt to "take over" American life

A cartoon attacking the Catholic Church’s perceived attempt to “take over” American life

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4

Patrick Laughlin came back from the Big Springs Convention with two missions: organize a mail route through his area of Kansas and found two cells of the Kansas Legion. If the first duty constituted a burden to him, he didn’t tell the Howard Committee. Laughlin completed forming the first cell the day he returned to Doniphan and then set out to points north to arrange the second. On the way, he changed his mind:

after being out about six miles I returned back to Doniphan, where I broke open the seal and read the constitution and ritual for the first time. I did not organize any in the county afterwards. At the meeting at which I was appointed delegate to the Big Springs convention the arguments of Dr. G.A. Cutler, C.W. Steward, A. Larzelere, B. Harding, and others, were to urge the necessity of a secret society, something on the order of the Know-nothings, by which they could unite their force and labor more effectually against the pro-slavery party. This idea was received with acclamation by all of them except myself. I being an Irishman myself by birth, was opposed to the measure, as it was too much like Know-nothingism, and told them if they pressed it they would find me their most inveterate enemy. They said they had better do without it; that they were too feeble to have any disturbance in their ranks.

According to Laughlin, he got promises from his free state friends that they would found no secret society. His opposition makes perfectly good sense in light of the rise of the Know-Nothings in the middle 1850s and his Irish birth. But then he went armed with that assurance off to Big Springs. On the way, he delivered a pair of sealed books and oversaw the formation of a chapter of the Kansas Legion. Laughlin says that he broke the seals on the books, but apparently didn’t then read them. Nor did he have time to see the group in Oceana organize itself. What did he think he had done, if not helped form a secret society?

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Of course, hindsight makes that judgment easy. Laughlin might have just trusted too much in his friends’ word. He says nothing to the Howard Committee about what he believed the books to contain when he went off with the first pair, but he understood himself as forming some kind of covert group at least by the time he came back to Doniphan. He might have missed the significance of his time in Oceana out of haste, but he literally had instructions to do the same job in Doniphan and elsewhere at his leisure and got halfway done before turning back. Maybe it just took that long for his doubts to come to the surface. He could have just gotten too curious to resist opening a book and reading it.

His testimony suggests another concern as well. At Lawrence,

When Mr. Brown showed me the rifles at Lawrence he told me that they would continue to send arms, men, and means to make Kansas a free State by force, if necessary. He told me that these arms and munitions of war were sent as dry goods to the agents of the Emigrant Aid Society, who received them and gave them out to the people, and gave as a reason why they were thus secretly sent was that they might not be detected by the United States officers.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Laughlin might have imagined the Oceana group as just some kind of local militia with whom his friends communicated. Seeing the arms ready for distribution must have made the affair look far more organized and hierarchical. The fact that an Emigrant Aid Society man, Charles Robinson, Laughlin surmised, had put himself two weeks’ behind schedule to get the guns through in secret couldn’t have helped. Laughlin had an aversion to secret societies and George Washington Brown told him that the society he had involved himself with, wittingly or not, secretly ran guns into Kansas.

To underline the point,

Brown’s instructions to me was, that when we got thirty men in each regiment we must send a delegate to Boston, but that he must first go to Lawrence, where he would get letters of introduction to the people in Boston, who would furnish him with as many arms as we had men in the neighborhood to bear them, and that we would get them gratis.

That makes for rather more than a simple social club.

The Free State Militias, Part Four

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

Parts 1, 2, 3

We left off Patrick Laughlin’s testimony to the Howard Committee with him joining the Kansas Legion. There he had facilitated the founding of two local branches of the organization by delivering sealed books to their leaders. Laughlin did not have time to stay and oversee the choosing of officers, as the business of the free soil party awaited him at Big Springs. He came away with a letter introducing him to George Washington Brown, who he met at Lawrence. Laughlin presented his credentials and

was then shown a good number of Sharp’s rifles by Mr. Brown, who told me they were sent out by the Emigrant Aid Company.

Whether the Emigrant Aid Companies had intended from the start to arm militias in Kansas or not, that day Laughlin looked on Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow’s nightmare come to life. The eastern corporation raised military companies in Kansas to fight against the advance of slavery. Stringfellow preferred to reserve that privilege to proslavery militias, whether organized in Missouri’s Blue Lodges and Self-Defense Associations or underwritten by the wider South from whom he solicited funds. That free soil men got in on the trick must have seemed downright unfair. Secret oaths and paramilitary politics belonged to slavery’s friends, not its foes.

All the same, Laughlin spent his time at Big Springs and came away with a new charge:

I was also made a member of the executive committee, and was appointed it in company with two Atkins, to act as a kind of governing committee, for the north side of Kansas river. It was the duty of this governing committee to see that all mails belonging to free state men of Kansas were to be carried through with safety, and in order to do this it was necessary to appoint mail carrier and other facilities. It was also their duty to appoint men in the district of the county to be designated by them, whose duty it would be to arbitrate all difficulties arising between people. It was also the duty of this subcommittee to have speakers appointed to go through the Territory to canvass if for a free State. They were also to attend to the election returns and see that they were forwarded to the executive committee of Lawrence

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Laughlin, by the time of his testimony a proslavery man again, may have had reason to exaggerate his import. However, every duty he describes seems like one that the free state movement would assign to somebody as part of the necessary infrastructure of building a party. They couldn’t trust the mails, so they needed to make their own arrangements. They needed their own judges of election and deliverers of returns. They certainly needed men to go about speaking for the cause.

In addition to his moire public duties, Laughlin came away with four more sealed books:

These books contained the constitution and ritual of the grand encampment of the Kansas Legion. I received them from G.W. Brown, editor of the “Herald of Freedom,” with instructions that I was not to break the seals until I had organized two subordinate encampments, when I was to break the seals, and deliver one package to the colonel of each encampment. I was to organize one at Doniphan, and one in the Territory north of Doniphan, at any place I might think to be a suitable point.

Laughlin organized the first encampment on the day he arrived home, breaking the seals and handing over books as instructed. On the way to establish the second group, his third overall, plans would change.

The Free State Militias, Part Three

H. Miles Moore

H. Miles Moore

Parts 1, 2

Patrick Laughlin, proslavery man turned free soil man turned proslavery man again, began his testimony like that of many who came before the Howard Committee. He told them that he came from Kentucky to Kansas in May of 1855. June found him settled in Doniphan. He insisted that when first he came to Kansas

I was a pro-slavery man. I heard a great deal of complaint by free-soilers of the laws being violated and people coming over from Missouri to the election; sympathized very strongly with them, and endeavored as far as I could to vindicate their cause. I became notorious in the neighborhood for vindicating their cause, and I avowed myself a free-soiler about the middle of August, 1855.

Many people in Kansas could tell the same story. One could accept, perhaps even prefer, living in a slave state and still think that the proslavery party had gone too far in its violent suppression of white republicanism. If one truly believed that slavery made all white men equal, then seeing white men trample the rights of other white men in its name had to raise some doubts. Perhaps in South Carolina, or even Missouri, such things just happened in the natural order and one conceived of them more as defenses of white equality against dangerous subversives. The perceived threat of thousands of slaves about, outnumbering whites, must have made such a calculation easy. Kansas had no thousands of slaves, but rather around two hundred. Though William Phillips and others held that Laughlin came into their movement with ulterior motives, always intent on betrayal, his account sounds too much like that of H. Miles MooreJoseph Potter, and many other Kansans who came lately from slave states to take them entirely seriously on the count.

Laughlin dates his formal conversion to free soil around the middle of August, 1855. This would come roughly when the legislature completed its work and adjourned and just slightly before the latest convention at Lawrence. He marked the date from a meeting to choose delegates for the Big Springs Convention. His fellow free soil men about Doniphan trusted Laughlin enough to employ him as the meeting’s secretary and then name him one of their delegates. They even asked that he head out a few days early so he could arrange some printing and get an idea of the strength of the party. On his way

I stopped at Oceana, a place about ten miles from Atchison and fifteen from Doniphan. I went into the store of Messrs. Crosty; I had been told before getting there that these men were Yankees and abolitionists. I went into his house and made known to him my business; he then made me acquainted with a secret military organization, by which he said the free State party was strengthened and enabled to carry out their designs more effectually.

William Phillips

William Phillips

Crosty then handed over two sealed books and a letter of introduction before sending Laughlin on his way to Grasshopper to deliver those books to a man called Whitney

who was to gather a company together, and in the presence of this company I was to open the seal around these books. the company was gathered the next morning, about fourteen in number, and I broke the seal and administered according to the directions of Mr. Crosty. I not having time to remain among them, left them to elect their own officers, and organize their company.

Laughlin says more, which shall come in future posts, but this already speaks volumes about how much the free soilers trusted him. He took their side deep in proslavery country, the same section of the territory that saw Pardee Butler’s mobbing, and made himself notorious for it. The men who knew him best sent him to Big Springs as their delegate. Along the way they arranged for his induction into the Kansas Legion and then trusted him to facilitate the founding of a local branch. None of this sounds like what one would do for a person one had doubts about. Rather Laughlin seems to have had their utmost confidence.

The Free State Militias, Part Two

William Phillips

William Phillips

The difficulty in researching secret groups comes from their habit of living up to the title. As dubiously legal organizations, the free state militias had more reason than the recreational appeal of creating secrets to keep a low profile. It seems that the Kansas Legion, sometimes called the Kansas Regulators, formed the largest such group. They have not left to posterity a wealth of sources. Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era has only two references to the group in its index. Alice Nichols’ Bleeding Kansas sports the same number. James Rawley’s Race and Politics: “Bleeding Kansas” and the Coming of the Civil War has none. All of this could, and to some degree must, make looking into the group an exercise in frustration. I might have left things there and moved on, for lack of anything more to say, but for this passage in Nichols:

Rains came and there was a chill spell, then bright warmth again.

That was the weather that busy fall, uneventful in its early stages, with only one killing – a free-soiler named Collins by a free-soil turncoat, Pat Laughlin.

Patrick Laughlin told us that the free state movement connived to steal its own elections should proslavery men look likely to win them. That alone made him an interesting figure to me, but Nichols relates this as well:

The free-soilers had a secret organization too, so secret that its existence was repeatedly denied by free-soil protagonists, even after a disgruntled member told all about it.

Etcheson identifies that turncoat as Laughlin in the same passage where she dates the founding of the Kansas Legion to February, 1855. Through her and Nichols’ endnotes and a bit of cross-referencing with the Howard Report, I found Laughlin’s testimony to the Howard Committee on the Legion. Laughlin also appears in John Gihon’s Geary and Kansas and William Phillips’ The Conquest of Kansas by Missouri and Her Allies, two sources only recently come to my attention.

These authorities all agree that Laughlin joined the Kansas Legion. Geary and Kansas insists that Laughlin, an Irishman late of Missouri and Kentucky, “pretended to have become a convert to the free-state principles.” Phillips has Laughlin come to Kansas a proslavery man, but then “affected to be impressed in favor of free-state principles out of sympathy with the free-state men, and condemnation of the conduct of Missouri.” He then “intruded himself under the pretense of being a convert to the cause.”

Phillips account could have fit any number of Kansans, especially those most recently from Missouri. He also gives the only description of the man that I’ve seen:

Mr. Laughlin is a young man under thirty. He has resided in Kentucky, in which state I believe he kept a grocery for a short time. His person is rather under middle height, and thick-set. His head is large, face rather flabby, red and pimpled. He exhibited some little ability, had received a good common education, would speak passably well, and was possessed of an unusual amount of cunning.

Laughlin might not agree that that assessment of himself, but I find no dispute at all over his involvement with the Legion. Thus we should take what he says about it as the testimony of a witness and participant, not simply that of a person reporting rumors and suspicion. Laughlin later quit the group and wrote a pamphlet exposing its secrets, which I could not find online, whence comes the clear distaste for him exhibited especially by Phillips and general suspicion about his motives.

This all may read as a bit inside baseball, but considering I have almost exclusively Laughlin as a source and he brings with him some interpretative complexity, I think it best to give context before plunging directly into his testimony. William Phillips carries a grudge against Laughlin. Laughlin in turns has a few against free state men. No one seems all that inclined to speak highly of him, but we must remember that he had made himself a murderer as well as a betrayer of confidences by the time they put pen to paper. Every primary source comes from somewhere, produced by a person or people of particular interests, possessed of certain information, and inclined to various biases that we should keep in mind.

With historiographical challenges in mind, tomorrow I shall dig in with the words of the man himself.

The Free State Militias, Part One

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Armed companies have often stood on the sidelines of my reading in Kansas matters. One appeared at the Fourth of July festivities in Lawrence, receiving a flag from the ladies of the town. George Washington Brown made an oblique reference to their absence at the time of his despairing letter. But it seems that many militia activities happened in secret, or at least secret enough that they don’t come yet to prominent coverage in my sources.

I had in mind these words of Brown’s

there was then no understanding with free State men for mutual protection

By October 2, 1855, such an understanding existed. That could have simply meant that they agreed to watch one another’s backs, of course, but we know from the Fourth of July celebration that a militia company operated in Lawrence at least as of July. Did it go back further? Nichole Etcheson’s Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era dates free state activity back to February of 1855, after the first stolen election but before the more famous fraudulent Assembly elections of March. That hardly made for a tranquil Kansas overall, as Andrew Reeder reported that proslavery men had offered him death threats for waiting until early spring for those elections, but does put antislavery militia organization in advance of the attacks on the Parkville Luminary, William Phillips, and Pardee Butler. She cites a report that Jefferson Davis, Secretary of war, submitted to the Senate. The Kansas State Historical Society has it online. Etcheson’s endnote points to pages 27-30.

Davis’ correspondence dates to 1856 and concerns the use of militia companies in Kansas as adjuncts to the Army in suppressing insurrection. I don’t find there confirmation of the February date. It seems like the sort of information that might appear in the report, but if it does I don’t see it where Etcheson does. Does anyone else? I might email her directly, should I prove capable of conquering my pathological shyness and slight awe of professional historians for the moment.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Another source I got from Etcheson’s notes: John Gihon’s Geary and Kansas, a history of Kansas and the Geary administration up to 1857, the year of its writing. It gives no help on the date of founding, but does describe the work the Kansas Legion:

It is not to be presumed that all the outrages and crimes committed in Kansas Territory were the work of the pro-slavery party. That party will have a terrible catalogue [sic] for which to account; but in the great day of retribution their political opponents will not entirely escape condemnation. The pro-slavery men were doubtless the original aggressors; but their unworthy example was too eagerly followed by many claiming to be the advocates of freedom. The one party burned houses, and robbed and murdered unoffending people; and the other, in retaliation, committed the same atrocities. Buford collected a regiment of men in Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia; and Jones, Whitfield and others, bands of desperadoes in Missouri, which they brought into Kansas to pillage and destroy; whilst Lane marched in his famous “Army of the North,” whose path was also marked with desolation and ruin. The slavery faction established its “Blue Lodges,” and their opposers organized their “Kansas Legion,” both of which were secret associations, bound together by their solemn oaths, and having signs and pass-words of recognition. The only difference was, that the largest and most respectable portion of the free-state party condemned the “Kansas Legion,.” and took no part in its operations; whilst the “Blue Lodges” originated with, and received their chief encouragement and support from the most prominent, wealthy, and leading pro-slavery men, not only in the territory, but in various states of the Union.

The Buford mentioned tried to organize a Southern answer to the Emigrant Aid Companies. He sought support of state governments in vain and then managed the impressive feats of promising men land in Kansas which he did not own and conveying them there to lodgings that he expected them to pay for out of their own pockets. Thus those who believed his promises for a bright future, with perhaps a side of Yankee beating, found themselves disappointed and most soon left for home. The most leading proslavery men of the nation must, of course, include David Rice Atchison.

Electing Andrew Reeder, Part Two

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Reeder, that dubiously Kansan ex-governor of the Territory, stood for election as delegate to Congress on October 9, 1855. Even some antislavery Kansans thought him an odd choice for the office, but ultimately they elected him. Running unopposed in an election that the proslavery party did not recognize surely helped. But it seems that Reeder’s election might have had some irregularities all the same. In this case, a fairly novel one for Kansas, they would have come down to the attentions of actual Kansans of antislavery bent.

The free state leadership gave instructions to judges of election that they should postpone their duties or relocate elsewhere in the event of proslavery interference. Given Kansas’ history, this only made sense. However, Pat Laughlin claims that he had instructions to tell the judges privately that they could remove to elsewhere on the simple grounds that Andrew Reeder didn’t seem likely to win their precinct. This would amount to election stealing by the free state movement. Did it happen? Laughlin claims he had his instructions from Marcus Parrott. Parrott’s own testimony, taken the same day, make no reference to any such thing. However, another witness told the Howard Committee that something odd had transpired in Iowa Point, Doniphan county.

Charles Blakeley held that

there was no election held at that place on the 9th of October last, and no poll opened, and no vote cast for anybody, it being the day of election fixed by the Big Spring  […] Just after the election, I saw the “Herald of Freedom” newspaper, published at Lawrence, a publication purporting to give the returns of election in each precinct or place of voting in the Territory, and among others it was reported that seventy-two or seventy-three votes has been cast at the Iowa Point precinct, which was not true, as no vote was at that place

Did the election move elsewhere? Blakeley claimed that he paid no particular attention to free state elections, but he paid enough mind to notice no judges of election convene in his township. He insisted that they never had any election troubles and so even had they met, the judges would have found no reason to remove.

Blakeley also said he

understood that they held an election about seven miles from Iowa Point, the place fixed by the county commissioners. I as not present, and do not know what was done there. The place, I believe, was not in that township.

Wait, what? So an “Iowa Point” election did take place. It might, however, have taken place outside the township. This looks very suspect. Did the free state men pull a fast one to get good returns in proslavery Doniphan County? Possibly. The claim that they did not meet at all raises obvious questions. Shouldn’t the judges of election at least do a pro forma session before removing, even if they anticipated trouble? That sounds like best practice, but if they expected violence one could hardly blame them for relocating as a preventative measure.

What can we take from this? With no witness save Blakeley, and his own admission that his testimony amounts to not seeing anything, probably not much. Furthermore, Blakeley’s clarification that an election did take place in the area, if not necessarily in the bounds of the township proper, comes only in answer to follow up questions. It reads as though the committee had to drag it out of him and he intended to give the impression that free state men simply invented the votes out of thin air. His insistence that no election in the area had ever occasioned trouble also strains credulity. From the evidence available to me I can’t say with confidence that things went one way or the other, but Blakeley’s intention to mislead the committee seems more probable to me than a very obvious public fraud by the free state movement.

Electing Andrew Reeder, Part One

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

The proslavery Kansans had their election on October 1, 1855, inviting along the now-customary bands of armed Missourians best kept away from open flames and primed for violence. They handily reelected John Whitfield. Antislavery Kansans stayed away and had their own election, called by the Free State Movement, on October 9. Andrew Reeder, late governor of Kansas, won as expected. The Executive Committee had taken many precautions against election tampering, but not everyone thanked them for it. Patrick Laughlin told the Howard Committee that

The public instructions to the executive committee, of which I have been speaking, are already published, but their private instructions were, in case pro-slavery men attempted to vote, and are likely to outnumber you, you can adjourn from day to day, and finally to any free-soil district in the Territory. These instructions were never given to the judges, but were given to me by Marcus J. Parrott.

The public instructions did permit judges of election to delay and/or relocate their work in the even of invasion. They might have said more in private, but given the state of things in Kansas the line between delaying and relocating an election to keep its integrity and doing so to ensure a free soil victory must have looked very thin. Some may have abused the ambiguity. Certainly the outcome of excluding illegal votes would very likely not differ much from that of excluding those votes of proslavery Kansans.

Parrott’s testimony appears immediately after Laughlin’s, but if the committee asked him about election instructions no testimony on the matter appears there. Parrot had reasons prior to the election to doubt Reeder. He had seen the governor apparently on his way out of Kansas, pledged to stay only if he received nomination for delegate to Congress. Parrott did not know that Reeder could call himself properly a Kansan in light of that. He, James Lane, and others, confronted the former governor on the question.

He stated, in reply to that, something about the reason he did not bring his family here, as that was the ground of the complaint generally there. He did not answer the question directly at all, but answered it argumentatively, by stating some things in connexion with his position in the Territory. I do not recollect that he satisfied the persons who had been called there to hear his answer to the question. I know that some of them were not satisfied that he was a resident of the Territory. Colonel Lane and myself afterwards spoke of it, and neither of us were satisfied with the answer he gave to the question. Since that time I have never known him to have any visible domicil [sic] or residence in the Territory,. In the conversation at Lawrence, he spoke of a claim that he thought he would buy, if his wife liked it

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

Parrott further voiced his objection to Reeder’s resolutions, as adopted at Big Springs.

The free state movement, which grounded itself in the injustice of a government dominated by the illegal votes of non-residents, now proposed to elect to represent them a man not resident in Kansas? Strictly speaking, one could object to all the border ruffians had done and still vote for a non-resident at the polls. The distinction came not in the person of the candidate, but that of the voter. However, proclaiming Kansas governed by Kansans and then nominating and electing a dubiously Kansan candidate had to seem odd to more people than just Marcus Parrott.

Two guns and a bowie knife

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The Free State’s editor accused G.W. Brown of scaring people away from Kansas. Brown took to his own paper flush with indignation over the fact that the source of the charge, a private letter of his, made it into the St. Louis papers. He explained that he intended the letter for the eyes of its recipient alone and that he wrote it at a particularly dire time. Proslavery men then ran amok even in Lawrence and Brown had endured shots fired into his home and an attempt to burn it down with him inside. Understandably, this put a grim cast on his private enthusiasm for Kansas. Since then, the free state men had formed some kind of mutual protection arrangement.

Instead of censuring us for writing such letters, any person but an apologist of the slave power, a panderer to their prejudices, and the warm personal friend of nearly or quite every pro-slavery man in the country, and, as a consequence, lacking the confidence of free State men, would compliment us.

Since the letter had gone public all the same, Brown defended it further as truthful in every respect. He then printed it himself so his readers could judge:

How long before I shall be an exile I know not. Daily the clouds look more portentious. I can hear their thunders; they appear near at hand. The lightnings, their flash is seen along the sky! When the blow comes if I fall in the fray I pray you to find an arm to fill my place. Do not mind the sacrifice, or the cost.-As long as there is a dollar of means belonging to my estate, I pray it may be used in prosecuting this war.

Brown continued with instructions on who to reach to continue his paper should something happen to him. He had, at time of writing, nearly received a challenge and expected to get a proper one with his next edition. He expected to drive the proslavery men wild. But George Brown came prepared:

I do not pretend to appear in the streets without two revolvers and a bowie-knife. Seven men set upon me the other night, and attempted to drive me from my position. If profane words and fists swinging in the air, could have accomplished anything, I should have been annihilated. I stood with my hands in my breeches pocket and told them: ‘Threaten as long as you please, but don’t strike.’

This all proved that Brown had literally committed his last dollar to Kansas, to follow the “near six thousand” he had already spent. If that didn’t prove Brown’s loyalty to freedom’s cause, what would?

Brown would have his readers believe that the Free State’s interest in his purity went only so far as its name. He told them that he knew the paper had taken twelve hundred dollars from proslavery men to keep itself afloat. It denounced the Herald of Freedom and the Emigrant Aid Company. The search for suspect motives should thus begin not at Brown’s door, but with the Free State:

It may be true that [the Free State’s editor] is a devoted, self-sacrificing anti-slavery worker, but if so he has a singular way of showing it.

Terrorizing George Washington Brown

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Now and then, as I dig through the Herald of Freedom archives, I come across a feud that George Washington Brown pursued with the Free State. The dispute looks well supplied with sharp nineteenth century rhetoric, which ordinarily I would share. I have a continuing interest in divisions within the antislavery movement and would expect to find expression of those differences in the arguments. But I don’t have anything from the Free State’s side. To judge from what Brown printed, things became rather personal and so I trust him a bit less than I otherwise would to give a fair accounting.

However, the October 6, 1855 Herald of Freedom includes mention of an incident worth noting in the course of the continuing battle with the Free State. It appears that Brown wrote a letter, intended for “a warm personal friend, who was an exile from Kansas for opinion’s sake.” That letter made it into the St. Louis papers all the same, “abounding in grammatical and verbal errors”. From this, the Free State accused Brown of discouraging people from coming to Kansas.

In explaining the context of the letter, Brown gives us a window into the less spectacular violence that took place in Kansas:

That letter was penned on the eve of considerable excitement. It seemed as if the demons of the slave power were let loose among us. An attempt was made in the streets of Lawrence to suppress the freedom of speech. For a person to say he was an abolitionist, in the presence of certain individuals, was almost sure to be the signal for a personal injury. Mr. Stearns was knocked down for an expression which did not suit the lordlings of the slave power

I’m glad to see C. Stearns make another appearance in the record. Brown considers him an antislavery man, which provides helpful context for his dissent from the free state movement a few issues prior.

Others also suffered under the apparently routine political violence in Kansas:

young Mr. Doy was violently treated for attempting to vindicate foul aspersions against his father; Mr. Deland was shamefully set upon and beaten by a pack of bullies; Mr. Hurd was threatened for asking for an apology for an insult to his mother.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Doy, Deland, and Hurd might have had everyday fights. People do brawl over insults to their families, after all. That Brown lists them in conjunction with Stearns’ assault on explicitly proslavery grounds, indicates politics played a clear role. He then moved to an example dearer still to his heart:

we were set upon by seven persons in the streets, and an attempt made to drive us from our position, and not for the cause set for the by the Free State, as all know who know the facts; balls were fired through our building at night after we had retired to rest, with our family; a fire was found burning against our door late at night, apparently designed to burn the building; and individual, in a drunken mood, and not for purposes of amusement, as Miller of the Free State asserts, had threatened to make a personal matter of our advocacy of anti-slavery views; and had paraded our streets, threatening to shoot us down like a dog the first time he should meet us; was about to challenge us to fight a duel with him, which he subsequently did, and as we before said, it seemed as if the devils incarnate were loose, and there was then no understanding with free State men for mutual protection

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

All of this happened in Lawrence, not up in Atchison or Leavenworth. If a free state person could not expect safety in the hotbed of antislavery radicalism, then where could he? One can understand if Brown painted a dire picture of Kansas when living through all of that. How could he not? For all he knew, B.F. Stringfellow, Robert S. Kelley, or ex-Senator David Rice Atchison himself might appear on his doorstep some night with the proverbial pitchforks, less proverbial torches, and very real guns.

B.F. Stringfellow Comes Calling

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow

I have tried pay attention to the names of ringleaders for various actions in Kansas. Many times proslavery men come and go anonymously. Other documents give me a name that I see only once. But now and then a major figure puts on an appearance. David Atchison did so back in March, coming to Kansas’ fourteenth district. There he made a speech:

as near as I can recollect his words, he said: “Gentlemen, we want to unite on one ticket. There are 1,100 coming over from Platte county, and if that ain’t enough we can send you 5,000 more. We came to vote, and we are going to vote, or kill every God-damned abolitionist in the district. I think he said “district” but it was “district” or “territory”. I asked a man nigh to me, a stranger, who that was, and he said it was old Davy Atchison.

Atchison’s favorite lieutenant, Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow, has hovered on the edges of many of my sources. His brother, John, moved to Kansas, edited a newspaper, and became Speaker of the House. Benjamin contented himself with writing the border ruffian’s manifesto and a lone violent altercation with Andrew Reeder. From this, one could take that the Stringfellow still resident in Missouri mostly stood on the sidelines and cheered. John Stephens told the Howard Committee otherwise:

About eight or nine o’clock in the morning, a party of about twenty-five men, from Platte county, with the most of whom I was acquainted, came across the ferry, and went to the polls and voted. They were under the lead of General Benjamin F. Stringfellow and Colonel Lewis Burns. After spending some time on the streets, they went to the polls and voted. […] There was considerable tumult during the day, and some talk about not allowing any one to vote who would not vote for General Whitfield. I was not allowed to vote during the fore part of the day.

That tumult included a free state man from Massachusetts by way of Lawrence come to vote at Kickapoo City, but eventually the crowd allowed him to exercise his right. Yet he did not get off easy:

James P. Blake, a very prominent pro-slavery man in the place, asked him whom he was going to vote for. he said he would not tell them, as it was his right and privilege to vote for whom he pleased. Some difficulty arose, but was prevented from resulting seriously by some others who were present. There were threats made that we should not be allowed to vote for Governor Reeder, as no damned abolitionist should be allowed in town.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Stephens didn’t go into detail about what might have happened, but after a year of election violence in Kansas he might have found it superfluous. He certainly had no reason to rescue the border ruffians’ reputation, considering his testimony also includes how proslavery men broke into his home in Kickapoo and he found it prudent to remove himself to a safer neighborhood. Apparently he earned the wrath of his neighbors by both preferring a free state and then in January, 1856, helping distribute poll books for free state elections. Those neighbors advised Stephens to leave by means of an improvised court, giving him just hours to close out his business and depart. The “law and order men,” as they fancied themselves, opted not to require his ducking in the Missouri as they had first proposed, but did escort Stephens out

with the intimation that if I ever came back again, I should be strung up to the first tree they came across.

Stephens, by May of 1856, had gone back twice but still did not consider Kickapoo safe enough for him to stay. If Stringfellow himself didn’t come back to run him out, and Stephens doesn’t mention the “general” by name, then he apparently had fellow travelers living nearby ready to carry out the violent proscriptions that Negro-Slavery, No Evil. demanded.