When Robert S. Kelley and his well-armed friends accosted Pardee Butler at his boarding house in Atchison, Kansas, they demanded he sign off on some resolutions that Kelley’s paper had published. These involved the case of a man who, like Butler, had spoken against slavery in Kansas. For his trouble, the slight J.W.B. Kelly received a flogging at the hands of burly Grafton Thomasson. He then learned that he must leave Kansas at once and obliged. Butler knew the resolutions on sight, as he’d read them in the Squatter Sovereign, but we’ll have to look elsewhere. Butler’s Recollections don’t give a firm date for the whipping of Kelly that I could use to chase down the originals, but he quotes them in his testimony to the Howard Committee.
Whereas, by recent occurrences it is now known that there are among us agents of the underground railroad, for the express purpose of abducting our slaves; and, whereas, one J.W.B. Kelly, hailing from some infernal abolition den, has, both by words and acts, proved himself a worthy representative of such an association; and, whereas others in the vicinity, whose idle habits and apparent plenty of money, induce us to believe that they are hirelings of some infamous society; believing it due not only to ourselves, but to the adjoining portion of Missouri, to rid ourselves of so great an evil
They had slave-stealing abolitionists among them. This imperiled not just the security of Kansas, but also that of Missouri. Thus these good proslavery Kansans must take action. The committee indicted J.W.B. Kelly, making sure to note that he came from the infernal abolition den of Cincinnati. The miscreant had
upon sundry occasions, denounced our institutions and declared all pro-slavery men ruffians
But as reasonable, gently disposed men
we deem it an act of kindness to rid him of such company, and hereby command him to leave the town of Atchison in one hour after being informed of the passage of this resolution, never more to show himself in this vicinity.
Nice guys, right? But if Kelly abused their generosity and did not oblige, then the second resolution declared
we inflict upon him such punishment as the nature of the case and circumstances may require.
While Kelly and Butler shared the sin of speaking out for a free Kansas, the resolutions necessarily concerned only Kelly. They didn’t know at the time that they would need to harass another person. Still, the committee had foresight about such things.
Resolved, 3d, That other emissaries of this Aid Society who are now in our midst tampering with our slaves are warned to leave, else they too will meet the reward which their nefarious designs justly merit-hemp.
The invocation of hemp speaks volumes. Plantations in Missouri grew mainly hemp. At the March elections, men proved their proslavery bona fides and secured their right to vote by declaring themselves “all right on the hemp.” Now the committee at Atchison declared that if one did not come around “all right on the hemp”, they would get you right around the neck with it.
But Thomasson whipped Kelly rather than hanged him. Did the committee object? Not at all:
we approve and applaud our fellow-townsman, Grafton Thomasson, for the castigation administered to the said J.W.B. Kelly, whose presence among us is a libel on our good standing and a disgrace to the community.
An unrepentant antislavery man thus had at least four options: He could recant and repent, abandon Kansas, receive a whipping, or be strung up from the nearest tree. Looking forward again, the committee declared
That we have commenced the good work of purging our town of all resident abolitionists, and after cleansing our town of such nuisances, shall do the same with settlers on Walnut and Independence creeks, whose propensities for cattle stealing are well known to many.
The more one reads of this the more impressive Pardee Butler becomes. He knew full well that the men of Atchison could do such things. He read it in the papers and when they came to him on that August day, they brought clippings with them to remind him. Yet he went to Atchison and spoke his mind the day before, then faced down the armed mob and still refused to yield.