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.

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