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.

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