The Free State Militias, Part Six

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

I intended for this post to go out Friday but it appears that I forgot to schedule it. Sorry, Gentle Readers.

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

With the provenance of his knowledge and circumstances of his change of heart established, ex-Kansas Legion man Patrick Laughlin, re-converted back to his original proslavery politics, went on to tell the Howard Committee more of what he saw. He had already named Charles Robinson an arms smuggler and George Washington Brown at least a major facilitator. Brown also oversaw stockpiles of the arms Robinson smuggled into Kansas. When a Legion encampment had enough men, they should go to Brown for letters of introduction and so armed dispatch a delegate back East. Thus one could import one’s own firearms.

This all went beyond talk, and indeed beyond guns:

When in Lawrence I was invited by a friend to go up into a private room to see the kind of goods they received from the east. I saw a box which they were opening, and a part of the cover torn off had “C. Robinson” on it. I saw in the box blue jackets and white pants, a drum and drumsticks. I inferred they were military uniforms, but no one told me so. They nailed the box up again with the goods as they came. I saw a large house building; it had port-holes in the top of it. I was told by G.W. Brown, Lowrie, Hutchinson, and Emery that the building was for the purposes of fortification.

Robert S. Kelley

Robert S. Kelley

Per Laughlin, the Kansas Legion had guns, uniforms, and a fortified building. Those precautions look very wise in hindsight and must have seemed rather sensible even in the fall of 1855, after repeated lynchings and other proslavery violence. Who knew when Robert Kelley’s mob might take a day trip down to Lawrence? He’d implied that he might call on George Brown.

Brown and Robinson make for rather prominent free state men to take part in the Legion, but Laughlin testified to another as well.

When I was first introduced to Brown at Lawrence, about five of ten months after, and whilst in the room with Brown, Governor Reeder came, and I was introduced as a delegate to the Big Spring convention. Governor Reeder asked me some questions about the Territory and some people in Doniphan. After he asked those questions, he and Brown got up and went out into another room, and stood about twenty or twenty-five feet from me. The door being open full width, I saw them, and overheart part of their conversation. I heard my name in this conversation mentioned. I heard the name “encampment” mentioned, and the words “northern, eastern portion of the Territory,” and the name of Dr. Cutler.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Charles Lawrence Robinson

The chronology seems strange here. Laughlin dates this meeting to either shortly before or after the Big Springs convention. It can’t refer to an earlier meeting between himself and Brown because his Doniphan compatriots sent him to Brown with a letter of introduction. People known to each other don’t require such things. That Brown introduced Laughlin as a delegate further supports the notion, since he could not have been a delegate very long before the convention itself took place. That means that it must have happened at the earliest around late August, 1855. Five or ten months after that would take Laughlin into January to June, 1856. Laughlin testified at the end of May, so it can’t later than that. But he also told the committee that he had turned back to the proslavery side rather shortly after the convention. By the first of November, Laughlin admitted to a disagreement with a free soil man over his changing politics that ended with the other man killed. Unless Brown transacted secret Kansas Legion business knowingly in hearing of a man he knew responsible for the death of a free soiler, that second meeting can’t have come later than then. Perhaps Laughlin misspoke or a clerk mistakenly recorded days or weeks as months.

Regardless, Laughlin reports that the Legion leadership wanted to see him at once. He and Reeder went and the former governor introduced him around, notably to chairman Charles Robinson. Then someone offered a motion for the arming of every free state man with “a rifle and saber and a brace of pistols, gratis” in exchange for an oath to come when called and obey appointed officers. Robinson asked for the motion’s withdrawal and reconsideration “in a more private manner.” After some disagreement, Robinson got his way. As that fits in well with Robinson’s later behavior in Kansas, I take it as likely genuine.

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