Friends of the Free State Militia, Part One

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Free State Militias: parts 1, 2, 3, 45, 6, 7

Francis and the Regulators: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

So far, we’ve heard from informants critical of the Kansas Legion/Regulators. Irishman Patrick Laughlin would have nothing to do with a secret society that reminded him of the Know-Nothings. Andrew Francis only involved himself under the mistaken impression that Wilson Shannon signed off on for the free state election and ultimately liked neither the deception that got him to that point nor the politics of resistance that the free state movement had endorsed. G.P. Lowery, who helped initiate Laughlin, had rather different things to say about the business. While admitting that he belonged to the same group as Francis, and so also admitting that Laughlin’s Legion and Francis’ Regulators differed in name only, he insisted that

the reason for its organization was that for a long time free State men in Lawrence had been subject to insult and personal attack made upon them singly, in and out of the town, in the neighborhood, by persons who were in the habit of taking every opportunity to harass and browbeat free State men when they found them unarmed and away from assistance. The society was organized expressly to make free State men acquainted with each other, and give them a common interest in defending each other.

All of that fits the narrative that George Brown published. Free State men feared for their safety in light of violent attacks upon themselves and so bound together in self-defense. That makes it all sound downright apolitical, or at least that while the politics drew hostility to the free soilers they banded together in the Legion on the rather less political grounds of their allergy to bullets. If they made Kansas a free state along the way, so much the better. However, Lowery went on,

The society was purely a local one, and never, to my knowledge, has been organized elsewhere than in Lawrence. Very shortly after its organization it produced its desired effect, and then went out of use and ceased to exist.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Laughlin and Francis both received charges to go forth and found, or facilitate the founding of, new branches of the Legion. Lowery might have just not known about that. Laughlin names him (as “Lowrie”) as a member but doesn’t place him in the leadership. However, he does appear in a prominent enough role later on in the winter of 1855 to suggest that he amounted to more than a random free soiler. It seems unlikely either way that Lowery could have missed all the people coming to Lawrence and going as members of his group. Indeed, he admits later that he heard talk of expanding the Legion to Leavenworth.

Lowery further insists that he attended no meetings after his initiation and could not recall the full details of his oath, but

Doctor Francis testifies to matters as being in the oath which were not contained in it. The oath required us to keep fire arms and ammunition; to use all lawful and honorable means to make Kansas a free State; to wear at all times on our persons a weapon of death; and, I think, to go to the assistance of a brother when the probability of saving his life was greater than of losing our own. I do not recollect anything in the oath which required us to deal with free State in preference to pro-slavery men, or to wear upon the person at all times the insignia of the order, or to obey at all times the orders of superior officers even unto death. It was not a part of the oath to be in readiness to take up arms in defence of free State principles, even though it should subvert the government.

Lowery really loses credibility there. They would stop short of subverting the government, even if the broader movement of which they formed a part and which brought them together in self-defense had declared for just that? One suspects Lowery had in mind more forestalling retaliation or legal consequences for his activity, as well as preserving the reputation of the free State movement outside Kansas (He gave his testimony in New York.) and testified accordingly.

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