The Trouble at Hickory Point, Part Four

George Douglas Brewerton

George Douglas Brewerton

Parts 1, 2, 3


Franklin Coleman told George Douglas Brewerton, that he, his partner John M. Banks, and Jacob Branson agreed to refer their land claim dispute to arbitration. The panel of arbitrators, with a proslavery majority, awarded one hundred sixty acres of the two hundred forty to Branson. His half included all the timber land that made the claim so appealing. Branson agreed to abide by that decision, thus surrendering the less valuable remainder. He then refused to cooperate in settling the property line. When told this caused ill will, Branson put on his best reality TV voice and informed Coleman and Banks that he had not come to make friends. While he had them on hand, he also said that he and a neighbor measured off the whole claim and it came to only a hundred twenty acres. Thus the arbitrators had effectively given Branson all the land.

With Branson uninterested in discussing the matter or seeing to his duties as he swore to the arbitrators, Coleman and Banks chose to mark the line themselves. This they did with the help of a man called Graves, another free soiler. In past adventures, Graves witnessed Coleman and Brason’s confrontation at Coleman’s house. According to Coleman, they gave Branson his full hundred sixty acres. that included all the timber land. Branson still would not take yes for an answer. At this point, again per Coleman’s testimony, Branson brought politics into it:

Branson then turned his attention to strengthening the Free State party-to which he himself belonged-in the vicinity of Hickory Point. This he did by encouraging Free state men to settle about him, giving them timber from his land, and informing them of vacant claims.

Did Branson have the purest motives at heart when bringing in free state men? Probably no more than anybody else. By making himself a good neighbor and giving them a hand he certainly aimed to turn the neighborhood to his politics. If he also personally benefited in winning supporters for his land claim, so much the better for him.

In pursuance of this object, he and his friends invited a man named Dow, an Ohioan and Abolitionist, to occupy a claim adjoining my own. This claim rightly belonged to one William White, of Westport, Mo., who had made some improvements on it, and therefore held it under the ‘Squatter Laws.’ The ‘improvement’ was a log-cabin, which was burnt down by the Free State party, on or about the day of Dow’s arrival at Hickory Point.

Did the free state men burn down White’s house? John Banks, Coleman’s free soil partner, doesn’t accuse the party but does find the timing suspicious:

About the time Dow first came to the neighborhood I made a claim, Mr. Coleman being there at the time. there was a house burned on a claim of William White, who was a free-State man. The day after the house was burned this Dow commenced to build another house on that claim. Some of the neighbors went up to Mr. Dow to see who had burned the house of Mr. White, being a committee appointed by the neighbors to see who had burned the house. Mr. Coleman and myself were on that committee.

Dow denied that he had anything to do with the arson. However:

He was asked if he knew who did burn it, and he would not answer. Mr. Coleman and he then got to talking about it, and Mr. Coleman remarked that if he, Dow, did not burn it, and had no hand in it, and knew nothing about it, he could answer it quietly, and also told him that if a man wanted to live peaceably in the neighborhood he would not engage in such things as that.

Dow jumped White’s claim the day after White’s house burns in a “mysterious” fire. Then he would not say who burned the building, if not him. He might look more suspicious wearing a black mask and black and white striped shirt, but just barely. Coleman’s committee pressed a bit more:

Upon being asked if he was not aware of the intention of the Free State people to destroy it, he answered that that was his business, and none of ours.

According to Banks, Coleman got understandably worked up. He and Dow quarreled and finally Coleman spelled it out:

“You deny doing it yourself, but will not say you do not know of its being done, and I think such men as those are dangerous in the country. we have come here to make our homes and settle here, and we do not want any houses burned; we want to live peaceably and neighborly here in the community.” Just as we started away, Mr. Coleman turned round and said, “Mr. Dow, we are strangers here together, and we wish to live peaceably with every person.”

Coleman’s testimony to Brewerton expresses much the same sentiment with a bit of implied threat:

I then observed to him, that as my claim adjoined his, I would be his nearest neighbor, and should be very sorry to suspect that the man who lived next to me could be guilty of such an act, but as he had affirmed his innocence […] I would (if it proved to be true), be a kind neighbor to him, and added that he was welcome to visit at my house if he wished to come. He thanked me and we parted.

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