Greytown in Kansas

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

The Lawrence Revolt: parts 1, 2, 3

One hundred and sixty years ago, multiple forces gathered to suppress Lawrence’s anxious revolutionaries. Wilson Shannon called up both divisions of the Kansas militia. Samuel Jones ensured that Missouri’s border ruffians would not miss out on the fun by writing them before he even notified the governor of his troubles. They came in large numbers, spoiling for a fight. Inside Lawrence, the people went about armed and followed rumors of enemy movement:

Thursday [November 29] reports increased of additions to the mob who were collecting at Franklin. The numbers were variously estimated. Reports from other directions showed the character of the movements and that Missouri was relied upon for men to carry on the war. Gov. Shannon was stated to have issued a proclamation commanding the Military in the territory to come to the aid of Mr. Jones, -in the meantime a recruiting officer was sent to the secret Lodges of the “border ruffian” for help.

I have no doubt that the the Herald of Freedom’s editor and readers believed Shannon actively sought out Blue Lodge men himself, but he denies it:

I presumed as a matter of course, and intended, that all these men should be drawn entirely from the citizens subject to militia duty in Kansas Territory. At that time-as the seat of difficulties (Lawrence), is some forty miles from the State line of Missouri-it never for a moment occurred to me that the citizens of that State would cross into Kansas or volunteer their aid to carry out her laws.

 

Shannon’s denial seems reasonable given his understanding of the situation at the time. Shannon’s orders to General Strickler, of the militia’s Southern Division, ask that the general call out any man he can reach. But we must read those in the context of Shannon’s orders to William P. Richardson, Strickler’s Northern Division counterpart. Richardson got word only to bring men in his division. Strickler’s division had yet to organize, so Shannon would have told him to bring no one if he repeated the specification. Furthermore, Shannon did not believe that Samuel Jones needed anywhere near so many as three thousand men to suppress Lawrence.

These facts considered, we can’t pin this one down on Shannon heedlessly escalating as much as humanly possible and then lying about it. More likely he though the forces he would have on hand sufficient and hoped to have things settled before anybody in Missouri raised a fuss. They did amount to a considerable force:

This order resulted in the collection of from one to two hundred men. Within six days from the date of my order [November 27], these men were at Lecompton, where General Richardson placed himself and his command under the orders of the sheriff. To the best of my believe these men were all citizens of Kansas.

So by Monday, December 3, 1855, Shannon had as many as two hundred men ready for action. The concentration of force did little to calm nerves in Lawrence, where the Herald of Freedom reports

Friday morning showed a large numbers of marauders in the vicinity, and it was said that day had been fixed upon for the purpose of re-taking Branson, and the arrest of the rescuers. It was claimed that they had secured the aid of several pieces of cannon, and purposed planting them on the heights so as to command the town, and then a deputation was to be sent into Lawrence to demand the escaped prisoner and his rescuers. If not delivered up the fate of Greytown was to be ours. Pro-slavery men took their families from the place, and assured their friends in private that a bloody time was in prospective.

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

George Brown chose his example well. Down in Nicaragua the year prior, US minister to Nicaragua Solon Borland convinced a steamer captain that he must not take any lip from a black man who he had just deliberately rammed with his boat. The captain turned his steamer around, went back upriver, and shot the man dead. This made the captain a murderer and the authorities at Greytown tried to prosecute him. The captain prepared to comply with his arrest, but Borland intervened at gunpoint.

Later on an angry mob came to collect the murderer from the home of a United States commercial agent. Borland went out to address them, drawing on the full depths of his expertise as a diplomat by dressing them down as the scum of Hell, among other things. Someone threw a bottle at him and Borland caught it with his face. He then conspired to burn the town to the ground. Borland’s arson plot failed, but in revenge the USS Cyane later sailed down to Greytown and leveled the place.

For Lawrence, Samuel Jones played the part of Solon Borland. Wilson Shannon aimed fill George N. Hollin’s shoes, right down to commanding an element of the United States military.

 

 

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