Burying Thomas Barber, Part One

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

While John Stringfellow and Robert Kelley stewed over their loss on the Wakarusa, but people of Lawrence had the matching triumph to enjoy. They not only survived, emerged from the crisis with official sanction for their military companies. Given now close it came to destruction, one can hardly begrudge them a party. A man did, however, lose his life to their enemies. Thomas Barber died during the siege. With hostile forces dispersed, they took the time to remember him.

The Herald of Freedom eulogized Barber as

a person of very exemplary character, formerly from Ohio. He was forty-two years of age, a gentleman of large property, and leaves a devoted wife to mourn his loss.

A viewing took place before the close of hostilities, from which Lawrence took an edifying example:

Those who looked upon his cold and ghastly form pledged themselves anew before heaven that they would drive the demon, who could commit such barbarities in the name of law, from the Territory, or they would die in the attempt.

Making allowances for the desire to put on a manly display, and for George Washington Brown’s understandable desire to talk up the resolution of the defenders, the fact remains that what happened to Barber could have happened to anyone. If people didn’t quite fall to their knees and rededicate themselves like something out of a revival meeting, then they could look on Thomas Barber and see proof that the situation required the last full measure of devotion.

Thereafter, Lawrence gave Barber a temporary burial. The arrival of peace occasioned a more proper interment, recounted in the December 22 Herald of Freedom. Some time had gone by since the funeral, but George Brown explained that he could not print on account of his paper freezing and the exposed state of his office. I think we can forgive him.

At the funeral, James Lane

read an interesting address in which he detailed the origin of our difficulties with Missouri, and traced them to their termination. He showed that Mr. Dow and Mr. Barber were the first martyrs of freedom in Kansas, and as such, monuments should be erected to their memory.

The audience would probably have expected Dow and Barber to come together, but Barber’s death came under rather different circumstances that Dow’s or the two other free state deaths to date. Those took place in the context of personal disputes. One could understand them as private arguments exacerbated by politics. Even when Patrick Laughlin killed Samuel Collins, the affair played out on the level of individuals and in the context of Laughlin accusing Collins of involvement in the Kansas Legion. Barber met his end at the hands of a hostile proslavery army, while himself enrolled in an antislavery force. While not a huge escalation, Barber’s death pushed things some measure further than they had gone before. The dreaded direct clash between militants had come, if not yet on the grand scale feared.

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