William Addison Phillips in Leavenworth, Part One

William Phillips

William Phillips

Longtime readers, and fans of the Omaha History Podcast, may remember that two men answering to the name William Phillips lived in Kansas, both antislavery and both of some historical note. The first lived around Leavenworth and appears in the record largely in connection with his lynching in May of 1855. He met his end in a gunfight with some proslavery men, rather beyond our point in the narrative. The other William Phillips, William Addison Phillips, wrote for the newspapers, befriended Charles and Sara Robinson, and had a political career after the Civil War. The Robinsons’ friend lived, at least up through late 1855, in Lawrence. He moved about Kansas, if not entirely at ease, even while the proslavery army invested Lawrence. On December 15, 1855, this William Phillips found himself in the Leavenworth that lynched the other William Phillips. There he witnessed the mob attack the polls and George Wetherell.

Phillips’s account covers rather more than the witnesses around the polling place offered in their testimony the Howard Committee. He saw Missourians cross the river, first in bands of “ten or a dozen” but soon by the boat load. He got word that they came over on a ferry up at Fort Leavenworth, three miles distant, as well. But why would they come from Missouri for a free state election? Phillips notes that before they had ignored free state affairs, only coming to intervene in elections called by the territorial government. Obviously, they hadn’t come to cast votes.

Asking around, Phillips

learned that Brigadier-General Easton, of the territorial militia, had stated in his paper and had proclaimed that his “brigade” should be disbanded in Leavenworth that day; and as these fellows had been out in the “law and order” campaign against the “abolitionists” of Lawrence, they were over to-day to get “an honorable discharge”

Wilson Shannon’s orders did give his militia officers some discretion in where they disbanded their forces. It seems, however, far-fetched that the force would have held together for five more days sitting on its hands even if, as Phillips suggests, they did it to collect some additional pay. Disbanding might have served as a good pretense for the already dispersed men to gather back together on a convenient date for further mischief. Either way, Phillips doesn’t produce any documents to support the idea. Most likely he reported a rumor that, conveniently for his politics, reflected poorly on the territorial establishment.

Phillips recognized a Virginian named Payne, who served in the Bogus Legislature, from which he took appointment as a judge, and as a colonel in the militia that lately “distinguished themselves before Lawrence.” This would make him the same Archibald Payne who ran the meeting preparatory to the other William Phillips’ lynching. William Addison Phillips described Payne as a ringleader in the mob, along with Charles Dunn, and gives both dialog consistent with Wetherell’s and Keller’s accounts:

The voting had been done at a window, and to this the crowd I have been describing made a rush. They were led on by Payne and Dunn. The movement was thoroughly understood before it was made, and around the house, and in the streets adjoining, the crowd was dense. There were several hundred of them. The window was driven in, glass, sash, frame, and all. Dunn exclaimed,

“In the name of ‘law and order’ I demand that ballot-box!””

“No d—-d parleying!” cried Payne, cocking a six-shooter and presenting it at the clerks. “Take the box, G-d d–n it, take the box!”

Dunn and Payne might not have said exactly that, but they did demand the box and appear to have done so in the name of the territory’s laws. Neither Keller nor Wetherell mention Payne’s pistol brandishing, but Keller does give the mob the arms to accomplish it. He might have understood it as covered by his reference to armament; his testimony does run somewhat laconic. He might have felt safer testifying if he didn’t directly implicate a locally prominent man like Payne. Or Phillips might have invented a rhetorical flourish.

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