William Addison Phillips in Leavenworth, Part Two

William Phillips

William Phillips

We left William Addison Phillips in Leavenworth. There a proslavery mob that Phillips has come over from Missouri, led by Archibald Payne and Charles Dunn, brandished a pistol (Payne), and broke in a window (Dunn) to seize the ballot box and stop the referendum on the free state constitution. Payne, who had participated in the lynching of the other William Phillips, insisted on no parley. The election judges and clerk must yield up their box, no questions asked. At that point, George Keller and George Wetherell ran for it. Wetherell, spelled Wetherill by Phillips, had the box briefly but tossed it under a counter as he fled the building.

Then, Phillips saw Wetherell

knocked down by clubs. not less than thirty men were around him and jumping on him. One man had an axe raised to strike him, if he could have done so for the crowd.

Every witness to the confrontation who I’ve read agreed that Wetherell went down in a mob scene, but no others mention the axe. One would think that Wetherell himself would have said something and consequently doubt Phillips on the point. He wrote his book during the Kansas struggle and had every reason to exaggerate proslavery violence, after all. But the witnesses also agree that the crowd pressed in on Wetherell and most people didn’t have a full view of the clerk once he fell. If that same crowd kept the axe man back, Wetherell might not have seen him for the press of bodies in the way. Failing that, he had other things on his mind what with people kicking him and jumping on his head and back. Phillips may have invented the axe, but he didn’t need to. Wetherell already faced a potentially lethal assault.

The man with the axe might have made his way to the front of the crowd given time, but he lacked that luxury:

It was the work of an instant, and immediately some few of the free-state men, who had not been frightened off, interfered. The first who interposed was a pro-slavery man, who seemed to have a trifle of the Samaritan in him; but a young man from York State, named Anthony, and a Captain Brown, both good and tried free-state men, cocked their pistols, and rushed forward, as did some others. Wetherill was raised and carried home.

Wetherell names R.P. Brown and a Mr. Anthony among his rescuers. Phillips’ proslavery good Samaritan sounds like Captain Murphy, from H.H. Johnston’s testimony:

Captain Murphy came up at that time and seeing Mr. Wetherell, took him up, raised him on his feet, and told the people round, he was a good man, and he believed a law-abiding citizen, and any person attempting to stroke him would have to fight him first.


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