A Vindication of Edward Motter

The Howard Committee

The Howard Committee

 

Gentle Readers, I’ve made an error and I’d best correct it before continuing. I previously said that Stephen Sparks’ version of the night of January 17-18, 1856 made no mention of Dr. Edward Motter and his attempt to defuse the situation. It turns out that he does, though he tells that part out of chronological order, in response to cross-examination, and in a page of testimony that your author managed to misplace while rifling through the multiple witnesses in the Howard Report. I print lengthy materials for ease in marking passages and transcription. Their page numbers help, but testimony on a subject often comes out of order or with significant gaps for other matters so a missing page doesn’t immediately raise any red flags.

For the record, Sparks says this about Motter:

Dr. Motter came to me in Dawson’s there, when more than twenty-five or thirty men were standing around me making threats, and said to the company, “as Mr. Sparks is on his way home and has got thus far, let him go.” He requested that of the company, and then went round between me and home, and the last I saw of him was standing there in the lane.

With both men agreed, I see no reason to retain any doubts about Motter’s testimony on the point. The doctor came forward and urged the other proslavery men to let Sparks be.

Sparks also commented on another part of Motter’s testimony that I found dubious. In Motter’s version, the free state men challenged him and then he wrote back. The doctor frames it as a personal matter between him and some drunken antislavery hooligans. Sparks doesn’t quite confirm or deny that narrative:

I do not know as any messages were sent by the men at Minard’s down to the men at Dawson’s to provoke them. I heard nothing of any challenge being sent down to the pro-slavery men to come up and fight. I sent none myself, and I never heard of any, though there might have been.

Stephen Sparks didn’t see anything, but wouldn’t rule out some kind of provocative note. This makes for far from a definitive statement on the existence of a note prior to Motter’s challenge, and Motter still suspiciously left the ballot box out of his version of events, but that he thought the scenario plausible bears notice.

One last thing: Motter found Sparks’ route home very suspicious, as it took him right past the proslavery men who he knew hated free state types and had spent all day fuming and drinking over the election. Sparks’ later testimony explains the path:

I could have gone from Mr. Minard’s house on a bee-line home, which would have been nearer home than the way I went, but it would have been over rocks and drifts. I went down the road I usually go-and go yet.

That doesn’t sound like Sparks went off in some display of machismo, or deliberately trolling for a fight. He just took the longer, but easier, path. Motter knew enough to find the choice suspicious, or at least reckless, but might not have appreciated the rough ground that Sparks would have to negotiate in the dark.

I don’t think that any of these points alter the narrative a great deal, but they do reflect somewhat better on Edward Motter than my previous read did and I do my best to keep these posts as accurate as I can.

 

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