“Only prevented from doing so by force”

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Readers of the March 15 Herald of Freedom could have a good chuckle at the Missourians’ expense. They intercepted a shipment of a hundred rifles and two cannons on board a steamer at Lexington. Reasoning that they ought to oblige free state smugglers, they would forward those arms to Kansas almost as their buyers intended. Rather than coming to Lawrence, Topeka, or some other free Kansas center, the weapons would come into the hands of Wilson Shannon. If he used them against the new free state government, so much the better. But the free state men had the last laugh, as their smuggler had separated the weapons slides and some other necessary equipment from the rest and sent it ahead separately. Shannon would have a useless arsenal.

George Brown had that story in large part from the Lexington Express, which told its readers that everything went on entirely above board. Nobody uttered any threats. No one suffered violent attack. They caught themselves a free state man, but “no indignity was offered to the miserable disorganizer.” His fellow passengers, though “highly incensed” behaved as civilized people.

Or did they? Brown shared more information with his readers than the Express cared to. On discovery of the arms, nineteenth century Americans did one of their favorite things and formed a committee to investigate. During the proceedings,

A proposition was then made that the guns should be thrown overboard, and a stone tied to the necks of those in attendance, and they be sent after the guns. This proposition prevailed, but was afterwards reconsidered on the recommendation of more liberal persons

The Express had it technically right; nobody did anything to the smuggler. But it seems that they very much wanted to and it strains credulity to imagine that no one told him. If it didn’t come out very quickly in the moment, then the threat must have been passed on when the angry passengers got the smuggler alone. “In a private room” they told him

he must sign certain papers, else he would be passed over to a mob on shore.

More liberal persons might not prevail when our smuggler found himself on dry land. Indeed, it seems more liberal persons didn’t want to stay on shore either. While smuggler and passengers discussed the future of his guns, that mob

was on shore endeavoring to get on board, and was only prevented from doing so by force.

The situation quite clear to him, the free state man signed over the weaponry. That made everything quite civil again; the committee even gave a receipt.

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