Pirates of the Missouri

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

We left the story of one hundred guns, two cannons, and the accessories that made them useful with a mob barely fended off and the weaponry handed over to Missourians. George Brown’s Herald of Freedom didn’t leave things end there. He admitted readily that the free state men expected that arsenal to come into their hands. They had an army to equip and feared they might soon face another one. A force of less than two thousand Missourians had brought them near to a ruinous clash only months before and since then, the free state movement had dared new provocations in bringing its constitution into force through the establishment of a separate government for Kansas Territory. With all the martial language flying about, one might expect George Brown to frame this as an enemy action. The opposing force seized a supply shipment, simple enough.

But the free state men remained intensely anxious about their project. They feared a clash with the United States Army, now at Governor Shannon’s disposal. If Franklin Pierce’s appointee, who still considered himself the head of the territorial government and the bogus legislature its legitimate elected body, chose to take their wildcat government as treasonous as the President considered it then they would have scant room to maneuver politically. As such, Brown decided that the time had come to appeal to the everyday facts of law rather than military exigencies:

The case is one of robbery, and if committed within the flow of the tide-water would be piracy. Robbery is defined by Justice Ashurst as “The stealing or taking from the person, or in the presence of another, property of any amount, with such a degree of force or terror as to induce the party unwillingly to part with his property; and this, whether terror arises from real or expected violence to the person.”

In early March of 1856, it seems the Missouri had a piracy problem. The arms smuggler had to sign his consignment over while on board the steamer Arabia, though it does sound like the transaction occurred with the ship tied to a dock. I don’t know if that would technically count as on the water or not, but close enough for titling purposes. The exchange, despite the Kansas Express’ omission of the fact, seems to have taken place under a serious threat. As such, the Missourians had progressed from stealing elections to stealing property. Given they thought an “abolitionized” Kansas would require a great deal of stealing their property, this makes for an ironic turn.

Thus the papers transferring ownership of the shipment

are not worth the paper on which they are written, and only furnish proof, in the hand writing of some of the offenders, of their guilt.

Brown, probably with far more hope than he genuinely felt, expected that a court would soon things to right and punish the guilty parties. If a Missouri jury existed that would convict any of them, it likely would have astonished everybody on either side of the Kansas-Missouri border.

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