“This is very awkward” The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Ten

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Sorry for the delayed post, Gentle Readers. Scheduling error on my part.

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder came to Kansas City on May 11, 1856. He had wanted out of the town ever since he arrived, but the fates conspired against his escape. Boats came down in broad daylight, which made a discrete nighttime boarding impossible. Parties of armed men passed through town daily, or near enough, aimed at eliminating his antislavery allies in Kansas Territory. On May 17, someone probably saw him hiding in his hotel room and Kansas first governor became more determined still to get clear. He expected capture might mean his life and it would surely end his mission to raise support for the free state cause in the North. Finally, Reeder’s thoughts seem to have often turned to his wife.

Come May 20, Kansas City’s most anxious white visitor missed his second boat due to its arrival after sunrise. Around eleven in the morning, he got another scare. The women who had helped hide him got Reeder out of his room to clean it. They put him in another room, which had no luck, then

the chambermaid stepped in, and, though called back at once, probably saw me. Afterwards she knocked at the door and I opened it and met her face to face. She stepped back and said she would come again. This is very awkward and makes it necessary for us to decide whether we will trust her in full and bribe her.

Words and money tend to bind better than words alone. Reeder’s accomplices spoke to the chambermaid and felt sure of her, but they urged Reeder to abandon his plan to take a boat down the Missouri in favor of posing as an emigrant heading to Kansas, a plan they intended to try themselves. Reeder didn’t think that at all safe, just as he had previously rejected plans to get out by land. He had news of a boat set to arrive at night and remain at Kansas City until morning. The cloudy sky would make it an ideal time to take his chance, so the free state delegate asked for Mr. Coates to arrange things.

Coates had gone off to Westport to see Charles Robinson, the captured free state governor, at Robinson’s request. That put Reeder in the hands of a Conant, who he reached through Monroe Eldridge. Conant refused to help Reeder arrange escape on the grounds

that he is afraid of the consequences to himself and his store if it should be known, and he considers it too dangerous to approach the captain with any proposition.

Proslavery violence often targeted dissenting whites; Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow railed about them in Negro-Slavery, No EvilConant had good reason to fear retaliation for doing something so potentially public as asking a captain if he would smuggle an antislavery fugitive from Kansas off to safety. Reeder pleaded with Conant to just go and ask the captain’s politics, so Reeder might send for the man and ask himself. Conant again refused. The delegate ran down the list of his allies: “sick,” “gone,” and “not well.” Monroe Eldridge might have helped, but “has the whole business on his hands.” Reeder doesn’t say what he meant there, but it sounds like Eldridge served as the free state party’s main agent in Kansas City and compromising him would do too much damage to the cause. Someone had to run the guns.

A Mr. Taylor “agreed at once” and learned that an Alabaman captained the Edinboro. Border ruffians had gone on board “talking and drinking with him.” Reeder mused that he might have given bribing the captain a try anyway, but opted not to risk it. He just could not watch a break.

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