Answer Promptly to Avoid Being Shot

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

Josiah Miller beat his rap for treason against the state of South Carolina, the place of his birth. The South Carolinians who found him alive while antislavery in Kansas didn’t care much about jurisdiction. That happened on the return leg of his trip with some other free state men to plead with Governor Shannon. A proslavery army bent on their destruction even then massed against Lawrence. William Phillips doesn’t give firm dates for all of this, but it must have happened on or shortly after May 15, 1865. Also around that time, he reports that proslavery men stopped another suspicious character on the road.

The next, roughly simultaneous act, stars a Mr. Weaver. Phillips identifies him as “a sergeant-at-arms of the Kansas Commission.” I didn’t find any Weavers in a quick skim of the minutes of the Howard committee, but Congress did vote them the power to take along a few trusty men just in case. He traveled that day with a member of the 1st Cavalry. They came upon some South Carolinians who considered themselves part of J.B. Donaldson’s posse, who arrested both and carried them across the Kansas river to the proslavery camp. They found Weaver’s company curious:

They questioned this blue-jacketed and yellow-trimmed hero, as to “What the devil he meant by riding through the country with a d—-d abolitionist?”

Phillips doesn’t report the soldier’s answer, but it and the uniform appear to have settled the mob on letting him go. Weaver would have to stay, which he did not care for. Instead, the sergeant-at-arms presented his identification. The proslavery men had apprehended two United States officers in the course of their duties and had best let both go at once.

His papers got a very critical examination before the captain first; then something that passed for a major, and finally every ruffian, gentle or simple, had to have a peep at them.

Peeping did not change minds. Instead, they took Weaver before their overall commander, a Colonel Wilkes. Wilkes turned to a General Craimes, who had a peep of his own.

After giving Weaver’s papers a thorough and critical investigation, the colonel, with his general, pronounced them “all very good,” and expressed as their opinion that he ought to be permitted to pass.

One can imagine a relieved Weaver rising and about to take his leave and stopping halfway through. What happened if some other group of hooligans stopped him? They might not share Craimes’ or Wilkes’ scruples. He asked for a pass. Wilkes wrote one out over his signature and

The colonel very considerately suggested to Mr. Weaver that, if he was hailed by any party, he had better answer promptly; otherwise he might be shot.

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