Deputy Fain calls at Lawrence

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

After a free state man named Jones got shot for leaving the vicinity of Lawrence to get some flour, a small group of young men had the idea to go out and see just what happened. If they got there in time, they might find the guilty parties and at least question them. The plan may have worked, as they came to Blanton’s Bridge and found two proslavery men riding away. They exchanged words and then gunfire, which led to one of their number, Stewart, going the way of Jones. His friends brought him back to Lawrence, which only then learned of their expedition. They wanted to put Steward in the Free State Hotel, where Thomas Barber had lain. One of the Eldridges put a stop to that and he ended up at a guard post.

Placing Stewart in the hotel might have implied a kind of endorsement and so refusing might have made good sense on its merits, but just then we must consider another factor. Deputy US Marshal W. P. Fain, the Georgian who had tried to arrest Andrew Reeder had come to Lawrence. According to the memorial that the town later wrote explaining things to Franklin Pierce, signed by S.W. Eldridge, he entered town on May 20, 1856, and gave his thoughts on what would soon come. Marshal Donaldson and his posse would arrive in due course and

the printing presses would be destroyed, but that the Eldridge House would be spared.

Fain only told what Donaldson had promised back at Lecompton in the days prior. He would do what he could for the hotel, full of the Eldridge’s furniture, but the proslavery mob would demand some kind of satisfaction. Judge Lecompte’s grand jury had condemned the presses, so they had to go.

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

Neither the memorial nor Phillips go into any detail how Fain may have played into their calculations with regard to Stewart’s body, but Phillips puts the Deputy Marshal in the building at just that moment. Though I can only speculate here, it seems likely that the Eldridges didn’t want Fain to make a connection between their establishment and recent violence. It wouldn’t take much for word to get around and placing the body of a just slain free state man in the hotel could only underline how their antislavery enemies used it as a headquarters.

That consideration aside, Phillips declares that

the citizens of Lawrence had made no preparations for defence, and, as the marshal, who had charge of the posse, was a United States officer, they determined to make none. The people clamored, and wished that the hordes of villains be driven back, but it was overruled. Companies were formed in different parts of the territory, and some of them marched towards Lawrence, but their services were refused by the committee.

Given the desperation of Lawrence’s previous attempts to enlist Governor Shannon and Donaldson himself in their defense, and that they had long feared a collision with United States forces even as they accepted the risk of a fight with irregulars and territorial militia, that makes perfect sense. Some hotheads might want any fight they could get, firm in the belief that right would make might, but the Committee of Safety had other ideas.

 

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