“Several hundred dollars in money, a gold watch, and other property”

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

 

W.P. Fain came into Lawrence on May 22, 1856, to make the arrests that his boss, US Marshal I.B. Donaldson, had feared to attempt. He had two posses on hand that day, one of about ten men that he took into the town and augmented with locals and another of five to eight hundred proslavery militants who occupied the heights above. As on his previous visit, Fain had no trouble at all moving openly about Lawrence. Instead, he and his allies offered up their version of bad behavior. Fain and his posse dined at the Free State Hotel, then left without paying. While in Lawrence for some hours, they arrested all of two men.

Meanwhile, the larger posse under Donaldson’s command remained on Mount Oread with their cannons. That many proslavery men so near to a hated center of antislavery activity could hardly stand idle long. According to William Phillips,

While these arrests were making, and while the posse he had raised in Lawrence was under his orders and retained by him, two of the number, Mr. Perry and Col. Topliff, were robbed by the posse on the hill. They lived in a house on the side of Mt. Oread, near which the part of the posse on the hill were stationed. During the time they were waiting for Fain to go through his legal maneuver, they busied themselves in breaking into a few houses in the suburbs, and, amongst other performances, robbed these gentlemen of several hundred dollars in money, a gold watch, and other property.

Phillips would have us know that only some of the posse did that, but it sounds like they came off with quite the haul. He probably means to imply that Fain’s summons kept Topliff and Perry from their home and thus facilitated the burglary. It might have worked out that way, but Phillips doesn’t tell us if the two men would have remained in their home once the proslavery force arrived or gone somewhere clear of it. It seems that Fain found them in Lawrence proper and if he had done something so obvious as to call them from their homes on his way into town, I can’t believe Phillips would have neglected the chance to mention it.

According to the Lawrence memorialists, who included Perry, the committee of safety had entrusted Topliff with another missive for Marshal Donaldson. When Fain and his posse left town, Topliff went with them to deliver it. The committee repeated their submission to federal authority and request for the protection of the government.

For the private property already taken by your posse we ask indemnification, and what remains to us and our citizens we throw upon you for protection, trusting that under the flag of our Union and within the folds of the Constitution we may obtain safety.

Fain’s dine and dash operation can’t have won him any friends, but he had come, made his arrests, and went without incident. He promised that the Free State Hotel would go unmolested. Maybe it could all work out and Donaldson would set aside his posse just as the proslavery leaders had sent their men home from Lawrence before. If it had happened once, it could happen again.

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