“I demand that all the arms of Lawrence be given up, or we will bombard the town”

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Sorry for the tardy post, Gentle Readers. I scheduled it incorrectly.

Samuel Jones, process in hand, posse at his back, and fresh off getting shot the last time he came to Lawrence, had probably gave more than a little thought to revenge on May 21, 1856. W.P. Fain had come, made arrests, and gone. Jones still had his pretense to attend to and meant to see himself revenged on Lawrence. He inherited Marshal Donaldson’s posse and rode into town with about twenty of them, arriving about three in the afternoon. Jones made for the Free State Hotel and there called out Samuel Pomeroy.

William Phillips recounts their conversation:

Pomeroy came out and shook hands with him. [Jones.]

“Gen. Pomeroy,” said Jones, “I recognize you as one of the leading citizens here, and as one who can act for the people of Lawrence. I demand that all the arms of Lawrence be given up, or we will bombard the town.” Jones here took out his watch, and continued: “I give you five minutes to decide on this proposition, and half an hour to stack the arms in the streets.”

Jones had pulled this ultimatum off before, giving the judges of election five minutes to vacate, let anyone who offered vote without swearing that they lived in Kansas, or die at the hands of his mob. Pomeroy, like the judges then, asked more time. The year since the legislative elections and his own shooting must have hardened Jones; he refused to grant even the additional minute he had before. Pomeroy went into the hotel and discussed the issue with the committee of safety, for what little they had to discuss:

Jones, with an army at his back, thirsting for blood and plunder; the committee, who had provided no means of defence, and who had only a handful of men in Lawrence, who, if they attempted to resist, would merely be butchered, unless the invaders were cowards!

An answer came back before the Sheriff called down a bombardment. Lawrence would surrender her cannons, but the rifles and other arms belonged to the men who held them. The committee had no authority to demand their surrender. Jones would have to go person to person and ask each one.

The memorial that Lawrence sent off to Franklin Pierce tells things a little differently, with some portion of the rifles accepted as community property and so surrendered while others, still private property, remained with their owners. The memorialists, writing for a hostile audience in the White House, stress their submission as much as Phillips excoriates it. For Jones to just take the cannons and let go the rifles, which loomed large in proslavery imaginations, seems improbable. Phillips does refer to some rifles taken up later, but not as part of a general surrender. He may have the same arms in mind as the memorialists, each writer slanting the facts to suit their present audience. For Phillips, righteous Kansas led by cowards in the absence of the usual heroes cave without a fight. Antislavery Americans rally to their defense. For the memorialists, submitting to the law and doing all their enemies asked might move a hostile president to take a softer line against them. Either version could be true; both agree that Lawrence lost its cannons:

The artillery in question consisted of the twelve-pound brass howitzer, brought into Lawrence so gallantly during the Wakarusa war, and some four other small brass breech-loading cannon, carrying a pound ball.

Phillips describes the four smaller field pieces as “nearly useless” but doesn’t miss the chance to go after the Committee for giving them up. He informs the reader that Lawrence had buried all the cannons beneath a house, where no one would think to look. Pomeroy and Lieutenant Governor Roberts thus gave them up gratuitously.

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