“At the point of the bayonet”

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

The border ruffians came into Lawrence and, after a brief delay to confirm that no one had mined the street, began their fun at the offices of the Free State, Josiah Miller’s paper. Miller, like many printers, sold books as well as his paper. The mob helped themselves to his stock whilst destroying his press. The press itself went into the Kansas River, but somewhere along the line hauling the type there became too much work and it got tossed in the street. An officer or two tried to stop the looting and restrict the work to ending the paper, to no avail.

Scratch one antislavery paper and one half of those that Judge Lecompte’s grand jury ordered suppressed. Lawrence had another such publication, our old friend the Herald of Freedom. While the proslavery men worked over the Free State, others made for it. George Washington Brown didn’t get to defend his paper in person, as he tried to flee Kansas, turned back, and got captured before reaching home. William Phillips describes the scene:

The Herald of Freedom office is a tall, narrow, concrete building. Into this the gallant “chivalry” were afraid to venture. The dread of mines and infernal machines was a sort of nightmare with them. In order to be safe in entering the office in question, they drove some young men, residents of the town, up the stairs and into the building at the point of the bayonet.

I would like to know how they expected that to work. Driving someone by bayonet requires one to stand close by, probably in range of any explosion they would trigger. Phillips calls it a “stupid policy”. He may have made it up, but his puzzlement suggests otherwise. The filibusters might not have known themselves and simply decided that if Lawrence’s people would swear to a building’s safety, they could do it on their own flesh and blood.

Once inside, the proslavery men gave the Herald of Freedom an expert destruction, “thorough and enlightened,” betraying the work of “a practical printer.” Neither paper’s steam press survived the day, but apparently the group knew their business well enough to ensure no one would come along and salvage parts from Brown’s. He had brought it with him all the way from Pennsylvania. The mob ransacked the office, “the more prudent” helping themselves to books, but others

marching about the streets with books stuck on the points of their bayonets. Others were tearing books to shreds

That struck two items off the agenda, but the destruction of the Free State Hotel remained undone.

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