The Razing of the Free State Hotel

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

For almost as long as the proslavery party in Kansas and Missouri had known of Lawrence, they complained about the Free State Hotel. The accursed Emigrant Aid Company, that gaggle of fanatical Yankees, owned the building and had made it into a fortress. Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury had recommended its reduction and now that the proslavery mob had come to Lawrence unopposed, they intended to get the job done. They would waste the trip if they went home with only two printing presses destroyed and a few books stolen.

Once again, William Phillips sets the scene:

The enemy planted their artillery in front of the hotel, one hundred and fifty feet distant from it, across Massachusetts-street. The hotel was a very large building, three full stories high besides the basement; it seemed almost impossible that they could miss it.

At this point, the mob hit a snag. I.B. Donaldson, Wilson Shannon, and their own captains had made assurances that the Eldridges, who had furnished the hotel out of their own pocket, would have their belongings protected. Samuel Jones, riding high, made an effort to keep those promises. According to the memorial Lawrence wrote to Franklin Pierce the next day, the sheriff told the Eldridges at quarter after three that they could have until five. The Eldridges protested that they could not remove all their furniture in so short a time. Some of Jones’ men agreed to go help with the moving, but according to Phillips they soon diverted themselves to more urgent matters:

They discovered the wins and liquors, a good stock of which was on hand, and, helping themselves freely to these and to eatables and cigars, the heroes of this gallant campaign were soon in an interesting condition.

The Eldridges got out what the memorial tactfully calls their “most necessary effects” whilst the artillery crews made their final preparations. The mob set them in carriages and escorted them away. Outside the hotel their other possessions remained in the sights of David Rice Atchison, literally. Phillips has him personally aiming the first gun to fire, or rather playing the part of drunken backseat artillerist. Under the ex-Senator’s helpful direction, the crew “let her rip!”

the ball missing the hotel altogether, going clear over it.

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

Phillips probably embroidered that moment, but an inexperienced gunner at a distance of more than a hundred feet probably could miss a three story building even without the aid of alcohol. The second shot found the building, albeit on a corner.

Some fifty rounds were fired, when, finding it slow business, the hotel looking, externally, little the worse for it, they undertook to blow it up. Four kegs of gunpowder were placed in it, but only two of them exploded, and they made little report, and still less impression on the walls; but fire was communicated to the building in several places, and it was soon magnificent a sea of flame.

In other words, the proslavery men tried to blow the hotel away. Failing at that, they opted to blow it up. Failing once more, some brave, frustrated souls torched it. One imagines they spared some thoughts for those two unexploded kegs of gunpowder when they went up with their burning brands.

As the flames hissed and crackled, Jones leaned upon his horse and contemplated the spectacle. His eyes glistened with a wild delight, and he said, “This is the happiest moment of my life.”

That day, all Samuel Jones’ dreams had come true.

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