The Browns go to Kansas, Part 1

John Brown

The last time a proslavery army departed from the environs of Lawrence, they left disappointed. Having come all that way to destroy the town and kill abolitionists, they went home with all the buildings still standing and only one of their enemy dead. The free state leadership pronounced themselves delighted in the outcome, but many of the men who flooded into Lawrence to defend the town also came for a fight and didn’t appreciate the negotiated settlement. Given James Lane’s questionable past and Wilson Shannon’s involvement, they had some cause to suspect their own leadership. Had they made concessions, rather than fight it out?

Free state sources speak to the widespread discontent at the end of the Wakarusa War. That affair at least ended with something like the status quo, which no one could claim of the sack of Lawrence. Among the most discontented the first time, one must count a new arrival to Kansas. According to James Redpath’s hagiographic 1860 biography, John Brown came to Kansas after some of his sons did. Redpath quotes at length from a manuscript that Brown wrote sometime before he went off to his destiny at Harper’s Ferry on how the abolitionist came to Kansas.

In 1854, the four eldest sons of John Brown, named John, Jr., Jason, Owen, and Frederick, all children by a first wife, then living in Ohio, determined to remove to Kansas. John, Jr., sold his place, a v ery desirable little property near Akron, in Summit County. The other two sons held no landed property, but both were possessed of some valuable stock, (as were also the first two named,) derived from that of their father, which had been often noticed by liberal premiums, both in the State of New York and also of Ohio.

Brown wanted posterity to know that his sons gave up a considerable amount of wealth in the name of Kansas’ freedom. Jason also had “a very valuable collection of grape vines, and also of choice fruit trees” which he opted to box and ship out. John and Jason both had families to move with them. The summer of 1854 did not cooperate with their resolve to strike for Kansas and crop failures prompted a plan for the the two younger brothers to take the livestock to southern Illinois for the winter at “very considerable expense” and with some of the animals stolen along the way. From Illinois, they could reach Kansas easily come spring of 1855.

Nor did the two Brown boys without families fit the image of a hardy frontiersman. Owen had a disabled right arm courtesy of childhood injury. Frederick, “though a very stout man” suffered from chronic illness “attended with insanity.” Brown sharply defended his some from accusations of mental disability and instead referred Frederick braving some sort of near-fatal surgery shortly before his departure. One disabled Brown and one debilitated and recovering Brown thus spent the winter husking corn, outside, to feed their animals. Sometime thereafter, Solomon Brown followed along to help them reach Kansas.

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