Money and Provisions: The Journey to Kansas, Part 4

John Brown

Parts 1, 2, 3

We left John Brown inquiring with his sons who went to Kansas about prices in Westport. Brown still planned to make a trip to North Elba, but by spring of 1855 he had decided to go at least for a time to the nation’s newest territory himself. As he settled up affairs in Ohio and looked forward to that tip, Brown had a letter in hand from John, Jr., describing all Kansas’ troubles with election-stealing Missourians. He recommended, in language close to that his father used when establishing the League of Gileadites, that “The Antislavery portion of the inhabitants should immediately, thoroughly arm and organize themselves in military companies.”

The younger John Brown avowed that his brothers with him in Kansas, except maybe the unusually gentle Jason, would take up the fight in a heartbeat, if only they had guns and ammunition. Since Brown the elder intended to come to Kansas anyway, could he pick up some for them? To get the cash, Junior suggested hitting up Gerrit Smith.

Brown already had some years of familiarity with Smith from his North Elba involvement. Smith had the right politics and the deep pockets to provide. Brown meant to go to New York anyway. All the pieces fell together and Brown found Smith at Syracuse, where “Radical Political Abolitionists” had gathered for a convention. Brown stepped into the hall on June 28 and informed the body, who had already voted $4,600 to antislavery business, that Kansas needed support.

Brown explained what happened next in a letter collected in The Life and Letters of Captain John Brown, by Richard Webb. He received “a most warm reception from all” and got just that day

a little over sixty dollars-twenty from Gerrit Smith, five from an old British officer; others giving smaller sums with such earnest and affectionate expressions of their good wishes as did me more good than money even. John’s two letters were introduced, and read with such effect, by Gerrit Smith, as to draw tears from numerous eyes in the great collection of people present.

Gerrit Smith

Smith and Frederick Douglass also spoke to the convention on Brown’s behalf.

Brown sounds genuinely moved by his reception. He tells his family that he wishes they could have seen it with him and that he made many “warm hearted and honest friends.” He took their sixty-odd dollars, not a great deal considering what the convention pledged elsewhere, back to Ohio and bought bought a box of guns.

In Springfield, he received advice from Junior that he had requested about the best way to get into Kansas. Brown should avoid the river at this time of year and travel by lumber wagon. Junior also warned him of the weather and reported that the amount of squatters made land speculation dubious. Nor should Brown hope to do well with horses or cattle. Jason wrote as well, explaining that he had fallen silent out of depression over Austin’s death. His wife Ellen had taken it worse still and he might have to bring her back east. Salmon wrote asking Brown to bring food and summer clothing, while also reporting slaves owned not three miles away from the boys’ claims.

 

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