A rope, an axe, violent crying and violent illness.

John Brown

John Brown’s son Frederick went into Dutch’s Crossing to buy some lead bars. He aimed to use that lead for free state bullets and enlisted the Grant family to help make them. With Lawrence under threat again, they needed the ammunition. In many places, all that might go unmarked. Dutch’s Crossing presented several problems for that, all of which go back to the German-born “Dutch” Sherman brothers. Illegal squatters and likely petty criminals from way back, they went all-in for slavery and acted belligerently toward their antislavery neighbors. One of the Shermans and some of their proslavery friends saw Frederick Brown passing by with the lead and asked what he meant to do for it. Frederick told them.

The proslavery men didn’t take it out on Frederick, a relatively young man carrying a bunch of useful bludgeons; a man could get bruised trying to bruise a guy like that. Instead they went to the older Michigander who ran a store nearby and sold the lead. Squire Morse, who had two small children, received a visit first thing in the morning as soon as the free state men moved out for Lawrence. Dutch Bill, the Doyles, and Allen Wilkinson (a bogus legislature member) showed him a noose and told him that they would hang him for selling the lead.

But not just now. The proslavery men gave Morse until eleven to abandon his store and claim. They had only talked big before. Now they had a rope and gave a deadline. This fit the typical script for lynching a white man. The warning must have only felt sporting and refusing to abide by it would give them further aggravation. After making the threat, they departed to drink.

George Grant, then a child, recalled what happened next:

About eleven o’clock a portion of them, half drunk, went back to Mr. Morse’s, and were going to kill him with an axe. His little boys -one was only nine years old- set up a violent crying, and begged for their father’s life.

That childhood memory would stick with you. The violent crying and begging even moved the proslavery men, a little. They amended their deadline to sundown. Morse wasted no time:

He left everything and came at once to our house. He was nearly frightened to death. He came to our house carrying a blanket and leading his little boy by the hand. When night came he was so afraid that he would not stay in the house, but went out of doors and slept on the prairie in the grass.

Morse remained in the area, but he hid out in the bush and came in for meals with the Grants. The travail took its toll on an already older man, who soon took “violently ill” and died. A doctor saw to him in that time and attributed the death to “the fright and excitement of that terrible day when he was driven from his store.”

All this for selling some lead, which Morse himself got from Dutch Henry originally. That Sherman brother got in on the action too, going over to the Grants to tell them that they had ordered Morse out “and a good many others of the Free-State families have to go.” George Grant doesn’t report it as a personal threat to them, but the Shermans knew that Brown took his lead to them to turn into bullets. With some Georgian proslavery militants nearby and the antislavery militia away, they had to feel intensely vulnerable.

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