“I’ll drive this knife to the hilt until I find your life”

John Brown

Squire Morse, an old Michigander with two kids, sold Frederick Brown some lead bars that he took over to the Grant house to make into bullets. Dutch Bill Sherman and his proslavery friends took note of that and told Morse that he needed to quit the area or he would leave it permanently at the end of a rope. He had until eleven that morning to get gone, at which point they returned and decided to upgrade his murder weapon to an axe. They also gave him until sundown, after his children cried and pleaded. Morse took his two boys and went to the Grant’s. He stayed with them for a while, but insisted on sleeping rough in the prairie rather than risk being caught in town at night. The stress of that and the threat to his life eventually ended it. The Grant family caught some of it too, with Dutch Henry Sherman calling to tell them of More’s expulsion and that many other antislavery families had to go too.

The proslavery men around Osawatomie had made dire threats before. Sanborn had it from a Mr. Foster that in the same spring of 1856,

William Sherman had taken a fancy to the daughter of one of his Free-State neighbors, and had been refused by her. The next time he met her he used the most vile and insulting language toward her, in the midst of which Frederick Brown appeared and was besought for protection, which was readily granted. Sherman then drew his knife, and, speaking to the young woman, said: ‘The day is soon coming when all the damned Abolitionists will be driven out or hanged; we are not going to make any half-way work about it; and as for you, Miss, you shall either marry me or I’ll drive this knife to the hilt until I find your life.

Frederick supposedly told Sherman that if he tried it, “he would be taken care of.” Foster tells this all after the fact in a passage largely about defending the Browns for murdering Dutch Bill, so we have to read it with some skepticism. Furthermore, if the Browns or the other Pottawatomie Rifles thought that their families in the area stood at serious risk they most probably would have either stayed home or made arrangements for their safety. Sherman may have made the threat to the woman, and Brown answered it as reported, but their behavior suggests that they believed their hostile neighbors talked big and never delivered.

Morse’s travail suggested that things had changed. The absence of the antislavery men and presence of Georgians who came those hundreds of miles to kill abolitionists bolstered their convictions.

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