“General Mitchell is guilty of having prostituted his power” Smuggling Slaves with David Brydie Mitchell, Part Four

David B. Mitchell

Parts 1, 2, 3, American State Papers (pages 957-75, PDF), Shingleton’s paper (JSTOR)

It didn’t take long for David Brydie Mitchell to put his position as Creek Agent to work for him. He received his appointment from James Monroe on November 4, 1817. By December 8, the first shipment of contraband slaves from Amelia Island had arrived there. I have to this point worked entirely from the American State Papers, but last night discovered that one historian took it upon himself to do more than cite them and move on. Back in 1973, Royce Gordon Shingleton published his version of events in the Journal of Negro History. He had access to the original papers on which William Wirt drew for his report and adds some important information, whilst also wrestling them into a coherent narrative. From him I have it that Bowen set out for Amelia Island on October 18, prior to Mitchell taking up his post as Indian agent. That suggests that Mitchell may have stumbled on a scheme already afoot and insisted on buying in, but he could just as easily have learned about his appointment well in advance and participated from the start. It seems unlikely that the plan’s financiers would have such confidence in him to agree to make good any expenses he called on them for had he just popped in at the last minute.

Either way, Erwin, Groce, & Company of Augusta and Savannah fronted Bowen the $25,000 he used to buy 110 slaves and bring them into the United States in defiance of the 1807 ban on slave importation. Those slaves, in two groups, came and stayed at the Agency for some time. During that time, Mitchell fed them and he and the other partners marked out the ones they claimed for themselves. Mitchell’s share may have come for both services rendered and from a direct investment of embezzled funds meant to support the Creek Nation.

The matter came to the attention of John Clark, soon governor of Georgia, through the Agency’s blacksmith. He found letters in Mitchell’s desk about the business and sent them on. Clark appears to have done much of the subsequent investigation. However, Shingleton’s paper clarified for me the role of General Gaines in the matter. According to him, Mitchell passed through the Agency in early December to attend a meeting of the Creek chiefs. On the return trip through, toward the middle of the month, Mitchell came back to the Agency in the company of General Edmund Pendleton Gaines. Gaines had the job of surveying the boundaries of Indian territory. On seeing all these slaves, he became suspicious. Mitchell did keep slaves he legally owned at the Agency as well, but it seems he kept the imported people separate from them and that stood out to Gaines. Mitchell, as he would when defending himself later, insisted he didn’t know anything about them. Gaines thereafter sent men to make sure those slaves didn’t conveniently vanish.

Per Wirt in the ASP, a

Captain Melvin, of the fourth infantry, states the had observed fifteen of the Africans (the choicest of those brought to the agency by Bowen) building huts and clearing land at the agency, the plantation of General Mitchell

A few days later the Inspector of the Port of Darien, McQueen McIntosh, caught wind of this. He probably found out much like the federal marshal did, when Mitchell offered to sell him some of the slaves. They must have elected governors for their subtlety in those days. McIntosh went out to the agency aiming to seize the contraband slaves and found many of them four days gone toward Alabama with Jared Groce. McIntosh set off in pursuit and overtook Groce and the slaves on the road to Alabama. Groce claimed the slaves as his own, which prompted McIntosh to arrest him. They turned back for the Creek Agency.

McIntosh employed a man named Langham to escort him, but Langham

perfidiously hurried on to the agency for the purpose of giving notice of McIntosh’s approach and intention, enabling those who had charge of the negroes there to put them out of the way.

Mitchell himself had left the agency again, putting it in the hands of his son William. Melvin tipped McIntosh off to that and led him the mile and a half to their huts. McIntosh opted not to take them out of doors in the cold, which had hit the slaves hard, but went to the younger Mitchell and told him to consider the slaves seized. Mitchell fils agreed to that without objection, but didn’t volunteer any information about other slaves. Groce had forty-seven slaves with him. That accounts for sixty-two of the hundred and ten slaves, leaving forty-eight unaccounted for. Five of those probably went off with Long as his payment for helping with the transport, leaving forty-three to slip William Mitchell’s mind.

The slaves had not forgotten their fellows. When McIntosh came for them in the morning, he learned

from the negroes [Wirt’s emphasis] that General Mitchell’s overseer had the night before supplied a great many Africans with provisions, and taken them into the woods; that Captain Melvin himself fell upon their trail, and found about fifteen in the woods, who tried to make their escape, but were apprehended, and the whole thirty were brought to the agency; Captain Mitchell then delivered up eleven small Africans (children, I presume) from the huts in the yard.

Wirt clearly means the fifteen Melvin and McIntosh found in the huts and woods, respectively. So we can account for eighty-two, ninety-three with the children. As McIntosh took them off, William Mitchell followed him down the road a few miles. McIntosh had left behind “two or three” people. I don’t know what to make of this. McIntosh may have genuinely misplaced a few people or Mitchell might have tried to hand over a few more in a desperate bid to deflect suspicion. Regardless, McIntosh came to the Creek Agency expecting to collect fifteen contraband slaves and departed with forty-one.

Discussion of all this came into the letters between Bowen and Mitchell pere that William Moore found in the latter’s desk and sent on to John Clark. Bowen feared that Groce would spill the beans and wrote that he had gotten himself worked up to the point of incoherence, so they needed to do something to shut him up. A letter from Mitchell declaring Groce a bondsman engaged in removing the slaves might do the trick.

Wirt spends the rest of his report discussing the arguments Mitchell and Bowen made in their defense and reporting on Clark’s investigation of the affair. He goes on at considerable length and with diligence, but writes little new for it. To cut his long, rather circuitous story short, the parties told improbable lies, could not keep their stories straight with one another, and none of it withstood scrutiny. He couldn’t prove, to the standards admissable in court, that Mitchell profited from the importation and actively conspired for it, but the evidence supported his having an understanding with Bowen. Even if Mitchell and Bowen didn’t have some kind of arrangement, they clearly entered into one when the slaves arrived at the agency. He concluded:

that General Mitchell is guilty of having prostituted his power, as agent for Indian affairs at the Creek agency, to the purpose of aiding and assisting in a conscious breach of the act of Congress of 1807, in prohibition of the slave trade-and this from mercenary motives.

The presidential inquiry wound down in February of 1821. Monroe reviewed the evidence, agreed with Wirt, and had Secretary of War John C. Calhoun write his pink slip.

That leaves the matter of what happened to the slaves. Wirt devotes some time to discussing whether or not responsibility for them fell to the president under new anti-slave trade laws passed in 1817 and pleads a lack of recent information on the question. According to Shingleton, eighty-eight of them passed into the hands of Georgian authorities for sale. State law required a public notice and period of delay before action, during which the Governor Rabun -Clark did not win the office until November- placed them in households around Milledgeville, the state capital, to provide for their maintenance until the waiting period ran out. They appear to have all passed into private ownership by August, grossing $34,736.18. Expenses reduced that to $27,571.82. Somewhere along the way, twenty-two of the slaves slipped through the cracks. Most probably they ended up just like the rest, but enslaved in Alabama.

Yellow and Red Strings: Smuggling Slaves with David Brydie Mitchell, Part Three

David B. Mitchell

David Byrdie Mitchell, late governor of Georgia and present Indian agent, had looked to all the world like a guilty man. Letters and sworn statements, albeit some of the latter hearsay, implicated him in a slave smuggling ring. He didn’t personally bring in contraband slaves, in defiance of the nation’s 1807 ban on importing people, but his employee at the Creek Agency did. That man, William Bowen, had written letters to Mitchell discussing the business in candid terms. Bowen got seed money from the firm of Erwin, Groce, & Company. He took that money to Amelia Island on St. Mary’s river, a well-known smuggling hot spot just outside the United States. He claimed to have gone for coffee and sugar, but finding them too expensive bought human merchandise. He took his slaves into Georgia via the St. Mary’s and Flint Rivers up to Mitchell’s agency. There they awaited sale and/or transport elsewhere, probably to Alabama Territory.

Mitchell tried to defend himself. He insisted, truthfully, that Bowen brought the slaves to the Creek Agency while he was away. On receiving news of the slaves, “a SMALL parcel of African negroes” numbering only sixty, Mitchell went back and accused Bowen of importing them. Bowen produced a fake bill of sale to prove that he bought the slaves off a privateer in Georgia, which still left him in defiance of the law. Mitchell then, he says, told Bowen that he needed to get those slaves out of the country. The Indian agent also took time in his statement (page 964) to gripe about the insufficiency of state and national laws against importation, ultimately he

reflected upon the facility with which such an order could be evaded, by just carrying them over the Spanish line, and re-introducing them; and believing, too, that the negroes were actually intended for the use of the parties interested, who, I have no doubt, are large land-holders on the Alabamaby purchase at the recent sales, and not for sale, I declined detaining them.

In Mitchell’s version, all that has come and gone. He did not detain the slaves, so they moved along into Alabama or wherever. Wirt noticed that right off, calling Mitchell out for implying that no contraband slaves remained at the agency. Instead, his explanation to the Secretary of War looked forward to future events. If this happened again, Georgia’s former governor would like advice on how to handle it. Mitchell wrote all of this in a report to the Secretary of the Treasury on the same Christmas day that Bowen wrote to him, with about sixty slaves in residence at the Agency and forty more coming.

Wirt broke it down. At the time of Mitchell’s writing, December 25, 1817, he knew

  1. That those Africans had been unlawfully brought into the United States, and that Bowen’s tale of the purchase in Camden county, from the owner of a privateer who had brought them in, even if true, would not have altered the case. He must, consequently, have known that, under the act of Congress of 1807, neither Bowen, nor those for whom he acted, nor any person claiming under them, could have any right or title whatever to those negroes or to their services.
  2. That certain mercantile houses in Savannah and Augusta were interested in them; and, if Bowen had not previously informed him, the letter of Erwin, Groce, & Co. by Colonel Morgan, and the visit of that gentlemen to the agency, could not have left him in ignorance of the fact that the house of Erwin, Groce, & Co. was one, at least, of those houses.
  3. He knew that these Africans were intended for Alabama, and to be settled on the lands of those gentlemen in that Territory.
  4. General Mitchell must have known that to carry them  to Alabama was as clear a violation of the act of Congress as to carry them into any one of the United States; for General Mitchell is a man not only of uncommon intelligence and acuteness, but, as it appears by these documents, a lawyer by profession; and his talents, which are manifest, leave no doubt that he was a lawyer of distinction.

Mitchell also tried to claim that he needed to place a bond on the slaves under a confused interpretation of Georgia law on exporting slaves clearly invented for the purpose of excusing himself. Even if that law applied, the responsibility for such bonds lay with the governor.

A business this involved has many stakeholders and they all looked to their investments. A Jared Groce, as in Erwin, Groce, & Company, took forty-seven slaves across the Creek Nation under Mitchell’s passport. James Erwin, as his father Andrew testified, had gotten notes from Bowen for half the slaves. Taking out the five slaves given to Long for his part in the affair, that matches up awfully well.

Mitchell didn’t do all his looking the other way for free, of course. A John Lambert, who worked at the agency as a gardener, swore that he fed the slaves out of Mitchell’s pantry and that he saw Mitchell, his son, Long, Bowen, and others divide up the slaves. The elder Mitchell’s “part was distinguished from the others by a piece of yellow ferret or tape tied in their hair.” John Oliphant, who had helped bring the slaves to the Agency, reported that Bowen and Mitchell gave the slaves regular examinations and that

thirty or thirty-five of said negroes had a red flannel string tied around their wrists, which the witness understood, was to distinguish General Mitchell’s from Mr. Bowen’s”

The difference in marking reflects the two consignments of people. Oliphant speaks specifically of the second group, whereas Lambert left his position at the Agency before they arrived.

Mitchell seems to have gotten his share of the slaves for more than services rendered. Rumors, deemed credible by a federal marshal, circulated that he embezzled money meant for the Creek nation to buy himself a share. That Mitchell tried to sell him some of the slaves may have put the question on the marshal’s radar. He declined unless Mitchell would write out proper deeds for them in his own name, which Mitchell refused. If they wanted that, then they should talk to Bowen. The Creek Agency had nothing at all to do with the smuggled slaves, except that Bowen proved he had not smuggled them and so held the slaves legally. If we departed all good sense and took Mitchell at his word, then that still makes him a man trying to sell someone else’s people.

“It is useless for me to deny it” Smuggling Slaves with David Brydie Mitchell, Part Two

David B. Mitchell

William Bowen, David Byrdie Mitchell’s employee at the Creek Agency, had quite the close call. He smuggled the last forty-two of his hundred slaves out of Amelia Island less than a week before the United States Navy sailed in and ended its usefulness as a depot for slave smuggling. We might expect a man who claimed that he scared so easily he risked breaking American law by taking his slaves to the Agency instead of Spanish West Florida based on rumors to take that as a lesson and get himself out of slave smuggling. If nothing else, he ought to at least stop doing it around St. Mary’s River.

That same crippling anxiety surely gripped Bowen as he wrote, on Christmas of 1817, that he heard that someone moved group of a hundred sixty contraband slaves off Amelia before the Navy arrived and they remained somewhere nearby on the mainland. We must imagine him rending his garments and weeping as he informed (page 962) Mitchell

excellent bargains could be had in the purchase of those [slaves] that were run off to the main from Amelia.

and furthermore

I would make another purchase, but my other business is too much neglected to take the necessary time to accomplish the security of them.

Also Mitchell’s friend Captain Thomas really ought to have come so he could have gotten in on those profits. Of course Bowen had handed over supervision of his smuggling operation to a Creek named Tobler, who had fake papers indicating that he had bought the slaves in Georgia. That made the trade domestic and legal, or at least someone else’s problem if he got caught.

Bowen parted company with Tobler to tend to some of that neglected business, but two men came across the Creek and his charges. Lodowick Ashley and Jason Brinson later made sworn statements on the matter. They saw Tobler in charge of the slaves and in the company of a white man, John Oliphant. Tobler informed Ashley and Brinson that he owned those forty people. That took place on December 26, 1817, the day after Bowen wrote from Drummond’s Landing.

Ashley and Brinson went to Drummond’s Landing and found Bowen still there. They told Bowen the slaves might run afoul of army movements. The army would likely have other priorities than rounding up slave smugglers, but if they blundered into a group then they might take action. Bowen tried to hire the two to go and turn the contraband slaves to a safer route. They could have their pick of the slaves so long as they made sure the rest got to the home of a Timothy Barnard or to the Creek Agency.

The witness [Ashley] observed that he should not like to be caught there with the negroes by General Mitchell; to which Bowen replied that he believed General Mitchell was his friend; and that, if the negroes were left or set down in the back part of the agent’s field, it should entitle the witness to the negro before mentioned.

Brinson confirmed all of that. Attorney General Wirt’s report doesn’t say, but it sounds like Ashley and Brinson turned Bowen down.

It might have all ended there, but Bowen sent his letter -the same letter I have quoted from- to Mitchell with Tobler. That letter found its way into Mitchell’s desk, where the Agency blacksmith. There William Moore, found it along with a bill of sale. (Mitchell, going away for a while, asked Moore to repair the desk in his absence.) Moore gave the letter to John Clark, who become governor of Georgia in 1819. Clark in turn confronted Bowen with the document. Had he written and signed his name to he incriminating latter?

To which Bowen replied, “It is useless for me to deny it”, as my handwriting is so well known;” which I [Wirt] understand to mean, “I would deny it, if I did not know that my handwriting could be so easily proved; but, since it can, it is useless for me to deny it.”

Clark insisted on a straight yes or no and got the former. Nor did Bowen recant when questioned later, which makes things look very bad for Mitchell. Asked to explain just why he consulted so closely with the Indian agent on slave smuggling, Bowen finally clammed up.

Meanwhile, Mitchell had the illegal slaves on his agency and entertained interested parties. On December 20, 1817, before the second group of slaves arrived, Tennessean Gideon Morgan, stopped by Mitchell’s at the request of some of Bowen’s financiers. He had a letter from the partners in the firm identifying him as their agent, addressed to Mitchell by name. So the men who fronted Bowen the cash to go buy slaves and smuggle them into the country knew that their slaves either had already or would soon arrive at Mitchell’s Creek Agency. Those papers don’t mention slaves, but refer tellingly to Morgan carrying out business near the Agency and then into Alabama Territory. Morgan had a letter from a General Gains -who did not know about the slaves and made it his business to expose Mitchell when he learned of them- asking Mitchell to write him a passport through Indian country.

Georgia might prove too close to prying eyes for a safe resale of slaves, but less settled and more labor-hungry Alabama would probably  look the other way.

To further link Mitchell, Morgan, and the firm of Erwin, Groce, & Company (the aforementioned financiers), his introductory letter to the agent includes this passage:

“Should he,” says the letter, “have occasion for funds or any other services in your power, you will confer a singular favor on me by rendering him any service in your power. We will accept his drafts at any sight for any sum he may think proper to draw on us for.” [Wirt’s emphasis.]

That bespeaks considerable trust in Morgan and a similar degree of confidence in Mitchell not to bleed them dry. Wirt spells it out:

The engagement in the letter of Erwin, Groce, & Co. that they would pay at any sight the drafts of Colonel Morgan in favor of General Mitchell, to any amount, is certainly calculated to suggest inquiries which it would not be easy to answer satisfactorily.

In other words, they wrote Mitchell a blank check. They would not do such a thing unless they both trusted him extremely well and expected extraordinary service of him.

2017 by way of 1965

Gentle Readers, I’ve thought quite a bit about whether or not to continue with Modern Mondays. In the past I’ve sometimes had trouble finding an adequately modern event with historical resonance to write about and struggled to write about those I do find in new ways, failing often. The horror that stars in our news for at least the next four years suggests no shortage of incidents to come, which forms part of the problem. I come here to write history, if history I consider relevant to our present circumstances. For all that I wear my politics on my sleeve, I did not set out to write a political blog. I don’t know how often I will keep this up, but here we are.

A white supremacist with the apt name Jefferson Beauregard Sessions will soon lead the Cabinet department responsible for, and founded for the express purpose of, defending the civil rights of African-Americans. People don’t have to take an example from the names their parents chose; this Jefferson could have done better. The brief era when people took the Justice Department’s mission seriously will come to a close just as it has before. We may all be long dead before such a time comes again, if it ever does.

History has no arc and it will not bend toward justice. People bend history. We made this world as we made all the others, with the choices that fill our days. We could unmake it too, if enough of us move in the right direction. That happens, sometimes. When the world tilts our way we call it justice. When it doesn’t, we have to explain it. We can tell ourselves that we just lost that one on a fluke, that something outside the system intervened, or the ill-starred moment just came and no one could do anything.

Everyone has stories. Jeff Sessions will tell you he stood up for civil rights. He will not tell you that he did so by prosecuting people who tried to register black voters. He will tell you that he doesn’t believe in racism, in segregation, that he opposes white supremacy in all its forms. He will not remind you that the Republican Senate found him too racist to give a job on the federal bench to back in in the Eighties. The Republican Senate of the two thousand tens will confirm him and congratulate themselves for all the work he will do ensuring black Americans find it harder and harder to vote. The other side bends history too; they win at least half the time.

Sessions will become Attorney General. We can’t stop it, but we don’t have to go quietly along. Sessions presently represents Alabama in the United States Senate, and by Alabama I must say that I mean the white Alabama of 2016, by way of 1965. White Alabamans knew what they wanted back then: black Americans should not vote, should not protest, should not do anything that made them look like citizens of the United States. They should instead remain, if not chattel, then as close to it as one could feasibly manage. Some whites disagreed with the racial order, even if it did put them on top, but they had a century to alter it and had not found the will or numbers to bend that arc of history.

When American citizens, allegedly as equal and good as your or I, marched to protest Alabama denying their right to vote, the Sheriff of Dallas County called out every white man in his jurisdiction and deputized them. One does this to answer an invading army or a revolution, which came that day in the form of nonviolent protesters walking down a public road. The police told them to stop and go home. They paused, prayed, and the police descended on them with teargas. Some, mounted, rode into the crowd with billy clubs.

We were beaten, tear-gassed, left bloody, some of us unconscious. Some of us had concussions. Some of us almost died on that bridge. But the Congress responded, President Lyndon Johnson responded, and the Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, and it was signed into law on August 6, 1965.

I don’t know how Jefferson Sessions, nineteen that year, spent that day; I suspect he spent it at university. John Lewis, twenty-five, stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, leading the protesters. Those are his words above. They fractured his skull. He remained with the protest and delivered a speech before seeking treatment. Since 1997, when Sessions claimed his Senate seat, both men have served in the United States Congress. No one needed to tell John Lewis where his old enemy had risen up again. This past week he testified against Sessions’ nomination:

I advise against reading the Youtube comments, Gentle Readers.

I hold to the school that we ought not make people into heroes, as we must revise and edit them past any hope of honesty to turn a person into perfection. For the same reasons, we should not name anyone the conscience of a nation. Everyone has faults, blind spots, contains contradictions. But if we conceive of the United States as a nation of justice and freedom, I don’t know many people living today who have done better at holding the country to those ideals and living them out, broken bones, bruised flesh, and all. If being a good American means the things we so often say it means, we must count Lewis one of the best.

Our questionably-coiffed president-elect, the man who got millions less votes in the election of 2016, must have had his TV on just then. He informed the world via Twitter

You understand the thought process, Gentle Readers. He saw a black man on his television. That must mean poverty and crime, because he has worked hard all his life to ensure just that. For Lewis to represent a large section of Atlanta, which seems to do well enough, would mean that Trump and all the others that update their wardrobe in the bedclothes aisle had failed. It would confront them with black Americans as capable, not merely of good leadership but of anything at all. They could not endure such a tragedy and so will go to heroic lengths to prevent it, like losing an election by more than two million votes and calling it a landslide. Or naming Jefferson Sessions Attorney General.

I have not studied Lewis’ career in Congress, but I don’t doubt he’s had his share of frustrations and disappointments. The latest probably began late on election night. But he’s gotten results too. The broken bones of he and his fellow protesters, coming to them through the television in fuzzy black and white, drove a profoundly white supremacist nation to briefly decide it could be something better. The Voting Rights Act, now teetering on the edge of oblivion, came out of it. That could not stand. Millions of white Americans would not tolerate any such thing and embarked on a decades-long campaign to restore Jim Crow and take it fully national. White supremacy won the White House, despite losing the vote, back in November just as it has previous Novembers when Richard Nixon promised “law and order” (break skulls) and Ronald Reagan declared for state’s rights (the right to murder civil rights activists without federal interference). We have come this way before. We shall again. Departures stand out because we see them so seldom.

Every time a storm hits Washington, you don’t have to go far to find photographs of the soldiers guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns. They come with injunctions to respect the steadfast commitment of these men and women to their duty. That, we believe, says something about us and the kind of nation we have. Maybe it does; I am no connoisseur of martial virtues. Fifty-seven years on, it seems we still stand on the Edmund Pettus Bridge too. Now, just as then, both sides have a large cheering section as the teargas flies and bones break. That says more.

“This is very awkward” The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Ten

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Sorry for the delayed post, Gentle Readers. Scheduling error on my part.

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder came to Kansas City on May 11, 1856. He had wanted out of the town ever since he arrived, but the fates conspired against his escape. Boats came down in broad daylight, which made a discrete nighttime boarding impossible. Parties of armed men passed through town daily, or near enough, aimed at eliminating his antislavery allies in Kansas Territory. On May 17, someone probably saw him hiding in his hotel room and Kansas first governor became more determined still to get clear. He expected capture might mean his life and it would surely end his mission to raise support for the free state cause in the North. Finally, Reeder’s thoughts seem to have often turned to his wife.

Come May 20, Kansas City’s most anxious white visitor missed his second boat due to its arrival after sunrise. Around eleven in the morning, he got another scare. The women who had helped hide him got Reeder out of his room to clean it. They put him in another room, which had no luck, then

the chambermaid stepped in, and, though called back at once, probably saw me. Afterwards she knocked at the door and I opened it and met her face to face. She stepped back and said she would come again. This is very awkward and makes it necessary for us to decide whether we will trust her in full and bribe her.

Words and money tend to bind better than words alone. Reeder’s accomplices spoke to the chambermaid and felt sure of her, but they urged Reeder to abandon his plan to take a boat down the Missouri in favor of posing as an emigrant heading to Kansas, a plan they intended to try themselves. Reeder didn’t think that at all safe, just as he had previously rejected plans to get out by land. He had news of a boat set to arrive at night and remain at Kansas City until morning. The cloudy sky would make it an ideal time to take his chance, so the free state delegate asked for Mr. Coates to arrange things.

Coates had gone off to Westport to see Charles Robinson, the captured free state governor, at Robinson’s request. That put Reeder in the hands of a Conant, who he reached through Monroe Eldridge. Conant refused to help Reeder arrange escape on the grounds

that he is afraid of the consequences to himself and his store if it should be known, and he considers it too dangerous to approach the captain with any proposition.

Proslavery violence often targeted dissenting whites; Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow railed about them in Negro-Slavery, No EvilConant had good reason to fear retaliation for doing something so potentially public as asking a captain if he would smuggle an antislavery fugitive from Kansas off to safety. Reeder pleaded with Conant to just go and ask the captain’s politics, so Reeder might send for the man and ask himself. Conant again refused. The delegate ran down the list of his allies: “sick,” “gone,” and “not well.” Monroe Eldridge might have helped, but “has the whole business on his hands.” Reeder doesn’t say what he meant there, but it sounds like Eldridge served as the free state party’s main agent in Kansas City and compromising him would do too much damage to the cause. Someone had to run the guns.

A Mr. Taylor “agreed at once” and learned that an Alabaman captained the Edinboro. Border ruffians had gone on board “talking and drinking with him.” Reeder mused that he might have given bribing the captain a try anyway, but opted not to risk it. He just could not watch a break.

The Buford Expedition, Part Eleven: Broken Promises

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Fleming’s paper is available here (PDF) or in Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume IV (huge PDF).

Previous Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Five grand lighter than he expected to be, Jefferson Buford and had nearly made it to Kansas. They went up to Kansas City, where Buford had everyone form a line and gave a speech. Then his men knelt and swore not to leave Kansas until they had won it for slavery. From Kansas City, the expedition moved on to Westport, where Fleming has them “equipped for settlement”. If Buford’s proscription of firearms had any effect beyond the rhetorical, I imagine it fell by the wayside here. The proslavery men finally crossed into Kansas on May 2, 1856. The proslavery party rejoiced and free state men lamented:

“Our hearts have been made glad,” wrote one of the Southerners, “by the late arrival of large companies from South Carolina and Alabama. they have responded nobly to our call for help. The noble Buford is already endeared to our hearts; we love him; we will fight for him and die for him and his noble companions.” On the free State side, ex-Governor Reeder writes: “There have come to the Territory this spring three or four hundred young men, including Buford’s party, who evidently came here to fight, and whose leaders probably understood the whole program before they left home.”

Missourians pledged that the would help Buford’s men, the enamored author above included. Before Buford and company could leave Westport, the citizens gave him “a fine horse with fine saddle and bridle.” Once in Kansas, the festivities gave way to the business of settlement. This scattered the filibusters. Buford himself sought “some central location” where he could set up shop in the hopes that his men would follow along and so remain easily reachable. An army dispersed can soon become no army at all. They might well have stuck with Buford, had he lived up to his end of the bargain.

Some of Buford’s men now asked that the money for paying for their claims be given to them, but this their leader declined to do until they should select their quarter sections and settle on them. Others wanted him to support them at his own expense, pay their bills at hotels, etc. His refusal to do this soon caused the loss of a number of the most worthless of the party.

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Fleming doesn’t think well of those men. He has a point, considering they wanted money before making claims and might well make off with the money instead of the land, but it doesn’t strike me as unusual for them to expect Buford to subsidize them until they could find parcels to settle. Even if you meant to get your land immediately and had energy enough to build a mansion on it first thing, people need to eat and have shelter while they find unclaimed spots that seem adequate. Given the very tenuous state of land claims in the territory, that might take a while. Nobody came to Kansas to starve, sleep in the rain, or descend into penury. Killing Yankee abolitionists might warm the heart, but they expected to improve their condition too.

The Buford Expedition, Part Ten: A Letter to the Wyandotte

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Fleming’s paper is available here (PDF) or in Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume IV (huge PDF).

Previous Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

We left Jefferson Buford’s men in Mobile, where they got the Bibles that Montgomery proved too impious to have on hand in sufficient numbers. Armed with books, if possibly not guns, Buford’s men embarked on the Florida for New Orleans. They picked up a few more men there and divided themselves between the America and Oceana to steam up the Mississippi for St. Louis. They arrived on April 23, 1856. According to Fleming,

The people of St. Louis rated Buford’s enterprise very highly, and regarded him as the best friend of Kansas in the whole South.

St. Louis leaned slightly antislavery, but that didn’t make them abolitionists. They stuck by Thomas Hart Benton through his preaching silence and compromise on slavery, combined with quite a bit of carping at antislavery agitators. St. Louis could very well understand Buford as a legitimate counter to antislavery radicals who had set up their own government in Kansas.

While in St. Louis, Buford wrote ahead to a Colonel William Walker, who Fleming describes as the governor of “Nebraska Territory”, a Wyandotte Indian establishment predating white settlement. He doesn’t use the word, but this sounds like a reservation. Buford refers to it as “the Wyandotte reserve.” Eufaula, Alabama’s favorite son wanted to settle on Wyandotte land “provided that the tribe will freely consent to my doing so, but not otherwise.” That sounds terribly broad-minded of Buford. He promised to place

only orderly, good citizens, -among them blacksmiths, carpenters, brick and stone masons, physicians, school teachers, agricultural laborers, etc., etc., and any who becomes obnoxious to the Indians I wold have removed.

Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton

Previously whites could not settle on Indian country at all unless they had a license as an Indian agent or worked as missionaries. I don’t know that the organization of a territorial government ended those restrictions; Andrew Reeder got in hot water, officially, in part for speculating in Indian lands. In advance of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the United States negotiated cessions from Indian reservations but some continued in Kansas at least up through statehood in 1861. If Indians could not sell to Reeder, then I don’t know how they could grant Buford’s men permission to settle. The law may have changed or settlement might matter less than sale to it. Buford could also have just not done his homework, as he found that land preemption didn’t work quite like he thought previously. Or he might have expected that once his men had occupation of the land, their very whiteness would extinguish Wyandotte rights.

Regardless, Buford predicted

both parties would be benefited, and especially would it aid your views in building up your city of Wyandotte, which, by the way, seems the place endowed by nature for the great town of the Territory.

He closed with his hope that they would soon meet in person.

Jefferson Buford’s stay in St. Louis featured more than warm welcomes and letters to Indian chiefs. Someone broke into one of his trunks and made off with $5000. Buford never saw it again.

 

The Buford Expedition, Part Nine: A Bible Shortage

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Fleming’s paper is available here (PDF) or in Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume IV (huge PDF).

Previous Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

The public meeting at Montgomery honoring Jefferson Buford’s company of filibusters included the usual sets of speeches from dignitaries and resolutions. A self-proclaimed “Union man” proclaimed himself badly in error and declared in the future for southern radicalism. The resolutions promised that Buford’s fans hoped no violence would come, but if it did Buford’s men ought

to consider themselves as but the vanguard of the mighty host of their brethren of the South, who are ready to march to their relief and stand with them in struggle.

They might well have meant it. Manly posturing seems as common as white supremacy in period sources, but at the time it must have seemed likely that Buford’s men would soon have others taking their example to heart. If the first one worked out fairly enough, why wouldn’t more come?

The next day, Buford’s men attended church, where the pastor floated the notion that

since some ministers at the North had been raising money to equip emigrants with Sharpe’s rifles, they present each man of Buford’s battalion with a more powerful weapon-the Bible.

The wallets came out at once for such a worthy cause, but it transpired that Montgomery did not have enough Bibles to go around. In lieu of securing the Good Book then and there, the organizers handed their money over to Buford in the hopes that he would buy them on the road. The only Bible that appears to have changed hands on the occasion came from the organizer of the fund drive. The Reverend I.T. Tichenor presented “a large Bible” to Buford himself and asked the company to comport themselves according to Scripture, or at least the proslavery passages. Buford in turn expected that right would make might. Songs followed and then everyone got together for a march off to the Messenger, which would steam the strapping lads away to their glory.

Five thousand waited to see Buford’s party off, accompanied by “a band of negro musicians”. They marched to the docks carrying banners emblazoned “THE SUPREMACY OF THE WHITE RACE”. Henry W. Hilliard had a few parting words, delivered whilst standing on a bale of cotton, finishing up with

Providence may change our relations to the inferior race, but the principle is eternal-the supremacy of the white race.

I imagine most people got the message from all that, literate or not. When the Messenger reached Mobile, they also got their promised Bibles.

 

The Buford Expedition, Part Eight: A Parade

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Fleming’s paper is available here (PDF) or in Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume IV (huge PDF).

Previous Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

 

Jefferson Buford and his men reached Montgomery, where the town held a reception for him. In light of Franklin Pierce’s proclamation for law and order in Kansas, Buford decided that his “regiment” would not go armed to Kansas. He would bring able-bodied fighting men, but no guns. That should keep him right by the president, though it might disappoint his men. They had abolitionists to kill along with land to claim and making the former harder might very well have dampened their ardor for the latter some. Others had suffered such cruel disappointments.

Maybe Buford meant his decision. Maybe he just put it out for public consumption. Either way, the day after the Montgomery reception he tread his men to festivities that may have done something to reassure them that they had joined a proper filibustering outfit and not some weak-kneed emigration business:

Major Buford formed his party in line in front of the Madison House on Market street, and addressed them, urging that they abstain from intoxicating liquors and conduct themselves as gentlemen and good citizens. In the afternoon, they were marched to the agricultural fair grounds, where they were divided into companies and temporary officers were elected. Buford was made General

Civil War volunteers originally came by their units much the same way. Someone, usually wealthy and prominent or with friends of that sort, would ask a commission of the state government. With that commission in hand, or in anticipation of it, they would put the word out and collect the bands of young men keen on adventure and manly glory. They would have set mustering place, where their leader might have some words with them about proper soldierly deportment. Then they would elect officers to serve under their distinguished founder. Buford’s participants might have laughed at the idea that they would keep sober and had their own ideas about right conduct, but they would have understood this all as very properly military.

The night after the marching and subdivision, the people of Montgomery held a mass meeting to endorse Buford’s effort. The man himself took to the stage and promised

No force, fraud, or lawlessness was intended or would be tolerated. But if the hired minions of Northern free-soilism and fanaticism brought on a conflict by interfering with their rights, the Southerners would defend themselves and their institutions.

Just what antislavery Kansans could do that Buford and company wouldn’t take as interfering with their rights, I don’t know. Possessing antislavery beliefs in itself probably sufficed to justify force. If Buford really intended any kind of peaceable emigration, the military trappings and his insistence on only men of fighting age coming along seem entirely misplaced. More likely, everyone understood this as the necessary fig leaf. They weren’t going to Kansas to kill abolitionists, exactly, but if they found some -as they fully expected to do- then they might just have a fatal allergic reaction to bullets.

Fairness, however, demands we admit one thing. If the antislavery Kansans abandoned their government, their newspapers, their activism, their leaders, and all their beliefs to go all in for slavery, Buford’s people wouldn’t have any cause to treat them poorly. Civilized men could disagree about weighty matters without recourse to arms, so long as those matters didn’t include slavery.

The Buford Expedition, Part Seven: Pierce Rains on the Parade

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Fleming’s paper is available here (PDF) or in Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume IV (huge PDF).

Previous Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

 

Jefferson Buford had his money and his men. He named places to gather and aimed to set out for Kansas in April, 1856. From the start, Buford planned a military expedition. In January, he informed the world that he would take no noncombants and outlined an organization which would have companies and officers. This all put him into a very awkward position come February, when Franklin Pierce issued his law and order proclamation, where he specifically called out

persons residing without the Territory, but near its borders, contemplate armed intervention in the affairs thereof; it also appearing that other persons, inhabitants of remote States, are collecting money, engaging men, and providing arms for the same purpose

Contemplating armed intervention in Kansas affairs? Collecting money? Engaging men? Providing arms? From remote states? This has as much Jefferson Buford as Ely Thayer written all over it, though given Pierce’s record he almost certainly intended only antislavery emigrant aid operations. Still, the president

call[ed] on the citizens, both of adjoining and of distant States, to abstain from unauthorized intermeddling in the local concerns of the Territory, admonishing them that its organic law is to be executed with impartial justice, that all individual acts of illegal interference will incur condign punishment, and that any endeavor to intervene by organized force will be firmly withstood.

Most probably, Pierce would still do nothing against Missourians. Buford’s party might warrant different treatment, particularly with how he had spread it all over the papers and talked openly about how they would go to fight. Should the proslavery president and the proslavery filibuster come into conflict, that might end awkwardly for everyone. Thus Buford sent out the word in March that his men would not go to Kansas armed.

Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce

That settled, they got going. At Buford’s hometown, Eufaula, a hundred men departed on March 31. Buford himself led them out. They stopped at Columbus, Georgia, and collected almost as many again. Some opted to pay their own way and set off straight for Kansas via Nashville, but Buford’s party made it to Montgomery as planned, arriving on April 4.

There were now collected here about three hundred and fifty men, of whom one hundred were from South Carolina, fifty were Georgians, one was from Illinois, one from Boston, and the rest were Alabamians. The Alabama Journal of this date characterizes the emigrants collected in Montgomery as a superior class of young men, quiet, gentlemanly, temperate. Later, some members of the party seem not to have deserved this praise.

Montgomery rolled out the welcome mat for Buford and company, hosting a reception where his lieutenant Alpheus Baker gave “a stirring address” that sounds like a standard proslavery affair: ever since the Missouri Compromise, the South had suffered under “unjust” laws and abolitionist attack. The final battle of the sections would come in Kansas, where

Her chivalrous sons must come to the rescue, to uphold and maintain their constitutional rights and protect their institutions.