“A perfect levee” The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part Five

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

The Hunt, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

The Escape, parts 1, 23, 4

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder began his flight from Kansas, ahead of an order for his arrest and in fear for his life at the hands of his would-be captors, on May 9, 1856. He did not cross the Mississippi to Illinois until the night of May 26, landing a ways above Alton. There Reeder, no longer disguised, got a ride to Jerseyville, arranged a hotel room in the open and spent mercifully just the one night instead of the near two weeks he had hidden in a Kansas City hotel. At Brighton, he boarded a train for Chicago.

Reeder found Fogg and his baggage on the train, as planned. It turned out that luck had kept him from most of his belongings. While the ex-governor and his escort skulked through the Missouri woods the night previous,

the ruffians had broken open my trunk at Lawrence, stolen and put on my clothes, and chased Chapin, of Ohio, as he came out of the hotel, calling out that it was me, firing at him, and threatening to kill him; and there was a universal determination expressed among them to kill me.

Good for Reeder that he’d fled when he did.

At Chicago, Reeder got a hero’s welcome:

People came in crowds to look at and welcome me. In the evening, as I lay asleep on a sofa, a gentleman waked me up to say that there were a thousand people in front of the hotel calling for me. Went out on the balcony, was received with cheers upon cheers, made them a speech, and was kept all evening shaking hands. Had a perfect levee.

All of this makes Reeder sound a bit like a rock star to us, but the nineteenth century had the idea first. they called assembling where a politician you liked stayed and calling on him to come out and give a speech a serenade. Terming the ensuing reception a levee goes back at least to the Washington administration, where the first president endured them almost endlessly.

The 29th caw Reeder in Bloomington, where Illinois’ Kansas movement held a convention. There he met Sara Robinson, to his understandable surprise given her husband remained in proslavery custody, and addressed the assembly for two and a half hours. On the thirtieth and back in Chicago, Reeder went out and got his picture taken in his disguise “for my dear wife.” Reeder’s disguise, a footnote on his diary informs us, came in the original except for the hat and ax. Those he bought in Chicago.

The cause beckoned. At both Bloomington and Chicago, Reeder called for ten thousand free state men and two hundred dollars each “to equip and provision them for a year.” He hoped to see Illinois provide a thousand of them, half from Chicago and half the rest of the state. Afterwards, Reeder heard from a Major Jones that if the cash appeared, he could guarantee three hundred.

Heartened by that good news, Reeder

Slept to-night in a good bed – the first time I have done so, or had my clothes off, since the 22d.

The next day, Kansas fugitive ex-governor went to Detroit by rail and promptly got mobbed by admirers “who pressed all kinds of good offices upon me.” The Attorney General and Treasurer of Michigan called on him. Considering Reeder joined up with the antislavery cause to revive his political career and had just suffered so lengthy and trying a flight for his troubles, he must have found the reception incredibly gratifying.

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A Dark and Stormy Night: The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part Four

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

The Hunt, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

The Escape, parts 1, 2, 3

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder had a new problem. He had made it to a steamboat and gone down the Missouri river nigh unto St. Louis, but his proslavery bedmate may have seen through his ax-wielding disguise. Said nocturnal companion, a man named Ross, left the boat before St. Louis despite having paid all the way through. Reeder saw him go straight to the train station and put two and two together: Ross aimed to catch a train and get to St. Louis ahead of him. Then he could meet Reeder with a warrant in hand and the fugitive governor-turned-delegate would end up back in Kansas, possibly killed before a treason trial could sentence him to hang.

Reeder conspired with the captain of the boat, first to transfer him to another vessel, then to find a guide to take him of to Illinois by land. At this point, the Mr. Fogg that Reeder had spent the past few days avoiding enters into the story. Fogg knew Reeder by sight and the ex-governor suspected that his disguise did nothing to change that. Reeder went to him and so finally tells the reader Fogg’s deal. For once, Reeder had ducked an ally rather than a proslavery man:

Saw Fogg, who says two young men from Lawrence are upstairs, who will go with me. Captain could get no guide, but had the route described.

If Reeder couldn’t get a guide, at least he could get a few bodyguards. Arrangements made, he went out and waited on the deck. With the boat crowded, Reeder “Had great difficulty” getting to where he could change. Even with Ross gone and Fogg an ally, he had other men giving him the hairy eyeball. Finally, Reeder tried feigning sleep and that convinced two of his watchers to call it a night.

I thought all had turned in, and was thinking of soon slipping out, having arranged with the captain that the steward should be on the watch if anyone got up to follow me, when, to my great chagrin, the captain came noisily along the cabin, and up to my berth, and nudged me to get up. I was vexed, as I was sure this would attract the attention I had taken so much care to elude.

With no helping it, Reeder pretended to go looking for another spot to sack out and then slipped upstairs. There he found the promised guard absent. Andrew Reeder just could not catch a break. Making the best of it, he went to the cabin of his guards, Bassett and Brackett.

To add to the chance of detection, the captain followed me there.

Of course he did.

Reeder changed his clothes and got the news from his new companions that a pair of men on the deck stood guard.  He had had quite enough and resolved to go anyway, “and if followed to fight it out.” His guards had no weapons, but Kansas’ first governor had a pair of revolvers and a knife that he shared around.

A violent thunder storm came up, and in it, toward the close, we put out the lights and started. The woods being close to the share we stopped in them to see if we were followed. Waited a short time; no one came off the boat, and we struck through the woods; lost the road twice; traveled on, and finally, at 8 o’ clock A.M., struck the Mississippi river fifteen miles above Alton. Got a man to take us across in a skiff.

 

 

A Troublesome Bedmate: The Escape of Andrew Reeder, Part Three

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

Andrew Reeder, in disguise

The Hunt, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

The Escape, parts 1, 2

Reeder’s diary.

Andrew Reeder had come a long way from Easton, Pennsylvania. Franklin Pierce made him governor of Kansas Territory, where he tried to enact popular sovereignty. His limited, ultimately futile quest to let the white men who lived in Kansas decide the territory for or against slavery ended with the proslavery Kansans getting President Pierce to fire him. The deposed governor then meant to quit Kansas for good, but the free state movement approached him to serve as their spokesman in Washington. Reeder dictated terms, but ultimately agreed. He would start out as their delegate, to become Senator when they secured admission as Kansas sole government. That put him in Washington with credentials from an illegal government that most Kansans supported. There he collided with John Wilkins Whitfield, who had delegate’s credentials from the legal government that most Kansans rejected. To sort this all out, the House of Representatives dispatched a committee to investigate on Kansas’ troubles, with Reeder and Whitfield arguing their respective cases.

Judge Samuel Lecompte put an end to Reeder’s tenure with the committee by getting a grand jury to order him taken in for questioning and optional murder before his likely treason trial, which would surely have put him at the end of a rope. Reeder, like other free state leaders, promptly fled. A series of close calls and frustrating waits had at last put Kansas’ first governor on a steamboat headed for St. Louis, from which he hoped to get the word out that the Missourians had come to Kansas again, this time for blood, and the free state movement needed all the men, money, and guns that the North could spare.

John Wilkins Whitfield

John Wilkins Whitfield

Reeder boarded his boat disguised as an Irish woodchopper, complete with axe. There he found himself in trouble again. Border Ruffians occupied much of the boat, including the comfortable parts. Thus Reeder had to sleep on the deck, sharing his berth with a proslavery man who he thought saw through his disguise. Worse still, a Mr. Fogg shared the boat with them and seems to have known Reeder on sight. Three or four others might also have suspected they had a false Irishman on their hands.

Monday, May 26, 1856, brought another close call. Fogg tried to chat the fugitive delegate up. Reeder “walked away from him.” Fogg didn’t force the matter, but so visibly giving him the cold shoulder can’t have made Reeder stand out any less. On top of that, Reeder expected the boat to reach St. Louis that night, so he wanted to change into his proper clothes. The captain of the boat knew all about Reeder’s situation and one of the governor’s allies had his valise and a trunk on board for just such an occasion.

Reeder doesn’t say why he wanted to change. He may have had people who expected him in St. Louis but didn’t know him by sight. A dirty-faced woodsman might have trouble proving himself a recipient of past Democratic patronage.  Whatever his reasons, Reeder’s plan again hit a snag. The boat stopped at Jefferson City and Reeder watched people coming and going. There he saw Ross, his bedmate, disembark with carpet bag in hand.

Watching, I observed that he went direct to the railroad depot. This being about 11 A.M., it was plain that he could get to St. Louis before evening and have a warrant for me so as to arrest me at once.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

No one could blame Reeder for paranoia after so long on the run, but that does look like bad news. Reeder consulted the captain and learned he couldn’t get to St. Louis before seven in the morning; he planned to stay the night at St. Charles. The two men hatched a plan to get Reeder into the cabin that night, then transfer him to a boat that they would meet in the morning which could take the former governor by St. Louis and over to Alton, on the Illinois side.

On further reflection, concluded this was not safe, as, if a warrant was out, they would look for me on that boat or at Alton.

Reeder may not have known that a mob out of St. Louis killed Elijah Lovejoy in Alton a few decades back. He doesn’t mention it and proximity alone would give adequate cause for concern. Either way, Reeder didn’t want to risk it and saw the captain again. This time he wanted the captain to see a fellow at the woodyard where the boat had laid up for the night about a guide to get Reeder through to Alton by land and beat the boat, which would let him hop on a train and make his getaway.