Deputy Fain calls at Lawrence

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

After a free state man named Jones got shot for leaving the vicinity of Lawrence to get some flour, a small group of young men had the idea to go out and see just what happened. If they got there in time, they might find the guilty parties and at least question them. The plan may have worked, as they came to Blanton’s Bridge and found two proslavery men riding away. They exchanged words and then gunfire, which led to one of their number, Stewart, going the way of Jones. His friends brought him back to Lawrence, which only then learned of their expedition. They wanted to put Steward in the Free State Hotel, where Thomas Barber had lain. One of the Eldridges put a stop to that and he ended up at a guard post.

Placing Stewart in the hotel might have implied a kind of endorsement and so refusing might have made good sense on its merits, but just then we must consider another factor. Deputy US Marshal W. P. Fain, the Georgian who had tried to arrest Andrew Reeder had come to Lawrence. According to the memorial that the town later wrote explaining things to Franklin Pierce, signed by S.W. Eldridge, he entered town on May 20, 1856, and gave his thoughts on what would soon come. Marshal Donaldson and his posse would arrive in due course and

the printing presses would be destroyed, but that the Eldridge House would be spared.

Fain only told what Donaldson had promised back at Lecompton in the days prior. He would do what he could for the hotel, full of the Eldridge’s furniture, but the proslavery mob would demand some kind of satisfaction. Judge Lecompte’s grand jury had condemned the presses, so they had to go.

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

Neither the memorial nor Phillips go into any detail how Fain may have played into their calculations with regard to Stewart’s body, but Phillips puts the Deputy Marshal in the building at just that moment. Though I can only speculate here, it seems likely that the Eldridges didn’t want Fain to make a connection between their establishment and recent violence. It wouldn’t take much for word to get around and placing the body of a just slain free state man in the hotel could only underline how their antislavery enemies used it as a headquarters.

That consideration aside, Phillips declares that

the citizens of Lawrence had made no preparations for defence, and, as the marshal, who had charge of the posse, was a United States officer, they determined to make none. The people clamored, and wished that the hordes of villains be driven back, but it was overruled. Companies were formed in different parts of the territory, and some of them marched towards Lawrence, but their services were refused by the committee.

Given the desperation of Lawrence’s previous attempts to enlist Governor Shannon and Donaldson himself in their defense, and that they had long feared a collision with United States forces even as they accepted the risk of a fight with irregulars and territorial militia, that makes perfect sense. Some hotheads might want any fight they could get, firm in the belief that right would make might, but the Committee of Safety had other ideas.

 

Indecision in Lawrence

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

J.B. Donaldson, US Marshal for the territory of Kansas, had warrants to serve on various free state leaders who lived in and about Lawrence. Serving the process of a federal court, in this case Samuel Lecompte’s district court for the territory, formed an ordinary part of his duties. He couldn’t not do it but, if he had any interest in doing it peacefully and limiting the action to his official obligations, he might have done better to summon a small posse and go in with a dozen or so armed friends. He chose instead to make use of the proslavery forces already gathering for a move against Lawrence, calling on them by a proclamation. They would converge in Lecompton and then march on the antislavery town.

They got wind of that in Lawrence and pleaded with Wilson Shannon, governor of Kansas, to come to their rescue. Shannon would happily give them all the help they required, if only they would disarm themselves and disband their defenses in the face of a force bent on their destruction. This, William Phillips thought, constituted a declaration of war. Donaldson’s force, summoned on the eleventh of May, 1856, would take at least a short while to arrive. That gave the committee of safety time to try something else, but they had no consensus on that next step. Ever since they learned of the proclamation, via Phillips, they differed on whether to even mount a defense of the town. Cyrus Holiday though the effort a waste because the farmers who had come in the winter could not come at planting time. The businessmen who had given Lawrence help then had not yet received full payment and so would not send still more. Still others thought they ought to get together their own posse, a few hundred strong, and offer it to Donaldson in lieu of his own. While at Lecompton, they could even requisition some weaponry from the stores at the territorial capital.

But Lawrence could hardly pass up a chance for a public meeting, which John Wakefield presided over. It resolved

that the allegations and charges against us, contained in the aforesaid proclamation, are wholly untrue in fact, and the conclusion which is drawn from them. The aforesaid deputy marshal was resisted in no manner whatever, nor by any person whatever, in the execution of said writs, except by him whose arrest the said deputy marshal was seeking to make. And that we now, as we have done heretofore, declare our willingness and determination, without resistance, to acquiesce in the service upon us of any judicial writes against us by the United States Marshal for Kansas Territory, and will furnish him with a posse for that purpose, if so requested; but that we are ready to resist, if need be, unto death, the ravages and desolation of an invading mob.

John A Wakefield

John A. Wakefield

Lawrence did have the facts on its side. When Fain came to arrest Andrew Reeder, no one abused him. Reeder declined to go, but Fain then parted still untroubled. He came back to Lawrence the next day, a fresh warrant in hand, and once again left unharmed. Everyone in town knew that and probably few people in Kansas could have missed the difference between Fain’s work and Samuel Jones’, the latter of whom did see armed resistance until he brought in the Army and subsequently caught a bullet in the back.

Two Roads to Lawrence

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

When Wilson Shannon, Governor of Kansas, told the people of Lawrence that they could disarm themselves in the face of an armed foe bent on their destruction if they wanted him to lift a finger to save them, he claimed the only danger they might face came from a legally-constituted posse. Under ordinary circumstances, and if the governor had burdened himself with facts, one might not find much to quarrel with in that. For a governor to interfere with the work of the courts must raise suspicions of executive usurpation. But Lawrence faced rather more than a posse, and when confronted with a posse of United States dragoons, the town had offered no direct resistance.

Lawrence came to all of this by two roads simultaneously. Samuel Jones, the proslavery sheriff, came into the town to apprehend Samuel Wood. Wood, a free state militia officer, had rescued fellow officer Jacob Branson from Jones’ custody back in December. This even precipitated the first campaign against Lawrence. Wood declined to go with Jones and a scuffle ensued, which deprived Jones of a pistol. Wood and the men who helped him get free from Jones promptly made themselves scarce. Jones applied to the 1st Cavalry for help, securing about a dozen soldiers who went back into Lawrence with him, searched the town and surrounds, and found none of his original quarry. He arrested about ten others and camped in town. Someone shot him in the back. Jones survived, but the proslavery press reported his death.

Samuel Newitt Wood

Samuel Newitt Wood

Jones’ travail by itself may have caused the invasion, just as his previous had, but the federal government became more directly involved when Samuel Lecompte’s grand jury summoned the entire free state leadership for questioning, with execution to follow. Serving Lecompte’s warrants did not fall to Jones or his office, as he served only the territorial government. Lecompte had his appointment direct from Franklin Pierce. He presided over the First District Court of the United States for Kansas Territory and so could call on the US Marshals to handle his process. Lecompte did in the person of J.B. Donelson (also rendered as Donaldson in some sources), an Illinoisian whom William Phillips called

a comparatively illiterate and informed man,. and, judging from his manner of acting in his official capacity, totally devoid of the legal knowledge necessary to dignify his office. […] He is a man past middle age, of coarse, unintellectual face, and, from his looks, ought never to have held a station above that of town constable; he would not have been too well qualified for that.

Ugly and unqualified or not, Donelson passed the matter of Lecompte’s warrants over to a Georgian named Fain. Fain tried to serve one against Andrew Reeder, then working with the Howard Committee. Reeder dismissed Fain’s summons on technical grounds, so he returned the next day with a warrant for contempt of court. Reeder declined to go with him because he had privilege from arrest, that the summons would impede his work with the committee -Lecompte probably agreed-, and that he would find his murder while in the custody of proslavery men inconvenient just then. Meanwhile, the rest of those with warrants against them began to depart Lawrence for safer pastures. Reeder soon followed.

William Addison Phillips

William Addison Phillips

According to Phillips, Fain did not let matters sit there. Instead of going back to Lecompton to report his failure,

he went down to Franklin, where at that time a band of Southerners, under Capt. Moon, were stationed. There the alarm was given, and soon scouts were sent to Missouri to gather in the Southerners still stationed there.

Last time around, Jones had gone from losing Branson straight to Franklin to write Missouri for help. Now Fain had done the same. Where Jones could claim the mantle of the territorial government and militia for his first campaign, the second could proceed with the imprimatur of the federal courts.

“There is more abolition wolf-bait.” The Shooting of J.N. Mace, Part One

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

We left off with a retrospective on how the proslavery border ruffians had pushed indifferent and even sympathetic Kansans into the free state camp by their heavy-handed, sometimes deadly, actions to force slavery upon the territory. George Brown, or rather his associate editor J.H. Greene as Brown had left Kansas on business, published it in the Herald of Freedom as part of a general appeal for help from the East. He and his fellow free state men expected a new invasion in short order and feared that this time, Wilson Shannon would send the 1st Cavalry out of Fort Leavenworth after them as well. They came to those dire straits courtesy of proslavery sheriff Samuel Jones, who came to Lawrence to arrest Samuel Wood. Wood had rescued his fellow free state militia leader, Jacob Branson, from Jones’ custody back in December. As soon as Wood got back to Kansas, Jones went to take him in. Wood refused to oblige, leading to Jones coming back with some of the cavalry as bodyguards. Wood and his accomplices fled Lawrence in advance of that, but someone shot Jones in the back while he camped in town.

Almost simultaneously, proslavery judge Samuel Lecompte got a grand jury to summon the entire free state leadership on suspicion of treason, usurpation of office, and other charges. The jury also declared Brown’s paper a public menace which deserved suppression. Free state governor Charles Robinson left on the 9th. The free state’s senator-elect/delegate to Congress, Andrew Reeder took off shortly thereafter on learning that the previous plan for him to serve as a test case would likely end in his death.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

Before he left, Brown made sure everyone got the point. After his item recapping Kansas shift into the antislavery camp, he detailed the first attempted arrest of Reeder. Then came an item on Pardee Butler’s late travails. Butler had nothing to do with the free state government except preferring it as a private individual. Brown identifies J.N. Mace as a free state man like Butler, but calls him a captain. That implies militia leadership, which might have made him a larger target. Mace came into Lawrence on April 29, 1856, to testify before the Howard Committee. That night he sat at home until his dog raised a ruckus. Mace went to see what had happened, and

walked but a short distance from the door, when several shots were fired at him, one taking effect in his leg, near the top of his boot. The shot paralyzed his leg, and so stunned him that he fell to the ground. Two persons, who were concealed in a gully close at hand, hereupon made good their escape, one of them remarking, “there is more abolition wolf-bait.”

Unlike Brown’s story of highway robbery, this has a sound ring of truth to it. Mace did testify before the Committee and by naming him Brown invites people to check his facts. Mace suffered for “several hours” before he could get back indoors. Brown called the wound “severe” but not life-threatening, so in theory anybody nearby could go see for themselves.

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.

The Fuss and William Phillips, Part Seven

William Phillips

William Phillips

Parts 123, 4, 5, 6

On the seventeenth of May, 1855, William Phillips finally got his lynching after weeks of waiting. It involved real tar and real feathers, despite his earlier suggestion that they use molasses. He probably could have waited longer, decades even, but the mob would not. Phillips had not left Leavenworth as ordered, after all. Furthermore, they had an election coming up on the twenty-first. They had Phillips to blame for that so they might as well use him to set an example for others.

Matthew France and Adam Fisher both had Phillips example in mind when they went to serve as judges of the special election. Avoiding it would have required fairly heroic measures considering only a few days had gone by. Both reference it in their testimony. If they did not go along with J.M. Lyle, their fellow judge and a member of the lynch mob, things could go very badly for them. France would take the risk, but Fisher demurred.

But one could draw a different lesson from the proslavery terrorism. It took weeks for the mob to work up to seizing Phillips and working their will. He twice before faced simple notice that he should leave, and once got out of trouble thanks to a shortage of tar and feathers and a promise that he would go eventually. When the mob did strike, they had to carry him over to Missouri to do their work and a marshal in Leavenworth tried to get together a rescue party to come save him.

McNamara reports that after his lynching

Phillips returned to Leavenworth, but the editorial corps dare not go back for some days, the indignation at Leavenworth was so great against them.

The Mayor of the city of Weston called a meeting to consider the steps, if any were to be taken, with reference to the disgraceful proceeding. The Mayor declared that he would resign, if such riotous conduct was approved by the citizens generally. A large meeting was held, and a most exciting debate took place, but the proceedings were finally disapproved of by the majority of the people.

Even in the town where the lynching finally happened, plenty of discontent apparently existed. The same area had refused to chase out Frederick Starr not that long ago. One could favor slavery, even strongly favor it, and not approve of lynching whites. Phillips himself had lived under threat for weeks without threat turning to reality. France doesn’t tell us that he took that risk by calculating from Phillips’ example, but he did have those facts before him.

Samuel Lecompte

Samuel Lecompte

The official reaction in Leavenworth leaned heavily toward approval. George F. Warren

saw Phillips the next morning. He had just finished getting tar off him and was running bullets. One side of his head was shaved. These men were never punished for this offence. They were at one time brought before Judge Lecompte and bound over to keep the peace. He said it was his duty to remove the clerk and prevent the lawyers from practicing at the bar, but he would not do it for that time. To my knowledge they were never indicted or tried. Most of them are still living in the Territory and holding office.

One can imagine Lecompte, chief justice of the territorial supreme court and speaker at one of the anti-Phillips meetings, wagging his finger at the the mob and telling them that next time he would have to pull the wagon over and come back there. They would then act properly chastised and take him out for drinks later on. A. Payne practically bragged about having impunity on the matter:

To my knowledge, no one has been arrested, tried, or examined for the mobbing of Phillips […] These acts were done by persons well known, and no effort was made to conceal the persons or the acts.

Secrecy  would have defeated their purpose. If one did not toe the proslavery line in Leavenworth, one now had named protagonists who would come and punish as they liked. No law would save you. Making a stand meant taking a serious risk, whatever McNamara told his readers about other people objecting to vigilante terrorism. Lynching would abuse, terrify, and possibly kill the victim but lynch mobs had the larger goal. Through the fear of violence they would control those would who not otherwise comply, in far greater numbers than they could ever lynch.