A Closer Look at the Free State Hotel

The rules for guests at the Free State Hotel, May 10, 1856

We left the Free State Hotel a burned ruin, after attempts to level it with cannon fire and blow it sky-high with gunpowder failed. Before Samuel Jones and his proslavery army destroyed the place, it featured occasionally in the Kansas story. To Jones and men like him, the Emigrant Aid Company had built a fortress that might withstand any assault. To their free state enemies, it appears just as a large building. A stone building of considerable size could easily serve both roles. Before leaving the building behind, we should take a closer look. For that, I rely upon Martha B. Caldwell’s The Eldridge House, published in volume nine of the Kansas Historical Quarterly (PDF page 363).

The New England Emigrant Aid Company might have had trouble with its finances, but its board knew that people they sent to Kansas would need somewhere to stay while they looked for claims and built their own houses. The plan envisioned several hotels, each capable of housing three hundred people. The board entrusted Samuel Pomeroy, the same Pomeroy who Jones spoke to on the day the hotel burned, with buying sawmills and building those hotels on August 26, 1854. The first Company party arrived in Lawrence on Septemeber 15 of that year and they built the first hotel

by setting up two rows of poles a distance apart and bringing them together at the top, then thatching the sides with prairie hay. The gable ends were built up with sod and contained the doors and windows. The floor was hard sod.

Luxury had yet to arrive in Kansas, but sod floors and walls didn’t set the hotel far apart from the general run of frontier building. Community functions, including church services, took place there until it burned. Its replacement went on the same lines, but with higher walls and cotton cloth lining the interior. Nobody intended for the sod-walled tent to remain indefinitely and the Aid Company’s trustees asked Pomeroy and Charles Robinson to get moving with a proper building. By November 2, they had managed to dig the cellar out.

Charles Lawrence Robinson

Construction faced many obstacles, taking nineteen months and never quite reaching a full opening. The Company often ran out of money, with Robinson informing the board that construction stopped in part for that reason at the end of November. The mill that Pomeroy had set up couldn’t keep up with the demand of private customers, so lumber had to come up the river from St. Louis. Kansas’ turmoil can’t have sped things along either. One can forgive the difficult logistics of the Kansas frontier, but Caldwell believes the men in charge also distracted themselves with land speculation and points to the Company later refusing agents the freedom to conduct private business and revoking permission from Pomeroy.

All of that meant that the first emigrant parties to come in the spring of 1855 did not find a hotel waiting for them as planned. In January, the Herald of Freedom advised them not to expect the finest lodgings but promised that Lawrence could handle people ready to rough it. Come February, Pomeroy advertised for someone to furnish and run the hotel. Soon enough, Shalor W. Eldridge took up the lease. He already ran the company’s hotel in Kansas City, the same one where Andrew Reeder would hide the next year.

By spring, the basement had walls and waited on lumber but the shortage of that material had grown so acute that it prompted a revision of plans. The Aid Company intended a timber frame building but a perpetual lack of timber made that impossible. Instead they would build in “stone and concrete.” This argues strongly that no one envisioned the Free State Hotel as a fortification, at least until the spring of 1855, but the change of plan in the context of the deteriorating Kansas situation might well have looked like one aimed at military necessity from the outside. By this point the delays had already made the hotel infamous, with Josiah Miller of the Kansas Free State editorializing against it. People passed Lawrence by or left in disgust for lack of proper accommodations and yet the Company refused to either finish the work or sell to someone who would. Flooring, pre-fabricated in St. Louis, and doors arrived in town only on August 19.

At the beginning of October, two floors stood more or less complete, internal walls going up and windows in place. That served well enough to make the building host to social events, starting with a party thrown by the Kansas Rifles boasting elaborate invitations and a hunting contest to feed the guests. Five hundred people attended despite cold, rain, and deep much. They dined on “squirrel, rabbit, prairie chicken, wild turkey, and one roast pig, together with cakes and pastries.” Not much more than a week after, Franklin Coleman killed Charles Dow and the Wakarusa War began. The hotel became a barracks and headquarters, then housed Thomas Barber’s body and the peace talks. The subsequent festivities further put it to good use.

After the Wakarusa War, construction resumed. Putting up plaster and supplying furniture took place in December. By January, rumors circulated that the Free State government might quit Topeka for a more fortified spot. Surely they could get the hotel done by February 15, but that date came and went. In March, “between twenty and thirty men were constantly employed.” Their work concluded by April 12, when the papers reported the end of construction. Caldwell quotes the Herald of Freedom on the hotel’s final form:

50 feet front, 70 feet back; three stories above the basement; contains 50 separate apartments, besides a hall in each story. The basement is divided into three rooms, each 18 feet square -two to be used as pastry and meat kitchens, the other as storehouse or cellar. The first story is 11 feet from floor the ceiling, is divided into 9 rooms; the dining hall 18 feet wide and 47 feet long; hall 9 1/2 feet wide, entire length of building; Gentlemen’s parlor, 18 feet square; Ladies’ parlor, 18 x 20; Reading Room, 18 feet square; Sitting room, 16 x 18; two bed-rooms, 9 feet square; office, 6 x 14 […] stairs leading to the roof, which is flat, and affords a fine promenade and a splendid view of the surrounding scenery. There are thirty or forty port-holes in the walls, which rise above the roof, plugged up now with stones, which can be knocked out with the blow of the butt of a Sharp’s rifle.

The Howard Committee

The military use of the building must have come to mind more and more, even if the original plan involved none of it, but the main focus of the description remains on the hotel amenities. It had outhouses “of the neatest kind” and a partially-built stable which would hold fifty horses and keep your buggy out of the rain. Brown’s paper, which ought to know considering it drew funds from the Emigrant Aid Company too, estimated the cost of the building at over $20,000. The grand opening would take place on the first of May.

Samuel Jones

Eldridge set into furnishing the hotel to meet that date, ordering pieces from St. Louis and Boston. He spent over five thousand dollars, but most of the furniture had yet to arrive when the Howard Committee did. The people of Lawrence loaned him some of their own to spare him embarrassment. I.B. Donaldson and Samuel Jones then intervened. Jones convalesced briefly under the hotel’s roof after his shooting. With all trouble then in the offing, the grand opening did not take place as planned. The Eldridges held out hope all the same, with a set of rules for guests coming off the Herald of Freedom press on May 10. Instead Lecompton’s grand jury declared the Free State Hotel a military edifice and recommended someone do something about it. A recovered Jones lied to the proslavery mob about having an order for the building’s destruction and saw it done.

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“For several days he and his confreres had been engaged in a debauch”

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

David Rice Atchison (D-MO)

William Addison Phillips did not like Samuel Pomeroy, of the Emigrant Aid Society, or Lieutenant Governor Roberts one bit. To hear him tell it, the people of Lawrence had gone to the trouble of burying their five cannons under the foundation of a house. No one would find them there. When Samuel Jones came into town at the head of a posse of twenty men, with a few hundred friends not far off, they could have let him ransack Lawrence all day and he would have left empty handed. Pomeroy, Roberts, and the rest of the committee of safety, didn’t care to risk that and gave up the artillery. They even did some of the digging themselves.

That put Jones in possession of the free state cannons and still in Lawrence, perhaps not the ideal place for a man recently ventilated by a resident to linger with his spoils. He thus ordered the cannons delivered to the camp outside town,

and free-state men were called on to do this ignominious service. Numbers of those whom Jones thus asked haughtily refused. Some of the men with Jones threatened to use their arms, and rode at some of the young men who refused, and threatened them with their bayonets, but did not intimidate them into compliance. A few, less resolute, aided the ruffians to remove the guns.

Phillips anger burns off the page here. At the moment of decision, his neighbors folded like cowards. They even did the border ruffians’ dirty work for them, though only a minority went so far. Perhaps more did at the time and Phillips counted for convenience in his appeal to outraged antislavery people back East. Either way, Lawrence lost its heavy weapons and a few of the Sharpe’s rifles.

While Jones and his posse secured the cannons, the larger body of the posse originally gathered by I.B. Donaldson advanced on Lawrence. The Lawrence memorial, written the next day, has

several hundred men, with United States muskets and fixed bayonets […] taking position in the town.

Phillips names their leaders, Atchison, Buford, Stringfellow, and Colonel Titus, and puts them at the south end of town, “dragging their cannon with them.” They arrayed themselves in formation and Atchison gave a speech.

That great border ruffian, ex-Senator, ex-Vice President of the United States, was not remarkably sober on this important occasion. For several days he and his confreres had been engaged in a debauch, in which, perhaps, they strove to drown their knowledge of better things.

Proslavery men tend toward drunkenness in the accounts of abstemious antislavery types. When you don’t drink at all, any drinking becomes more noticeable. But even friendly sources, and the man himself, have cracked jokes about Bourbon Dave’s habit. A version of this speech floats around the internet in various places, but I’m given to understand much of it was invented after the fact. Phillips himself refers to the issue:

Various reports of this wild speech have been published, but all more or less incorrect.

William Phillips, naturally had the true version.

“I demand that all the arms of Lawrence be given up, or we will bombard the town”

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Sorry for the tardy post, Gentle Readers. I scheduled it incorrectly.

Samuel Jones, process in hand, posse at his back, and fresh off getting shot the last time he came to Lawrence, had probably gave more than a little thought to revenge on May 21, 1856. W.P. Fain had come, made arrests, and gone. Jones still had his pretense to attend to and meant to see himself revenged on Lawrence. He inherited Marshal Donaldson’s posse and rode into town with about twenty of them, arriving about three in the afternoon. Jones made for the Free State Hotel and there called out Samuel Pomeroy.

William Phillips recounts their conversation:

Pomeroy came out and shook hands with him. [Jones.]

“Gen. Pomeroy,” said Jones, “I recognize you as one of the leading citizens here, and as one who can act for the people of Lawrence. I demand that all the arms of Lawrence be given up, or we will bombard the town.” Jones here took out his watch, and continued: “I give you five minutes to decide on this proposition, and half an hour to stack the arms in the streets.”

Jones had pulled this ultimatum off before, giving the judges of election five minutes to vacate, let anyone who offered vote without swearing that they lived in Kansas, or die at the hands of his mob. Pomeroy, like the judges then, asked more time. The year since the legislative elections and his own shooting must have hardened Jones; he refused to grant even the additional minute he had before. Pomeroy went into the hotel and discussed the issue with the committee of safety, for what little they had to discuss:

Jones, with an army at his back, thirsting for blood and plunder; the committee, who had provided no means of defence, and who had only a handful of men in Lawrence, who, if they attempted to resist, would merely be butchered, unless the invaders were cowards!

An answer came back before the Sheriff called down a bombardment. Lawrence would surrender her cannons, but the rifles and other arms belonged to the men who held them. The committee had no authority to demand their surrender. Jones would have to go person to person and ask each one.

The memorial that Lawrence sent off to Franklin Pierce tells things a little differently, with some portion of the rifles accepted as community property and so surrendered while others, still private property, remained with their owners. The memorialists, writing for a hostile audience in the White House, stress their submission as much as Phillips excoriates it. For Jones to just take the cannons and let go the rifles, which loomed large in proslavery imaginations, seems improbable. Phillips does refer to some rifles taken up later, but not as part of a general surrender. He may have the same arms in mind as the memorialists, each writer slanting the facts to suit their present audience. For Phillips, righteous Kansas led by cowards in the absence of the usual heroes cave without a fight. Antislavery Americans rally to their defense. For the memorialists, submitting to the law and doing all their enemies asked might move a hostile president to take a softer line against them. Either version could be true; both agree that Lawrence lost its cannons:

The artillery in question consisted of the twelve-pound brass howitzer, brought into Lawrence so gallantly during the Wakarusa war, and some four other small brass breech-loading cannon, carrying a pound ball.

Phillips describes the four smaller field pieces as “nearly useless” but doesn’t miss the chance to go after the Committee for giving them up. He informs the reader that Lawrence had buried all the cannons beneath a house, where no one would think to look. Pomeroy and Lieutenant Governor Roberts thus gave them up gratuitously.

The Return of Samuel Jones

 

Samuel Jones

Samuel Jones

Dine and dash aside, W.P. Fain had come and gone from Lawrence. Two members of the committee of safety, Topliff and Perry, had their house burgled while they aided him with making his arrest. But no one had died yet that day. The Free State Hotel still stood. The printing presses remained untroubled. If the day kept on like this, then the second campaign against Lawrence might suffer only a single death in excess of the one that the first campaign had seen. Robert S. Kelley would go home cruelly disappointed yet again.

Colonel Topliff carried yet another letter off to I.B. Donaldson, in command of the hostile force, pleading for the security of Lawrence and repeating all the town’s capitulations. If nothing else, Donaldson now had his men. The Marshal could declare victory and go home. Up on Mount Oread, where Fain took his prisoners, some speech making went on. The deputy himself took to the stump and said, according to William Phillips, that he had no further use for his posse

but that Sheriff Jones had some processes to serve, and that they would hold themselves in readiness to go with him.

In the weeks since his shooting, Jones had recovered enough to sit a horse and make himself a menace again. Phillips takes a paragraph to mock Jones’ injury, noting correctly that the proslavery press declared him murdered. The crowd greeted the sheriff “with enthusiastic cheering.” Lawrence had not gotten clear of trouble after all.

Phillips, writing a few months later, castigates the “Safety Valve” for their capitulations. His condemnation goes on for better than a page about their cowardice, their surrender to territorial authority, and all the rest. This, he deemed, worthy of apology on account of “their extreme peril” but impossible to justify. Even if one could muster a justification, he then insisted that the people would never have supported such a ruinous course. To prove the point, he accuses the committee of fraud:

It is proper to state that several of those men whose names are attached to the document declare that it had not their assent. Messrs. Allen, Babcock, Mallory, and Grover, repudiate, and declare they did not sign it; some of these admitting that they signed a paper that forenoon, but know of no part of such a document sustaining or submitting to the territorial laws. I have been informed that Dr. Prentiss was not present when it was drafted.

If Phillips and his informants told the truth, rather than fixing their reputations after the fact, then only Samuel Pomeroy and W.Y. Roberts endorsed Lawrence’s last appeal. It would not stop Samuel Jones. He may have had process to serve, but he surely wanted revenge and had previously taken any pretext to move against Lawrence. Jones had threatened the lives of antislavery Kansans all the way back to the legislative elections more than a year ago. Even if a letter could save Lawrence from I.B. Donaldson, one would not sway Sheriff Jones.

More Bad News: The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Eight

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

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

Reeder’s diary.

May 15, 1856 found Andrew Reeder still closeted in a hotel in Kansas City, “elaborately cared for” by various ladies who would bring him food, flowers, “and attend to all my comforts.” All in all, Kansas’ free state delegate to Congress found it downright comfortable if he set aside the great issue of the day. He needed to be off raising support for the free state cause, not stuck in western Missouri. He also missed his “idolized, noble wife” and “precious, dearly-loved children.” That he had sent G.P. Lowrey ahead of him to bring news to his family, as well as lay down a false trail that might help Reeder escape wore on him as well. When Lowrey delivered his news, they would know their patriarch as a man on the run and in danger.

Reeder had news that the dragnet continued to tighten around Kansas. G.W. Brown remained a prisoner at Westport. Proslavery men stopped ordinary travelers on the road and stopped the mail for searching.

One traveler, coming down from Lawrence, was stopped on the road, and ordered to open his carpet-bag to see if he had any letters or dispatches from Lawrence, and, as he refused to be searched, it was cut open by the ruffians.

It would not do for the free state party to get news of their plight out in person or paper. More worrying still:

About 100 young men from the South, said to be from South Carolina and Georgia, arrived, as I am told, last evening, all armed and equipped after the fashion of Buford’s men, who, from their appearance, equipments, acts, and conversation, have evidently come, not as emigrants, but only to fight. About half of them went on to Leavenworth, and the residue landed here and went into the Territory, leaving their trunks here with Mr. Taylor, and saying that they did not want them along, as the fight would probably be over in a few weeks, and then they would go back.

Buford’s men, or a very similar group, had work ahead of him. That evening, Reeder got word secondhand from a member of the Blue Lodge that they had another invasion in the offing. They hoped to get together two thousand men and raze Lawrence for good, entering Kansas in small groups and avoiding the major roads to avoid notice until they arrived. They would take the town at night and under the pretext of enforcing indictments against its leaders. Samuel Lecompte had given them those indictments and proslavery men had come to Kansas back in December allegedly to maintain law and order. Thwarted then, the proslavery men would likely press far harder now.

Misdirection and Another Capture: The Hunt for Andrew Reeder, Part Seven

Andrew Horatio Reeder

Andrew Horatio Reeder

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

Reeder’s diary.

We left Andrew Reeder hiding out in a hotel in Kansas City, where he received news of Charles Robinson’s capture on May 13, 1856. Knowing that the proslavery dragnet reached further into Missouri than just the immediate border can’t have settled the delegate’s mind. Up to this point, Reeder had the company of G.P. Lowery. He advised Lowery to leave without him, on the first available boat and in a disguise. But before Lowery departed, the two arranged some misdirection. Reeder

had him to write a letter directed to me at Chicago, and mail it loosely sealed, to induce the belief that I was in the States, by the way of Nebraska and Iowa, as we were confident they would open it. I instructed him also, if he got safe to St. Louis, to telegraph up here that he had heard from me and that I was safe in Chicago.

Nineteenth century postmasters did open and scrutinize mail, most famously to hunt down antislavery publicans for destruction. Settled precedent dating back to Andrew Jackson’s administration blessed such business. Since postmasters received their jobs through patronage rather than from a professional civil service, even any inclined against such censorship had strong incentive to keep in line.

Reeder remained shut up in his room, though it seems that he had plenty of attention. He writes that no less than four ladies “most kindly waited on” him and “took a lively interest in my safety.” Come evening, Colonel Eldridge brought Reeder less enchanting company: the posse which had came for him at Lawrence had arrived at the hotel. The governor turned delegate assured Eldridge that they had a warrant for Reeder valid in Kansas, but not Missouri. Their authority ended at the border and no harm could come to him from helping Reeder out. However, should they come with a Missourian officer and process in hand, then Eldridge should give Reeder up to keep himself out of trouble.

Expecting them to come, I concealed this diary, and made preparations. I remained up, till midnight, and there was a constant running up and down from the street to their room. At 12 o’clock I went to bed and slept soundly.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Kansas’ first governor has sterner nerves than I do. He woke on the morning of the fourteenth to more welcome news. Eldridge came up and told Reeder that the posse had said nothing of him, but instead came for Grosvenor Lowery and Samuel Pomeroy, the latter an agent of the Emigrant Aid Company. But the good news came with some bad:

G.W. Brown, accompanied by Jenkins, had started for Lawrence, and had been stopped on the road by M’Gee’s party of Missourians (without any process, of course), and made prisoners. Have not learned what is done with them.

That day also brought a boat up to Kansas City which departed with great cheers from the town. Reeder thought that Robinson must have come through, but learned instead that Kansas City cheered a marshal’s party starting for Leavenworth. It says something for Reeder’s state of mind that news of an armed band heading into Kansas from Missouri came as a relief, though probably also to the fact that Andrew Reeder consistently stood for the party of Andrew Reeder. He had joined the free state movement late, when deprived of other means for political advance in Kansas, and under the condition that they make his grievance over shady land deals their own.

After a while, Reeder changed rooms for the second time. Things had quieted and the proper residents of the room had been out of it for some time. Anybody could start to wonder. At this point, Reeder hoped no one believed him present and so he might safely move on as soon as he could find a boat with a willing captain, which would remain docked through the night so he could quietly board. With Robinson captured, he needed to get moving regardless. It fell now to him to take up the governor’s mission and seek out the executives of Ohio, Michigan, and maybe even Iowa and Wisconsin to come to aid the free state cause.