Why did the Pottawatomie massacre happen?

Pottawatomie Massacre - Pottawatomie massacre

Violent attack by abolitionists prior to the American Civil War
Pottawatomie massacre
Part of Bleeding Kansas
place Franklin County, Kansas
Coordinates 38 ° 26'14 "N 95 ° 6'32" W /. 38.43722 ° N 95.10889 ° W./38.43722; -95.10889 Coordinates: 38 ° 26'14 "N 95 ° 6'32" W. /. 38.43722 ° N 95.10889 ° W./38.43722; -95.10889
date May 23-26, 1856
aim Settlers who advocate slavery
Cut open, shoot
Deaths 5
Perpetrator John Brown
Pottawatomie Rifles

The Pottawatomie massacre Occurred on the night of May 24-25, 1856. In response to the dismissal of Lawrence, Kansas, by slavery on May 21, and the severe attack on Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, May 22, because Having spoken out against Slavery in Kansas ("The Crime Against Kansas"), John Brown and a group of abolitionist settlers - some of them members of the Pottawatomie Rifles - gave a violent response. North of Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County, Kansas, they killed five slave-friendly settlers in front of their families. This soon became the most famous of the many violent episodes of the "Bleeding Kansas" period, which described a state-level civil war in the Kansas Territory as the "tragic prelude" to the soon-to-follow American Civil War. "Bleeding Kansas" involved settler conflicts for and against slavery as to whether the Kansas Territory would join the Union as a slave state or a free state. It is also John Brown's most questionable act, both for his friends and for his enemies. In the words of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, it was "a terrible cure for a terrible disease".


John Brown was particularly struck by Lawrence's dismissal, in which Douglas County Sheriff Samuel Jones led a group on May 2 that opposed the presses and the type of Kansas Free State and the Herald of Freedom , the two abolitionist newspapers of Kansas, the fortified outdoors, destroyed the State Hotel and the home of Charles Robinson. It was he who was the free state militia commander-in-chief and leader of the "free state" government, founded in opposition to the "false" pro-slavery territorial government, based in Lecompton.

A Douglas County grand jury ordered the attack because the hotel "had been used as a fortress and" arsenal "last winter and the" seditious "newspapers were charged with" urging people to defy the ordinances passed ". by the Territorial Governor. The violence against abolitionists was accompanied by celebrations in the pro-slavery press, with writers such as Dr. John H. Stringfellow dated Squatter Sovereign proclaimed that pro-slavery forces "are determined to fend off this invasion in the north and make Kansas a slave state; our rivers should be covered with the blood of their victims, and the abolitionist carcasses should be so numerous on the territory that." they cause diseases and illnesses that we do not allow ourselves to be deterred from our purpose. "

Brown was outraged by the violence of the slave-friendly forces and what he saw as the weak and cowardly reaction of the anti-slavery partisans and settlers of the Free State, whom he described as "cowards or worse." In addition, two days before this massacre, Brown learned of the beating of abolitionist Charles Sumner by the slave-friendly Preston Brooks on the floor of Congress.


A Free State Company under the command of John Brown Jr. set out and the Osawatomie Company joined them. On the morning of May 22, 1856, they heard of Lawrence's release and the arrests of Deitzler, Brown, and Jenkins. However, they continued their march towards Lawrence, not knowing if their help might still be needed, and camped near Ottawa Creek that night. They stayed around until the afternoon of May 23, when they decided to return home.

On May 23rd, Sr. selected a group to go on a private expedition with him. Captain John Brown Jr. refused to leave his company but saw that his father was persistent and gave in, telling him not to "do anything rash." The company consisted of John Brown, four of his sons - Frederick, Owen, Salmon, and Oliver - Thomas Weiner and James Townsley (who claimed he was forced by Brown to attend the incident), who made John wear the party in his car to their proposed area of ​​operation.

That night they camped between two deep ravines on the edge of the wood, a little to the right of the main road. There they went unnoticed until the following evening on May 24th. Some time after dark, the group left their hiding place and set out on their "secret expedition". Late that evening they called James P. Doyle's house and ordered him and his two adult sons, William and Drury, to go with them as prisoners. (Doyle's 16-year-old son John, who was not a member of the slave-friendly Rhode Island Law and Order Party, was spared after his mother pleaded for his life.) The three men were led outside the darkness by their kidnappers Owen Brown and one of his brothers killed them with broadswords. John Brown Sr. did not take part in the knife stab, but shot the fallen James Doyle in the head to make sure he was dead.

Brown and his band then went to Allen Wilkinson's house and ordered him to leave. He was slashed and stabbed to death by Henry Thompson and Theodore Winer, possibly with the help of Brown's sons. From there they crossed the Pottawatomie and some time after midnight entered James Harris's cabin with sword tips. Harris had three houseguests: John S. Wightman, Jerome Glanville, and William Sherman, the brother of Henry Sherman ("Dutch Henry"), a militant slavery activist. Glanville and Harris were taken outside for questioning and asked if they threatened Free State settlers, supported Missouri Border Ruffians, or participated in Lawrence's release. Satisfied with their answers, Brown's men let Glanville and Harris return to the cabin. However, William Sherman was led to the creek's edge and hacked to death with swords by Winer, Thompson, and Brown's sons.

After learning in Harris' hut that "Dutch Henry", their main target on the expedition, was not at home on the prairie, they ended the expedition and returned to the gorge where they had camped before. They returned to Osawatomie on the night of May 25th.

In the two years prior to the massacre, there were eight slavery-related murders in the Kansas Territory and none near the massacre. Brown killed five in a single night, and the massacre was the powder keg match that sparked the bloodiest period in "Bleeding Kansas" history, a three-month period of retaliation and battles that killed 29 people.

Men killed during the massacre

  • James Doyle and his sons William and Drury
  • Allen Wilkinson
  • William Sherman

A hit

The Potawattomy Massacre was written by William G. Cutler, author of the Kansas State History (1883), referred to as the "crowning horror" of the Bleeding Kansas. "The news of the terrible affair quickly spread across the territory, bringing with it a thrill of horror such as those people used to murder had never felt before ... The news of the event had a deeper one Meaning as having appeared in the abstract atrocity of the act itself ... It meant that the policy of extermination or evil submission so blatantly proclaimed by the pro-slavery press and proclaimed by pro-slavery spokesmen was adopted by had become their enemies, and was about to be enforced with terrible seriousness. It meant that there was a force against the pro-slavery attackers, as cruel and relentless as they were - murder for murder - that "whoever takes the sword will perish by the sword."

Debate about Brown's role and motivation

In the Kansas Territory, Brown's role in the massacre was no secret. A United States Congressional committee investigating the problems in the Kansas Territory identified Brown as the main culprit. However, after John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, Brown's involvement in the Eastern abolitionist press was largely denied. Brown's first biographer, James Redpath, denied Brown's presence in the murders.

Brown's defense lawyers argue that the raid was in retaliation for the execution of a Free Statesman, for the murder of Brown's brother, for the murder of one of Brown's sons and the arrest of another, for the burning of the Free State Settlement in Osawatomie, and for outrage over Browns Wife and daughter, although critics deny that these events happened. The revisionist story of John Brown, motivated in large part by the Confederacy's Lost Cause ideology, has again been challenged.

In response to those who argued the attack was motivated by the threat of violence from the attack's slave-friendly targets, Kansas Governor Charles Robinson stated:

If it is known that such threats in June were as numerous as blueberries on both sides of the entire territory, and considered no more important than the idle wind, this charge will hardly justify the murder of all pro-midnight murders of slave men, threats or not .. If all the men had been killed in Kansas who had made such threats, there would have been no one left to bury the dead.

However, Robinson also said:

They [the Pottawatomie murders] had the effect of a clap of thunder from a clear sky. The slave men stood there in horror. The officials feared this new move by the allegedly subjugated free men. This was a war they did not want to wage because of the good faith settlers four free men belonged to a slave man.

Kansas Senator John James Ingalls, with consent, cites the following

I didn't know any '56 settler, but what considered him to be one of the happiest events in Kansas history. It saved the lives of the Free Statesmen on the Creek, and those who did the deed were considered liberators.

John Brown had avoided his role in the massacre even after he was convicted of hanging for his role in Harpers Ferry and when questioned directly about the incident.

See also



Further reading (last first)

  • PBS online. People & Events: Pottawatomie Massacre. "John Brown's Holy War." The American experience . WGBH, 1999.
  • Brown, Salmon (June 1935). "John Brown and Sons in the Kansas Territory". Indiana Magazine of History . 31 (2): 142-150. JSTOR 27786731.
  • Spring, Leverett W. (March 1900). "John Brown and the Destruction of Slavery". Massachusetts Historical Society method . Second. 14 [vol. 34 of the consecutive numbering]: 2–13. JSTOR 25079848.
  • Townsley, James. "The Pottawatomie Murders: There is no question that John Brown was the leader." Republican citizen . Paola, Kansas, December 20, 1879, p. 5, column 5.
  • Johnson, Andrew. What John Brown did in Kansas (December 12, 1859): a speech to the United States House of Representatives, December 12, 1859. Originally published in The Congressional Globe, The Official Proceedings of Congress . Edited by John C. Rives, Washington, DC Thirty-Sixth Congress, First Session, New Series. No. 7, Tuesday, December 13, 1859, pp. 105-06. Retrieved May 16, 2005.