Archive for Wednesday, December 9, 1998

FREE STATE HISTORY MARKED

December 9, 1998

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A historical marker commemorates Lawrence's role in the anti-slavery battle.

New York abolitionist John Brown came to Lawrence itching for a fight, and a fight he found, a Lawrence historian said Tuesday before unveiling a new historical marker at the Free State Brewing Co.

The plaque, dedicated with a short ceremony outside the downtown restaurant in the blustery cold, commemorates the history of Lawrence and its significance in the prelude to the Civil War.

Karl Gridley, a local historian and member of the Douglas County Preservation Alliance, penned the story on the marker. He became involved after noticing the brewery sold John Brown T-shirts.

"I asked Chuck (Magerl, owner of the brewery) if he knew Brown gave his speech just outside here," Gridley said, referring to a speech Brown gave while standing on a dry goods box 25 feet west of the plaque.

The marker explains that on the Sept. 14, 1856, an invasion by an army of 2,700 pro-slavery Missourians under the command of Gens. David R. Atchison and John W. Reid threatened the free state settlement of Lawrence.

"Encamping near Franklin four miles southeast of Lawrence, the Missourians were determined to wipe out the town that stood as a symbol of New England abolitionism," Gridley wrote.

Brown, who had been captain of the Liberty Guards in Lawrence during the Wakarusa War of December 1855, spoke before an estimated 300 armed Lawrence residents that September afternoon. Part of his speech:

"Wait till they get within 25 yards of you; get a good object; be sure you see the hind sight of your gun, then fire. A great deal of powder and lead and very precious time is wasted by shooting too high. You had better aim at their legs than at their heads. In either case, be sure of the hind sights of your guns.

"It is from neglect of this that I myself have so many times escaped; for if all the bullets that have ever been aimed at me had hit, I should have been as full of holes as a riddle."

The Missourians eventually were driven back to Franklin, according to Gridley's research, and the arrival later that evening of 300 U.S. Army dragoons from Lecompton "who took up positions with full artillery across the brow of Mount Oread created a standoff. When Gov. John W. Geary and Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke arrived early on the morning of the 15th, heated negotiations led to the Missourians reluctantly disbanding and fully retreating."

Brown left Lawrence but continued to visit until January 1859. He was hanged Dec. 2, 1859, at Charlestown, Va., after raiding the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry.

-- Deb Gruver's phone message number is 832-7165. Her e-mail address is dgruver@ljworld.com.

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