The Pottawatomie Massacre

external image 4john26b.jpg

"I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." -John Brown, 1859


The so-called "Bleeding Kansas" period was a time of slavery-centered violence in the Kansas territory, beginning circa 1854, based on the issue of whether Kansas would enter the union as a free or slave state. A letter from his sons asking for weapons resulted in 55 year old abolitionist John Brown joining the fight to make Kansas a free state. Spurred by the so called "Sack of Lawrence," in which pro-slavery "border ruffians" had attacked the town of Lawrence, setting fire to newspaper offices, homes, and the Free-State Hotel, and by the savage beating of Senator Charles Sumner by Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina, John Brown decided that violence was the only way to gain retribution. He and a group of followers, some of which were part of the anti-slavery settler group the Pottawatomie Rifles, of which his son John was the leader, brutally attacked and killed five pro-slavery men along Pottawatomie Creek. On the night of May 24, 1856 Brown and four of his sons, aided by Thomas Winer, and James Townsley visited the cabin of James P. Doyle and murdered him and his two eldest sons, cutting off limbs and brutally hacking them to death with broadswords before Brown fired a shot into the head of Doyle's body to ensure death. They repeated the bloody deed twice more, killing Allen Wilkinson at his house and then killing William Sherman, brother of pro-slavery militant "Dutch" Henry Sherman, after finding him at the home of James Harris, again hacking him to death with broadswords. After discovering that their main target "Dutch" Henry was not home they returned to their camp, never being tried for their crime. James Townsley was the only one arrested in connection with the incident but his trial never went to court. Brown escaped the pro-slavery forces eager for revenge but his sons John and Jason were brutally beaten and Frederick was shot through the heart.

The Pottawatomie Massacre
The Pottawatomie Massacre

The Pottawatomie Massacre

The five deaths of slavers caused by John Brown and his band of radical Abolitionists were nothing compared to the total death toll of the Civil War, with upwards of 620,000 American casualties. However, this does not make this incident any less important than other causes of said war. Whether Brown and his followers killed five men or five hundred thousand men would be irrelevant, as the basic premise would remain the same - blood was shed over slavery. The men who were brutally slaughtered that night in May did not necessarily die because a group of crazy men with broadswords decided to go on a killing spree. They died because they believed the bondage of African-Americans was just and their opposition believed African-American slaves deserved freedom. This cause is exactly that of the bloodbath to follow this incident five years later, better known as the American Civil War -- as this war was, at its core, a war over slavery. Whether Brown knew it or not, his fight was very similar to that of the Union troops who would fight against the Confederacy in the years to come. This would essentially make this man one of the earliest soldiers in the war; although it was certainly not declared yet, relations between Northerners and Southerners, Abolitionists and pro-slavers were tense, as evidenced by Brown's actions. Not to mention, this is the precursor to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, which increased tensions even more. All in all, John Brown and company's massacre at Pottawatomie Creek was a key contribution to the start of the Civil War, and definitely deserves a 4/5 rating in terms of its significance.

external image ks_pottawatomie.jpg

Location of Pottawatomie Creek

external image John%20Brown%20Painting.jpg

A painting of John Brown during the "Bleeding Kansas" period


"The Pottawatomie Massacre." John Brown's Holy War. 2007. 18 May. 2009. <>.
"Pottawatomie Massacre." Wikipedia.18 May. 2009. <>.
"Pottawatomie Massacre." US History Encyclopedia. 18 May. 2009. <>.
"Casualties in the Civil War." Home of the Civil War. 1 Nov. 2004. 18 May. 2009. <>.
"John Brown's Raid, 1859." EyeWitness to History. 2004. 18 May. 2009. <>.