On the night of May 24, 1856, John Brown and his company of Free State volunteers murdered five men settled along the Pottawatomie Creek in southeastern Kansas. The victims were prominently associated with the pro-slavery Law and Order Party, but were not themselves slave owners. This assault occurred three days after Border Ruffians from Missouri burned and pillaged the anti-slavery haven of Lawrence, and two days after Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner was severely beaten by Senator Preston Brooks of South Carolina. The action on the 24th occurred at three different houses:
The combination of the fall of Lawrence and the Pottawatomie killings caused southeastern Kansas to erupt into guerilla warfare. Raiders from Missouri terrorized the Free Soilers, while roving gangs of Free State volunteers inflicted similar violence upon their pro-slavery neighbors. While neither John Brown nor any members of his company were apprehended for their involvement at Pottawatomie, his two eldest sons-- who were with their own rifle company near Lawrence at the time of the murders-- were seized by mobs and nearly lynched. Jason Brown was released relatively quickly, but John Jr. was imprisoned until September. The recent events had also triggered a temporary insanity, from which he did not recover until after his release.
Most of the books written by members of the abolitionist community in the years after Brown's own execution in 1859 downplayed this stain on the otherwise rich career of their holy warrior. James Redpath, the first in a long line of biographers who 'martyred' Brown, denounced the whole episode as a pro-slavery conspiracy to villify both the Hero and the Free Soil cause. The Reverend H.D. Fisher makes mention of the "Pottawatomie Creek disaster", but otherwise extolls the virtues of Brown's selfless crusade for emancipation. An excerpt from Fisher's memoirs, Gun and the Gospel, is not wholly factual but is nevertheless a good example of the type of literature focused on Brown after his death. Brown himself is reputed to have acted evasively whenever asked about the incident, and never admitted his direct responsibility. The Pottawatomie killings remain a gruesome and enigmatic facet of the prelude to War which took place in the Kansas Territory.
The primary source of this article: To Purge This Land With Blood: A Biography of John Brown, by Stephen B. Oates. Harper & Row, 1970.
Never underestimate how much damage a fool can do you. A real fool, armed with fanatic purpose s& sufficient self-righteousness, can do far more damage than a determined smart man armed only with a grudge. On 16 October 1859 John Brown, fresh from his murders in Kansas, led an attack on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, ostensibly to lead a slave insurrection. First person they killed was a free black man. They were armed by other fools, six "respectable" New Englanders, the Secret Six, including ministers. They had already sent so many rifles to Kansas that they were know as Beecher's Bibles, after the abolitionist preacher.
Brown's raid accomplished only one thing, other than his well-deserved hanging, and that was to convince all those yet unconvinced Southerners that war was inevitable. Quite an accomplishment, for a fool. It would only cost 625,000 soldier's lives & the lives of as many civilians. God save us from humanitarians who love all humanity but no man!