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John Brown and The Siege of Lawrence Historical Marker

Tour Stop

Directions: The John Brown and The Siege of Lawrence Historical Marker [ Waypoint = N38 58.303 W95 14.150 ] is attached to the wall at the entrance to the Free State Brewing Company which is located at 636 Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, Kansas 66044.

  • Now you are going to walk back north along Massachusetts Street. At some point you need to cross to the east side of the street.
  • Shortly after you cross 7th Street, you will arrive at the Free State Brewing Company.
  • There are a couple of markers on the building.

Kansas Free State Press Historical Marker at Free State Brewery CompanyDescription: You are standing near the site of the Kansas Free State Press, one of the Lawrence newspapers targeted by Missourians during the Sack of Lawrence. The marker on the left side of the building has the following text:

Kaw Valley Interurban

The Kansas Free State Press located near this site before its destruction during the Sack of Lawrence by Sheriff Samuel Jones, May 21, 1856.

Depot for Electric Rail Service 1917 – 1935.

Free State Brewery opened in 1989 as the first legal brewery in Kansas since prohibition was enacted in 1881.

John Brown and The Siege of Lawrence Historical MarkerThe larger marker to the right of the building entrance has the following text:

John Brown and The Siege of Lawrence, September 14-15 1856

On the afternoon of September 14, 1856, the Free State settlement of Lawrence, Kansas Territory was threatened by invasion of an arm of 2700 Pro-slavery Missourians under the command of Generals David R. Atchison and John W. Reid. 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.

Less than four months earlier, Atchison and Sheriff Jones led the Sack of Lawrence, destroying the Free State Hotel and the Herald of Freedom and Kansas Free State presses. In the ensuing months, Lawrence was blockaded, and by mid-August, battles were fought in Douglas County at Fort Franklin, Fort Saunders, and For Titus in an attempt to loosen the stranglehold on supply lines into the half-starved Free State fortress. Now the townspeople, armed with everything from Sharps rifles to pitchforks, converged between two circular earthen forts on Massachusetts Street and prepared to defend their town.

John Brown in 1856

Present and heavily armed that afternoon was John Brown, the fiery New York abolitionist and Captain of the Liberty Guards in Lawrence during the Wakarusa War of early December, 1855. Brown, along with his sons, had spent much of the spring and summer of 1856 engaged in brutal guerrilla warfare against Pro-slavery factions throughout eastern Kansas. Though he had no formal command during the siege, Brown did give an address on tactics to an estimated 300 armed Lawrence citizens as he stood on a dry goods box twenty-five feet west of this plaque. Richard J. Hinton, a correspondent for the Boston Traveller, took down a portion of the address made by Brown, by then a hardened veteran of numerous gun battles with the Pro-slavery forces.

“GENTLEMEN, – It is said there are twenty-five hundred Missourians down at Franklin, and that they will be here in two hours. You can see for yourselves the smoke they are making by setting fire to the houses in that town. Now is probably the last opportunity you will have of seeing a fight, so that you had better do your best. If they should come up and attack us, don't yell and make a great noise, but remain perfectly silent and still. Wait until they get within twenty-five 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.”

Kansas Territorial Governor John W. Geary

Following an exchange of gunfire on the southeastern outskirts of the town between an advance guard of the Missouri forces and the Lawrence defenders, the Missourians were driven back to Franklin. The arrival late in the 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 Governor John W. Geary and Lieutenant-Colonel Philip St. George Cooke arrived early in the morning of the 15th, heated negotiations led to the Missourians reluctantly disbanding and fully retreating. This brought to a close the open warfare that existed during this bloodiest year of the Bleeding Kansas period with over 200 left dead. Many of the Missourians would return, however, August 21st, 1863 with William C. Quantrill as their leader.

Fearing that Governor Geary might act on a warrant for his arrest, John Brown left Lawrence heading for Osawatomie, which two weeks earlier was destroyed by the same forces arrayed against Lawrence. Brown continued to visit Lawrence, off and on, until January of 1859. He was hanged December 2nd, 1859 at Charlestown, Virginia, following his raid on the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry becoming a hero to millions of African-Americans enslaved throughout the South, and igniting the fuse that eventually led to the American Civil War.

Text compiled for the Free State Brewing Company by Karl Gridley, 1998.

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