Clio Logo
Lawrence Mass Street Walking Tour
Item 4 of 16

Erected by the Kansas Historical Society, this marker commemorates the founding of Lawrence by the Emigrant Aid Company and the events of Bleeding Kansas including both the attacks on the city by proslavery forces in 1856 and 1863. The marker emphasizes Lawrence's role as both a symbol and center of antislavery activities, from the work of journalists who criticized the laws made by the proslavery territorial legislature after Missouri men flooded into the territory to cast illegal votes to John Brown's actions against those who sought to extend slavery into Kansas Territory. The marker also emphasizes Lawrence's connection to the Emigrant Aid Company, a Massachusetts-based anti-slavery organization that encouraged New England families to establish farms and homes in eastern Kansas in hopes of preventing the territory and future state from legalizing slavery. With many New England residents arriving in Lawrence, the town became the center of "free-state resistance" and would later become a place of refuge for many formerly enslaved people during the Civil War. This reputation made Lawrence a target for attack by pro-slavery forces, leading to two major attacks. The first in 1856 saw the destruction of several buildings, including two Free States presses. The event, and regional perceptions of the event, helped spark the Civil War, as did John Brown's later attempt to organize and arm enslaved men in Virginia using weapons acquired from his raid on a federal arsenal in Harper's Ferry. John Brown was an abolitionist who came to believe that the best way to end slavery was to confront enslavers using any means necessary. After the first attack on Lawrence, Brown lead a posse across the Pottawatomie river and killed pro-slavery settlers in retribution for the attack on Lawrence in 1856. The marker also includes the deadly raid by proslavery men led by William Quantrill in 1863 that includes the murder of 150 residents.


The Marker itself explaining the events of the Sacking

Plant, Land lot, Grass, Building

George Washing Brown, Editor of "The Herald of Freedom"

Forehead, Photograph, Beard, Coat

John Brown, Abolitionist most famous for raid on Harper's Ferry and being the subject of John Curry's "Tragic Prelude"

Face, Head, Hairstyle, Facial expression

"Tragic Prelude", Painting by John Curry of John Brown as he enters the kansas Terrritory

Temple, Art, Painting, Visual arts

Herald Of Freedom, one of the Newspaper Presses destroyed during The Sacking

Publication, Rectangle, Font, Parallel

Depcition of Lawrence's down town area on Massachusetts St.

Building, Sky, Motor vehicle, Mode of transport

Howitzer stolen by Jones' pro slavery forces and used to block off access to Lawrence during the Sack

Wheel, Automotive tire, Vehicle, Rolling

Picture of Sherrif Samuel Jones, Pro-Slavery proponent who organized mob for sacking of Lawrence

Brown, Rectangle, Wood, Art

Depictment of sacking of Lawrence by Jones' Forces

Art, Painting, Illustration, Visual arts

Ruins of Free State Hotel after The Sack

Building, Painting, Art, Drawing

In May 1854, Congress passed the "Kansas-Nebraska Act," an attempt to forge a compromise acceptable to Southern political leaders by revoking the previous understanding that slavery would be illegal in new territories north of Missouri's southern border slavery. The new law said the residents of new territories could vote on whether slavery would be legal but failed to include specifics about when and how these elections would take place. In response, proslavery and antislavery settlers began moving to the territory, but the majority of settlers hoped to avoid the issue. In the first territorial elections, Missouri men crossed into Kansas to cast ballots resulting in a proslavery legislature and early laws barring abolitionists from meeting or publishing their views.

Many residents of the town of Lawrence defied these laws, especially those who arrived under the auspices of the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society. Most settlers hoped to avoid violence, but with violent proslavery forces threatening to destroy Lawrence in 1855 and attacking the city the following year, events such as the killing of an abolitionist led many to fear isolated violence would turn into all-out warfare.

When the pro-slavery sheriff of Douglas County, Samuel Jones, was shot on April 23, 1856, after the attempted arrest of an abolitionist, Lawrence was soon surrounded by a proslavery posse composed largely of Missouri men who were organized by Jones. With around seven hundred armed men under the leadership of the man charged with maintaining peace, the citizens of Lawrence had little choice but to acquiesce to their demands after they were instructed by Jones to have all women and children evacuate the town by the signal of cannon fire. After the evacuation, Jones' men wasted no time in systematically destroying important antislavery organs of Lawrence, the main targets being the town's two antislavery newspaper presses The Kansas Herald of Freedom and The Kansas Free State. The proslavery militia also destroyed the Free-State Hotel, claiming that its thick walls demonstrated that it was intended to serve as a Free State fortress. From there, Jones and his men pillaged the town for goods and alcohol, and upon obtaining their spoils, they left the town.

The 1856 Sack of Lawrence demonstrated the sectional nature of news coverage, with Southern newspapers praising the attackers while Northerners sided with Lawrence residents. The event also served as a turning point in Kansas Territory, with violence between proslavery Border Ruffians and Free State Jayhawks dominating the next few years.

With knowledge of the sacking, as well as learning of the caning of anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner, John Brown, along with his sons Frederick, Oliver, Owen, Salmon, and Watson, Son-in-Law Henry Thompson, and family friend James Townsley, crossed Pottawatomie Creek and went to three cabins of proslavery settlers, ultimately killing five men in retribution of the sacking of Lawrence. Although indicted for the murders, Brown and his men were able to evade capture and began planning a raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry in hopes of sparking a general uprising by enslaved men whom Brown would be able to provide with arms. Hoping that these formerly enslaved men could form maroon communities protected by the Appalachian mountains, Brown hoped his raid would spark the end of slavery by helping African Americans to liberate themselves. Instead, Brown and his men were captured and executed.

[1] Bleeding Kansas, American battlefield Trust. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/bleeding-kansas.

[2] Lawrence, Kansas, Civil War on The Western Border. April 15th, 2011. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/map/lawrence-kansas.

[3] Bushwhackers and Jayhawks, American Battlefield Trust. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/bushwhackers-and-jayhawks.

[4] Mullis, Tony R.. Wakarusa War, Civil War On The Western border. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/encyclopedia/wakarusa-war.

[5][7][9] Stanley, Matthew E.. First Sack of Lawrence, Civil War on The Western Border. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/encyclopedia/first-sack-lawrence.

[6][8][10] The Sack of Lawrence, Kansas, 1856, Eye Witness to History. May 12th, 2008. Accessed December 4th, 2022. http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/lawrencesack.htm.

[11][13] Elliott, Kimberly Kutz. John Brown’s “tragic prelude” to the U.S. Civil War, December 22nd, 2020. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://smarthistory.org/seeing-america-2/john-brown-american-art-in-context/.

[12] ] Rein, Chris. Pottawatomie Massacre, Civil War On The Western Border. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/encyclopedia/pottawatomie-massacre.

Sacking of Lawrence, Civil War on The Western Border. June 15th, 2013. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/islandora/object/civilwar%3A509.

"John Brown and the Siege of Lawrence, September 14-15, 1856." The Historical Marker Database. Accessed May 5, 2017. http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=76325.

Photo: William Fischer, Jr., via The Historical Marker Database

George Washington Brown, Kansas Memory. October 10th, 2012. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/222144.

Abbott Howitzer, Kansas Memory. October 10th, 2012. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/221062.

Tragic Prelude, Civil War On The Western border. June 19th, 2013. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/islandora/object/civilwar%3A1291.

Letter from Judge Lecompte, Civil War on The Western Border. August 8th, 2014. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/islandora/object/civilwar%3A6363

Lawrence Historical Maker, The Civil War Muse. Accessed December 4th, 2022. http://www.thecivilwarmuse.com/index.php?page=lawrence-historical-marker.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Lawrence Historical Maker, The Civil War Muse. Accessed December 4th, 2022. http://www.thecivilwarmuse.com/index.php?page=lawrence-historical-marker.

George Washington Brown, Kansas Memory. October 10th, 2012. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/222144.

Tragic Prelude, Civil War On The Western border. June 19th, 2013. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/islandora/object/civilwar%3A1291.

https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/islandora/object/civilwar%3A1331

Lawrence, Kansas, Civil War on The Western Border. April 15th, 2011. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/map/lawrence-kansas.

Abbott Howitzer, Kansas Memory. October 10th, 2012. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/221062.

https://www.kansasmemory.org/item/439

Sacking of Lawrence, Civil War on The Western Border. June 15th, 2013. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/islandora/object/civilwar%3A509.

Stanley, Matthew E.. First Sack of Lawrence, Civil War on The Western Border. Accessed December 4th, 2022. https://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/encyclopedia/first-sack-lawrence.