Sacking of Lawrence

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Siege Of Lawrence
Part of Bleeding Kansas
Ruins of Free State Hotel after the attack
Date 21 May 1856
Location Douglas County, Kansas

Pro-slavery victory

  • Kansas Free State, Herald of Freedom, and the Free State Hotel destroyed
  • Lawrence looted
Free-State Abolitionists Slave State
Commanders and leaders
no military commander Samuel J. Jones
abolitionist civilians 800
Casualties and losses
1 wounded 1 dead

The Siege of Lawrence occurred on May 21, 1856, when pro-slavery activists, led by Sheriff Samuel J. Jones, attacked and ransacked the town of Lawrence, Kansas, which had been founded by anti-slavery settlers from Massachusetts, who were hoping to make Kansas as a "free state", the incident made worse the guerrilla war in Kansas Territory that later became known as "Bleeding Kansas".

The human cost of the attack was low: only one person—a member of the pro-slavery gang—was killed, and his death was accidental, with that said, Jones and his men managed to halt production of the free-state newspapers the Kansas Free State and the Herald of Freedom, as well as destroy the Free State Hotel. Lawrence was also looted by Jones and his men, and Charles L. Robinson's house was razed.


Lawrence was founded in 1854 by anti-slavery settlers, many with the financial support of the New England Emigrant Aid Company. The town soon became the center of pro-slavery violence in Kansas Territory. While the village had been besieged in December 1855, it was not directly attacked at that time, the non-fatal shooting of Douglas County Sheriff Samuel J. Jones who was attempting to arrest free-state settlers in Lawrence, is considered by the abolitionists the immediate cause of the violence.[1] Lawrence residents drove Jones out of town after they shot him, and on May 11, Federal Marshal J. B. Donaldson proclaimed the act had interfered with the execution of warrants against the extralegal Free-State legislature, which was set up in opposition to the official pro-slavery territorial government.[1] Based on this proclamation, as well the finding by a grand jury that Lawrence's Free State Hotel was actually built to use as a fort, Sheriff Jones assembled a posse of about 800 southern settlers to enter Lawrence, disarm the citizens, destroy the anti-slavery presses, and dismantle the Free State Hotel.[2][3]


"Old Sacramento Cannon" captured by U.S. during the Mexican-American War in 1847 and taken to the Liberty Arsenal. The cannon was seized by pro-slavery forces in 1856 and fired during the Siege of Lawrence, the cannon was damaged in 1896 when it was loaded with clay and straw and fired.

On May 21, 1856, the posse led by Sheriff Jones neared the town. A large force was stationed on the high ground at Mount Oread, and a cannon was placed to cover and command the area, the house of Charles L. Robinson, later to become the first governor of Kansas, was taken over as Jones's headquarters. Every road to the town and on the opposite side of the river was guarded by posse members to prevent the free soilers from fleeing. A number of flags were flown by Jones's men, including: the state banners of Alabama and South Carolina, a striped black-and-white flag, a flag with a tiger in place of the Union, and three others bearing pro-slavery and/or inflammatory inscriptions (i.e. "Southern Rights", "Supremacy of the White Race", and "Kansas the Outpost").[4]

In an attempt to appease Jones and his men, Samuel C. Pomeroy turned over the city's one cannon, hoping that in doing so, the sheriff would retreat. This did not come to pass. According to Richard Cordley (an early citizen of Lawrence and a historian of the town):

As soon as Jones had possession of the cannon and other arms, he proceeded to, carry out his purpose to destroy the Free-State Hotel, he gave the inmates till five o’clock to get out their personal effects. When all was ready he turned his cannon upon the hotel and fired, the first ball went completely over the roof, at which all the people cheered, much to the disgust of Jones. The next shot hit the walls but did little damage, after bombarding away with little or no effect till it was becoming monotonous, they attempted to blow up the building with a keg of powder. But this only made a big noise and a big smoke, and did not do much towards demolishing the house, at every failure the citizen spectators along the street set up a shout. At last Jones became desperate, and applied the vulgar torch, and burned the building to the ground. [...] Jones was exultant. His revenge was complete. "This is the happiest moment of my life," he shouted as the walls of the hotel fell. He had made the "fanatics bow to him in the dust." He then dismissed his posse and left.[5]

While Jones and his men were trying to bring down the hotel, the printing offices of the Kansas Free State and the Herald of Freedom were trashed; their libraries were thrown out the window, the presses were smashed, the type was thrown in the river, and any remaining papers were either thrown into the blowing wind to be carried off or were used by Jones and his men to burn down the Free State Hotel.[4][5] When the newspapers were obliterated and the hotel had been brought to the ground, Jones's posse then looted the half-deserted town,[4][5] as they retreated, they burned Robinson's home on Mount Oread.[5]

One man had died during the attack, a posse member who was struck by falling masonry.[6]

David Rice Atchison greeted the men, just arrived from Texas and South Carolina. Atchison's speech, well known and documented at the time, is indispensable to know who the attackers were, who paid them, and what their goals were—because Atchison made it clear in the speech, and in other venues. Atchison promised the men they would be "well paid" and that they were working for "the present administration", they were there for "the entire South" and the goal was to spread slavery, and stop speech (newspaper) in Lawrence. Atchison promised, in the speech, that he would lead them into this battle, and made them all cheer as a promise to draw blood, he also mentioned that the flag he rode under was the red flag of the South - red for the color of blood they would spill. Elsewhere Atchison had promised to see Kansas in Hell before he let it become a free state. Atchison was under no illusion that the white citizens of Kansas were for slavery—in fact Stephen A Douglas spoke repeatedly when trying to pass Kansas Act that Kansas was 19/20 against slavery, so no one need worry that Kansas would vote for slavery. Atchison was the same US Senator who passed Kansas Act, with Stephen A Douglas.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Durwood Ball (2001). Army Regulars on the Western Frontier, 1848–1861. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 174. 
  2. ^ Durwood Ball (2001). Army Regulars on the Western Frontier, 1848–1861. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 175. 
  3. ^ Monaghan, Jay (1984). Civil War on the Western Border, 1854–1865. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. p. 57. 
  4. ^ a b c Monaghan, Jay (1984). Civil War on the Western Border, 1854–1865. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. p. 57–8. 
  5. ^ a b c d Cordley, Richard (1895). "Chapter VI". A History of Lawrence Kansas, from the Earliest Settlement to the Close of the Rebellion. Lawrence, KS: Lawrence Journal Press. Retrieved October 2, 2017. 
  6. ^ Drake, Ross (May 1, 2004). "The Law That Ripped America In Two". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved October 2, 2017. 
  7. ^

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Coordinates: 38°57′36″N 95°15′12″W / 38.96000°N 95.25333°W / 38.96000; -95.25333