May 24, 1856: John Brown and the Pottawatomie Massacre

0 Posted by - July 8, 2021 - History, LATEST POSTS, SLAVERY

May 24, 1856, marks the start of the Pottawatomie Massacre. Initiated by John Brown, the five pro-slavery supporters were dead by dawn.



May was a bloody month for Kansas and the Pottawatomie Massacre was part of a larger border conflict. Since it is a volatile topic, the decision is for settlers to decide Kansas’ status. This prompts the formation of the groups siding with Free Staters and Border Ruffians.

It should be noted that the Free Staters weren’t purely against slavery in the territory for moral reasons. Some were against the practice for economic and agricultural reasons. If wealthy slaveholders moved in, they could buy large swaths of land. and use slave labor to work it. With free labor and the land gone, there would be no place for those who didn’t hold slaves.


This incident came as a result of the conflict of Lawrence three days earlier. The anti-slavery Kansas town is the target of pro-slavery forces. While the incident featured one death—a pro-slavery posse member—the town’s businesses and homes were the targets of posse violence. As a result, John Brown targeted Pottawatomie for retaliation.


Brown and a small group head towards the settlement and are joined by others. The anti-slavery group hid outside of Pottawatomie on the day of May 24.

Upon nightfall, Brown’s group moves into the town and targeted specific people. Several members of the Law and Order Party and pro-slavery groups are the targets.  James, William, and Drury Doyle are marched outside where the attackers hack them to death. After the Doyles, the group finds Allen Wilkinson and kills him in a similar fashion.

Finally, Brown’s group crossed the river for their target. Dutch Henry was a leader of pro-slavery sentiment in the area. They arrived at the home of James Harris and interrogated those inside. The group kills Dutch Henry’s brother, William Sherman, before leaving.

Following the assault, the group joined up with John Brown Jr.’s team. The press dubs the attack the Pottawatomie Massacre. It serves to strike fear in pro-slavery supporters, a goal of Brown’s. It also steels the resolve of those same supporters to uphold the practice.



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