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Pottawatomie Massacre

The term Bleeding Kansas began to appear in the press in the spring of 1856 when a number of guerrilla warfare activities occurred.  One of these was called the Pottawatomie Massacre.

John Brown, a radical abolitionist, made his presence in Kansas known during May 1856.  This event that gained Brown notoriety occurred a few days after the Sack of Lawrence when the Free State Hotel, the Lawrence newspaper office and other property were destroyed by Sheriff Jones and proslavery forces.  It is generally believed that John Brown led four of his sons and three others in killing five pro-slavery men near Dutch Henry's crossing on Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County on May 24, 1856.  The men killed were a James P. Doyle and his two sons William (22 years old) and Drury (20 years old), William Sherman, and Allen Wilkinson.   Brown, who had come to Kansas in 1855, used religious and moral reasons to justify his actions.

The Pottawatomie Massacre, as the Brown killings were known, aroused emotions and distrust on both sides.  It was denounced by Southern and even some Northern newspapers.  Unable to stabilize the situation, Shannon resigned as governor in August 1856.

By 1859 Brown had left Kansas, but in the meantime, he had taken part in the Battle of Black Jack on June 2, 1856, and led freestaters in defending the town of Osawatomie from a pro-slavery attack in August 1856.

Many more skirmishes took place between antislavery and proslavery forces.  The violence eventually declined. The last major violent act happened two years later.  It was the Marais des Cygnes Massacre.

Read James Hanway's account of the massacre

Entry: Pottawatomie Massacre

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2011

Date Modified: May 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.