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Proslavery Leader's Desk

Proslavery leader's desk, opened

This desk was brought to Kansas Territory by George Clarke, an Indian agent, slave owner, and ardent slavery supporter.

George W. Clarke was a notorious proslavery leader during the Bleeding Kansas era, when forces sought control over the state based on the issue of slavery. Clarke had been suspected of killing a free-state man, Thomas Barber, near Lawrence in 1855 but was never convicted. The following year, Clarke led a party of 400 Missourians into Linn County on the eastern edge of the state, where, in the words of a fellow proslavery man, they "plundered, robbed and burned out of house and home nearly every Free-state family in Linn County, while [Clarke's] hands were steeped in innocent blood, and the light of burning buildings marked his course."

A Shot in the Dark

While Clarke sat reading by the desk at his home near Lecompton in 1856, someone--presumably a free-stater--shot at him. Clarke was uninjured but the desk did not fare as well. The bullet passed through the front of the desk and left a divot in the surface of the drawer directly behind it. The hole left by the bullet can be seen in the image of the closed desk as the dark spot below the keyhole and near left-center.

Proslavery leader's desk, closed, showing bullet holeClarke began working in the U. S. Land office in Fort Scott in 1857. Many years later, Judge William Margrave gave the following account of Clarke during this period:

"[He] was practically registrar of the land office but there was a story afloat, and I guess it was true, that he had killed somebody up near Lecompton and the government wouldn't appoint him directly but appointed somebody else and Clarke performed the duties. . . . [Clarke] was a border ruffian of the worst kind.  If he wasn't killed before he got away from Kansas it was a mistake on the part of the people who knew him."

Clarke continued his proslavery activities in Fort Scott and nearby Missouri until he was finally driven out of the state and into southwestern Missouri in August, 1858.

Judge Margrave purchased Clarke's desk in 1858 for $14.00. Margrave was a probate judge in Bourbon County and a former free-state legislative candidate. He used the desk in his courtroom until October 1864 when much personal property (including the desk) was removed from Ft. Scott during Price's Raid.

At this time, Captain Charles Judson of the Sixth Kansas Cavalry came into possession of the desk and carried it with him on an expedition through Arkansas. Near the end of the Civil War, while the Sixth was in camp at Fort Scott, Judge Margrave recognized his desk in the captain's tent and recovered it. He resumed using it in his courtroom until 1902, when he presented it to the Kansas Historical Society. The desk is in the collections of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.

Entry: Proslavery Leader's Desk

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: November 1998

Date Modified: December 2014

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