May 24, 1856
Franklin County, Kansas
John Brown, 4 of his sons, and 2 accomplices (one of whom later claimed to have been forced to assist) kill 5 pro-slavery men with broadswords and guns in retaliation following a pro-slavery attack against abolitionists
Prior to the Potawatomi Massacre, a group led by a sheriff and containing nearly 800 settlers, destroyed abolitionist property. Two newspaper offices were demolished with cannon fire and the Free State Hotel was fired upon as well, though it was fortified and resisted the cannonball volley. The hotel was filled with several kegs of gunpowder to explode the building, but this also failed to destroy the building. As a final resort, the hotel was lit on fire.
In an unrelated incident, which also fueled Brown’s anger, abolitionist Charles Sumner was caned on the floor of Congress two days before the massacre.
In the late evening of the 24th through the early morning of the 25th, Brown and his companions visited several homes of pro-slavery activists, acting as literal judge, jury, and executioners. The first house they visited led to the deaths of the father of the household and 2 of his adult sons, though his 16-year-old son was spared as he had not been a part of the pro-slavery Law and Order Party. Two more houses were called upon, one of which held 3 pro-slavery activists. The three were interrogated regarding their roles in various slavery activities, and after deliberation by Brown’s group 2 were released back to their homes while the third was hacked to death by swords. In total, 5 people were killed during the night and in part paved the way to the American Civil War.
Outcry for the massacre came immediately and many called for Brown to be brought to justice. After arrested and tried, he was found guilty of murder and executed December 2, 1859.
Those who opposed his views celebrated his execution (including the now-grown man whose life was spared during the massacre). Supporters viewed Brown as a martyr, and once the American Civil War began, Union soldiers would sing “John Brown’s Body” as they marched.