On This Day In History – May 24


Photo by Augustus Washington

Katie Whelan, Staff Writer

May 24, 1856

Slavery tensions reached a boiling point in the Kansas Territory in the years leading up to the American Civil War. A significant incident occurred: John Brown’s nighttime attack on a pro-slavery settlement near Pottawatomie Creek. This bold deed would have far-reaching effects that would echo throughout the country. 

The significance of John Brown’s raid

Following the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, the issue of whether Kansas would be admitted as a free or slave state came under fierce debate. Pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups entered the region, hoping to influence the vote through legal and illegal means.

During this unstable and deadly period, known as “Bleeding Kansas,” John Brown, a passionate abolitionist, resorted to using force to abolish slavery. Brown was convinced that his divine mission to abolish slavery was a moral obligation.

The attack

On the night of May 24, 1856, John Brown and a small group of supporters launched an undercover mission in Franklin County, Kansas, targeting a pro-slavery community along Pottawatomie Creek. Brown intended to deliver a blow against slavery by assassinating famous pro-slavery sympathizers and setting an example for others.

Brown and his men, including four of his sons, crept up on the cabins of James Doyle and Allen Wilkinson, who were well-known for their pro-slavery sentiments. They dragged the men from their homes and quickly executed them with broadswords. In a second attack nearby, two other men, James Harris and William Sherman, met the same end.

The Aftermath

The attack on Pottawatomie Creek by John Brown sent shockwaves across the country, worsening an already dangerous situation. The deed itself was harsh and shocking, fueling hate between pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups. Pro-slavery supporters condemned Brown’s conduct as evidence of the abolitionist movement’s dangerous radicalism.

The events at Pottawatomie Creek helped to solidify the violent situation of “Bleeding Kansas,” and they became an introduction to the broader struggle that would consume the country just a few years later.

The raid pushed John Brown into the national spotlight, making him into a divisive figure and a martyr for the abolitionist cause. Brown’s actions, for many, symbolized the increasing tensions and deep differences that eventually led to the Civil War. His dedication to his cause, combined with the brutality of his techniques, made him a symbol of the growing radicalism and unresolved nature of the slavery issue.


The raid by John Brown on the proslavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek was an important turning point in the already unstable climate of Bleeding Kansas. Brown’s bold act of violence, motivated by his passionate abolitionist ideals, not only astonished the country, but also predicted the deadly war that would soon engulf the United States.

The attack and its aftermath reinforced the basic divisions between pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups, weakening any possibility of a peaceful conclusion. Finally, this event had a tremendous impact in shaping public opinion and solidifying the nation’s route toward the Civil War, in which the subject of slavery would be fought on a far larger scale.