Ad Astra: Cabin site linked to John Brown to host archaeology field school

By Beccy Tanner

April 20, 2014 07:22 PM

This summer, 21st-century Kansans will get to touch and sift through “Bleeding Kansas” soil.

The annual Kansas archaeology training program field school will be May 30-June 14 at the original site of the Samuel and Florella Adair cabin in Osawatomie.

On Aug. 30, 1856, in Osawatomie, the sparks of the Civil War had ignited, particularly at the Adair cabin.

Florella Adair was seven months’ pregnant when she stood at the door of her tiny cabin and begged Missouri raiders for her life and the lives of the other woman and children who huddled inside.

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“Please don’t kill us,” she begged. “Don’t burn the house down over us.”

The raiders spared their lives.

Florella Adair and her cabin are best known for their connections to her infamous half-brother abolitionist John Brown and his efforts to free runaway slaves. Brown lived briefly at the cabin and used it to hide escaped slaves.

In 1910, the cabin was moved from its original location about one mile west of Osawatomie into town to become part of a historic site marking the 1856 raid. It houses artifacts collected from the life and battles of John Brown.

The original site of the cabin at 1926 Parker Ave. in Osawatomie is where the archaeological dig will take place.

For almost three decades, the Kansas Anthropological Association and the Kansas State Historical Society have sponsored archaeological digs to give amateurs and professionals a chance to learn about the people who once populated the Plains. Dozens of volunteers are expected to participate in this dig.

Almost every Kansas student is taught that John Brown fought for the freedom of slaves. But what they may not know is that Florella Adair believed just as strongly that slaves should be free. But she abhorred the violence caused by Brown and his sons.

In May 1856, John Brown was seeking revenge as he led anti-slavery forces against Henry Pate’s pro-slavery band.

Pro-slavery forces led by Douglas County Sheriff Samuel J. Jones had destroyed the newspaper presses in Lawrence on May 21, along with several buildings – including the house of Kansas territorial Gov. Charles Robinson.

A few nights later, Brown and a few followers rounded up five men and hacked them to death with swords. It became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre and was brutal enough that pro-slavery and anti-slavery sides criticized the attack.

The Adair cabin in Osawatomie was frequented by Brown and used as part of an Underground Railroad for escaping slaves. Then things became tellingly quiet.

In the fall of 1859, Brown led a group from Kansas in an attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Va. (now West Virginia), in an effort to incite a national slave rebellion. He failed and was hanged. But his radical fervor added to the growing tensions between North and South.

Brown’s death was a blow to the Adair family, who did not approve of the raid, a descendant of Florella Adair’s told The Eagle in 2004.

Samuel Adair was a Congregationalist missionary and abolitionist, according to Kansaspedia, a website sponsored by the Kansas State Historical Society.

On Feb. 19, 1857, Samuel Adair wrote to the Rev. Joseph Gordon, who had sent the Adairs money to use in the abolitionist efforts: “Slavery is not dead, nor asleep, nor yet abandoned her hope of Kansas. ... I much fear that when Slavery dies it will be in a conflict of arms, or in some other violent manner. What a fearful doom awaits our nation – awaits us – when God shall mete out to us the measure we have meted to others?”