The Rev. Martin White was a proslavery minister who lived near Osawatomie. He was also John Brown’s and any abolitionist’s nemesis in Kansas Territory. White fought for the proslavery cause with the same ferocity that John Brown fought for the free state cause, and White’s conflict with Brown would lead to a dramatic scene in 1858.
Oswald Garrison Villard records in John Brown A Biography Fifty Years After that on April 16, 1855, a meeting was held in Osawatomie to decide whether the communities’ citizens would obey or defy the laws of the Proslavery government that had recently been chosen via proslavery voter fraud. White, who lived near Osawatomie, stood to defend the proslavery government, and John Brown pointedly rebutted White’s proslavery position. Osawatomie’s citizens voted to defy the proslavery government, and his adversarial relationship with Brown was firmly established.
On August 30, 1856, White was one of three scouts who rode ahead of John Reid’s force as they approached the town to fight the Battle of Osawatomie. White rode up on John Brown’s son, Frederick, and after the two men recognized each other, both men went for their weapons, and Reverend White drew his pistol first and shot Frederick through the heart. White killed John Brown’s son, Frederick, and Brown, in the eyes of the world, had good reason to seek revenge.
Eli Snyder fought beside John Brown and reported that in 1858, he was raiding into Pattenville, Missouri, and that John Brown and his guerilla band rode to White’s home. Brown observed White sitting in a chair reading a book under a tree. Eli Snyder was ready to dispense some frontier justice and said to Brown, “Suppose you and I go down and see the old man and have a talk with him.”
Brown refused to do so, and said “No, no, I can’t do that.” John Kagi, one of Brown’s followers, proposed that Kagi and Snyder should go down to White’s house and pay him a visit. Brown further refused to have any harm come to White and then stated, “Go, if you wish to, but don’t you hurt a hair of his head, but if he has any slaves take the last one of them.”
John Brown had the man who had persecuted his family, and killed his son, in his power, and refused to harm him. Brown clearly stated the reason why when he said, “People mistake my objects. I would not hurt one hair of his [White’s] head. I would not go one inch to take his life; I do not harbour the feelings of revenge. I act from a principle. My aim and object is to restore human rights.”
“People mistake my objects. I would not hurt one hair of his head. I would not go one inch to take his life; I do not harbour the feelings of revenge. I act from a principle. My aim and object is to restore human rights.”John Brown believed that all people were equal in the eyes of God and fought to abolish racism and slavery. His methods were sometimes extreme, but Brown was motivated by the belief that all people were equal in the eyes of God, and that racism, inequality, and slavery were sins against God, and that he was fighting for the equality of all in American society.
— Grady Atwater is site administrator at the John Brown State Historic Site in Osawatomie, Kansas.