Back in Lawrence

In commemoration of the 155th anniversary of the capture, trial, and rescue of Kansan physician John Doy, KHC is featuring excerpts from “John Doy’s Escape” Shared Stories of the Civil War reader’s theater script. The Shared Stories of the Civil War reader’s theater project is a partnership between KHC and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.                                                                                

John E. Stewart. Image courtesy of:, Kansas State Historical Society. Copy and Reuse Restrictions apply.

John E. Stewart. Image courtesy of:, Kansas State Historical Society. Copy and Reuse Restrictions apply.

Mr. Brown made an effort to close the door and shut Doy in, but when he saw three powerful men with deadly weapons in their hands and determination on their faces, he saw that resistance was useless, and he permitted Doy to come out, and the remainder of the prisoners were coming too, had they not been forced back at the muzzle of a revolver – for Doy, at the risk of his own life and of his friends’, had been true to his failing (indiscretion), and told his fellow-prisoners that he was sure of being released that night, and they had their bundles ready to depart with him.

James B. Abbott, “The Rescue of Dr. John W. Doy,” 1889.

When we reached the street, I fell, unable to stand, from weakness and disease, occasioned by my long confinement.  Two of the men took me under the arms and bore me on.  It was so dark I could see nothing . . .

At last, keeping together as well as we could, we reached the river bank . . . But, in the thick darkness, we missed the place where the boats had been left, and knew not exactly where to look for them, when two of the night police, probably hearing our voices and perceiving a number of persons together, came towards us with large lanterns, which they held up in the air, that they might better see what we were about. By their light we saw our boats a little higher up the stream; hastened to them, jumped in and untied them . . . By dint of hard pulling, for the current of the Missouri is very strong there, we soon landed on the Kansas bank, which I had often gazed at longingly from the window of my cell. I was helped into a covered wagon, and laid on some hay in the bottom, when two pistol-shots were fired, as agreed upon, to give notice to our Kansas friends in St. Joseph, that I was safe and prepared to travel.

John Doy, The Narrative of John Doy, 1860.

We soon hauled our borrowed boats high and dry on the sandbar on the Kansas side, and (in our hearts) thanking the owners for their use, we hitched up our teams, and, with Dr. [John E.] Stewart for our guide, at about twelve o’clock were on our winding way for Lawrence . . .

About ten o’clock in the morning we observed six horsemen coming about a mile in our rear . . . When we stopped for dinner at one o’clock they stopped also.  Soon we observed a footman leaving said party, and when he arrived we interviewed him and satisfied ourselves that was sent to ascertain if Doy was with us, as well as the strength of our party . . . We pressed him hard to ride with us, that he could not refuse, and he continued with us till dark, when he was seated by the road-side, and one of our horsemen remained with him for a half-hour, and as he left, advised the gentlemen not to follow our party.  I suppose he acted upon the advice, as we never saw him afterwards.

James B. Abbott, “The Rescue of Dr. John W. Doy,” 1889.

By the time a sufficient force had been assembled in St. Joseph for the recapture of Doy, the Doctor and his rescue party were gone. The Doy rescue party – later dubbed “The Immortal Ten” – reached Lawrence on the afternoon of Monday, July 25.  Supporters lined the street, cheering.

Residents of St. Joseph were furious, and Edwin Grant, editor of the Free Democrat, was asked to leave for his own safety. A reward was offered by the Buchanan County, Missouri, Sherriff’s Office for the re-arrest of Doy. 

As we entered the city a treble salute was fired, and the noble Ten were loudly cheered and welcomed, as having brought to a successful issue the boldest attempt at rescue ever planned and carried into effect, and as having effaced the stain of at least one of the insults offered to Kansas by her more powerful neighbor . . . I, though crippled and diseased by ill usage and long imprisonment, [was] once more a free man, restored to my home, to my family and friends, and to the soil I love so well.

John Doy, The Narrative of John Doy, 1860.


$1000 For the Arrest of John Doy!

John Doy is an Englishman, and apparently from 45 to 50 years old, is low in stature, rather heavy set, has black hair and eyes, heavy black whiskers and dark complexion.  He was convicted of negro stealing and sentenced to confinement in the State Prison for five years. He was confined in jail awaiting the decision of the Supreme Court upon the appeal that had been taken in his case. He was rescued from the jail, and no doubt crossed the river into Kansas Territory, about 12 o’clock on Saturday night.

Advertisement, Posted by the Sherriff of Buchanan County, Missouri, July 21, 1859.

This is an outrage and . . . most unfortunate for the peace of the border between Kansas and Missouri. If the laws are to be thus disregarded, it will not be strange if in the future persons charged with Negro theft should be hung up to the nearest tree, without the benefit of a trial . . . Nothing has ever occurred in our city which has created so much indignation.

St. Joseph Gazette, July 28, 1859.

Be sure to read the tenth and final blog installment of the “John Doy’s Escape” reader’s theater script tomorrow!