Monday, August 9, 2010

John Doy and the "Immortal Ten"

Learning about little known incidents of history is one of the most enjoyable aspects of this field of study, and one reason I can't seem to ever read enough books or visit enough historic sites. While out in Kansas I learned about the fascinating story of Doctor John Doy and the "Immortal Ten." I had never heard of Doy before, but as soon as I saw the historic image of him and his rescuers I knew there had to be a great story behind this amazing photograph. Before going into the story I think that the image deserves a closer look. There were actually several different shots of these men taken in their home town of Lawrence, Kansas ("that abolitionist hole" to the Missourians).

The hats were thing that caught my eye when I first saw the image. What a great collection of lids! The next thing was the boots, and finally the weapons. There is an assortment of choices in protection displayed on these men; the most fearsome probably being the artillery foot sword carried by the fourth man from the left. It appears that this man has purposely turned and pulled back his coat to display the fearsome weapon. This particular sword is the type that John Brown and associates used on the five pro-slavery settlers that were hacked to death at Pottawatomie Creek in May of 1856.

Doy, a homeopathic physician, had emigrated to the United States from England and settled in Rochester, New York in the early 1850s. In 1854 he was one of the first wave of settlers with the New England Emigrant Aid Society to make their way to the newly opened Kansas territory where he helped found the town of Lawrence, Kansas.

Doy had a number of run-ins with pro-slavery Kansans and Missouri Border Ruffians in the years between 1854 and 1858, including participation in the Battle of Osawottomie with John Brown in August of 1856. He was known by the Border Ruffians to be abolitionist of the worst sort. In January of 1859 Doy and his twenty-five year old son Charles and another Lawrence man named Clough volunteered to take (according to Doy) thirteen free African Americans to Iowa due to a number of kidnappings that had taken free blacks out of Kansas to be sold in Missouri. Some accounts claim the blacks were slaves, but Doy in his narrative of the incident, published in 1860, claimed that all but two had their free papers and the two who didn't had worked in Kansas for a significant amount of time.

While traveling north Doy and the party was stopped by a group of Border Ruffians, taken to Weston, Missouri and placed in jail. The Doys were charged and moved to Platte City where the blacks were sold. Clough was released and allowed to return to Lawrence but the Doys were held for trial for "slave stealing." They asked for a change of venue and were granted a move to St. Joseph, Missouri. At the March St. Joseph trial the jury could not come to a conclusion and the younger Doy was released. In June, John Doy was convicted and appealed but lost. He was to serve five year at hard labor.

On July 22, 1859 ten men - including Doy's formerly incarcerated son Charles - arrived in St. Joseph claiming to be miners, cattlemen, business men and travelers. Their plan was to break John Doy out of jail before he was transferred to the state penitentiary in Jefferson City. The following day rescuer Silas Soule brought a note to Doy claiming to be sent from Doy's wife. It explained they would break him out at midnight. Later that night two of the rescuers brought another to the jail claiming they had caught a horse thief. When the jailer let them in they informed the keeper that they were there to get Doy out. They made their getaway through a crowd letting out of the theater and were back in Lawrence by July 25 where they posed for several photographs taken by A.G. DeLee. Apparently the Missouri authorities did not pursue the case.

Although the Doy rescue occurred after most of the violence had subsided in Kansas, it was yet another incident that received publicity in the newspapers back east that fueled the fires of sectional strife between the North and the South and brought them closer to secession and civil war.

I also saw the above runaway advertisement while in Kansas. I found it interesting that the advertiser, from Missouri, made it a point to say that the slaves were "doubtless aiming for K.T. [Kansas Territory]. It is also interesting that he offered $100 each if caught outside of Missouri and only $50 if caught in the state.

Primary sources such as the Doy and Immortal Ten photograph and the runaway slave ad vividly demonstrate the grip that the possible expansion of slavery held on America in the 1850s. Kansas was truly Act One of the America's Civil War.

If interested, you can read John Doy's account (The Narrative of John Doy, of Lawrence, Kansas) at Google Books.


  1. One of the people mentioned in your post, Silas Soule, later played another part in history. He was a captain at the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado, where he ordered his unit not to participate in the slaughter. He also later testified against the units that did participate and was assassinated for his efforts. Interesting stuff!

  2. while written with a definite bias, doy's account does have a certain ring of authenticity that has all but vanished from more recent histories of that place and time. he does state in essence that john brown was taking escaped slaves to canada, while he, doy, was taking freemen to iowa; this would make sense, and it fits with the chronology of the times. but perhaps the two most interesting aspects of doy's narrative are (1) his brutal description of the treatment of slaves in northwestern missouri, and (2) the fact that he unflinchingly names names, providing a candor we'll never see again in an age when charges of libel loom large over the most insipid suggestions. i very strongly recommend doy's narrative to anyone who wants to understand bleeding kansas better.

  3. To complete the story, check out the conflicting newspaper accounts on the killing of Charles Doy in 1860. By some accounts, it was an extension of the earlier violence over slavery politics. By other accounts, he had degenerated into a dangerous outlaw.

  4. Keith, I'd be interested in reading the accounts printed in newspapers. Are they collected somewhere that is readily accessible?

  5. Hi, My partner is a descendent of Dr John Doy who was originally from Kingston upon Hull, England. The family moved there from Norfolk. From what I have discovered he was plain John Doy when he left these shores non the less his narrative is interesting & I to would love to be able to read the newspaper accounts.