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Battle of Black Jack

Black Jack battlefieldThe Battle of Black Jack was the first armed conflict between proslavery and antislavery forces in the United States. The battle near Baldwin City on June 2, 1856, had implications far beyond Kansas Territory. Some call it the first battle of the Civil War. The debate over Kansas and the events there clearly marked a turning point in the march toward the Civil War.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act had opened Kansas Territory in 1854 and allowed citizens to determine whether Kansas would be a free or slave state. The territory soon became a battleground between those who supported slavery in the territory and those who opposed it.

On May 21, 1856, Sheriff Samuel Jones, who was the first sheriff of Douglas County, and a posse of 750 proslavery men raided Lawrence. In retaliation, John Brown and a small group of men—including some of his sons—violently murdered five men living on Pottawatomie Creek on May 24, 1856. These proslavery men had not been involved in the sack of Lawrence.

Articles of agreement for the exchange of prisoners after the Battle of Black JackAccompanied by proslavery militia, Henry Pate set out to find Brown. He captured two of Brown's sons and held them prisoner. On June 2, Brown's free-state militia attacked Pate's men encamped on the grounds. About 100 men engaged in a three-hour battle, which led to Pate's surrender.

The battle further divided the nation’s already-polarized abolitionist and proslavery factions. As politicians, newspapers, and citizens watched the story of “Bleeding Kansas” unfold, hints of a larger potentially violent conflict to come became increasingly evident.

Black Jack Battlefield is significant for its association with abolitionist John Brown. Both the battle and the coverage of the battle in the nation’s newspapers introduced John Brown, who called for armed insurrection to end slavery. The battlefield was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012.

Entry: Battle of Black Jack

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2013

Date Modified: July 2019

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.