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John Brown’s Allies & the Battle of Pine Bluff

John Brown, an abolitionist, led the American abolitionist movement in the years preceding the Civil War. Among his allies were August Bondi, who fought alongside Brown in the Battle of Black Jack, and Thomas Archer, who helped the Union troops defeat Confederate soldiers in the Battle of Pine Bluff.

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John Brown, led the American abolitionist movement in the years preceding the Civil War. Influenced by the Puritan beliefs of his upbringing, Brown believed that he had a sacred obligation as “ an instrument of God” to strike a “death blow” to American slavery. He believed violence was necessary to end the evil that was slavery since past peaceful efforts had failed. He also believed that since the Declaration of Independence clearly states that “all men are created equal”, freedom for the slaves was required for its fulfillment. 

In 1855, Brown moved to Kansas where he was appalled by the treatment of the anti-slavery majority. Following the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers poured into the Territory. The Act decreed that Kansas Territory settlers would vote to decide whether Kansas would be a free or slave state the following year. Initially the anti-slavery majority held the upper hand, but on election day, about 5,000 heavily armed pro-slavery settlers from Missouri poured into the territory. They quickly gained control of the polling stations and the ballot boxes and elected to make Kansas a pro-slavery state. Soon after, they began violently attacking the anti-slavery settlers.

In 1848, August Bondi, a Viennese Jew who had immigrated to America in 1848 after participating in 1848 student-led Revolutions in Europe. In 1855, he met Brown and his sons after he moved to Kansas in search of adventure and another cause to champion. In 1856, he was among the group of soldiers who helped Brown win the Battle of Black Jack. In September 1856, Bondi and Brown parted ways as their paths took them in different directions. Bondi continued to support ant-slavery movements in Kansas.

In May 1856, Brown led a raid on the pro-slavery forces at Pottawatomie Creek, killing more than a dozen of their leaders. The following day, Brown’s forces captured 48 pro-slavery fighters at the Battle of Black Jack, which most historians consider the first real battle against slavery in America and a rehearsal for the American Civil War. 

In the late 1850s, Brown was an operator of the “underground railroad”, helping to move escaped slaves to freedom in the North. During this time, he met Thomas Archer in Topeka, Kansas. Archer helped him protect escaped slaves as they moved along the “railroad.” On January 31, 1859, while escorting eleven escaped slaves from the slave-state of Missouri to the free-state of Iowa, Brown and Archer were involved in what became known as the “battle of the Spurs” near Holton, Kansas. 

Brown and his group of 21 came face to face with a posse of U.S. Marshalls, hoping to cash in on the $3,000 reward offered for the president and the governors of Missouri and Kansas. The 35 deputies led by Marshall John Wood lay in wait across a creek called the Fuller Crossing. Though heavily armed, Woods and his posse hesitated to attack. When advised to cross the creek at a different point, Brown refused and defiantly ordered his party to cross the creek. He stated, "I have set out on the Jim Lane road and I intend to travel it straight through, and there is no use talking of turning aside. Those who are afraid may go back, but I will cross at the Fuller crossing. The Lord has marked out a path for me and I intend to follow it. We are ready to move." As Brown’s party charged ahead, the heavily armed Marshalls fled in fear without firing a single shot. Brown and his group safely reached Iowa unharmed. A journalist named Richard A. Hinton later mockingly called the interaction the “Battle of the Spurs.”

On October 16th to 18th 1859, Brown led a raid on the federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown intended to create an armed force of escaped slaves and abolitionists that would travel to the South, freeing slaves by force. He had even written a document entitled the Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States to start a slavery-free America.

Though he seized the armory, the raid failed. Brown’s men were killed or captured by the local militia and U.S. Marines. Brown was found guilty of the murder of five men and inciting a slave insurrection. On December 2, 1859, Brown became the first person in America executed for treason. Brown has since been portrayed as a martyr, a visionary, a madman, and a terrorist. 

Brown’s trial and the Harpers Ferry raid were covered by the national newspapers, escalating tensions between the North and the South. Many Southerners feared that other abolitionists would follow in Brown’s footsteps, arming slave rebellions across the South. In 1860, the South succeeded, and in 1861, the American Civil War began. 

Thomas Archer survived as he was not part of Brown’s raiding party at Harpers Ferry. Archer continued to work with Brown’s allies as part of the “underground railroad” and enlisted in the Fifth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry at the start of the Civil War. 

In 1860, Bondi was among the first to enlist to fight in the Civil War. He served as a first sergeant for the Union in the Kansas Cavalry. After the war, he settled in Salina, Kansas, where he served as a merchant, an attorney, and a judge. On September 30 1907, Bondi died of a heart attack. He was 74 years old. After his death his children published his autobiography and some of which can be found at the American Jewish Historical Society. In his papers, Bondi describes his time on the battlefield alongside the other Jewish soldiers that supported Brown and the anti-slavery cause. Bondi also described Brown’s leadership as follows, “We were united as a band of brothers by the love and affection toward the man who, with tender words and wise counsel ... prepared a handful of young men for the work of laying the foundation of a free Commonwealth.... He expressed himself to us that we should never allow ourselves to be tempted by any consideration, to acknowledge laws and institutions [slavery]  to exist as of right, if our conscience and reason condemn them.” Bondi was remembered by his political convictions, moral integrity, and idealism.

On October 25 1863, Archer helped Colonel Powell Clayton and the Union troops successfully defend Pine Bluff, Arkansas against Confederate soldiers led by Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke in the Battle of Pine Bluff. The Union troops had already captured Little Rock, and were occupying several towns along the Arkansas River, when Gen. Marmaduke decided that his force of 2,000 could overpower the 550 Union soldiers and 300 freed slaves that supported them. Gen. Marmaduke and his troops attacked from three sides, but the Union soldiers barricaded themselves in the Jefferson County courthouse square using cotton bales and wagons. Despite several attempts at taking the square, including setting the courthouse on fire, the Union troops held their position. The Confederate soldiers were forced to accept defeat and retreat to Princeton, Arkansas.

During the Battle, Archer’s shoulder was wounded. He later lost the use of his right arm. Despite this injury, Archer remained in the Union Army until August 11 1864. He returned to Topeka, Kansas.

On September 26 1867, Archer married Ruth Hard. He served as a Sheriff’s Deputy and Constable in Shawnee County for 12 years. He then passed the bar, became a lawyer, and eventually a judge in Jefferson County, Kansas. Archer served in this role for 26 years until he finally retired. During his retirement he contributed editorials to the local newspaper. 

On November 4 1913, Archer died in Kansas City, Missouri, having lived a historic life.


Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard

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