Mahala Doyle and John Brown

I’ve previously discussed one woman who wrote to John Brown after his capture at Harpers Ferry. L. Maria Child was an outspoken abolitionist who admired John Brown’s “work” in Kansas and in Harpers Ferry. Later, though, John Brown got a different kind of letter.

To understand it, we have to go back to the dark of night on the 24th of May, 1856. John Brown had heard of the sack of Lawrence, Kansas, a Free-State town, by pro-slavery forces, and he was angry. He gathered up his sons Fredericks, Owen, Watson, and Oliver, plus two other men, and he went on a raid of his own.

The first place he stopped was the home of the Doyle family. James and Mahala Doyle had three sons: William, Drury, and John. They owned no slaves, although James, William, and Drury were members of the pro-slavery Law and Order party. John Brown ordered the men out of the house. Mahala Doyle begged and pleaded for the life of her youngest son, and John Doyle was allowed to go back into the cabin.

Then John Brown and his four sons faced James Doyle and his two. Owen and one of his brothers proceeded to hack James, William, and Drury to death with broadswords. John Brown did not participate except to fire a bullet into James Doyle’s head when his sons were done.

Fast-forward three and a half years, and it is the 20th of November, 1859, when Mahala Doyle sits down in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and writes a letter to John Brown.

Chattanooga Tennessee
20th November 1859.
John Brown

Sir
Altho vengence is not mine, I confess, that I do feel gratified to hear that you ware stopt in your fiendish career at Harper’s Ferry, with the loss of your two sons, you can now appreciate my distress, in Kansas, when you then and there entered my house at midnight and arrested my husband and two boys and took them out of the yard and in cold
blood shot them dead in my hearing, you cant say you done it to free our slaves, we had none and never expected to own one, but has only made me a poor disconsolate widow with helpless children while I feel for your folly. I do hope & trust that you will meet your just reward. O
how it pained my Heart to hear the dying groans of my Husband and children if this scrawl give you any consolation you are welcome to it

Mahala Doyle

Overleaf:
N3 my son John Doyle whose life I begged of (you) is now grown up and is very desirous be at Charleston on the day of your execution would certainly be there if his means would permit it, that he might adjust the rope around your neck if gov: wise would permit it
M Doyle.

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