April 03, 2006

Jewish abolitionist

Here's a story of a guy I'd never heard of before. We've all heard of John Brown. Well August Bondi isn't so well known. He was a Hungarian Jew who went to live and fight for freedom in Kansas. This story is from the Wichita Eagle, online as Kansas Online:
"The Ballad of August Bondi" is about a Jewish freedom fighter who became an abolitionist and then fought alongside John Brown during Kansas' territorial years.

The song was commissioned by the magazine Jewish Life and the Jewish Young Folksingers in 1954 to commemorate 300 years of Jewish life in America. Bondi is a folk hero -- but he was a real man, too.

Bondi came to Kansas in 1855 and soon became involved in the border fighting between Kansas and Missouri. At that time, partisans were fighting each other over whether the state would enter the Union as a free or a slave state.

Bondi would write of his experiences as an anti-slavery Free Stater fighting with Brown:

"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 to exist as of right, if our conscience and reason condemn them."

Bondi was born July 21, 1833, in Vienna, Austria. He received his education in the Academic Gymnasium of Vienna, which was run by Catholic monks. When he was 15, he joined the Academic Student Legion, a Hungarian revolutionary group that worked to free Hungary from Austrian control. The revolt failed and Bondi was expelled from his school. Some of the students were imprisoned. Bondi and his family fled for the United States.

His family settled in St. Louis. Bondi worked on a Mississippi freighter that traveled the river and into the Gulf of Mexico. When the boat stopped in Galveston, he would write in May of 1850:

"The screams of slaves, who were whipped with leather straps every morning, woke me up before dawn at four in the morning."

According to an article on Bondi from the March 2004 issue of Jewish Currents, Bondi read an editorial in the New York Tribune encouraging Americans to go to Kansas to help save it from becoming a slave state.

Bondi responded.

It was May 1855 when he came to Kansas and homesteaded in Franklin County. When Missouri ruffians burned his cabin and stole livestock, Bondi joined the "Kansas Regulars." He was with Brown on several raids along the Missouri-Kansas line.

In 1857, Bondi helped start the town of Greeley in Anderson County and ran a stop on the Underground Railroad.

When the Civil War began in 1861, Bondi joined Company K of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry. For the next three years, he fought in several battles before becoming seriously wounded. He was taken prisoner and left for dead near Pine Bluff, Ark. He recovered and was discharged from the Union Army on Nov. 10, 1864.

For two years after that, Bondi ran a grocery store in Leavenworth. He then moved to Salina, where he operated several stores and was postmaster. He became a lawyer when he was 63 years old.

Bondi died in 1907, at age 74.

In his autobiography, Bondi wrote:

"Even as a child, I decided to dedicate my life to the ideals of progress and freedom. I never deviated from this decision during the course of my long life.... I have remained faithful to the principles that I swore to uphold during the stormy days of the 1848 revolution."
A more in-depth treatment is here and Lenni Brenner gives it some here.

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