"Posterity will owe everlasting thanks to John Brown for lifting up once more to the gaze of a nation grown fat and flabby on the garbage of lust and oppression, a true standard of heroic philanthropy, and each coming generation will pay its installment of the debt. . . . John Brown saw slavery through no mist or cloud, but in a light of infinite brightness, which left no one of its ten thousand horrors concealed." Frederick Douglass

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Sunday, October 07, 2018

Rich Smyth's Where Are They Now? RICHARD REALF


Every month John Brown the Abolitionist Blog will be featuring an installment of Rich Smyth's "Where Are They Now?"  Thanks go to Rich for sharing from his extensive quest and study of the final resting places of John Brown's associates and contemporaries.--LD

Richard Realf was a poet journalist and correspondent for several eastern newspapers who helped plan the raid on Harper's Ferry. His life consisted of adventure, vagrancy, idealism and romance. An Abolitionist, above all he was a romantic. Realf: June 14th 1832 - Oct. 28th 1878.
Some of John Brown’s contemporaries and even today’s historians label Realf a traitor to the Abolitionist cause. After Brown’s execution Realf was arrested and testified before the Senate Committee Investigating the Attack at Harper's Ferry, which resulted in what would become known as the Mason Report. Realf named names and in a private letter was critical of Brown.1
Richard Realf (Library of Congress)
Growing up in England as a young child protégée in poetry, he was introduced into upper class English society. In 1853 Lady Byron, wife of George Gordon (Lord) Byron assisted Richard in obtaining training in estate management by having him apprentice on one of her land holdings in Leichestershire.2 
Lady Byron’s nephew was the current steward of the property and Richard lived with the family.  Caroline Noel a young blue-eyed, blond had come to live with her uncle, the current steward, after both her parents succumbed to diphtheria.3
Soon, Richard (21 years old) and Caroline (14 years old) were meeting in the library at night. They held hands, kissed and exchanged locks of hair, his dark, hers – honey blond.4 

One day on the way back from a local fair, the two stopped in the forest and it was from that encounter that Caroline became pregnant.5
Regardless of protests that he loved her and wished to marry her, he was forced to leave the estate and not return.
Though he would never forget his first love, he left Europe dejectedly, for the United States.
Arriving in New York, he worked as a missionary in a lower Manhattan Bowery slum before joining a party of free-state emigrants to Kansas, where he became a journalist and correspondent for several eastern newspapers.
It was in Kansas that Richard met John Brown accompanying him to Canada where he was to be secretary of state in Brown’s provisional government.

When John Brown launched his raid on Harpers Ferry in October, 1859, Realf was in Texas.  He was arrested as an accomplice and sent to Washington, D.C., where he testified before the committee investigating the raid.
During the Civil War (1862) he enlisted in the 88th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. On June 10th 1865 he married Sophia Emily Graves whom he met in Indiana. While he was away they communicated frequently and appeared to be very much in love. But, during the course of his travels, he met a belle of Washington society and was smitten. When the war ended, he moved to the capitol where he was also commissioned in a colored regiment until mustering out in 1866. He never saw Sophia again. 6
Sophia died in October 1882 at the age of 52 in Merriville, Indiana. 7

On October 26th 1867 he married Catherin (or Catherine) Cassidy of Rochester, New York. Realf later claimed to have been intoxicated during the ceremony to Catherin. This marriage was a nightmare for Realf and he filed for divorce. One writer, who did not have nice things to say about the wife, classified Catherin as a prostitute. 8
Winsor House (1892) which was located on
the SW corner of 9th and Washington Streets
(Oakland Public Library, Oakland History
Room and Maps Division
In 1868 he established a school for freedmen in South Carolina.

His third marriage (between 1871-1875) was a common law marriage to Elizabeth "Lizzie" Whappen (AKA Eliza Wapham “1846-1926”) who bore him four children. Only later did he learn that his divorce from Catherin did not go through and he was still legally married to her. A bit crazed and knowing Catherin would cause him and his family trouble, he fled to San Francisco and rented a room with a family named Meade on Mission Street while working at the U.S. mint. He hoped to bring Lizzie and the children west and escape the reaches of his second wife. 9

It is interesting to note that a few years after Richard’s death both Sarah Brown (daughter of John Brown) and her mother Mary obtained positions at the same mint.10 
One night upon returning to his room, he found Catherin Cassidy there. He immediately fled finding accommodations at the Winsor House in Oakland, California. He spent his last money for a bottle of laudanum and drank it in his room. Waiting for the poison to have its effect, he wrote a final poem on scraps of paper. The last lines (see below) were blurred by the poison which had numbed his hand. 
And all His arching skies were in eclipse.
He was a-weary, but he fought his fight
     And stood for simple manhood; and was joyed
To see the august broadening of the light.
     And new earths heaving heav'nward from the void.
He loved his fellows, and their love was sweet—
     Plant daisies at his head and at his feet.

The poison worked as intended and Realf died on October 28th 1878. Along with the poem was a letter to his friend Richard Josiah Hinton (Abolitionist and John Brown biographer) in which he issued the following request concerning Catherin Cassidy:
"On no account is the person calling herself my wife to be permitted to approach my remains. I should quiver with horror, even in my death, at her touch………I have had heavy burdens to bear, such as have sent stronger men than I reeling into hell. I have tried to bear them like a man, but can endure no more." 
He also wrote out his last will and testament:

Oakland, Cal. Oct. 28, 1878
“I, Richard Realf, poet, orator, journalist, workman, do hereby declare that I have deliberately accepted suicide as the only final relief from the incessant persecutions of my divorced wife… My poems and the MS of certain lectures to be found scattered promiscuously in my room, on the table, and in my trunk, are to be put in the possession of Gen. John F. Miller, who at his discretion will, or will not, surrender them to Col. R.J. Hinton, of the Post… But…she…who once bore my name, and who is now in San Francisco, must on no account be informed of the residence of my wife, who would be in constant danger…Now, God bless all. God pardon me as I pardon all. I love Gen. John F. Miller, Col. Tappan, Col. Hinton, Mr. Mariner Kent, John Finigan, E. Levy, Col. J.J. Lyon, and many others. 

“there is, or should be, a tied lock of hair in the form of a rude bracelet, lying on the bathroom window sill of my boarding house. I should be glad to have it placed around my wrist. 

Richard Realf”
The bracelet of blond hair, now a quarter of a century old was the gift of Richard’s first true love.  He had kept the relic through all his travels, his turmoil’s and other loves. To be buried with Caroline’s hair was his last request. The bracelet was placed with Realf in his grave.  Realf was originally buried in Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery plot 100F.  
He was reinterred in San Francisco National Cemetery on January 31, 1933, section OSA, row 72, grave #4, located in the Presidio of San Francisco, California.

Grave of Richard Realf (Source: Poems by Richard Realf, Poet. . .Soldier. . .Workman.
Edited with a memoir by Richard J. Hinton (1898)
Cemetery map showing location of Realf's grave (Source: John Brown-Boyd B. Stutler Collection, West Virginia Division of Culture and History (http://bit.ly/2y9U4wh)

Realf’s standard marble military marker indicates he was a lieutenant in the U.S. Colored Infantry. 
The address of the cemetery is 1 Lincoln Boulevard, Presidio of San Francisco. The cemetery is located in the northern section of San Francisco. From San Francisco International Airport, take Hwy. 101 North to San Bruno/Hwy. 380 exit to Highway. 280 North. Take 19th Ave., exit (approximately 50 yards from the Golden Gate Toll Plaza). Yield right to Lincoln Blvd. Turn left onto Lincoln Blvd. and continue to the corner of Lincoln and Sheridan Blvd’s.                                              
* The author has included information obtained from: Helen Delay, "Richard Realf, Poet and Soldier," The Home Monthly (8 May 1899), pp. 10-11.

--Rich Smyth


     1 James Redpath in his preface to his John Brown autobiography labeled Richard Realf a Judas.

     2 “A Passport to Hell, The Mystery of Richard Realf,” by George Rathmell, pp. 21-25.

     3 Ibid.

     4 Ibid

     5 Ibid

     6 Sophia received letters from Richard including the last one on February 24th 1866 saying he was on his way home after the war and mustering out. She never heard from or saw him again. In the 1880 census she was living with her younger sister Louisa Maria Graves and her husband Edwin Leigh Furness in Furnessville, Indiana. Sophia was 50 years old and teaching school.

     7 WikiTree has Sophia’s middle name as Jane and her year of death as 1883.

     8 John Stauffer, The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery Vol. 1, Vol. 7 by Junius P. Rodriguez, p. 543.

     9 Eliza Ann Whapham and Richard had four children; Richard (1875-1950), Alice (1878-?), Mabel (1878-?), and Minnie (1878-1971).

    10 Sarah obtained her position as assistant weigher in 1882 and was dismissed in 1884.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Little Retro-Shaming: Found Guilty by Slaveholders

It is a matter of record that after his defeat at Harper's Ferry, John Brown and his men were rushed to trial by Virginia authorities.  The technical excuse given pertains to the closing of the trial period of that circuit of the Virginia courts.  But these institutional deadlines were hardly imperatives; Brown and his men might have been held over as prisoners until the opening of the next trial period had the Virginians been willing to give him a fair trial.  Certainly, had the federal government not handed Brown and his men over to Virginia, a trial in the federal court would have been a far more extended matter (recall that Brown attacked a federal facility at Harper's Ferry).  Nevertheless, as I have noted in Freedom's Dawn, the initial intention of Virginia probably was to hold Brown's trial immediately and hang him almost as quickly.  Brown's boy-faced defense attorney, George Hoyt, later recalled how his "judicial murder" was intentionally being rushed, and how he had to intervene by speaking with Judge Parker, which allowed Brown a month between sentencing and execution.1
John Brown during his trial, lying on his cot, an unflattering
sketch by Virginia artist David H. Strother, published
in Harper's Weekly, Nov. 12, 1859

In retrospect, the prosecuting attorney, Andrew Hunter--who was the driving force behind Brown's trial and execution--misrepresented these facts.  In 1887, Hunter wrote that Brown was "for hurrying the trial and having done with it," but this was a lie.  Actually, Brown had expressed disdain at the onset when he and his men were obligated to stand before an unusual Virginia examining court (which even Hunter called "a very anomalous system, peculiar to Virginia").2  Assuming the examining court was his trial, Brown understandably disdained the process as a "mere form" and a "mockery" of a trial. "I do not even know what the special design of the examination is," Brown declared.  "I do not know what is to be the benefit of it to the Commonwealth." As such, he told the magistrates, he preferred to forego pseudo-legalities and face the penalty.3  However, when he was apprised that he would have a conventional trial, Brown immediately asked for a delay so that his wounds could heal  and so he could send for attorneys from the North.  Hunter himself opposed any delay and pushed the trial forward with haste.  Thus, his narrative of the trial published in 1887, including his accusation that Brown was carrying out some kind of "ruse," was a self-justifying misrepresentation that reflected the hubris of an unrepentant Virginia slaveholder.

The Jury Selected

In his definitive work, John Brown's Trial, Brian McGinty describes the process by which jurors were selected for the trial.  McGinty notes that on October 25, 1859, about one week after his defeat at Harper's Ferry, Brown's jury candidates were summoned by the sheriff through writ issued by the court.  Twenty-four freeholders--all white males above the age of twenty-one, and not older than sixty years.  Another criterion for selection was that the prospective jurors were "remote" residents in regard to the location of Harper's Ferry.  McGinty concludes that this inevitably meant the jury would be comprised of middle-aged white males: "All would be more or less affluent, and all would be either committed to, or at least tolerant of, slavery." McGinty likewise points out also that a further necessity, according to Virginia law, was that jurors must be supportive of the death penalty.  "This ensured that the jurors who would judge John Brown would all approve of the death penalty, and it probably made it more likely that they would find him guilty."4

The twenty-four freeholders thus were summoned and examined in the voir dire phase (meaning they were to tell the truth when examined).  McGinty observes that the prospective jurors were questioned briskly, the primary question being whether they held any opinion that would prevent them from making an impartial decision in the trial.5  Of course, this was only social pretense; men of their station would invariably have had a decided opinion against Brown.  Otherwise, they were asked if they were directly involved with the Harper's Ferry raid by reason of presence, or if they held opinions presupposed as to guilt or innocence.   Prospective jurors who were present at the Ferry during the raid were dismissed; then Brown's (initial) Virginia attorneys followed the appointed procedure of moving to dismiss eight from the list of the called.  This left sixteen candidates, from which a jury of twelve men finally was chosen. McGinty notes that John Brown was present during this process, but that he quietly reclined on his cot with his sheet pulled up under his chin.6

A Jury of Slaveholders and the Artist Who Sketched Them

At the time of John Brown's incarceration in Virginia, Frank Leslie's Illustrated News, based in New York City, had two artists on the ground in Charlestown to capture images for its readers.  Initially, the German-born Albert Berghaus, the head of the paper's illustration department, contributed sketches, but returned to New York.  This left his associate William S. L. Jewett to provide appropriate images and episodes for Leslie's.  Unfortunately, Jewett found that he had enemies in Charlestown, but not through any fault of his own.  As it turned out, clandestine reports from Charlestown were being featured in the New York Daily Tribune--an antislavery newspaper.  Since only proslavery journalists were allowed in town, the town leaders became obsessed with discovering the "spy" who was embarrassing them before the country.  Jewett became suspected of secretly feeding stories to Horace Greeley, the despised editor of the Tribune.  In a short time, suspicion grew into accusation, and accusation became so hot that by mid-November, Jewett was forced to depart from Charlestown and return to New York.7

William S. L. Jewett sketched a three-panel series reflecting his dramatic--and forced--retreat from Charlestown in November 1859, due to suspicions that he was a journalistic spy for the New York Tribune.  This series appeared in his newspaper, Frank Leslie's Illustrated News on November 26, 1859.

Nevertheless, prior to his northward flight, among his many sketches, Jewett had made portraits of all of John Brown's trial jurors.  These images were published in Leslie's on November 12, 1859, about the time that Jewett had hastily retreated from Charlestown.  Meanwhile, the real clandestine journalist, Ned House, was never discovered and slipped out of Charlestown only after Brown was hanged on December 2.

McGinty, a thorough researcher, provides a list of the same jury members sketched by Jewett for Leslie's.  He writes: "How many of them owned slaves is uncertain; the seven who were known to be slaveholders owned a total of fifty-four slaves."8  McGinty clearly consulted the so-called Slave Schedules from the Federal Census (presumably) of 1860.  However, after having consulted the same source, I believe that this record provides certainty that eleven of the twelve jurors were slaveholders.  What follows, then, are Jewett's sketches and the information culled from the 1860 Slave Schedules.

Note: the Slave Schedules distinguish between black and "mulatto" and I have preserved this distinction; often the presence of a "mulatto" was the sire of the so-called master or of another male member of his family.

Here, then, is a little Charlestown history, for the record. . .

Slaveholding Juror 1: John C. Wiltshire
Enslaved the following persons:

female age 65, male age 50
male age 40  female age 26
male age 24
male age 16, 
male 14
female ("mulatto") 5

Six (6) persons enslaved in 1860.

The schedules also list a George D. Wiltshire and Mary Wiltshire, both of which were slaveholders with similar numbers of enslaved people.  Some or all of their enslaved people might have been part of Wiltshire's household.

Slaveholding Juror 2: Thomas Watson
Enslaved the following persons:

female ("mulatto") age  24,
female ("mulatto") age 4
male age 1

Three (3) persons enslaved in 1860.


Slaveholding Juror 3: Jacob Miller
Enslaved the following person:

female age 12

The schedules also list Martha, Lydia, and Albert Miller as slaveholders.  Some or all of their enslaved people might have been part of Miller's household.

One (1) person enslaved in 1860.

Slaveholding Juror 4: Richard Timberlake
Enslaved the following persons:

female age 70
male age 15
male age 13
female age 11
female age 9
male age 5
female age 2

Seven (7) persons enslaved in 1860.

Slaveholding Juror 5: George Tabb [Tapp]
[According to Slave Schedule, but listed by McGinty and Leslie's as Tapp]
Enslaved the following persons:

female age 70
male age 45
female age 45
female ("mulatto") 26
male age 21
female age 20
male age 19
female age 17
male age 11
female ("mulatto") age 2
female ("mulatto") age 1

Eleven (11) persons enslaved in 1860.

Slaveholding Juror 6: Isaac Dust
Enslaved the following persons:

female age 30
female age 20
female age 9
male age 7
male ("mulatto") age 2
male age 1

Six (6) people enslaved in 1860.

Slaveholding Juror 7: John McClure 
[listed as M’Clure in Leslie's]
Enslaved the following persons:

female age 17
female ("mulatto") age 17
male ("mulatto") age 12
male ("mulatto") male age 12

Four (4) persons enslaved in 1860.

Slaveholding Juror 8: Thomas Osbourn 
[listed as Oborne in Leslie's]
Enslaved the following persons:

male age 60
male age 35
female age 30
female age 25
male age 12
male age 8
male age 7
female age 6
female age 4
female age 2

The schedules show other Osbourns in Jefferson County with a good many slaves, so some of these might also have been part of Thomas Osbourn's household.

Ten (10) persons enslaved in 1860.

Slaveholding Juror 9: Joseph Myers
Enslaved the following persons:

male age 60
female age 50
male age 32
female age 28
male age 21
male age 12
female age 10
female age 9
female age 8
female age 6
female age 2

Eleven (11) persons enslaved in 1860.

Slaveholding Juror 10: William Righstine 
[listed as Rightodale in Leslie's, as Rightstine by McGinty)
Enslaved the following persons:

male 84
female 65
female 15

Three (3) people enslaved in 1860.

Slaveholding Juror 11: George Bowyer
[listed as Doyer in Leslie's and as Boyer by McGinty)
Enslaved the following persons:

female age 11 
male age 10

Enslaved two (2) people in 1860.

William A. Martin
Not Listed as Slaveholder in 1860

McGinty concludes that although he is uncertain about the number of jurors who kept people enslaved, he counted fifty-four enslaved people in the households of seven of the jurors.  I am not certain how he arrived at this number.   I have found in the same schedules that eleven of the jurors in John Brown's trial were slaveholders, and the total number of people being held in bondage in their homes in 1860 totaling sixty-four.  Again, this does not count the possibility that additional enslaved persons may also have been the property of spouses and children living in the same household.

This should give us pause to remember that John Brown was not simply given a hasty trial, driven by state and local officials intent on getting him to the gallows.  He was tried by Virginians hostile to him on principle, eleven of the twelve jurors being slaveholders--the very group that John Brown had hoped to undermine. 

More importantly than the injustice that Brown faced is the fact that even in a humble, agrarian center like western Virginia, in the upper south, the enslavement of human beings--men, women, and children--was a normal part of life.  John Brown was a victim, but far more victimized were the human beings kept in bondage by the southern Christian slaveholders--the labor, lives, and bodies of these victims exploited and demeaned by the "institution" for generations.

Finally, we must remember that it took all the force of the federal government to pry these humans from the grip of this tyranny disguised as a Christian society.  Indeed, as Brown finally surmised, the enslaved population would have to be pried from their cold, dead hands.  Having failed to undermine the institution and thwart the regular operations of slavery throughout the South, John Brown knew that his accusers and judges would shortly have to face a judgment of their own.   There is some small comfort in knowing that even his jurors could not escape that hour.


      1 Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., Freedom's Dawn: The Last Days of John Brown in Virginia (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 97-98.
     2 Transcript, pp. 2 & 5, of Andrew Hunter, "John Brown's Raid; Recollections of Prosecuting Attorney Andrew Hunter," Times-Democrat [New Orleans, La.], 5 Sept. 1887, in Andrew Hunter folder, Box 10, Oswald G. Villard-John Brown Papers, Columbia University Collection.
     3 Brian McGinty, John Brown's Trial (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2009), p. 100.
     4 Ibid., 123. 
     5  Ibid., 123-24.
     6  Ibid., 124.
     7 DeCaro, Freedom's Dawn, 143-47.
     7 McGinty, John Brown's Trial, 126.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Swann Galleries Will Auction Wm H. Johnson's "On a John Brown Flight"

The New York-based Swann Auction Galleries, will be holding a sale of African American fine art on October 4, 2018.  (Browse a digital catalogue here.)  The sale features a wonderful offering of paintings, prints, and photographs for collectors with budgets for such things.
William H. Johnson
(Photo from Biography)
What caught your blogger's eye, however, was a particular work by William H. Johnson, who died in April 1970 at about sixty-nine years of age.  According to an article on the black art and culture website, Abri Art and Culture, Johnson was born in Florence, South Carolina in 1901 but moved to New York City at seventeen years of age.  He is marginally associated with the Harlem Renaissance, perhaps because with one exception, during that period he did not choose African Americans as subjects in his work, except for a portrait of his teenage brother done in 1930.  In "Remembering William H. Johnson: A Forgotten Harlem Renaissance Artist," it is stated:
Given that the [Harlem] Renaissance artists were wedded to W.E.B. DuBois’ idea of art as propaganda as well as Langston Hughes’ belief that Negro art ought not only be about Negro people but also should include the Negro working class in rural environments as subjects, it is no wonder that Johnson, like [Henry O.] Tanner, has escaped canonization as a Harlem Renaissance artist.
It was only after Johnson had traveled and studied abroad and returned to the United States, that apparently he began to portray black culture in the United States.  He was a multi-media artist, employing woodcuts, oil, water colors, pen and ink, and  serigraphy [silk screening]. The author states that Johnson’s work "beginning in 1938 and spanning the entire decade of the 40s" embodies the prevalent aesthetics of the earlier Harlem Renaissance--bolder primary colors, larger surfaces, and African American rural folk as well as historical figures like Marian Anderson, George Washington Carver, and including John Brown. 

"A John Brown Flight," which Johnson produced around 1945, is one of a small number of impressions that he prepared in screen prints.  The Smithsonian American Art Museum has another copy of this impression in its collection, as also does The Library of Congress collection and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has a copy but it is not currently displayed on their website.)  

The scene it portrays is familiar to John Brown students, his famous liberation trek that began when he liberated eleven enslaved people from two different slaveholders in Missouri in December 1858, sequestered the fugitives for a number of weeks in a hideout in the Kansas territory, and then escorted them through Nebraska and across the country through Iowa then by rail to Chicago, Illinois.  There, with the assistance of the proto-secret serviceman, Allen Pinkerton, Brown put the fugitives secretly on the railroad bound for Detroit.  At Detroit the fugitives were placed on the ferry that crossed the Detroit River to Canadian freedom.  It was this successful overland trek that affirmed John Brown in his resolve that similar bold, armed-but-defensive measures could be carried out within the belly of slavery itself.

Jacob Lawrence, No. 16 from "The Legend of John Brown"
The trek was captured quite differently by Johnson's contemporary, Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) as part of his twenty-two part series, "The Legend of John Brown."  The particular image is No. 16., subtitled: "In spite of a price on his head, John Brown in 1859 liberated twelve negroes from a Missouri plantation."  This originals of this series are described as having been done in gouache on white wove paper.  Obviously, rather than portraying the liberated people, Lawrence chose to insinuate them in the picture by showing many footprints in the snow, some traces of blood (suggesting either their suffering as enslaved people or the rigors of this hard winter trek, which included pursuit by marshals--remembering that Brown undertook this effort in defiance of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law).  

The only other artistic portrayal of this episode  in John Brown's story that I am aware of is found in a mural series in the Torrington, Connecticut, post office.  Torrington, of course, was the site of Brown's birth in 1800.  The murals, made by Arthur Covey in the New Deal era, were displayed in the old Torrington Post Office, but are now displayed in the new post office in town.  Apparently, Covey, like Johnson, were financed in their work by the Work Projects Administration of the New Deal.

Arthur Covey, "Episodes in the Life of John Brown"
(The Living New Deal)

Of the three, Covey's work is the most idealistic and stylized--pleasant pastels make the picture warm, with heavenly light bursting through the clouds, and John Brown marching ahead of his liberated friends, with his rifle on his shoulder--he looks back as if to encourage the party, but his left hand moves forward toward freedom.  This is quite in contrast with Lawrence's image of Brown bringing up the rear, stooped forward to accent the motion, while the entire picture is absent of a human face.  Of the two, Lawrence's image is the most dramatic and evocative of the harsh circumstances of that trek.  

On the other hand, Johnson's and Covey's images share similarities.  Johnson's version of Brown also bears a rifle on his shoulder, but looks forward as he points toward freedom.  In both images, there are armed black men, a wagon, and a woman with a young baby.  The latter is part of the historical incident, because an infant actually was born during the sojourn, so twelve entered freedom in Canada in March 1859 under Brown's solemn escort.  Johnson's portrayal of the liberated blacks is done in the style of folk art/primitivism, but most of them stare outward, as if to communicate with the viewer.  In contrast, while Covey's portrayal of the liberated people seems more lifelike, they are entirely part of the story, focused upon Brown almost sacred image.--LD

Below is the profile of Johnson's "On a John Brown Flight" from Swann's website:

Sale 2487 Lot 28
WILLIAM H. JOHNSON (1901 -1970) 
On a John Brown Flight

Color screenprint and pochoir on tan wove paper, circa 1945. Approximately 406x610 mm; 15 3/4x24 inches. Signed in ink, lower right. 

Provenance: Annie Davis, New York and Savannah, GA; gifted to a private collection, Savannah, GA. Inscribed with the artist's name, title, and a Harmon Foundation inventory number in ink, upper right verso. 

On a John Brown Flight is a very scarce example of an important print. While living in New York in the early 1940s, William H. Johnson printed a handful of proof impressions from his screenprints, depicting colorful images of both the rural South and of Harlem. Out of the 17 known screenprint images Johnson made in a short period of the early 1940s, On a John Brown Flight is the only image of an American historical figure, and is the largest of any of his prints. Johnson also painted a gouache and pencil version of this subject, and a heroic image of the Abolitionist leader in the 1945 oil John Brown Legend; both are in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. 

This is the only the second impression of this print to come to auction - an unsigned impression was sold at Swann Galleries on February 13, 2014. We have located only four impressions of On a John Brown Flight in the following public collections: the Library of Congress, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution. These were experimental and painterly prints, using both screens and pochoir (hand-colored stencils) - each impression has a slightly different registration.

Estimate $50,000 - 75,000

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Osawatomie Notebook: John Brown, Cool-Headed in Crisis

The Battle of New Georgia was a raid led reluctantly by John Brown on New Georgia, a nascent community that was constructed three miles west of Osawatomie. The raid took place on Aug. 7, 1856, and it was one of the triggering events for the Battle of Osawatomie on Aug. 30, 1856.

Pro-slavery advocates under the leadership of Jefferson Buford had established a pro-slavery community three miles west of Osawatomie in 1856. They used their nascent community as a base for pro-slavery guerilla operations against free state advocates in the area exactly like free state advocates were using Osawatomie as a base for abolitionist guerilla operations against pro-slavery advocates in the area.

John Brown was aware of the presence of New Georgia, but he had advised against attacking the pro-slavery settlement due to his belief that if abolitionist guerilla fighters attacked the pro-slavery community, it would be the excuse that pro-slavery forces were looking for to attack Osawatomie.

However, many of the young, hotheaded abolitionist guerillas that had made Osawatomie their base of operations rejected John Brown’s cautionary warnings of the military and political inadvisability of attacking New Georgia. John Brown agreed to lead the attack on New Georgia to keep the more violent and impetuous young abolitionist guerilla fighters from committing excesses during the attack.

The abolitionist guerilla fighters surprised the pro-slavery guerillas and settlers of New Georgia completely, and they scattered to pro-slavery camps and communities in Kansas Territory and western Missouri with tales of being feloniously attacked by John Brown and a group of fiendish abolitionist guerilla fighters, which was the final straw for the pro-slavery leaders in western Missouri and Kansas Territory.

John Brown and Osawatomie had to be neutralized, and pro-slavery forces began to gather and arm themselves to attack Osawatomie and other free state communities. John Brown was indeed correct in his unheeded warnings, and the Battle of New Georgia was the final spark that caused the Battle of Osawatomie on Aug. 30, 1856.

John Brown is often portrayed as a violent fanatic who had no self-discipline about him, but the reality is that he was often the moderate abolitionist voice amongst a chorus of extremist abolitionist guerillas.

John Brown is often portrayed as a violent fanatic who had no self-discipline about him, but the reality is that he was often the moderate abolitionist voice amongst a chorus of extremist abolitionist guerillas. Brown often had to restrain the out-of-control martial spirit of abolitionist guerillas who wanted to shoot first and ask questions later when encountering pro-slavery advocates and guerillas. It’s a facet of his personality largely overlooked in history books.

John Brown was certainly a militant abolitionist guerilla, but he did not participate in gratuitous impulsive violence. He only attacked militant pro-slavery advocates or those who were supplying militant pro-slavery advocates with supplies or legally protected them. When Brown did engage in violence, it was planned in advance, and calculated for the greatest psychological effect on pro-slavery advocates, not only in Kansas, but nationwide.

John Brown was considered a leader in the militant abolitionist movement because he was cool-headed in a crisis, unlike many of the young militant abolitionists who were prone to shoot first and ask questions later.--Grady Atwater

Source: "John Brown Reluctantly Led the Battle of New Georgia," The Miami County Republic [Paola, Kan.], 22 August 2018

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site, Osawatomie, Kansas.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

When Frederick Douglass Met John Brown in Springfield

John Brown enthusiasts are all acquainted with the important autobiographical reflections of the Old Man provided by Frederick Douglass in his last autobiography, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, published in 1881 (revised in 1892) when Douglass was advanced in years. 

Among the interesting points explored by historians is the matter of Douglass’ much-quoted visit to John Brown’s home in Springfield, Massachusetts.  In his autobiography, Douglass wrote that visit to the Brown household took place in 1847.  It does seem to be the case that Brown met Douglass in Springfield in 1847.  In fact, Brown wrote to John Junior on May 15, 1847, saying he was “in hourly expectation of a visit from Fred Douglas [sic].”1 Assuming this meeting took place in Springfield, it is the first record of their eventful alliance.  However, if Douglass dined with Brown that day, it was not with Mary Brown and the children as Douglass recalled in his autobiography. In May 1847, Mary and the children were still residing in Akron, Ohio, at their residence on the Perkins estate.  Apparently, she did not come to Springfield until mid-July that year.2   It may be that Brown fixed a meal for Douglass in his residence, but it seems more likely that Douglass was conflating his memories of meetings with Brown in Springfield in 1847 and 1848.

Since there is no evidence that Douglass was back in Springfield for the rest of 1847, and since the Browns moved to a number of places in Springfield before settling on Hastings Street, named by Douglass, the actual dinner with the Brown family he describes in his autobiography could not have been any earlier than his visit in February 1848.  The late historian Benjamin Quarles first noted that Douglass visited Springfield twice in 1848, the dates of which he found in Douglass’s paper, The North Star.  Those visits took place on October 29 and November 18, 1848.3   The dinner with Mary and the children must certainly have taken place on one of these two 1848 dates. 

The conflation of his visits to Brown in Springfield most likely was an issue of memory, although elsewhere in his third autobiography, Douglass used conflation probably with intentionality.   As I have written elsewhere, Douglass tends to conflate a number of meetings with Brown in 1859 in the Chambersburg quarry episode, which he says took place a few weeks before the Harper’s Ferry raid, although in actuality it took place in August 1859.   Douglass does not reveal meetings that took place in Detroit in March 1859, with Brown and black abolitionists from Detroit and Chatham, Ontario, nor his meeting with Brown in Philadelphia in October 1859.  His opposition to the invasion of Harper’s Ferry proper was an issue that overshadowed the two friends for most of 1859, although Douglass found it expedient to present the issue as a single disagreement in the fall of 1859.  I have taken this up in both John Brown—The Cost of Freedom and in Freedom’s DawnThe Last Days of John Brown in Virginia.--LD


            1 John Brown to John Brown Jr., May 15, 1847, Kohns Collection, New York Public Library, New York, N.Y.
            2 John Brown to Ruth Brown Thompson, September 1, 1847, in Sanborn, Life and Letters of John Brown, 144-45, which give a sense of the details of the move and setting up house in Springfield.
            3 See Benjamin Quarles, Frederick Douglass (New York: DeCapo Press, 1997), 170, n. 2.