It would have been as easy to drive a shadow into the centre of a block of granite as to force a pro-slavery falsehood into his brain or heart.

James Redpath

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

From the Field--

by H. Scott Wolfe

I have remarked before in this space that John Brown is not exactly a common topic of conversation around supper tables out here in The Holstein Belt. In fact, I would consider a local citizen well-versed in the story of the Old Man to be about as rare as a passenger pigeon or, at the very least, as a selfless Congressman. If the inhabitants of this “historic” burg do not first recognize John Brown as a gifted wide receiver for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, they probably think he was more likely the guy with the saggy pants who, last week, admirably connected their septic system.
The Fanatical Invader of Virginia

Thus my recent hiatus from these pages. I often am required, in my role as local librarian, to abandon the realms of Kansas, Harpers Ferry and Militant Abolitionism for that of Ulysses Simpson Grant . . . who, because of his very brief residence in this community during the 19th century, has been providing meaningful employment for our Chamber of Commerce . . . and enriching the local capitalists . . . ever since.

So I am known to meander about the countryside, orating upon the deeds and misdeeds of the General and 18th President. Everyone hereabouts knows, or claims to know, about Grant. Patrons continually surge into my office seeking to validate hereditary claims that their ancestors were the General’s neighbors; or maids; or schoolmates; or drinking buddies; or members of his military staff. Ad nauseam. Actually, my future wife was one of those patrons. And to this day she insists that the reason I adopted her as my spouse is that she knew who John Brown was.

But only a tiny few assail me with questions about the Old Man. Perhaps some day I will be able to historically link both Grant and Brown. There are persistent stories of the former’s father, Jesse Grant, having been apprenticed under . . . and living within the household of . . . John Brown’s father Owen. I have been recently communicating with the distinguished Brown scholar Tom Vince, of Hudson, Ohio, on this particular point.

The Respectable Invader of Virginia
But despite the fact that Grant, in his celebrated “Memoirs,” noted that his father “. . . worked for, and lived in the family of a Mr. Brown, the father of John Brown - whose body lies mouldering in the grave, while his soul goes marching on. . ,” both Tom and I would prefer to have a bit more reliable documentation to prove this relationship.

Also in the “Memoirs,” the General penned: “I have often heard my father speak of John Brown, particularly since the events at Harper’s Ferry. Brown was a boy when they lived in the same house, but he knew him afterwards, and regarded him as a man of great purity of character, of high moral and physical courage, but a fanatic and extremist in whatever he advocated. It was certainly the act of an insane man to attempt the invasion of the South, and the overthrow of slavery, with less then twenty men...”

Thus Ulysses S. Grant . . . who was rather adept at invading the South himself. It is in vain that I search the chroniclers of Grant’s 1864-65 Overland Campaign . . . when scores of Virginia slaves flocked to his army . . . to find one who describes the General as an extremist. As a fanatic. Or as one acting as would an insane man.

Ah history, don’t you love it?--H. Scott Wolfe

Monday, April 18, 2016


The Biographer's Quest

Many people might think that the biographer's peak moment is in seeing his (or her) book come to publication, and that the completion and publication of a biography is, in a sense, the biographer's greatest connection to his subject. In fact, the published biography is only the result, the offspring of the biographer's greatest experience. For the biographer comes closest to connecting with his subject in the research and writing, not in the final product. It is the reflection and writing that gives us the greatest fulfillment--the virtual satisfaction, however illusory, of having actually communed with our subjects. This is something that I suspect only biographers--or people who love biography as a discipline--can appreciate. I don't know if others share this experience in their work, whether in composing music, exegeting a text, or sculpting an image. When all is said and done, it is the joy of doing of it--not the success of having done it--that we yearn for the most.

Friday, April 15, 2016

For the Record--
Brief biography of “Mary A, wife of John Brown of Harpers Ferry” interred at Madronia Cemetery in Saratoga, California.

Jean Libby

Birth: April 15, 1816 Mary Ann Day Brown Death: February 29, 1884

Blacksmith Charles Day (1777-1852) emigrated from central New York to Crawford County in western Pennsylvania, about 1825. Daughter Mary Ann Day was raised by his second wife Mary Ann Little (1787-1882). Her mother, Mary Eleanor Gould, born 1780 passed away in 1819, leaving young Mary and two older brothers (Horace Day (1805-1863) and John C. (1815-1880). Older half-sister Martha Day (1802-1862) married Thomas Delameter in upstate New York; the family emigrated together.

John Brown and his first wife Dianthe Lusk Brown emigrated from Hudson, Ohio in the same period (1826). Brown built a tannery which was innovative in methods. He organized a school with the Delameters; their oldest sons were contemporaries and lifelong friends. Brown was appointed postmaster of Richmond Township by President John Quincy Adams. The tannery is owned by the John Brown Heritage Association of Meadville, named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Dianthe died with complications of childbirth in 1832, leaving five children between the ages of three and twelve. Mary was asked by the widowed John Brown to be his second wife while she assisted the household following the death of Dianthe. They married in 1833, when she was seventeen and John Brown was thirty-three.

Mary bore thirteen children in the next twenty years, only six of whom survived to adulthood. Four were taken in a cholera epidemic in Franklin, Ohio, where Brown had moved in 1835 to begin new businesses. In 1846 John Brown and Col. Simon Perkins, son of the founder of Akron, Ohio began a wool-manufacture which brought him and his young family to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Frederick Douglass met the Browns in Springfield in 1848 and wrote movingly of Mary’s participation in the Underground Railroad for people seeking freedom. In 1849 an agreement was made with Gerrit Smith, an abolitionist in New York, for John and Mary to live in a cooperative African American community in the Adirondack Mountains.

John Brown joined his older sons and their families who emigrated to Kansas to lead armed defense of freestate settlers from 1855 to 1858; Mary and the children remained in the Adirondack community of North Elba. When her husband was hanged in Virginia on December 2, 1859, Mary journeyed with abolitionists to visit him in jail and returned John Brown’s body to their New York farm, which is now a state memorial park.

The story of John Brown embracing an enslaved mother and child on his way to execution is Mary’s deliberate contribution to the meaning of the sacrifice of her family. She was entrusted with the letter expressing his last wish that slaves be his attendants rather than southern ministers. Mary was the only visitor allowed to see Brown on the day before his hanging. She read the contents to the New York press, meeting them in interview alone outside the jail.

Before the letter was delivered to Mrs. George Stearns in Massachusetts the widow Mary Brown hand-copied it for her husband’s legacy, which was recognized by Boyd Stutler as her handwriting. She advised artist Louis Ransom who painted the scene envisioned by the poets and journalists in 1860 and actively participated with biographer James Redpath.

Mary Brown, three daughters, and only surviving son Salmon came to California in a yearlong journey that ended in Tehama County in 1864. She is remembered as “a ministering angel” and wagon train leader of determination and spirit. There was real danger to Mary and her family from Confederates as they crossed the country. Protection came from other emigrants, including an African American group who joined them for that purpose, dashing headlong for a full week to reach a U. S. military fort.

Daughters Annie and Sarah taught at “Colored” schools in and near Red Bluff, publicly supporting an end to racial segregation, as did their mother. Sarah mentored the first African American teacher to become certificated in California, Clara Logan Frazier. People in the community raised $450 to build Mary a home in January 1866 which still stands today and is recognized for her residence.
When the Colored School was burned by arson in 1869, Mary and her daughters moved to Rohnerville, Humboldt County, where Salmon and his family were raising sheep. Annie married Samuel Adams and remained; Ellen married teacher James Fablinger from Illinois in 1876. Finding employment at the Oak Street School, James brought Mary Brown, Sarah, his wife and three very young children to Saratoga in 1881. They purchased a cabin on top of the mountain from Rufus L. Higgins of Santa Clara, who led a contribution campaign for the family of abolitionist John Brown. Finding the commute too steep the family rented the McGrew House on Saratoga Avenue.

In 1882 Mary learned that her son Watson who died at Harpers Ferry, his remains liberated by the Union Army in the Civil War, was to be ceremoniously interred with his father at North Elba. Leaving Sarah at her new job at the U. S. Mint in San Francisco, Mary journeyed alone to Meadville to visit relatives, then to Boston and the Adirondack farm for Watson’s burial. On her return she visited Kansas for the first time, speaking about her husband and the end of slavery. She donated the gold Medal of Honor from France struck for John Brown to the Kansas Historical Society. Her August – December 1882 journey went to Humboldt County to visit Annie and the grandchildren, returning to Saratoga where she lived but another year. She sold the mountain property to her daughters for $1 in 1883, passing away from cancer on February 29, 1884.

Mary Brown and her daughter Sarah are known for missionary activities with the Saratoga Congregational Church and forthright opposition to anti-Asian laws and discrimination. Sarah requested that a mission established in China following the exclusion and expulsion of pioneer Chinese laborers in the late 1800s be named for her mother. As Japanese family immigration began in the early 1900s Sarah learned the language from local residents in order to teach English within the auspices of the Congregational Church of Saratoga and the American Missionary Association.
Community friendships of Mary and her namesake Fablinger granddaughter with Amanda and Florence Cunningham have the lasting result of permanent stewardship at the Saratoga History Museum. The friendship of Sarah Brown with Lucy Higgins of Santa Clara, both ardent suffragists, is a legacy remembered and passed on at The Bancroft Library, The University of California, Berkeley, in the present day.

Author: Jean Libby
, Allies for Freedom publishers, 1222 Fulton St. Palo Alto, California 94301

April 15, 2016


Beasley, Delilah L. Negro Trailblazers of California. 1919. Reprint Book Jungle, Champaign IL.

Cunningham, Florence. Saratoga’s First Hundred Years. Edited by Frances L. Fox Saratoga Historical Foundation, 1967. Chapter 14: 131-134.

DeCaro, Louis Jr. Fire From the Midst of You; a religious life of John Brown. New York University Press, 2001.

 ___________. Freedom’s Dawn; the last days of John Brown in Virginia. Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

____________. John Brown Speaks; letters and statements from Charlestown. Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

Edinger, Edward. “John Brown Historian Jean Libby Visits Meadville: the Dennington-Sartorius Mystery” in The John Brown Newsletter, Vol. 38 September 2015 no. 1. John Brown Heritage Association.

Jackson, Grace Alice Brambley. Black Pioneers in Tehama County California: History. Tehama County Genealogical and Historical Society, 2013.

Laughlin-Schultz, Bonnie. The Tie That Bound Us; the women of John Brown’s family and the legacy of radical abolitionism. Cornell University Press, 2013.

Libby Jean. John Brown’s Family in California, a journey by funeral train, covered wagon, through archives, to the Valley of Heart’s Delight; including the years 1833 – 1926, and honoring descendants of the Women Abolitionists of Santa Clara County, now known as Silicon Valley. “Yankee Abolitionist,” pages 13-16 and Allies for Freedom publishers, 2006.

__________.  John Brown Photo Chronology; catalog of the exhibition at Harpers Ferry 2009.

__________. “Brown Family Artifacts at the Saratoga History Museum and Environs:” pages 64-65. Allies for Freedom publishers, 2009. Supplement, revisions to the catalog.

__________. “Mary Brown’s Life Journeys”, insert pages 64-65. Allies for Freedom publishers, 2015.

Nalty, Damon G. The Browns of Madronia; Family of Abolitionist John Brown Buried in Madronia Cemetery Saratoga California. Saratoga Historical Foundation, 1996.

Schroeder, Cory T. Frontiersman: the life and travels of George Edwin Dibble. Lulu 14217562, 2013.

Tehama County 1856-2006; 150 Years of Photos and History. Tehama County Genealogical and
Historical Society, 2007. ISBN 0-9654085-7-4

Monday, March 14, 2016

Take Note--
Here's Something About Mary (in California)

10 March 2016

Dear Readers,

A celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Mary Brown is in creation at the Saratoga Blossom Festival in California on March 19, 2016.

The program will honor Alice Keesey Mecoy, direct descendant and native of Santa Clara County, where Mary and 17 family members are interred at the Madronia Cemetery.

We celebrate the early life of Mary Ann Day in Meadville, Pennsylvania, where she lived in childhood, marriage to John Brown, and is honored by the John Brown Heritage Association there today.

A special treat is in store with the sharing of an 1874 letter from James Fablinger, the husband of Ellen Brown, which was found in Galena, Illinois by history librarian and author Scott Wolfe.  The event takes place at the City of Saratoga Civic Center, which is the orchard property owned by James and Ellen Fablinger in the 19th and early 20th centuries, acquired from their daughter in her elder years in the 1950s.

The revised supplement to the John Brown Photo Chronology will be available to benefit the Saratoga Historical Foundation, where the largest collection of research materials about Mary and her last home are housed.  The supplement is also available for order online.

Your kind attention and support is appreciated.

Jean Libby
Allies for Freedom, Mary Brown and Her Daughters Documentary Project

MARY BROWN’S BIRTHDAY  (1816 -- 1884)

MARCH 19, 2016  3 pm                                

Charcoal photo portraits of John and Mary Brown by their daughter, Sarah, 
resident of Saratoga from the 1880s-1916.  Saratoga Historical Foundation



John Brown's  Family History by JEAN LIBBY is  “A  GEM OF CALIFORNIANA”

Mary Ann Day Brown is celebrated as a popular permanent resident of the Madronia Cemetery in
her own place in history as well as association with her abolitionist husband John Brown, executed
in Virginia in December 1859 for attempting to arm slaves and establish self-governing enclaves in
the western Territories.  John Brown’s raid is often called the spark that started the American Civil
War, which formal hostilities began in April 1861.

Mary was the second wife of John Brown, community leader and business owner of a leather
tannery in Meadville, Pennsylvania.  His first wife, Dianthe Lusk Brown, was buried there after her
death in childbearing in 1832, leaving four growing sons and a daughter in need of care.  John
Brown asked young Mary who was helping the household to be his wife.  They married a year later
when Mary was seventeen years old.  She bore thirteen children, only six of whom survived to
adulthood.  Two of their sons were killed at Harpers Ferry.

Mary was born on April 15, 1816 in Granville, New York.  Her father was a widowed blacksmith,
married a second time to Mary Ann Little.  Her older sister, Martha, married Thomas Delameter in
New York.  The families emigrated to Crawford County, western Pennsylvania, ca. 1824.

Jean Libby traveled to Meadville in September 2014 and experienced the history guided by the
longtime secretary and editor of the John Brown Heritage Association in Meadville, Mr. Edward
Edinger.  We drove the post road where Brown was appointed by President John Quincy Adams.
We stopped at Delameter’s Stand, the extant lovely residence where the wedding reception for
John and Mary was held, and allowed to photograph the parlor.  We visited the tannery where there
is historical interpretation of Mary as well as her husband.  The John Brown Tannery at Richmond
Township is on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978.

Please welcome Jack Mallory, a Saratoga Historical Foundation member and native of Meadville to
the commemoration of the 200th birthday of Mary Ann Day Brown, who came  to Saratoga to live in
1881.  Associated properties are on the maps distributed with the program.  The celebration takes
place on the grounds of the City of Saratoga Civic Center, which was acquired from the last living
daughter of James and Ellen Brown Fablinger in the 1950s, having been their orchard property
while they lived in Campbell.

We honor today a direct descendant of John and Mary Brown who was born in Santa Clara County,
Alice Keesey Mecoy.  Her study of ancestry goes well beyond genealogy with active association
of anti-racist and anti-slavery activities in the present day.  This is in keeping with the example of
her great great great great grandmother Mary, who continued to battle against racism and peonage
labor until the end of her life.  That heritage continues as a beacon in our world now called Silicon

Mary and her daughters Ellen and Sarah are interred at the Madronia Cemetery in Saratoga with headstones that honor John Brown.

--submitted by Jean Libby, Allies for Freedom

Friday, March 04, 2016

Local News--
Salmon Brown Recalled in Oregon Newspaper

Salmon Brown
(Oregon Digital
Newspaper Project
Notwithstanding a gratuitous comparison between John Brown's Harper's Ferry raid with the recent occupation of the Federal Malheur Wildlife Refuge, a journalist named Kylie Pine has written a thoughtful article for the Statesman Journal [Salem, Or.] recalling that Salmon Brown once lived in that vicinity.

Salmon Brown was born to John Brown and his second wife, Mary, in Hudson, Ohio, on October 2, 1836.  Salmon was born only about one year following his family's return to Ohio after having lived in northwestern Pennsylvania for nearly a decade.  John Brown had left Hudson in 1826, yet married to his first wife, Dianthe Lusk Brown, who died in Pennsylvania in the summer of 1832.  Brown was left with six young children, which probably lessened the time of mourning.  By the following summer, Brown had developed an interest in a seventeen-year-old domestic worker, Mary Ann Day, and married her in July 1833--eleven months after Dianthe's death.   While the brevity of his mourning and his choice of a teenage bride has invoked criticism by contemporary authors, it is overlooked that such practice was common in the agrarian world of the US in the19th century. Brown's father, Owen, was similarly widowed in 1808 at thirty-eight years of age, and remarried a young woman of twenty years the following year.
Young Salmon Brown
(Stutler/West Va. Div.
of Culture and History

Salmon was the third-born child of John and his young wife.  (Their first born, Sarah, died at nine years of age in 1843.   Three years later, Mary gave birth to another daughter, named Sarah in honor of her deceased sister).  Salmon apparently was named for a paternal uncle, Salmon, who had died three years prior (that Uncle Salmon himself seems to have been named for an elder brother of the same name, who had preceded him in death in 1796).

Pine writes that she was initially cautious about accepting local lore, and when she tried to find Salmon Brown in conventional sources like census and city directories, she got nervous.  "Luckily, Brown was a bit of a celebrity," she writes, "and newspaper records contain countless articles by him and about him that start to give view to his experience."  With no apparent background in Brown studies, Pine provides brief background to Salmon, noting his "claims to have participated in the Battle of Black Jack" in June 1856, something the journalist could have verified by consulting any good Brown biography.  Surprisingly, Pine mentions nothing of Salmon's involvement as one of the Pottawatomie killers of May 1856, when Brown, his sons, and some free state associates conducted a preemptive strike against a cadre of proslavery conspirators, effectively snuffing out a plot to attack the Browns in their own settlements near Osawatomie.

Salmon in 1914
(Topeka Capital)
Interestingly, in consulting local newspapers, Pine writes that Salmon's wife, Abbie Hinckley Brown, said the reason that her husband did not join his father at Harper's Ferry in 1859 was that one of the sons had to stay at home.  "That lot fell to Salmon.”   Villard's biography, presents a different excuse.  According to Salmon, the reason he did not join his father's effort in Virginia was because he believed he would delay due to a propensity to detail.  While I have not made exhaustive study of the point, I find both explanations questionable, especially the latter.  The latter seems most likely "20/20 hindsight" based on the outcome of the raid and the actual reason for Brown's failure to get out of Harper's Ferry in a timely fashion.  It is possible that Salmon did refrain from going to Virginia because his two brothers--Watson and Oliver--were intent on going.  Assuming this was the case, Salmon would have been the only son of John and Mary Brown left behind, and as it turned out, both brothers did not return alive.  Still, it is not clear that Salmon was in any way constrained to remain home.

Pine writes that Salmon's family association with the controversial abolitionist "would affect the course of the rest of his life," which was undoubtedly true of all the Brown children.   Pine notes that when the Civil War broke out, Salmon enlisted and was set up to become an officer in New York's 96th Infantry but never saw action on the field. Various accounts are offered, but Pine found that "the most interesting one states that fellow officers petitioned that he be removed from their ranks," fearing that their unit would be placed in greater jeopardy if they fell into the hands of rebel soldiers if the son of John Brown was among them.  There was a pervasive hostility toward the Browns in the South, so this may be the case, although the point needs greater consideration by historians.

Pine notes the westward movement of Mary Brown and her children, along with Salmon, who made a dangerous journey to California during the Civil War, arriving there in1864.  Salmon eventually ended up settling in the Englewood neighborhood of Salem, Oregon, and in later years kept flocks and ran a meat market according to local sources.   "By all accounts," Pine writes, Salmon "very much resembled his famous father."  A local reporter thus wrote: “Looking closely at the portrait of John Brown and then again at his son, one can see a strong resemblance, which Mrs. Brown says is growing as her husband becomes older. The same determined look is set on the face, while in the wearing of his hair and the trimming of his mustache, the son has followed his father closely.”

Pine says that Salmon enjoyed something of a popular status in these later years, and that his letters can be found in opinion pieces in local newspapers.  Salmon and Abbie moved to Portland around 1901, notes Pine, and in his last years he suffered with the physical effects of an accident in earlier life.  In his very last years, Salmon was mostly bedridden.  Sick and discouraged, Salmon decided to end his own life.  "He died in Portland from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1919," Pine writes.  It may be significant that he chose to kill himself on May 10, the day after his beloved father's birthday. In 1908, he told interviewer Katherine Mayo that he had been among one of John Brown's most devoted family members.  "Father depended on me, too," Salmon concluded.

See Kylie Pine, “Heritage: Armed occupier’s son a Salemite.”  Statesman Journal [Salem, Or.], 4 March 2016.  (

Monday, February 22, 2016

A Photographic Connection to Jason Brown's Disappointing Book Tour, William H. Day, and W.E.B. DuBois 

I.  An Engineer's Re-Discovery

Stephen H. Smith, a former design engineer and local historian and author residing in York, Pennsylvania, keeps a blog called YorksPast.  His blog recently featured a new discovery from York history regarding an 1891 visit by Jason Brown, the Old Man's second son.  Although Smith was aware of Brown’s visit to York from his own research, he became aware of the 1891 photograph through a woman named Gussie Jones, who submitted to find out more about it.    Smith happily featured the image on his blog,1 which was also picked up by the website of the York Daily Record.2

Smith positively identified it as an image of the Rev. John H. Hector, the initial Post Commander of the David E. Small Post, No. 369, G.A.R. [Grand Army of the Republic], a black veteran’s post in York.  According to Smith, Brown and Hector were photographed at the studio of Shadle & Busser in York, which operated in York from the late 19th century into the early 20th century.
Jason Brown and Rev. John H. Hector in 1891
(A. R. Degenhardt/

However, the image is not so much a discovery as a re-discovery that Smith has made possible because we seem to have missed it elsewhere.  In fact, the same image is already featured online on the website, where it seems to have been posted by A. R. Degenhardt in 2014, in conjunction with an entry prepared Gloria Erhart Miller in 2008.  Degenhardt also posted a portrait of Hector with his wife and their unidentified son, likewise made at the York studio of Shadle & Busser.3  Furthermore, while the Smith blog and York Daily Record present the image alone, Miller's presentation of the image shows that it is a "cabinet card," a popular fashion of the later 19th century in which an image is mounted on a cardboard backing that could feature the name of the studio.  In this case, the card features the name and address of Shadle & Busser in York.


According to Gloria Erhart Miller's information, John H. Hector was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, around 1845.   Windsor is a notable place in black history in regard to the underground railroad, being located across the Detroit River from the city of Detroit, Michigan, a major terminus for escaping fugitives from slavery.  Blacks living in Detroit and in "Canada West" (as that section was known in the antebellum era) moved back and forth across the US/Canadian border, as did John Brown in preparation for his Harper's Ferry raid--incidentally, a theme that I have addressed in the newly published collection, A Fluid Frontier: Slavery, Resistance, and the Underground Railroad in the Detroit River Borderland, edited by Karolyn Smardz Frost and Veta Smith Tucker.

Smith says that Hector was a well-known preacher and popular lecturer, nicknamed as the “Black Knight” by his admirers, and Erhart Miller provides further information complementing the images, describing the activist minister as a man of small stature, standing 5' 3", with a compact frame and dark complexion.   In 1860, Hector was a farmer in the vicinity of Rhode Island, and he served as a drummer in the segregated U.S. Colored Artillery, having enlisted in 1863 with Company G, 11th Artillery.  He was honorably discharged in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1865.

Rev. Hector, wife Eliza, and son
(A.R. Degenhardt/
Following the war, Hector lived variously in Burlington, Illinois, Troy, New York, and in Washington D.C., where he seems to have been active in establishing black posts for the G.A.R. as well as some point having entered the Christian ministry.  In 1876, he married Eliza H. Meade in Peekskill, N.Y.  Erhart Miller adds that minsters in the post-Civil War era were somewhat "nomadic," although in a sense this is probably an ongoing case with the life of many clergyman, who generally serve at least in several pastorates throughout their lives.

It is probably the case that if Hector seems to have led a "nomadic" life, it was also due to his blend of ministry and activism among black military veterans.  The blend of church, political, and social association have a unique aspect in African American history given the constant struggle against slavery, racism, and white supremacy that has always kept the church much closer to political activism than in the white community, which always had the privilege of keeping religion entirely separate from politics.   In this sense, Hector was something of a forerunner to other church-based activism, such as found among activists in the Marcus Garvey movement in the first part of the 20th century, who often used the Christian pulpit to advance the social and political concerns of the black community.

Smith says that Hector was in York in 1883-84 in order to establish Post No. 369, G.A.R., and was engaged in ministerial duties in Washington, D.C. in 1887, afterward moving out to California, where he seems to have met and befriended Jason Brown.  Smith says that Hector returned to York in 1890, and remained there a year or two and resumed his activity with Post No. 369, during which the Brown visit took place. Hector returned subsequently to York, where he died on April 8, 1914.4


Jason Brown
Jason Brown was born from the union of John Brown and Dianthe Lusk of Hudson, Ohio,  in 1923.  As the second eldest of John Brown's children, he had grown to young adulthood and married in 1847.  Jason, who was by nature the most benign and non-aggressive of Brown's sons, fought and suffered alongside his father and brothers in Kansas, and lost his personal possessions more than once as a result of having his home set afire by proslavery thugs.   Neither Jason nor John Brown Junior were directly involved in their father's militant efforts following Kansas, although they certainly defended his legacy in later life.   Jason was enthusiastic for nature, scientific developments, and the US frontier, and spent some years living apart from his wife in California, in a mountain cabin with his brother Owen.  After Owen's death in 1888, Jason seems to have stayed on in California, but after his home was destroyed in 1892 by a "mountain gale" in the area of Pasadena, as he recounted in a letter to his father's biographer, Franklin Sanborn, in 1892.   After his hope of establishing a homestead in California failed due to economic difficulty, Jason seems to have migrated back to Ohio, finally dying there in 1912.5

II. A Portal to the Past

In his presentation of the image, Smith happily provides the text of an article that provides a fascinating portal into the past. “Receptions to John Brown’s Son,” from The York Daily, February 17, 1891 issue, reads:
Jason Brown, son of John Brown, of Harper’s Ferry fame, is in York. In consideration of the great services he has rendered in the freedom of the colored race it is purposed to tender him a reception Wednesday and Thursday nights of this week in the court house. Mr. Henry Small, whose father was among the early advocates of freedom, will preside at these receptions. Prof. W. Howard Day, of Harrisburg, who was at one time private secretary to John Brown, will be present and address the assembly. Miss Jennie Stuart, of Harrisburg, said to be one of the finest colored singers in America, will render choice selections both nights.  
On Thursday night, the 19th inst., Rev. J. H. Hector will deliver his famous war lecture. The same evening, Mr. Jason Brown will present his book, “Life and Letters of John Brown,” to the public, a lately revised work. This is Mr. Brown’s first appearance before the general public and he will relate and correct some incidents concerning the life of his father. The stories of his own life are themselves wonderful.  
Mr. Brown will remain in York several days, when he will go to Washington, D. C., accompanied by Rev. J. H. Hector. In the Capital City arrangements are being made to entertain him. Grand Army Post No. 369 and No. 37 will attend the meeting on Wednesday night in a body and dressed in full uniform.6
The article contains a number of interesting details, including a reference to Jennie Stuart, a black female vocalist from Harrisburg, Pa., and Henry Small, whose father, David E. Small (identified by Smith) was a leading advocate for freedom within the black community of York.

William H. Day

Most notable for me, however, is the reference to William H. Day, mistakenly identified as "private secretary to John Brown."  Day (1825-1900) was a black abolitionist who resided in Canada prior to the Civil War.  Day was not Brown's secretary, but did serve as something of a go-between for Brown and Harriet Tubman when the former was seeking black recruits for his Virginia invasion.  In the John Brown story, Day is remembered as an antislavery activist, graduate of Oberlin College, and a printer by trade.  It was Day who prepared the published version of Brown's Provisional Constitution, which the Old Man introduced at his "quiet convention" Chatham, Ontario, May 8-10, 1858.
William H. Day
(African American

It is notable that Day is listed in the York Daily as having been a resident of Harrisburg, Pa., providing background for his burial there, in the Lincoln Cemetery:
Scholar, Humanitarian, Churchman, Civic Leader, Educator, Editor, Publisher, Lecturer.
A Life Devoted To The Intellectual, Civic And Spiritual Uplift Of Man, Endowed By God With Unique Talents To Serve A Common Humanity Which He Did With Humility, Patience, Fortitude, And Dignity.7
As a young child, Day was taken into the home of a prosperous white family named the Willistons of Northampton, Mass., who reared him and sent him to Oberlin.  He dedicated his life to the struggle for black freedom, serving as secretary of the National Negro Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in September 1848.  He was elected president of the National Board of Commissioners of the Colored People by the Black citizens of Canada and the United States in 1858, which is possibly the main reason he was sought out by John Brown that same year.  Day preached in Lincolnshire, England, in 1859, working with the YMCA in that country, also forming an African Aid Society with a number of colleagues.8  Boyd Stutler observed that Day published various papers in Cleveland, Oh., Brooklyn, N.Y., and Wilmington, Del., and that Day served as a Union recruiter under Martin Delany during the Civil War.9  After the defeat of the Confederacy, Day took a role working for the Freedman's Bureau.   Professionally, Day also  served in a variety of educational offices in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, and in the 1880s was the first black school board member and elected as school board president in Harrisburg, Pa.  Along with other black education leaders, he started Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C. in 1879. 10

Day's grave marker in no way exaggerates the contributions of this black leader and associate of John Brown.  However, the marker bears a dedication date of May 30, 1950, curiously late given that Day had died fifty years before.  Yet even herein lies another story of re-discovery.

Boyd B. Stutler, the godfather of John Brown scholarship, was a relentless researcher beginning from the early 20th century until his death in 1970.  One topic that Stutler hotly pursued in the mid-20th century was Brown's Chatham conference and his activities and associates in Canada, including W. H. Day.  As it turned out, Stutler somehow located Day's gravesite in Harrisburg, which by this time had been overgrown and forgotten.  As Stutler later recalled, after discovering Day's resting place, "by correspondence [I] sparked enough interest to secure the erection of a modest monument at the grave."  The "modest monument" was thus dedicated on May 30, 1950, apparently overseen by an ad hoc committee comprised of local black leaders.    According to Stutler, "[t]he group in charge wanted some elaborate dedication ceremonies---and invited DuBois to deliver the principal address."11
Boyd B. Stutler
W. E. B. DuBois

Stutler was a white West Virginian who had stumbled into Brown studies largely out of interest in his state's history, and had become attracted at first to the impact of Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry. Although his admiration for Brown grew expansively, Stutler evidently was never more than passively sympathetic to the black struggle, and certainly held no political ideas exceeding traditional conservatism.  A right-wing type with a career in local government, military, and veterans' affairs, Stutler made no connections between Brown and the Civil Rights movement of his own day, and was generally hostile toward anyone associated with the Left.  Stutler disdained even the Civil Rights marches of his later years, and when it came to W.E.B. DuBois, Stutler was particularly contemptuous since the former had moved in the direction of communism before his own death in 1963.  Writing to his associate, the Rev. Clarence Gee, following the news of DuBois' death (the black leader left the US and took up citizenship in Nkrumah's Ghana by this time), Stutler recalled DuBois' presence at the Day memorial meeting in May 1950: "[DuBois] spoke briefly and took his departure immediately.  It was not his going away so soon that irked the group, it was his attitude in general and some parts of his address--Day was anything but a left-winger," he concluded.12

III.  A Disappointing Book Tour

While these are all interesting aspects relating to the John Brown story, the central theme of the re-discovery of the Jason Brown and J. H. Hector association is reflected in both the 1891 York Daily article and the image of Brown and Hector.  The York Daily reporter states that for two evenings, Jason was to appear at the court house in York, initially for a reception greeting his first visit to the city, on Wednesday, February 18, and on the following night, he would appear alongside Hector.  The article, which probably was placed in the paper by Hector himself, says that the latter would deliver a lecture on the Civil War--which undoubtedly included an oratorical highlight on John Brown.  Then Jason Brown would "present his book, Life and Letters of John Brown, to the public, a lately revised work."  The article promised that Jason would "relate and correct some incidents concerning the life of his father," along with "wonderful" stories about his own life and experiences. Hector afterward was to escort Jason to Washington D.C. to speak once more along these lines.
F. B. Sanborn

Brown scholars will recognize, of course, that the book to be presented was not actually of Jason's authorship, but rather the bio-letter collection by Franklin B. Sanborn of Concord, Mass.   The first edition of Life and Letters was published by Sanborn himself in 1885, and the second edition was picked up for publication (without substantial changes being made) by Roberts Brothers of Boston, Mass., and republished in 1891.  Sanborn worked closely with John Brown's children in compiling the letters and biographical information for his work, and when the second edition was published in 1891, he enlisted Brown's sons to support its sale.  It was the republication of the Sanborn book that apparently brought Jason Brown into partnership with J. H. Hector, although it seems the black minister and activist was more enthusiastic in advancing the arrangement.

According to a letter from Jason to Sanborn in 1892, Jason and Hector had gone on the road to promote the Sanborn book in the northeast, including places in Connecticut in 1891, and the latter acted as the promoter of these appearances by advancing "showbills."   Jason's words suggest that he entered the partnership with hesitancy, determining to himself that he would "make as little show of myself as possible."  Jason was famously shy and found it burdensome to be put into the spotlight. Worse, Hector's advertisements were "flaming," promoting Jason as an orator with exciting stories to tell, whereas the whole idea of public speaking seems to have made him sick.  Jason did not fault Hector for trying, but the end result was that he felt "ruined. . . forever for the show business."

Rather than success, Jason began to see himself "as others see me," he wrote, until he became deeply discouraged and incapable of continuing the book tour with his black colleague. "The false light Hector[']s showbills placed me in was the principal cause of my giving it up," Jason wrote.  He had hoped to make it a profitable venture for both himself and Sanborn,  he concluded, and would have done so if he were half as good a speaker as Hector.  Having disappointed his friend and himself, Jason finally withdrew to his home in Akron, Ohio, where he could only make a living by farm work, or "digging" as he put it.  When a bill came from the publisher that Hector was supposed to pay for the books, Jason promised that he would cover the expense as soon as he could earn the money.13


1 Stephen H. Smith, "York Hosts Son of John Brown of Harper's Ferry Fame," YorksPast (York, Pa.), a blog found at:

2 Stephen H. Smith, "York Hosts Son of John Brown of Harper's Ferry Fame," York Daily Record (York, Pa.), 17 Feb. 2016.

3 Gloria Erhart Miller, "Rev. John H. Hector," Find A Grave (13 Sept. 2008).  Images added by A. R. Degenhardt, 21 Oct. 2014.

4 Smith; Erhart Miller.

5 General summary of Jason Brown's life based upon a variety of readings.  His reference to the "mountain gale" is found in Jason Brown to F. B. Sanborn, 13 July 1892, MS-04-0015, Boyd B. Stutler Collection, West Virginia Memory Project.

6 “Receptions to John Brown’s Son,” The York Daily, 17 Feb. 1891,  transcribed in Smith, "York Hosts Son of John Brown. . . ."

7 Inscription of William H. Day's monument/gravestone on Find A Grave, from image provided by Kathy Gifford on 25 Mar. 2014.  See

8 "William H. Day: Minister, Abolitionist, and College Founder,"  (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina). See

9 Boyd Stutler to Dwight Wilson, 29 Sept. 1948, RP03-0066E-F, Boyd B. Stutler Collection. See:

10 "William H. Day: Minister, Abolitionist, and College Founder."

11  Stutler to Gee, 24 Nov. 1963, p. 1, Stutler-Gee Correspondence, Hudson Library and Historical Society, Hudson, Oh.

12 Ibid.

13 Jason Brown to Franklin B. Sanborn, July 13, 1892, MS04-0015 A-K, BBS.

Monday, February 15, 2016

John Brown in the News

Dennis Frye, Harper's Ferry Historian, Lecture, Dec. 5, 2015

On December 5, 2015, Dennis Frye, chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, presented a lecture, "John Brown and the Election of 1860," at Shepherd University's Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education, sponsored by the university's department of Civil War studies. Mr. Frye's lecture is available online on the website of C-SPAN3 here. (or see the full link below *)
Dennis Frye

"John Brown brought the topic of slavery into the parlors of every home in America. . . .  Geography no longer separated someone from the issue, and it became the topic of the day. John Brown not only spurred the discussion, but his actions spurred the South into secession."

"Our country would probably not be where it is today without John Brown. He was one of the most transformative figures in history."

Based on Mary Stortstrom, "John Brown history program to air on national TV."  Journal News [Martinsburg, West Va.], 13 Feb. 2016.

Mini-Series Published on Brown’s Early Life by Kansas Authority

Grady Atwater
Grady Atwater, the site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site in Osawatomie, Kansas, published a mini series on John Brown’s youth and early influences during January 2016.  The articles, published in the online version of The Miami County Republic (St. Joseph, Mo.) in the month of January are: “John Brown learned many of his beliefs from his parents” (6 Jan.); “John Brown’s mother had profound impact on his life” (13 Jan.); and “Experience as young boy helped shape John Brown’s ideology” (27 Jan.).

Links to Atwater articles:

Art Imitates Life Except, Apparently, When it Comes to Brown

In an article on dated January 27, historian and poet David C. Ward includes an interview with a poet and woodworker from the Harper's Ferry area named Steve Scafaldi, the winner of the 2014 Miller Williams Arkansas Poety Prize.  The article is typical of the misinformation and bias of many scholars and artists, such as Ward who begins the piece by drawing on the words of Sean Wilentz, a scholar whose bias against Brown is well known.
John Hendrix Illustration

Ward quotes poet Scafaldi:  “Many people in Virginia and West Virginia still see [Brown] more as a terrorist than a freedom fighter."  One of Scafaldi's poems, entitled "The Beams," explores Brown on the gallows, reflecting the poet's contaminated vision more than the historical record, typically fixated with Brown's "violence," which he imagines reflected in the dead abolitionist's eyes--“hard and wild/to see—like two slender crimson laser beams.”  Ward frames the Scafaldi piece further with a reference to Herman Melville's "Weird John Brown," the hackneyed conclusion that Brown was complex, and Scafaldi's conclusion that Brown “is still the wild ghost of that place.”  

Yawn.  Art imitates life except, except, all too often in the US, when it comes to John Brown.  Then it more or less imitates the miseducation of the artist.

Source: David C. Ward, "Can the Civil War still inspire today's poets?" (27 Jan. 2016).