"Of all the men who were said to be my contemporaries, it seemed to me that John Brown was the only one who had not died. . . . I meet him at every turn. He is more alive than ever he was. He has earned immortality. He is not confined to North Elba nor to Kansas. He is no longer working in secret. He works in public, and in the clearest light that shines on this land." Henry David Thoreau<>"It would be difficult to find a parallel in all history for John Brown and his career."J. M. Buckley<>"His conversation was of the most pleasant and instructive character. One thing I observed that he never said a word that did not mean something. He always talked directly to the point and every word was big with meaning." C. G. Allen<>"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<>“People don’t realize, I believe, how thoughtfully Mr. Brown went into that expedition with the idea of sacrificing himself. All his preparations were made calmly and he went away as though going on a mere business trip. . . . he had weighed it all." Lyman Eppes<>"All that the courts could take cognizance of was a watch and a Bible and a few old guns. But to humanity he had left a firmer faith in virtue and in liberty." Clarence Macartney<>"He did much in his life and more in his death; he embodied the inspiration of the men of his generation." Theodore Roosevelt<>"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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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

157 Years Ago Today: Lydia Maria Child Writes to John Brown

157 Years Ago Today--
Lydia Maria Child Writes to John Brown

One hundred and fifty-seven years ago today, Lydia Maria [pronounced "Mariah"] Francis Child (b. 1802) penned a letter to John Brown, now a prisoner awaiting sentencing in Charlestown, Virginia. She was only two years younger than 59-year-old John Brown, and grew up in Medford, Massachusetts, making a name for herself in her twenties as the author of a successful novel that featured a female protagonist and a romantic relationship between a white woman and a Native American character.  Lydia became a well known author of novels, essays, and juvenile literature, but married a less successful lawyer and editor, David Lee Child in 1826.  

While Child was firmly committed to the antislavery cause, he was dependent upon his wife's writing for a consistent income. The progressive couple became supporters of the pacifist abolitionist editor, William Lloyd Garrison, in the 1830s, and Lydia was duly pressed into the service of the antislavery cause, which she already supported with conviction, along with her husband.  In the later 1830s, David Lee Child wrote famously against the annexation of Texas by slaveholders, and likewise published a series of antislavery articles.  Though financially strapped and struggling, the Childs were something of a power couple in abolitionist terms, particularly Lydia's season of activity and successful writing in New York during the 1840s, when she was the editor of The Antislavery Standard.

In the heightening tensions of the 1850s, the Childs were quite concerned about matters in the Kansas territory like the rest of the abolitionist set.  According to Child's biographer, the late Deborah P. Clifford, the Garrisonian abolitionists worried over the fact that antislavery militancy in Kansas might undercut their pacifist "moral suasionist" views.  But the Childs seem to have sympathized with militant antislavery people, and Lydia even published an extended essay in 1856 called "The Kansas Immigrants," which was serialized in Horace Greeley's New York Tribune.  Clifford wrote that Lydia herself believed that "if emancipation was only obtainable through force, then force must be used."1 

In early 1857, when John Brown was canvassing the east for support for the Kansas cause, he somehow met David Lee Child.  Although the time and place of their meeting is unclear, it was probably in March, most likely in Massachusetts.  Brown and Child evidently had a brief conversation and Brown seems to have been taken aback by something Child asked, triggering his famous cautionary reticence.  It may be that Child frankly asked him about the killings at Pottawatomie, although it is not known why Brown later acknowledged that he had not told Child "all the truth."  If the matter in question was related to Pottawatomie, it may be that Brown had been put in an awkward position before a group of people and preferred not to give the full details of the incident.  Whatever the case, Child wrote to Brown on March 20, and Brown responded on April 1 from Springfield, Massachusetts.  According to the letter, Child had sent some "'document'" to Brown, which the latter acknowledged and then suggested a meeting in Boston later that month.2

It is not clear if the two met again in Boston as suggested by Brown, but likely the latter hoped that Child might prove a source of financial support, as part of the larger network that the abolitionist soldier hoped to build in New England.  If so, then he was hoping in vain to receive support from the financially troubled lawyer and editor.   On the other hand, it may be that Child, too, had hoped to gain firsthand information about Kansas, including information about Brown himself, who had become a heroic figure in the North following the 1856 battle at Osawatomie.  Whatever Child's intentions, whether to gain this information for himself or for his wife's writing, there was some exchange between the two men in 1857.   

Whether or not they met in early April 1857, Brown had occasion to write a short note to him on April 27, stating that he was being prevented from departing (apparently from New England) until early (apparently) May.3  By the end of May 1857,  Brown was in Akron, Ohio, where he wrote to George Luther Stearns back in Massachusetts, expressing regret that he was not accompanied by Child and another man.4  Perhaps Brown had reason to think that Child was going to travel with him back to Kansas; whatever he meant, however, Brown was disappointed in his hopes as he was overall with the New England set. Throughout the period of their association in early 1857, Child managed to get some information from Brown about the struggle in Kansas.  When Katherine Mayo did her memorable research to assist Oswald Villard in 1909, she located a manuscript in Brown's hand, given to David Lee Child, in which the former provided details about the Kansas conflict.  The document is verified by Lydia Maria Child as having been composed by "old Brown at the request of my husband."5

Whether or not the Childs intended to produce a contemporary story about Brown is not clear, but it may be that Lydia herself hoped to write further on Kansas, focusing on Brown.  If so, the question is raised as to why she did not expedite the work.  It might be that her designs to write on Brown as a Kansas hero were undercut by other journalists, especially James Redpath, who was on the ground in Kansas and had access to Brown.   Regardless, Lydia Child apparently sustained admiration for Brown which, after Harper's Ferry, gave birth to her plan to write his authorized biography.

Time does not permit me to engage the interesting topic of Child's intended biography of Brown, which is discussed in Bonnie Laughlin Schultz's fine book, The Tie That Bound Us.   Whether or not this was Lydia's second time thinking about a John Brown narrative, the 1859 effort was her best hope at both serving the antislavery cause (including raising money for Brown's family) and providing a much needed cash flow for herself and husband.   As the record shows, however, Child was disappointed in this effort. 

Not only did the imprisoned Brown refuse her solicitation to come to Virginia to nurse his wounds and support him in his last days, but he turned the issue of finance back on her, asking instead for her to persuade her friends to make donations to his family.  To cap off her disappointment, the radical abolitionist journalist James Redpath upstaged her completely by winning the support of the Brown family as the authorized biographer of the Old Man.  Lydia's hopes were dashed, and her dream of supporting the cause she loved (and a windfall of profit) ended quite abruptly with Brown's kind rejection.   Those interested in Brown's angle on this episode should also consult my Freedom's Dawn: The Last Days of John Brown in Virginia.

Both Lydia Maria Child's letter to Brown and his response on November 4, 1859 follow below.  I would refer the reader to my book, John Brown Speaks: Letters and Statements from Charlestown, for further contextualizing information on the Brown-Child letter.--LD


     1 Deborah P. Clifford, "Lydia Maria Child," Poetry Foundation [Chicago].  Retrieved from: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/lydia-maria-child

     2 John Brown to David L. Child, 1 April 1857.  Transcribed by Katherine Mayo in Box 4, Oswald G. Villard Papers, Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Collection [OGV].

     3 John Brown to David L. Child, 27 April 1857.  Transcribed by Katherine Mayo in Box 5, OGV.

     4 John Brown to George L. Stearns, 23 May 1857.  Transcribed by Katherine Mayo in Box 5, OGV.

     5 Katherine Mayo's transcription of undated 1857 description by John Brown, written for David Lee Child and verified by Lydia Maria Child, OGV.


Mass'ts Wayland, Oct 26th, 1859 

Dear Capt Brown, 

Though personally unknown to you, you will recognize in my name an earnest friend of Kansas, when circumstances made that Territory the battle-ground between the antagonistic principles of slavery and freedom, which politicians so vainly strive to reconcile in the government of the U.S.
Believing in peace principles, I cannot sympathize with the method you chose to advance the cause of freedom. But I honor your generous intentions, I admire your courage, moral and physical, I reverence you for the humanity which tempered your zeal, I sympathize with your cruel bereavements, your sufferings and your wrongs. In brief, I

[p. 2]

love you and bless you. 

Thousands of hearts are throbbing with sympathy as warm as mine. I think of you night and day, bleeding in prison, surrounded by hostile faces, sustained only by trust in God, and your own strong heart. I long to nurse you, to speak to you sisterly words of sympathy and consolation. I have asked permission of Gov. Wise to do so. If the request is not granted, I cherish the hope that these words may, at least, reach your hands, and afford you some little solace. 

May you be strengthened by the conviction that no honest man ever sheds his blood for freedom in vain, however much he may be mistaken in his efforts. May God sustain you, and carry you through whatsoever may be in store for you!

Yours with heartfelt respect, sympathy, and affection.

L. Maria Child.

Source: Kansas State Historical Society,  John Brown Collection, #299, Box 2, Folder 4.

Charlestown Jefferson Co. Va. 4th Nov. 1859.

Mrs L Maria Child

Wayland Mass

My Dear friend

(Such you prove to be though an entire stranger) Your most Kind letter has reached me; with your Kind offer to come here & take care of me. Allow me to express my gratitude for your great sympathy: & at the same time to propose to you a different course; together with my reasons for wishing it. I should certainly be greatly pleased to become personally acquainted with one so gifted; & so Kind: but I cannot avoid seeing some objections to it under present circumstances. First I am in [the] charge of a most humane gentleman who with his family have rendered me every possible attention I have desired or that could be of the least advantage: and I am so far recovered from my wounds as no longer to require nursing. Then again it would subject you to great personal inconvenience, & quite a heavy expense; without doing me any good.
Now allow me to name to you another channel through which you may reach me with your sympathies much more effectually. I have at home a Wife & Three young daughters the youngest of whom is but little over Five years old; the oldest is nearly Sixteen. I have also Two daughters in law whose Husbands have both fallen near me here. One of these is a Mother & the other like to become so. There is also another Widow a Mrs Thompson whose Husband also fell here. Whether she is a widow Mother or not I cannot say. They all (my Wife included) live at North Elba, Essex Co. New York. I have or suppose I have a middle aged Son who has been in some degree a cripple from childhood who would have as much as he could well do to earn a living. He was a most dreadful sufferer in Kansas; & lost all he had laid up: & has not enough to clothe himself for the Winter comfortably. I have no Son or Son in law living: who did not suffer terribly in Kansas.
Now dear friend would you not as soon contribute Fifty Cents now: & a like sum yearly for the relief of those very poor; & deeply afflicted persons to enable them to supply themselves, & Children with Bread: & very plain clothing; & to enable the children to receive a common English education: & also to devote your own energies to induce others to join you in giving a like or other amount to constitute a little fund to the purpose named? I cannot see how your coming here can possibly do me the least good: & I feel quite certain you can do me immense good where you are. I am quite cheerful under all my afflicting circumstances; & prospects, having as I humbly trust “the peace of God which passeth all understanding, to rule in my heart.”[Philippians 4:7, New Testament]. You may make just such use of this as you see fit. 

{God Almighty bless; & reward you a Thousand fold.}

Yours in sincerity; & truth.

                                                                                                            John Brown

Source: Boyd B. Stutler John Brown Collection, West Virginia History [Charleston], MS02-0045.  Some emendations by me--LD.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Republished: Boyd B. Stutler's "John Brown and the Masonic Order" (1962)

The Civil War had been fought out and peace had returned to the land when a group of churchmen and reformers led by the Rev. Charles G. Finney of Oberlin, who had long served as president of Oberlin College, turned to make war on secret societies and the Masonic order in particular. The crusade mildly agitated a part of the country for some years, but lacking as it did the frenzy, hysteria, and political potency of the anti-Masonic movement of the 1820's and 1830's it eventually fell of its own weight.[i]
Boyd B. Stutler (1889-1970)
The persistent crusaders in the Finney camp were fond of referring to recusant Masons as proof that the principles of the order were repugnant to thinking Christian men-that they renounced the order once its secrets and its binding oaths had been made known to them. John Brown, the firebrand of Kansas and the raider at Harpers Ferry, was among those mentioned whose religious principles impelled them to leave the order and to become bitter enemies of all secret societies. But proof of John Brown's affiliation was lacking--those who knew the circumstances were not talking. In the face of strong denials of such membership by Masons who knew as little about the truth of the matter as did the anti-Masonic advocates, his name was dropped. The dispute, however, was not settled.
Was John Brown a Mason? Some argued that he was; others claimed that he was not. Members of the family remained silent. It took a long time for the record to become clear.

The long dispute as to whether John Brown was a regularly initiated Mason and a member of a lodge operating under proper authority was definitely settled only a few years ago when the records of the old, disbanded Hudson Lodge No. 68 were uncovered in the archives of the Grand Lodge of Ohio.  There it was found that Brown's membership was fully established, with dates of initiation and, further, his election to an office in the lodge.[ii]  His record as an opponent of secret societies--with Masonry as his chief target--had been no secret, though he had nothing to say about the subject in his later years. Behind the brief notes in the old lodge record is a story that has never been fully told.

Mary Brown  New York
Illustrated News, 
Dec. 17, 1859
It was not until 1881, when Mrs. Brown in a newspaper interview casually mentioned that her husband had once been a Mason, that the argument was renewed.[iii]  Again there was quick denial by Masons who were zealous to protect the good name of their order against aspersions of association with a character as controversial as John Brown. Apparently, save for the surviving members of the family, there were none to defend John Brown--the friends who had known him as a Mason some fifty years earlier had either passed from these worldly scenes, or did not want to add fuel to the flames of controversy, or perhaps withheld their knowledge of his membership and his later renunciation of Freemasonry as a lodge secret. Brown himself had little or nothing to say about his Masonic record and, if one of his associates is to be believed, even wanted to conceal his anti-Masonic activities from his associates in the later days of his life.[iv]  Thus the incidents surrounding his renunciation and activity as an anti-Mason have been generally blurred by inaccurate and misleading statements made by members of his family, and by anti-Masons who wanted to use his change of attitude for propaganda purposes.

John Brown, who is yet one of the most controversial characters in American history, was born at Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800, but in 1805 was taken by his parents to the then frontier town of Hudson, Ohio, where he was reared. The Western Reserve was then being settled largely by emigrants from New England, and Hudson was one of its newer towns in all respects a New England village pulled up by its roots and transplanted in Ohio. Members of the Masonic fraternity who had been made master masons in lodges in their old home towns were among the settlers, but it was not until January 26, 1823, that Hudson Lodge No. 68 was constituted.[v]  The first worshipful master was Gideon Mills, Jr., who was an uncle of John Brown--it may have been the influence of this uncle, or it may have been his own curiosity to see what this secret order was all about that caused him to apply for membership. At any rate, his application was filed in late 1823, and after the usual course of investigation and waiting he was found worthy. The records of the old lodge disclose that he appeared and received the entered apprentice degree on January 13, 1824, and on February 10 received the fellow craft degree.  After a lapse of three months he was raised to master mason on May 11.[vi]  His attitude at that time must have been in all ways satisfactory to members of the craft, for he was elected junior deacon for the 1825-26 term--and he was holding that office, whether actively serving or not, when in May 1826 he hastily pulled up stakes and moved to Crawford County, Pennsylvania, relinquishing a prosperous tanning business in his old home town.
Brown in the 1840s--
the youngest portrait extant
It has been claimed by a son that he was hounded out of his native town because of his renunciation of Freemasonry,[vii] but the facts so far as discovered seem to prove otherwise. Young John Brown, then twenty-six years old and with a rapidly increasing family, saw better opportunities in the newer settlements near Meadville, Pennsylvania, and, in addition, he had formed a partnership with a kinsman, Seth Thompson of Hartford, Trumbull County, Ohio, to go into tanning and cattle dealing on a very extensive scale.  All evidence found strongly indicates that he did not break with the Masons until the anti-Masonic hysteria was fanned into a national frenzy. At that time he was comfortably settled on his farm at Randolph, twelve miles east of Meadville, Pennsylvania, with an adequate acreage cleared, his tannery constructed, and hides in the vats.

The anti-Masonic frenzy was touched off by the reported abduction and murder of William Morgan at Batavia, New York, in September 1826.[viii]  Morgan, himself a member of the craft, had published a book, Illustrations of Masonry, which was designed to expose the order as subversive of American democracy--the work itself was poorly done and would probably have soon been forgotten had it not been for the violent methods resorted to by zealous members to suppress it. The office in which it was printed was burned, and Morgan, after his release from imprisonment for a small debt, was abducted and was presumed to have been killed. The incident was seized upon by reformers, church groups, opportunist politicians, and dissident Masons and was quickly fanned into a national issue based on principle, prejudice, and hysteria. Led by political herdsmen--such as Thurlow Weed in New York and Thaddeus Stevens in Pennsylvania--the Anti-Masonic political party was hastily formed and until 1836 offered a serious threat to the balance of political power in New England and the upper tier of northern states.  As the first "third party" in American political history, the Anti-Masons offered William Wirt of Maryland as their candidate for president in 1832--he polled a heavy popular vote and won the seven electoral votes of Vermont. Pennsylvania and Vermont elected Anti-Masonic governors, and the Party won many other state and local offices. It thrived in New York, where it once achieved a position as second in voting strength.[ix]
The crusade precipitated a crisis in Masonic affairs. In New York, for instance, the membership dwindled from 20,000 in 1826 to 3,000 in 1836, and the number of lodges was reduced from 507 in 1826 to 48 active units in 1832.[x]

The prevailing sentiment in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, was anti-Masonic, and the political party under that name carried the county repeatedly. John Brown renounced his membership and roundly denounced the order--he was with the majority this time, something strange for him, and it seems likely that the threats of personal injury mentioned by members of his family were largely magnified in repetition.  An active, working lodge was located in Meadville--Western Star Lodge No. 146, constituted on August 15, 1816--and certainly the order had some friends in that area. But the lodge was not strong enough to withstand the assaults of the opposition; it ceased its labors in 1828, but the charter was not actually vacated until 1837.[xi]
In an interview given a reporter in 1895, a short time before his death, John Brown, Jr. (himself a Mason, 1859-95, and buried with Masonic honors), said: "Father denounced the murder of Morgan in the hottest kind of terms. . . . Father had occasion to go to -Meadville. A mob bent on lynching him surrounded the hotel, but Landlord Smith enabled him to escape through a back entrance."[xii]  Owen Brown, another son, said in 1886 that his father Awas active in the anti-Masonic campaigns at that time, circulating Giddins' Anti-Masonic Almanac, but so high was the excitement and so loud the threats that be kept a pistol and keen-edged knives in his house for self-protection.[xiii]
Giddins' Anti-Masonic Almanac for 1829

Owen was interviewed by Henry L. Kellogg, an editor of the Christian Cynosure--one of the last religious papers devoted to anti-Masonry--and the story as it appeared in that publication was probably colored or slanted to meet the editorial policy. Another statement in that interview was that the senior Brown's "detestation of lodge literature was shown by the fact that Owen once found the by-laws of the order in a swill barrel where his father had thrown them."  Owen was born late in 1824, and if it is presumed that Brown disposed of his lodge papers within two or three years after severing his membership, it seems hardly likely that a three-  to five-year-old child would retain a clear memory of such a minor incident.
Still another explanation was given by a daughter, Sarah Brown, in 1908, when she was interviewed by Katherine Mayo, who was then doing field research work for Oswald Garrison Villard's monumental biography of John Brown. Said she: "John Brown was deeply opposed to all forms, even in church.  He did not like formal worship. It was the forms of the initiatory ceremonies of the Masons that struck him as silly and disgusted him.  He was in sympathy with Morgan. He bought Morgan's book--and it was in the North Elba house for years."[xiv]  But Sarah, like Owen, had no first-hand knowledge--she was not born until 1846.
Henry Thompson, a son-in-law who was in the Kansas wars with Brown, was more forthright and just as inaccurate.  "When Morgan's pamphlet came out it made a great sensation among the Masons.  I got it.  Captain Brown saw it in my house, took his pencil and wrote across the back of it, 'This story could not be better told.' But he never uttered a word concerning, it . . . . I was asked to join the Masons myself later, but always refused. Captain Brown's verdict was good enough for me."[xv]

John Brown himself did not dwell on this incident in his life --in fact in later life he wanted to suppress knowledge of it.[xvi]  So far as found the only written statement about his anti-Masonic activities is in a letter to his father, which was written at Randolph on June 12, 1830: 
You mention some difficulty in the church arising out of Masonry. I wish you would at some leisure moment give me a little history of it. I hope the church in regard to that subject will pursue a mild but persevering & firm course, not undertaking with any unmanageable point, but such as may undergo easy general & thorough investigation.  I make no doubt that some of the Masonic brethren yet think their oaths binding as much as Herod the Tetrarch did his to the daughter of Herodias. I have aroused such a feeling toward me in Meadville by shewing Anderton's statement as leads me for the present to avoid going about the streets at evening & alone. I have discovered that my movements are narrowly watched by some of the worthy brotherhood.  This I ought to consider as right according to the views of some distinguished professors of religion at Hudson who are of their own craft. Some of them have said to me that the courts of justice have no right to compel a mason to testify anything about masonry, of course they are above the laws of the land.  Some of them I suppose intend pleading to the jurisdiction of the great Supreme, at least their actions say who is Lord over us.[xvii] 

The reference to "Anderton's statement" in the letter is easily understood: it refers to a sworn statement made by Samuel C. Anderton of Boston, Massachusetts--a recusant Mason--that he had been chosen by lot one of three members in a lodge at Belfast, Ireland, to cut the throat of a brother member who had revealed some of the secrets of the order.  This statement was widely published in the anti-Masonic press, including the Crawford Messenger at Meadville, which Brown probably read every week.[xviii]  But as the lodge at Hudson was disbanded in 1828, the reference to an investigation by the church two years later is a bit obscure.
Later, in 1847, when he wrote a series of parable-like articles for the Ram's Horn, a paper published by Negroes in New York City, he expressed dislike for secret societies in general in some words of advice to the colored people.  The series was titled "Sambo's Mistakes."*  In looking back over his past life, "Sambo" discovers that "another of the few errors of my life is that I have joined the Free Masons[,] Odd Fellows[,] Sons of Temperance, & a score of other secret societies instead of seeking the company of intelligent[,] wise & good men from whom I might have learned much that would be interesting, instructive, & useful & have in that way squandered a great amount of most precious time & money."[xix]

That is mild enough, but it strongly indicates that Brown retained his dislike and opposition to secret societies as he verged into middle age.  Notwithstanding his attitude, two of his sons, John, Jr., and Salmon, were received into the order, while a third son, Owen, apparently adopted the views of his father. John, Jr., was raised in Jerusalem Lodge No. 19 at Hartford, Ohio, less than a month before the raid at Harpers Ferry.  And the fact that some of Brown's men looked kindly on Masonry indicates that the militant leader became more interested in the anti-slavery crusade than in contesting with secret societies. Francis J. Meriam, one of the men who escaped from Harpers Ferry, was inducted into the order within a few months after the execution of his commander.
According to George B. Gill, who was one of Brown's men in Kansas, Brown became angry when he found that Owen had mentioned to Gill that his father had once been a Mason, but had renounced the order.  "He was vexed when he found that Owen bad told me of his troubles with the Masons," said Gill. "Owen should not have done that," said Brown. "Never tell it. Some of our friends back East are Masons. If they ever hear of it they might not like it--and might refuse further help. Never tell it."[xx]

Another sidelight of the Kansas campaign is a story, which is most probably apocryphal, that in the course of the Pottawatomie massacre on the night of May 24, 1856, when Brown with a small company called five pro-slavery men from their homes and hacked them down with short swords, Brown sent his son-in-law Henry Thompson and Theodore Wiener to kill Allen Wilkinson.  It is said that Wilkinson was a Mason and that Brown remained at a distance from the scene of summary execution.  The story is in part supported by the admission of Salmon Brown, who was with the party, that Thompson and Wiener did kill Wilkinson.[xxi]
As it was not generally known in Kansas that Brown had once been a Mason, it seems very probable that the Wilkinson story came about as an afterthought, as did many other tales relating to John Brown and his works in Kansas Territory.
First Baptist Church of Chatham,
the site of JB's secret convention
of May 1858 (DeCaro)
More authentic is the fact that Brown did not hesitate to use the cloak of Freemasonry to conceal the purpose of his convention at Chatham, [Ontario,] Canada, on May 8-10, 1858, when to account for the presence of so many strangers, white and Negro, in the small town he caused word to be spread that he was there to organize a lodge of colored Masons.[xxii]

Less susceptible of proof--and less creditable if true--is the story widely circulated and just as widely believed that John Brown solicited (and received) aid from the lodge at Clarksburg, West Virginia, in early August 1859, under pretense of being a Mason in good standing.  The story was told by John J. Davis, father of John W. Davis, the Democratic nominee for president in 1924, to whom the application was made.[xxiii]  Mr. Davis examined the stranger, whom he described as having a long, flowing beard, and the answers to his queries left no grounds for suspicion that the man was an impostor, but on the contrary gave Mr. Davis every reason to believe that he was a Mason in good standing.  Mr. Davis then took the stranger to William P. Cooper and Charles Lewis, both prominent Clarksburg citizens, who were members of the committee appointed by the lodge to care for such matters.  On the recommendation of Mr. Davis the stranger was given $20 to help him on his way to Martinsburg.
After the raid at Harpers Ferry, Mr. Davis and the two committee members identified the brother they had befriended as John Brown, the identification being based on a picture published in Leslie's Weekly.  And that is one of the strongest points that serve to cast serious doubt on the correctness of the identification.
Albert Berghaus's sketch in
Leslie's based upon the 

1858 daguerreotype
The portrait in Leslie's was reproduced from a photograph made in Boston in May 1859, when Brown wore a long beard.  But, just after the photograph was taken and before his arrival at Harpers Ferry, he visited his home at North Elba, New York, and while there had his hair and beard closely trimmed.  The date of the supposed visit to Clarksburg is definitely fixed as the day on which a colored woman, Charlotte Harris, was on trial for aiding slaves to escape.  This was August 1, 1859.[xxiv]  If Brown was there as an onlooker at the trial, as be is claimed to have been, his beard would have been a short, bristly stubble of not more than two or three inches in length.

It is not possible to pinpoint Brown's exact whereabouts on August 1, but on July 27 he was at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and was at that place again on August 2.  He could have traveled by rail from Harpers Ferry to Clarksburg, but another witness who claimed to have observed him in the courtroom, says that he rode his horse in company with the stranger to Shinnston, some ten miles distant and away from the railroad line to Martinsburg, after the court proceedings had been concluded.[xxv]
It seems very unlikely that the impostor, if he was an impostor, was John Brown.  No doubt it was a case of mistaken identity such as occurred in a number of other instances where error could be easily established, though Mr. Davis, whose honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness cannot be questioned, believed to his dying day that he had been instrumental in rendering Masonic aid to the Harpers Ferry raider.
When John Brown came to the end of the road on the gallows at Charles Town, he could have no good claim on the tender sympathies of the brotherhood in America--it remained for the Freemasons of France to pay the final fraternal tribute.  That tribute, it may be said, was not paid to him because of any pretense to Masonic membership, but in sympathy for the man who had dared to declare a one-man war on the institution of human slavery. It was at the solstitial winter feast in the lodge of St. Vincent-de-Paul in Paris on January 6, 1860, that M. Ulbach, orator, paid a glowing tribute to the memory of John Brown, and offered a toast to him and his work.[xxvi]  Boyd B. Stutler  
Originally published in Ohio History (January 1962): 24-32].

* Stutler is incorrect here, as have many writers been, as to the title of John Brown's piece.  As Jean Libby has observed, the document is actually entitled, "Sambo Mistakes."  The piece is a careful critique of a pattern of behaviors among free blacks that reflected poor judgment and deficient values--Sambo mistakes--along the lines that black leaders tended to criticize at the time.  Likewise, there is no certainty that the piece was actually published, although it was apparently written by Brown with the intention of having it published in the black publication, The Ram's Horn.  However, few copies of the paper have survived, and no copy of Brown's "Sambo Mistakes" actually published in the Ram's Horn exists.  We only know about it because a manuscript copy of "Sambo Mistakes" in Brown's hand was discovered.  It is Manuscript 155, in the archives of the Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Md.  It seems likely that Stutler never saw the manuscript copy, instead relying on older transcriptions.  I am grateful to Jean Libby for providing me with carefully studied information in this case, as she has done in the case of many John Brown documents and images.--LD
Stutler's Notes
[i]Charles C. Cole, Jr., "Finney's Fight Against the Masons," Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, LIX (1950), 270‑286.
[ii]Ernest C. Miller, John Brown: Pennsylvania Citizen (Warren, Pa., 1952), 10.
[iii]Kansas City Journal, April 8, 1881.
[iv]Manuscript note by George B. Gill in the Richard J. Hinton Papers, Kansas State Historical
Society, Topeka.
[v]Masonic Beacon (Akron, Ohio), October 7, 1946.
[vi]Miller, John Brown, 10.
[vii]Henry L. Kellogg, "How John Brown Left the Lodge," in Christian Cynosure (Chicago), March 31, 1887. The article is based on an interview with Owen Brown.
[viii]A good short account of the anti‑Masonic crusade is found in Alice F. Tyler, Freedom's Ferment (Minneapolis, 1944), 351‑358.
[ix]Edward Conrad Smith, Dictionary of American Politics (New York, 1924), 15‑16.
[x]Milton W. Hamilton, "Anti‑Masonic Movements," in James Truslow Adams, ed., Dictionary of American History (New York, 1940), I, 82.
[xi]One Hundredth Anniversary of Crawford Lodge No. 234, F&AM (Meadville, Pa., 1948), 4‑5.
[xii]"His Soul Goes Marching On," in Cleveland Press, May 3, 1895, quoted in Oswald Garrison Villard, John Brown, 1800‑1859: A Biography Fifty Years After (Boston, 1910), 26.
[xiii]Kellogg, "How John Brown Left the Lodge."
[xiv]Interview by Katherine Mayo with Sarah Brown, September 16‑20, 1908. Villard Papers, Columbia University Library.
[xv]Interview by Katherine Mayo with Henry Thompson, September 1, 1908. Villard Papers.
[xvi]Interview by Katherine Mayo with George B. Gill, November 12, 1908. Villard Papers.
[xvii]John Brown to Owen Brown, June 12, 1830. Original letter owned by Dr. Clarence S. Gee,
Lockport, New York.
[xviii]The Crawford Messenger of April 29 and May 20, 1830, reprinted the entire Anderton pamphlet, titled Masonry the Same All Over the World: Another Masonic Murder. Articles in subsequent numbers discussed the statement and branded Anderton as a fraud. Several articles in Volumes I (1830) and II (1831) of the Boston Masonic Mirror offer proof that Anderton was an impostor and that the incident described could not have occurred. 
[xix]The quotation is taken from the original Brown manuscript as reprinted in the Appendix to
Villard, John Brown, 659‑660.
[xx]Interview by Katherine Mayo with George B. Gill.
[xxi]Salmon Brown to Frank B. Sanborn, November 17, 1911; Salmon Brown to William E. Connelley, May 28, November 16, 1913. These letters are in the author's own collection. See also Salmon Brown, "John Brown and Sons in Kansas Territory," in Louis Ruchames, John Brown Reader (London, 1959), 189‑197, reprinted from Indiana Magazine of History, XXXI (1935), 142‑150.
[xxii]James Cleland Hamilton, "John Brown in Canada," Canadian Magazine, IV (1894), 119‑140.
[xxiii]G. D. Smith, "A Well‑Kept Secret," in Clarksburg Exponent‑Telegram, February 12, 1933,
quoting John J. Davis at the dedication of the Masonic Temple at Clarksburg in 1915.
[xxiv]Harrison County Circuit Court records, Clarksburg, West Virginia.
[xxv]Joseph H. Diss Debar, "Two Men, Old John Brown and Stonewall Jackson, of World‑Wide
Fame, by One Who Knew Them Both," in Clarksburg Telegram. Undated clipping, about 1894.
[xxvi]Le Monde Maconnique (Paris), January 1860, reprinted in translation in Anti‑Slavery Standard (New York), October 6, 1860.

Monday, October 03, 2016

The Return of That Loser Pate (Actually Just His Knife)

If certain figures of the Civil War may be said to personify the ill-fated hubris of the Confederacy, then Henry Clay Pate must surely be in that number.  But whereas some of them have been glorified in their arrogance, at least one of them was denied the pleasure, and largely because of John Brown. Now, if my almost religious disdain of Pate seems unfair, note that he is even disdained by some of his own family descendants, who know that he probably comes closest to bringing ruin upon their otherwise fine family name.  In a RootsWeb discussion thread from 2010, one member of the Pate clan wrote to another descendant:
[Henry  Clay Pate] could be considered famous but from everything I have found, he
is NOT a hero the family could be proud of. He was a very vindictive man,
was not thought highly of by his peers and it wasn't until the last battle
he fought in did Jeb Stuart decide he was a good soldier. Obviously, he is
in our family history, but I do not support placing him in the same company
as famous Pates. Maybe a new category of infamous Pates. 
Henry Clay Pate

A Spate on Pate

I would really like to apply the Golden Rule to the dead as well as the living, but there are a few people in the John Brown narrative of whom some very toasty things could be said without being considered unfair, and Henry Clay Pate is one of them.   Pate was a mean-spirited, dishonest, and unlikeable man.  There seems to be some notion that Pate won admiring words from his commanding officer, J.E.B. Stuart after his death at the Battle of Yellow Tavern in 1864.  This may be "Lost Cause" romance, but if Stuart (who got his just deserts in the same battle the following day) spoke kindly of Pate, it was only a soldier's concession to the dead.   

The truer estimate of Pate by Stuart (as relayed by Boyd B. Stutler) was that he "would not make a good corporal in a border ruffian outfit."  Stutler discovered that Pate was widely disliked by proslavery leaders in Kansas, who looked upon him "with a certain amount of contempt. He is described by all as being inordinately vain and pompous." Furthermore, a very reliable testimony passed down in the family of a Virginia cavalry officer states that Stuart's attitude toward Pate was "almost brutally severe." (Boyd Stutler to Lewis W. Bridgman, Apr. 12, 1959, RP02-0036; and Stutler to Joseph A. Johnston, Feb. 22, 1926, RP06-0042. All references in Boyd B. Stutler, John Brown Papers, West Virginia Historical Society.)  

But my gripe with this dead rebel pertains to the manner and extent to which he went to abuse John Brown, who was clearly his better in every sense of the word.

Pate and Brown

Certainly, Pate was one of the most dishonorable man to be counted among Brown's future Confederate opponents, from the beginning of his doings with the abolitionist in Kansas in 1856 until his gratuitous, gloating visit to Brown in jail at Charlestown, Virginia in 1859.  Robert E. Lee was honorable but showed a dilettante indifference to the old man he had captured at Harper's Ferry.   J.E.B. Stuart was a self-righteous hothead who cursed Brown meanly but no more.   Even Lieut. Israel Green, who brutalized Brown on the floor of the Harper's Ferry engine house was as pitiable as he was contemptible, finishing his days as a drunk whose lying narrative could not absolve him of guilt.  But Henry Clay Pate was the worst because his misdeeds did not flow from a single incident, but rather from a deeply flawed character replete with ambition, deceit, and an inclination to vindictive plotting.  

A slaveholder, Pate was a mediocre writer and newspaper publisher who attempted to upgrade his profile as a proslavery newspaperman in Missouri.  When he was offered glory--and a cool knife--to apprehend and kill John Brown, Pate gave himself to the task like the ambitious tool that he proved to be.  However, whatever visions of glory he imagined, things did not turn out as he had expected.

When Pate and his men finally met Brown in battle in June 1856, he was not able to outdo Brown either in the field or by his wits, which were apparently inferior to those of the Old Man. Outsmarted in battle by Brown, Pate finally tried a bogus truce with the hope of delaying his opponent until reinforcements arrived.  But Brown was not easily fooled, and he took Pate prisoner instead, seizing his prize knife as a trophy.   Pate was shamed to the point of becoming the laughingstock of militant proslavery men at the time.  Meanwhile, Brown was so impressed with Pate's fine knife that he used it as a prototype for the thousand blades that were mounted on his famous pikes.  

In 1859, it seemed to Pate that his days of humiliation had come to an end when Brown was taken at Harper's Ferry, tried, and sentenced to death in Charlestown, Virginia.  Pate made the trip to Charlestown in order to delight himself by the sight of his old nemesis in chains; but although he was not above gloating, he was far more interested in eliciting some complimentary word from Brown that might redeem him in the eyes of the honor-minded South.   Pate also wanted his knife back from Brown, which would have made his redemption complete.

Unfortunately for Pate, Brown offered no such reprieve, and he and his witness left the jailhouse without satisfaction.  Brown made it clear that he did not think Pate was a brave man at all, nor that he was a fair fighter.  As far as that knife was concerned, well, the Old Man would never tell.
Defeated a second time by Brown, Pate set about on a vindictive path, composing a short treatise attacking him under the title, John Brown As Viewed by H. Clay Pate.  Publishing the screed at his own expense, he then set about lecturing about Brown at the time of his execution.  According to one reporter, however, Pate's anti-Brown lecture did not go over well in New York City, which was hardly a center of pro-Brown sympathy in 1859.  Even Virginians apparently greeted his little publication with coldness, given it was starkly vindictive and fairly useless now that they had Brown in chains.  
Certainly, some in Charlestown had even come to respect the integrity of Brown's character and recognized Pate's work as simply unworthy of the man.

Beyond this, there is little to learn of Henry Clay Pate between 1859 and 1864, when he was killed in battle.  A slaveholder and rebel, he joined a losing cause, once more hoping to find glory on the wrong side of history.  On May 11, 1864, he took at least one Yankee bullet at the Battle of Yellow Tavern, Henrico County, Virginia--a loser who had lost his most famous contest, then lost his most famous trophy, and finally lost his life for a "Lost Cause."  

Lost and Found

In a short article published first in the Boston Transcript  of January 30[?], 1900, an account about Brown and Pate's knife was relayed on the strength of Mary Stearns' testimony (the wife of Brown's supporter, George Luther Stearns).  The Stearns narrative states that Brown gave Pate's knife to his wealthy supporter in 1859, telling him that Southerners had bought it by subscription with the intention of arming the one charged to kill him.   Pate reportedly told Brown that the knife was given to him "to put an end to your career with, Captain Brown."  Unfazed, Brown seized the knife from him and replied: "Well, it seems that the Almighty had other designs concerning it." (New York Daily News, 31 Jan. 1900, p. 5).

A century and a half later, Pate's knife has made another public appearance, this time being purchased by Michael R. Zomber, the world-renowned antique arms and armors expert and author of fiction and non-fiction works.  In a report submitted by Zomber to PR News Wire (Sept. 26): "John Brown was a radical abolitionist well-known for his belief that armed insurrection was the only way to rid the United States of slavery.  He was eventually tried and hanged for his actions against the South."  Of course, Zomber is incorrect about Brown being an insurrectionist, and should read my book on John Brown's last days to correct his mistaken impression.  But otherwise, his words are salutary: "This knife is a rare treasure from a period in history I am particularly interested in and passionate about. Brown was a key player in the abolitionist movement, and it is an honor to own a piece of his personal history."

The knife, which is classified as a Bowie knife, was sold by Sotheby's and is described on the auctioner's website as "a remarkable artifact from one of the bloodiest periods in American history," with "a coffin-handle, spear-point blade, and a nickel handle inlaid with mother of pearl."  The knife is signed by maker, Joseph Hawksley's Celebrated.  Its overall length is 14 1/4 in. (330 mm), length of steel spear-point blade 9 5/8 in. (245 mm). The knife is accompanied by its time worn original brass-tipped gilt leather sheath.  Congratulations are due to Mr. Zomber; perhaps the knife will inspire a book on the subject, and hopefully it will be similarly fair to Brown.

So it seems John Brown's victory is permanent.  He not only snatched the knife from Pate and deprived slaveholders of their objective, but also passed it into the hands of more noble people, who preserved it for history.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Tick, Tock. . . The John Brown Clock


by H. Scott Wolfe

There are some inherent advantages to being elderly...particularly to individuals such as myself, numbered among the generation born during the administration of President Rutherford B. Hayes. I feel a great affinity toward Old Rutherford, the pride of Fremont, Ohio. We have so many similarities. For example: neither of us ever owned a cell phone; both of us would be intellectually stymied if asked to operate a DVD player; and neither of us ever dispatched a “tweet” or created a Facebook page detailing the momentous intelligence of what we had for breakfast last week Tuesday. Ah yes, to be tottering above the precipice of senility can be monstrously cool. So many splendid memories rattle within my vacuous cranium.

For instance, take the humble used book store. In a prior posting, I bemoaned the continuing disappearance of those private literary institutions...in many cases, the victims of corporate, tech-based retailers such as amazon.com or abebooks. A visit to an independent bookseller was a sensory experience...not simply the sight of ink upon a page, but the smell, the tactile feel of long-sought-after volumes. And how I relished the conversation with the booksellers! Twas an education in itself.

I used to haunt a small shop in my own town, operated by an eccentric purveyor who had once been in charge of the rare book department of a metropolitan department store. Many a volume of John Brown biography or antebellum American lore were deftly plucked from his shelves by this rabid seeker of historical truth.

Upon entering his tiny brick building, one was besieged with classical notes...as a Beethoven symphony or Haydn string quartet blared from a questionable 8-track tape player. Seated at his desk, peering over stacks of books like a soldier hidden in some World War I literary trench, was the proprietor. An occasional puff of smoke, emanating from an ever-present generic cigarette, gave the distinct impression that his military position was literally under fire.

But then the talk commenced. Whether it be the satirical novels of Sinclair Lewis or the origins of the Compromise of 1850, the conversation could literally last for hours. And then I would be regaled with his recollections...stories of hanging out with the poet Carl Sandburg...of attending New York cocktail parties with the writer Somerset Maugham. . .and of encounters with the actress Tallulah Bankhead, who sought him out whenever performing in his city.

As I sit writing these lines, it would be within my power to pause and place an online order for a copy of William Elsey Connelly’s 1900 life of John Brown. Such convenience! But again, it’s so great to be numbered among the elderly.


And then we have the example of the small, “Mom and Pop” antique stores. How yours truly and his consort used to navigate between these fascinating storehouses of Americana! From New England to New Orleans, there were few we missed. They provided much the same sensory experience found among the booksellers. And also the conversation . . . whether it be upon the characteristics of pressed glass produced in Sandwich, Massachusetts or the mechanism of an Edison phonograph. But these establishments, too, are becoming extinct...slain by sundry factors ranging from online ebay auctions to the ridiculously inflated appraisals spewed from such television “entertainment” as the Antiques Roadshow.

Weekends were often devoted to ranging among the quaint towns lining the upper Mississippi River, searching for hidden treasures. The bitter half would perhaps dedicate her quest to some 1920s flapper’s cloche hat...and myself, with a more eclectic taste, might be seeking a tin of “Poultry Louse Powder” produced by the Dr. David Roberts Veterinary Company of Waukesha, Wisconsin. One never could predict the outcome.

I did find the Louse Powder.
So it was when we entered a small shop in that Iowa river town. The interior was dark and gloomy...the shelves covered by a thick layer of dust. In fact, if such dirt were valuable, it could have been bagged and sold by the pound. But as our eyes adjusted, the stock in trade became fully visible. Glassware. . .china. . . furniture...all haphazardly arranged as if by a declaration of a committee.

And then I saw it. It stood near the rear of the store...surrounded by a myriad of those kerosene lamps so indigenous to that habitat. It was an early wooden shelf clock of a pattern, I later learned, called “Pillar and Scroll.” I had little interest in clocks. But I did have an interest in what was mounted behind its glass door. It was a 19th century, hand-colored lithograph of a bearded gentleman, standing solidly with his hands in his pockets. It was the image of John Brown, “Leader of the Harper’s Ferry Insurrection.”

The John Brown Lithograph
The owner, noting my intense stare, soon had me in his clutches. He commenced a horological lecture...about the clock’s walnut case...about its brass pendulum...about its leaden counterweights. He discussed the age of the clock, and that its works were made of wood. He revealed the label within, which stated: “Patent Clocks, Invented by Eli Terry and Manufactured for George Mitchell, Bristol, Conn., and Sold by Him, Wholesale and Retail. Warranted If Well Used.”

(I was later to learn that Terry (1772-1852), through his patents, was instrumental in the introduction of mass production to clockmaking...along with one of his assistants, a man named Seth Thomas. And Mitchell (1774-1852) was an entrepreneur, whose money and business savvy “backed” a number of early clockmakers.)

But the lecture flew over my head...much like those dealing with physics and genetics back in my collegiate days. My eyes were on John Brown. His image was obviously based upon the Lawrence view of the Old Man taken in New York in May of 1858. He was flanked by a red chair and a table, both draped with blue cloth. On the wall behind, was a map of Kansas...and another rolled map leans against the table. In the lower right corner was the facsimile signature: “Your Friend, John Brown.”

Amidst the dimness of the shop, I strained to see the names of the lithographers...and saw printed at the base of the image: “E.B. & E.C. Kellogg, 87 Fulton St., N.Y., 245 Main St., Hartford, Conn.” (I was to learn that these gentlemen were Edmund Burke Kellogg (1809-1872) and his brother, Elijah Chapman Kellogg (1811-1881). Along with two other siblings, the Kellogg firm published a wealth of popular lithographs for an avid public...exceeded in numbers only by their New York rivals, Nathaniel Currier & James M. Ives.)

Interior of the John Brown Clock
A glance at my beloved companion...no words...were adequate for her to begin fumbling for the checkbook. Following years of extensive training and discipline, she had already learned whose image lay behind the glass door. And we were soon descending the river...with a large wooden clock, 35 inches high, 16 inches wide, whose ultimate resting place upon our household’s cluttered shelves remained a subject of intense family debate.


Such are the experiences of the elderly. Perhaps, in the future, I will provide more. But right now, I must conduct a search. . . I have misplaced my AARP membership card. -- H. Scott Wolfe