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"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Rich Smyth's Where Are They Now? FREDERICK BROWN and HIS KILLER

Brown Cemetery, Osawatomie, Kan.
(Courtesy of Joy Reavis)
Frederick Brown died on August 30, 1856, shot by pro-slavery clergyman, Rev. Marvin White. Along with Frederick, three other abolitionists killed during the Battle of Osawatomie are buried beneath a monument erected in their memory at the “The Brown Cemetery” located at the corner at 9th and Main Streets in Osawatomie, Kansas. The name of Charles Kaiser who was captured and later executed has been etched on the stone, although his body was never recovered.  Frederick is buried in the Brown Cemetery, located at the corner at 9th & Main Streets in Osawatomie, Kansas.

The memory of Frederick Brown (1830-56) in the John Brown family narrative evokes both a sense of sympathy and tragedy.  Frederick was youngest of seven surviving children born to John Brown and his first wife, Dianthe Lusk (1801-32), of Hudson, Ohio, when the couple lived in New Richmond, Pa., near Meadville.  In following the custom of that time and community, Frederick was named after other members of the family. One of John Brown's half-brothers was named Frederick (1807-77). However, in a somewhat peculiar circumstance, he was also named for his sickly four-year-old brother, Frederick (1827-31), who was still living at the time he was born. Probably the firstborn Frederick was not expected to live long, but somehow lived long enough for another son to be born.  In expectation of the first Frederick's death, the second Frederick was named; the two young Fredericks lived together for several months until the first finally died at the end of March 1831.

A measure of speculation has long surrounded Frederick, particularly pertaining to his mental health and the claim of "insanity."  Boyd Stutler, a master of the primary sources relating to John Brown, provided a provisional sketch of Frederick. "From scraps gathered here and there," Stutler speculated that Frederick began to exhibit symptoms of instability and disturbance as a teenager.  Although the term "insanity" was overly used in the mid-19th century, it may be that Frederick suffered from some form of mental illness, because he seems to have had spells of being moody, depressed, and engaging in over-eating. John Brown's letters over the years are marked by passing references to Frederick's health, including a troubling reference in 1854 to him having undergone "a most terrible operation for his breach."  Whatever the "operation" involved (and I will not address the speculations surrounding this procedure), Frederick recovered his health later that  year sufficiently to drive some cattle out to Illinois, and afterward join his brothers in the Kansas Territory.

Frederick's Gravestone
(Courtesy of Joy Reavis)
Despite these personal shadows, Frederick seems to have had extended periods of normalcy in his life.  He wrote with a beautiful hand, managed livestock, and did not seem otherwise any less among his siblings.  Certainly, he was an avid abolitionist and racial egalitarian in the tradition of his father and grandfather, and in route to Kansas, Frederick did not hesitate to "talk liberty" to enslaved black people he met in Missouri.  According to the reminiscence of the Rev. Samuel Adair, the brother-in-law of John Brown, in Kansas, Frederick "was considered by those acquainted with him as an intelligent, judicious and active young man.  In the fall of 1855 he was elected a delegate to the Topeka constitutional convention, but was prevented by sickness from attending." Interestingly, too, while in Kansas, Frederick carried on correspondence with a young lady back in Ohio named Lucy Ellis, although events in the territory tragically prevented the twenty-six-year-old from ever enjoying the comforts of love and marriage.

In the summer of 1856, Frederick was caught off guard by an advance party for an invading horde of proslavery terrorists.  The party was led by Martin White, a radical proslavery Baptist "elder" from Missouri. White intentionally and maliciously shot Frederick down in cold blood; family members who found his body noted that his pistol was still in his holster and the holster snapped closed, so it is clear White was not menaced. John Brown quietly wept over his murdered "sufferer," and then gave his boots to another free state man who needed them.  Not long afterward, when "Reverend" White was within easy reach, Brown deferred taking revenge, reportedly declaring that he hoped that White had repented. 

When John Brown took his grandfather's memorial stone from Connecticut in 1857, he did not think it would serve as a gravestone.  His intention was to set it up as a monument recalling the sacrifices made by the Brown family for liberty--on one side, the original inscription of his grandfather Captain John Brown, who died in the so-called American Revolution in 1776, and on the verso side, an inscription in honor of his son Frederick, who fell in Kansas Territory eighty years later. It was only with his defeat at Harper's Ferry and sentence of death that he reconsidered the purpose of the stone to mark his own grave as well.--LD 

Martin White's Gravestone
(Courtesy of Jennifer Umland)
White, who shot Frederick Brown, died on April 21, 1862 and is buried in the White cemetery, Bates County, Missouri. He was fifty-nine years old. His wife, Kiturah (Kitty) Ann Fletcher White (1805-67), is buried with him. They had twelve children; James Fletcher (1823-1910), Sally (1823-?, may have died in infancy), John Wesley (1825-78), Griffin (1827-67), William George (1830-52), Guilford (1847-65), Robert (1838-53), Rhoda Jane White Whitehead (1838-65), Martha Custis White Slayback (1841-1906), Sarah Dulcina (1843-43), Louisa Vashti Scott (1845-65) and Jilson Gallation (1847-1934)

White was shot and killed by Charles Metz, alias Marshall Cleveland, an ex-Missouri penitentiary convict who wanted the Reverend’s mule. White refused and was killed.*   

The cemetery is located in Deepwater Township, Bates County, Missouri. From Butler, at the intersection of Business Highway 71 and County Highway H, go east 9 ½ miles, turn left (north) on gravel road (county road # 9003) and go1 ¼ miles, turn left (west) on gravel road (county road # 4254) and go 1/8 mile.  Cemetery is on north side of road.--Rich Smyth

 * Cleveland was an outlaw. On November 16th 1861, his gang robbed the Northrup and Union Banks in Kansas City. A posse made up of Company E, Sixth Kansas Cavalry, surrounded him near the Marais des Cygnes River and shot him. His wife placed a tombstone atop his grave in a St. Joseph cemetery on which was etched “One hero less on earth/ One angel more in heaven.”  The Missouri in the Civil War Message Board – Archive by Donald L. Gilmore, November 10th 2006.  See "The Missouri in the Civil War Message Board" (http://bit.ly/2w8sVIR).

ALSO SEE "Forgotten Indictment for Frederick Brown's Murderer is Found in Kansas" (1 Sept. 2011)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

John Brown in the News: A Letter Resurfaces, A House Restored, and a New Sculpture


In his last days as a prisoner in Virginia, John Brown wrote a good many letters to family, associates, and strangers.  Brown received hundreds of letters, perhaps more, many of them requesting autographs.  These letters went unanswered and were thrown into the pot belly stove in his jail cell.  Brown's reason for doing so was that because he could not answer all such requests, he preferred to answer none of them.  Yet he did write a good many letters to friends and associates, some of which were published in newspapers in the North.

(publisher's info)
(buy on Amazon)
In 2015, Rowman and Littlefield published my collection of John Brown's jailhouse letters, John Brown Speaks: Letters and Statements from Charlestown. My goal in producing this collection was to be as comprehensive as possible, publishing and contextualizing every surviving John Brown letter.  To my knowledge, fifty-one of his jailhouse letters have survived, not counting other documents in his hand, such as written directions for his wife and other special writings.  Many of the surviving letters survive in their original manuscripts, although others have been lost, now existing only in published transcriptions from the newspaper or other sources.

One interesting letter, which heretofore has been available only in Franklin Sanborn's 1885 biography of Brown, recently surfaced on an auction website.  It was written by John Brown to Mary Gale, the sister of the Charles P. Tidd.  Tidd was one of the several of Brown’s men who were able to escape after the failure at Harper’s Ferry.  (In the aftermath of the Harper’s Ferry raid, Tidd joined the Union army at the start of the Civil War, enlisting as a private in 1861.  He died of illness during the Battle of Roanoke Island the following year.)  After the raid, a number of attempts by Tidd's family were made to request information about him from Virginia officials, but apparently these went unanswered.  However, Mary Tidd Gale was successful, writing to John Brown in Charlestown jail.  

Last month I was informed by Mick Konowal, a collector and documentary specialist in the John Brown study, that not only had Brown's original response to Gale surfaced, but that it was written on the verso side of her letter to him.  Several years ago, Konowal identified a similar jail letter from Brown to a Charlestown publisher, in which the abolitionist similarly wrote on the verso side of the inquiry.  Heretofore, I assumed that the Gale-Brown correspondence was lost; the only version of Brown's letter that had survived is in a "sanitized" transcription in F. B. Sanborn's Life and Letters of John Brown (1885, page 615).  To no surprise, Sanborn's transcription needs to be improved.  What follows, then, is a literal transcription based upon the original:

Charlestown, Jefferson County, Va., 30 Nov. 1859. Mrs. Mary Gale (or the writer of the writing). Dear Friend,
             I have only time to give you the names of those that I know were killed of my company at Harper's Ferry, or that are said to have been killed; namely, two Thompsons, two Browns, J. Anderson, J. H. Kagi, Stewart Taylor, A. Hazlett, W. H. Leman, and three colored men. Would most gladly give you further information had I the time and ability.                                                                                                                                                                                     Your friend,  

                                                                                                       John Brown
One may consult my John Brown Speaks for details about this letter. One point worth mentioning, however, is that while it was a common feature in a prevalently racist society to segregate blacks from whites even in reference, Brown is certainly not doing so here by referring to "Three colored men." Rather, it seems he's being intentionally vague and misleading.  Two of his black raiders were killed during the raid and two were captured.  The fifth black raider, Osborne Anderson, had escaped.  From Brown’s standpoint, then, if the public thought he was dead too, it would be better for his chances of escape.  Happily, Anderson did escape by means of the underground railroad and returned safely to Chatham, Ontario, whence he had joined Brown.  Thankfully, Anderson penned the only primary sketch of Brown and the raid as a participant and survivor in his book, A Voice from Harper's Ferry (1861).

Brown's original letter was apparently sold on April 22 for $95,000.  The price tag suggests that perhaps he has become of greater interest to manuscript collectors than in the past.  At the same time, however, this letter may have been purchased by collector who will hide it from scholars and students in a collection, perhaps for years to come as has often been the case.  At least, however, we have had this opportunity to glimpse the original. As Mick Konowal points out, hopefully the collector who purchased the document will invest in having the verso side restored, so that Gale's letter and Brown's response both will also be preserved for history. 


In the May 2 online edition of the Akron Beacon Journal, Mark Price reported that the house that John and Mary Brown lived in during their Akron years is having its exterior restored thanks to a $375,000 plan.  Price reported that about two-thirds of the cost is covered by a grant from the State of Ohio.  The structure, which is nearly 190-years-old, will keep it "warm, safe and dry.  According to Price, "the original old-growth tulip poplar had deteriorated beyond repair, so it has been carefully replaced to the precise dimensions with quarter-sawn cedar from Oregon."  The roof, foundations, chimneys, gutters and spouts were all modernized.  The structure will also be made wheelchair accessible and its restrooms improved so that house will be accessible to everyone. Interior work will also be done that will feature a new exhibit, Family, Farm, Freedom" that is being installed "in the original two-room section of the 1830 house and will debut Thursday during a 219th birthday celebration for Brown." The John Brown House is located at Copley and Diagonal roads, across from Perkins Stone Mansion in Akron.As Prince points out, Brown rented the home for $30 a year between 1844 and 1854 from Col. Simon Perkins (Jr.), who lived in nearby Perkins Stone Mansion and was the son of Akron’s co-founder, Gen. Simon Perkins. The men were business partners in the wool industry, and Brown raised sheep on the Perkins property." 

John Brown's Akron Residence
(Karen Schiely, Beacon Journal photo)
The ten-year association of Brown and Perkins put the lie to the notion that Brown was entirely a business failure.  What failed for Brown and Perkins was their wool commission operation in Springfield, Massachusetts; but even this operation did not decline so much because of Brown's failures as it did because of the intense, systematic opposition the firm received from the manufacturing powers of New England, who did not want the woolgrowers to gain an upper hand. In his correspondence, Brown complained about how the manufacturers united to undermine the operation by not purchasing U.S. wools in favor of foreign wools.  At one point, according to the great Boyd Stutler, it appears they even infiltrated the commission house by planting an agent provocateur named Flint.   Yet even after the firm failed in 1849, Perkins strongly appealed to Brown to continue managing his agricultural interests, and Brown accepted, remaining with Perkins from 1849-1855, when he finally removed to North Elba, New York.   In the  1840s, John Brown was one of the most renowned and respects specialists in fine sheep and wool in the North.

The article says that the Perkins Stone Mansion is open for tours from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday through December. The John Brown House will have identical hours following its opening this month.



Sculptor Woodrow Nash
(Phil Masturzo, Akron Beacon Journal)
According to a May 8 report by Craig Webb in the Akron Beacon-Journal, the artist Woodrow Nash of Akron is preparing busts of John Brown and his black Harper's Ferry raiders, Osborne Anderson, Dangerfield Newby, John Copeland, Lewis Leary, and Shields Green.  Webb reports that Nash, a veteran artist, has crated "everything from commissioned paintings to jazz album covers and fashion art."  A native of Akron, Nash lived in New York City and found his passion for sculpture before returning to his hometown.  He serves as a board member of the Summit County Historical Society and has sold sculptured pieces in a variety of sizes in galleries, commissions (including one of a well-known rapper) and museums.  Webb says that Nash has made about forty life-size depictions of  enslaved children for the historic Whitney Plantation museum and grounds in Louisiana.

The idea of larger-than-life sculptures of Brown and his men is a recent idea that Nash promoted to enhance the experience of visitors to John Brown's house.  His intention is to have the John Brown bust installed by next month, and the remaining busts of the raiders installed in the months following.

He hopes to have the John Brown bust finished and installed sometime in late June, and the ones of the men who fought beside him installed every subsequent month or so.

This particular project holds a special place in his heart since it involves a historical figure who called Summit County home.

Nash "fears there are kids who live not far from the historic home, and a nearby monument that lies hidden by trees and brush, who have no idea who John Brown was or the role he and the others played in sparking the Civil War and the end of slavery."

Friday, April 26, 2019

Rich Smyth's Where Are They Now? RICHARD REALF

Richard Realf (June 14, 1832-Oct. 28, 1878) was a poet, journalist and newspaper correspondent. He helped plan the raid on Harper's Ferry. His life consisted of adventure, vagrancy, idealism and romance. An Abolitionist and complicated man, above all he was a romantic. 

Richard Realf (Library of Congress)
Some of John Brown’s contemporaries and even today’s historians label Realf a traitor to the Abolitionist cause. After Brown’s execution Realf was arrested and testified before the Senate Committee Investigating the Attack at Harper's Ferry, which resulted in what would become known as the Mason Report. Realf named names and in a private letter was critical of Brown.1

Growing up in England as a young child protégée in poetry, he was introduced into upper class English society. In 1853 Lady Byron, wife of George Gordon (Lord) Byron assisted Richard in obtaining training in estate management by having him apprentice on one of her land holdings in Leichestershire.2

Lady Byron’s nephew was the current steward of the property and Richard lived with the family.  Caroline Noel a young blue-eyed, blonde had come to live with her uncle, the current steward, after both her parents succumbed to diphtheria.3

Soon, Richard (21 years old) and Caroline (14 years old) were meeting in the library at night. They held hands, kissed and exchanged locks of hair, his dark, hers honey blonde.4

One day on the way back from a local fair, the two stopped in the forest and it was from that encounter that Caroline became pregnant.5 

Regardless of protests that he loved her and wished to marry her, he was forced to leave the estate and not return.

Though he would never forget his first love, dejectedly, he left Europe for the United States.

Arriving in New York, he worked as a missionary in a lower Manhattan Bowery slum before joining a party of Free-state emigrants to Kansas, where he became a correspondent for several eastern newspapers sending back dispatches of the anti-slavery struggle.

It was in Kansas that Richard met John Brown, joining forces and accompanying him to Canada where he was to be secretary of state in Brown’s provisional government.

When John Brown launched his raid on Harpers Ferry in October, 1859, Realf was in Texas.  He was arrested as an accomplice and sent to Washington, D.C. where he testified before the committee investigating the raid.

During the Civil War (1862) he enlisted in the 88th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. On June 10th 1865 he married Sophia Emily Graves whom he met in Indiana. While he was away they communicated frequently and appeared to be very much in love. But, during the course of his travels, he met a belle of Washington society and was smitten. When the war ended, he moved to the capitol where he was also commissioned in a colored regiment until mustering out in 1866. He never saw Sophia again.6 

Sophia died in October 1882 at the age of 52 in Merriville, Indiana.

On October 26th 1867 he married Catherin (or Catherine) Cassidy of Rochester, New York. Realf later claimed to have been intoxicated during the ceremony to Catherin. This marriage was a nightmare for Realf and he filed for divorce. One writer, who did not have nice things to say about the wife, classified Catherin as a prostitute.7 

In 1868 he established a school for freedmen in South Carolina.

Winsor House (1892) then located on the
SW corner, 9th and Washington
(Oakland Public Library, 
History Room and Maps Division
His third marriage (between 1871-1875), was a common law marriage to Lizzie Whappen (AKA Elizabeth “Lizzie” Whapham or Eliza Wapham “1846-1926”) who bore him four children. Only later did he learn that his divorce from Catherin did not go through and he was still legally married to her. A bit crazed and knowing Catherin would cause him and his family trouble, he fled to San Francisco and rented a room with a family named Meade on Mission Street while working at the U.S. mint. He hoped to bring Lizzie and the children west and escape the reaches of his second wife.8

One night upon returning to his room, he found Catherin Cassidy waiting for him. He immediately fled the city finding accommodations at the Winsor House in Oakland, California. He spent his last money for a bottle of laudanum and drank it in his room. Waiting for the poison to have its effect, he wrote a final poem on scraps of paper. The last lines (see below) were blurred by the poison which had numbed his hand.

And all His arching skies were in eclipse.
He was a-weary, but he fought his fight
     And stood for simple manhood; and was joyed
To see the august broadening of the light.
     And new earths heaving heav'nward from the void.
He loved his fellows, and their love was sweet—
     Plant daisies at his head and at his feet.

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

Oakland, Cal. Oct. 28, 1878
I, Richard Realf, poet, orator, journalist, workman, do hereby declare that I have deliberately accepted suicide as the only final relief from the incessant persecutions of my divorced wife… My poems and the MS of certain lectures to be found scattered promiscuously in my room, on the table, and in my trunk, are to be put in the possession of Gen. John F. Miller, who at his discretion will, or will not, surrender them to Col. R.J. Hinton, of the Post… But…she…who once bore my name, and who is now in San Francisco, must on no account be informed of the residence of my wife, who would be in constant danger…Now, God bless all. God pardon me as I pardon all. I love Gen. John F. Miller, Col. Tappan, Col. Hinton, Mr. Mariner Kent, John Finigan, E. Levy, Col. J.J. Lyon, and many others. There is, or should be, a tied lock of hair in the form of a rude bracelet, lying on the bathroom window sill of my boarding house. I should be glad to have it placed around my wrist.
Richard Realf
(Source: Richard J. Hinton, Richard Realf,
The bracelet of blonde hair, now a quarter of a century old was the gift of Richard’s first true love.  He had kept the relic through all his travels, his turmoil’s and other loves. To be buried with Caroline’s hair was his last request. The bracelet was placed with Realf in his grave.

Rich Smyth

The author has included information obtained from Helen Delay, "Richard Realf, Poet and Soldier," The Home Monthly, May 8, 1899, pp. 10-11. [digital version: http://bit.ly/2W3XNFK]

*     *     *

Richard Realf was originally buried in Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery plot 100F.  He was reinterred in San Francisco National Cemetery on January 31st 1933, section OSA, row 72, grave #4, located in the Presidio of San Francisco, California.

The address of the cemetery is 1 Lincoln Boulevard, Presidio of San Francisco. The cemetery is located in the northern section of San Francisco. From San Francisco International Airport, take Hwy. 101 North to San Bruno/Hwy. 380 exit to Highway. 280 North. Take 19th Ave., exit (approximately 50 yards from the Golden Gate Toll Plaza). Yield right to Lincoln Blvd. Turn left onto Lincoln Blvd. and continue to the corner of Lincoln and Sheridan Blvds. 

(John Brown/Boyd Stutler Collection – West Virginia Division of Culture and History


     1 In the preface to The Public Life of Capt. John Brown (Boston: Thayer & Eldridge, 1860), James Redpath labeled Richard Realf a Judas (p. 10).

      2 George Rathmell, A Passport to Hell, The Mystery of Richard Realf (Author's Choice/ iUniverse, 2002), pp. 21-25.

      3 Ibid.

      4 Ibid.

      5 Ibid.

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

      7 John Stauffer, "Richard Realf (1834-1878)," in The Historical Encyclopedia of World Slavery Vol. 1.  Edited by Junius P. Rodriguez (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, Inc.), pp. 435-36.

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

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Historical Real Estate: Salmon Brown's Home Up for Sale in Portland

The beautifully renovated home of Salmon Brown is currently on sale in Portland, Oregon.  Salmon was the seventh of John Brown's sons (who survived infancy), and lived out his days in the northwest, dying in this house in 1919.

The house, originally constructed in 1905, is listed by Zillow as a three bedroom and two bathrooms, has 2,250 square feet and is located at 8052 NE Couch Street, in Portland.  When Salmon lived there a century ago, the home was listed as 2024 East Couch Street.

Above, the Salmon Brown house in 2019 (Zillow)
Center, Salmon Brown gardening in front of the house in 1917
Below, another view of the Salmon Brown house in 2019 (Zillow)

Young Salmon Brown
(Stutler Collection)
Salmon Brown was born to John and his second wife Mary Day Brown in 1836, in Hudson, Ohio.  He took part in the drama in territorial Kansas in 1856, but did not follow his father to Harper's Ferry three years later.  In Kansas, he was one of the bold men gathered by John Brown to kill five proslavery conspirators, executing them in the vicinity of Pottawatomie Creek in May 1856.  The following month, Salmon fought in the the Battle of Palmyra (better known as The Battle of Black Jack) on June 2, 1856.  Afterward he accidentally wounded himself by gunshot, but survived to return east with his father and brothers and their families.  After returning to the Brown homestead in North Elba, New York, Salmon, now twenty-one-years-old, married Abbie Hinckley (b. 1839) on October 15, 1857, about two years before the Harper's Ferry raid. In 1864, Salmon accompanied his mother and sisters westward and ultimately settled in Oregon.

In 1919, at the age of eighty-two, Salmon apparently grew despondent after being laid up in bed with illness, and on May 10--the day after his famous father's 119th birthday--Salmon shot himself once again, this time deliberately, and this time taking his own life.  According to local press reports, such as theOregon Daily Journal, he used a .44 caliber pistol that had belonged to his father.1  Of his suicide, a confidant of Salmon concluded:
When I put myself in his place and think of how he, month after month, for years, from the same bed looked at the same four walls and realized as the days dragged slowly by that he might be for many more years a burden to his loved ones, I cannot feel it in my heart to judge him harshly.2
A sad footnote to his death is found in an article that appeared later the same year in Portland's Daily Journal, noting that Salmon's son--named for his grandfather John Brown--had been "bound over to the federal grand jury" for narcotics abuse.  This John Brown was a practicing dentist in Portland, and reportedly was quite unhappily married to a troublesome wife who allegedly had driven him to "seek surcease" from these difficulties in narcotics. Beside his abuse of prescription forms to obtain drugs, Brown enjoyed an "otherwise splendid reputation," and  promised that he would stop the use of narcotics, leading the court to release him on his own recognizance.3  Hopefully he was able to follow through on his promise.

   1 “John Brown’s Son Bedridden Invalid For Several Years Dies By Own Hand; Octogenarian Uses Revolver Believed to Have Been Relic of Harper’s Ferry Raid,” Oregon Daily Journal, May 11, 1919, p. 1.
      2 Fred Lockley, “Observations and Impressions of the Journal Man,” Oregon Daily Journal, May 29, 1919, p. 8.
      3 "Man Says He Used Narcotics Because Wife Hounded Him," Oregon Daily Journal, Oct. 4, 1919, p. 2.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Five for Freedom, One Not Entirely Trustworthy: Eugene Meyer's Big Lie About John Brown

I really would like to have greeted Eugene L. Meyer's recent publication, Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown's Army, I really would.  But I am quite disappointed and more than perturbed that Mr. Meyer could be so reckless and mistaken in making the following statement within a discussion about the African American expatriate community in Chatham, Canada West (Ontario):

Chatham, with its close‐knit community of Afro‐Canadian expatriates, would be a perfect plotting ground for Brown, who with his followers had infamously murdered slave sympathizers and one of their infants in Bleeding Kansas.  [p. 55]
Eugene L. Meyer:
Very Wrong on Brown
It is not altogether surprising that Meyer would be so careless as to portray the men killed at Pottawatomie by Brown and his men in 1856 merely as "slave sympathizers."  This is a typical error of misrepresentation and probably bias, although in Mr. Meyer's case, I'm not sure which is the more pronounced problem.

It is clear that the five men killed at Pottawatomie--the three Doyles, Sherman, and Wilkinson--were no mere "sympathizers," but tools of the slaveholding interest in the Kansas territory.  Indeed, they were conspirators committed to aiding and abetting terrorism in the territory--terrorism that targeted the Browns particularly.  John Brown NEVER killed a man for being a slave sympathizer unless that man endeavored to do violence.  Throughout his time in the territory, Brown interacted peacefully with proslavery settlers and even did business with Missourians.  He always approached the issue with reason and conversation and never considered using a weapon unless he felt it was a matter of necessity for the preservation of life, and this applies to Pottawatomie too.  At any rate, in this regard, Meyer's characterization make his work no different than many other journalistic and historical renderings that are lacking in substance and context.

More disturbing is Meyer's characterization that Brown . . . had a hand in the death of an infant or child belonging to a "slave sympathizer."  In this statement Meyer shows himself irresponsible beyond negligence. 

More disturbing is Meyer's characterization that Brown killed "one of their infants"--that is, that he had a hand in the death of an infant or child belonging to a "slave sympathizer."  In this statement Meyer shows himself irresponsible beyond negligence.  My understanding is that he is an accomplished, season journalist.  He has a very nice website which states that he is "an award-winning veteran journalist with eclectic interests but special passions for history, lifestyles, travel, real estate and the Chesapeake Bay."  This is all well and good and I certainly wish him well.  But one would think that any veteran journalist of his caliber would have made even a basic effort to research his material, and would have found that this claim has no evidence or basis in the record.  It certainly shows that he knows nothing about John Brown, and this is what concerns me about his writing.

I do not know Mr. Meyer and I appreciate the interest he has taken in the black raiders, and have nothing "aught" against him, so the Golden Rule requires that I grant him the benefit of the doubt.  However, the best I could conclude regarding this false and insulting characterization of John Brown is that he naively relied upon some proslavery source or some otherwise biased, hostile claim and didn't have the good sense to check it against the facts.  Until or unless proven otherwise, his erroneous, insulting characterization of John Brown as a terrorist baby killer must be marked against him and his work.

Unfortunately, if Meyer can make this kind of error with the record, it stands to reason that his Five for Freedom needs to be read with care and not taken at face value.  His annotations and sources and use of the latter should be considered carefully.  Without having read this book through or closely, I have also found another such misuse of a source in regard to Shields Green.  But I will address that at another time and in another medium.--LD