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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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Friday, November 01, 2019

Magpie's Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino Reprise "Sword of the Spirit" at Charles Town

Greg Artzner & Terry Leonino
portray John and Mary Brown in
"Sword of the Spirit" (Magpie Music website)
On Saturday, November 2, 2019, at 7:30 p.m., the Old Opera House in Charles Town, West Virginia, presents “Sword of the Spirit,” a one-act play based on the letters of John and Mary Brown. The play was written by husband-wife team, Greg Artzner and Terry Leonino, known also as the musical duo, Magpie.  The play, which was also written by Richard Henzel, is seventy-minute-long and one act, features Artzner and Leonino in full costume and character as the Browns.  

The play is set in late November, 1859, when John Brown is facing execution and his wife is staying at the home of abolitionist Lucretia Mott in the Philadelphia area. "Sword of the Spirit" thus explores  the last days of John Brown before his execution on December 2, 1859 during which he had received many visitors, given interviews and composed over one hundred letters to acquaintances, friends, and members of his family, including his wife Mary. In the play, the audience learns about Brown's  story, his beliefs, and what he believes to be his God-given mission to destroy the evil of slavery. On the same stage, the audience sees his soon to be widowed wife Mary writing to him and speaking to the audience about her life with the famed abolitionist.

According to Tricia Lynn Strader of the Martinsburg [West Va.] Journal:
Artzner and Leonino have played music in the area before. They’ve been internationally renowned folk musicians for 46 years. Artzner said their work in music and cultural history is one of their most ardent and passionate interests. They have researched the stories of these figures in American History for three years, culminating in this work of theatre. They said their portrayals of the Browns give audiences an opportunity to see them from a new perspective, not as mythical, fanatical icons, but as human beings, people with human feelings, human strengths and weaknesses.
In an interview with Artzner, the musician and actor stated that they had presented the play many times at Harpers Ferry, including performances of their song cycle, which bears the same title the play, "Sword of the Spirit." The song cycle presents other stories of Brown’s family, friends and associates. However, the only music in the play takes place Artzner's John Brown and Leonino's Mary Brown sing hymns without accompaniment.  “We decided to keep the musical telling of the story separate from the stage play," Artzner explained. "There are dialogue segments based on the letters the Brown’s exchanged over the years, but most of the rest is based on two historical premises." One of these segments has Brown speaking to the audience as if they were reporters, something that was included in the play because of the extensive number of interviews Brown actually gave to journalists and visitors during his last days in Charles Town (then, Charlestown) jail. 
Artzner in Harper's Ferry (Greg Artzner photo)

Artzner told his interviewer how he and Leonino actually grew up and met in the city of Kent, in northeastern Ohio, “John Brown Country.” Interestingly, the first place they lived together was on River Street, right across from the site of the old Haymaker House, which Brown rented for his family's residence in the 1830s, and where Brown and his family made a vow to oppose slavery.
Preparation for the writing of the play took four years of reading, studying, and doing primary source research. This took place before internet access was available, and their research entailed extensive travel to major historic centers and research collections.  “In those days none of what we needed was available on the internet, so we traveled to Harpers Ferry National Park’s research library, the Library of Congress in D.C., Columbia University in New York city, and the Hudson, Ohio library. We corresponded with the historical associations in West Virginia, Ohio and Kansas. "We were principally looking for Mary’s letters and other documents pertaining to her, her relationship to her husband, and her role in the story," Artzner said. "We found quite a few of her letters, more than any single archive held. We transcribed them and donated our transcribed collection to Harpers Ferry.”

"Sword of the Spirit"
Presented on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, at the Old Opera House, 204 N. George Street, Charles Town
Information & tickets: tickets $15. Call 725-4420 or www.oldoperahouse.org

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Rich Smyth's Where Are They Now? Silas Stillman Soule

Prior to the final executions of Albert Hazlett and Aaron Dwight Stevens, a plan was hatched to free the condemned. James Montgomery an Abolitionist, leader of the Free State men and friend of John Brown from his Kansas days was recruited by a group of northerners including John W. Le Barnes, John Brown biographer Richard H. Hinton, and Secret Six member, Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Montgomery and his raiding party of Kansas men which included Silas Soule met with Higginson in west Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on February 17 to discuss the plan. Higginson had raised $1,800 for the rescue attempt and Le Barnes would seek volunteers from among German socialists of New York. Soule, disguised as an inebriated Irishman had himself placed into the Charlestown jail where he communicated the plan to the prisoners. Hazlett and Stevens, fearing repercussions for Jailer Avis discouraged the plan. In addition a severe snow storm would have prevented them from carrying it out had the prisoners elected to go through with the scheme.1 
Silas Stillman Soule
(National Park Service)
Silas Stillman Soule's brush with history did not end with the aborted rescue of the condemned Raiders. At that time he was 21 years old and a radical Abolitionist and Kansas Territory Jayhawker anti-slavery militant. He was friendly with John Brown who visited the Soule family home on numerous occasions during his slave raiding forays. During the Civil War, Silas was a captain in the Union Colorado Volunteers and present when Colonel John Chivington ordered the massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women and children who had pitched their tents along Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado.2 Soule refused an order to attack and later testified against Chivington, writing a letter to a friend describing what had occurred:        
"I refused to fire, and swore that none but a coward would, for by this time hundreds of women and children were coming towards us, and getting on their knees for mercy. I tell you Ned it was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized. ... I saw two Indians hold one of another's hands, chased until they were exhausted, when they kneeled down, and clasped each other around the neck and were both shot together. They were all scalped, and as high as half a dozen taken from one head. They were all horribly mutilated. One woman was cut open and a child taken out of her, and scalped. ... Squaw's snatches were cut out for trophies. You would think it impossible for white men to butcher and mutilate human beings as they did there."3
Scalps were taken by soldiers including soldier Morse Coffin who traded one for a new pair of boots after returning to Denver and Chivington who displayed them in Denver along with a vagina cut from one of the female victims, Descendants of another soldier, Jonas Anderson Jr. repatriated a scalp for burial at Sand Creek that he had collected at the massacre, William A. Allen whose family remembers “as small boys, seeing it at family dinners, hanging on the wall of their grandparents’ house between the kitchen and the dining room.”4  Fingers and ears were cut off the bodies for the jewelry they carried. The body of White Antelope, lying solitarily in the creek bed, was a prime target. Besides scalping him the soldiers cut off his nose, ears, and testicles, the last for a tobacco pouch.5 One officer pulled out and showed off the ears of White Antelope in exchange for free drinks in Denver area bars.I saw the body of White Antelope with the privates cut off, and I heard a soldier say he was going to make a tobacco pouch out of them," as quoted from a now unknown witness.6 Scalps and body parts from Sand Creek were put on a hideous display for three days in Denver’s Apollo Theater opera house. An Indian scalp from the massacre was on exhibit until the 1960’s in a Denver museum. Lieutenant James D. Cannon describes the mutilation of human genitalia by the soldiers, "men, women, and children's privates cut out. I heard one man say that he had cut a woman's private parts out and had them for exhibition on a stick. I heard of one instance of a child, a few months old, being thrown into the feed-box of a wagon, and after being carried some distance, left on the ground to perish; I also heard of numerous instances in which men had cut out the private parts of females and stretched them over their saddle-bows, and some of them over their hats."7

Hersa Soule in mourning attire, 1865
(courtesy of Colo Coberly
Find A Grave contributor No. 47241087
When his enlistment was over Silas married Hersa (Hursey) Coberly on April 1, 1865 and moved into a house on Curtis Street in Denver. Just three weeks later on April 23, Soule was on duty as a Provost Marshal in Denver, Colorado, walking by the northwest corner of Fifteenth and Arapaho Streets when several shots were fired, one striking him in the head, killing him. It was thought at the time the murder was in retaliation for his testimony against Chivington although little evidence supports this theory. First Lieutenant James Cannon, a friend of Soule’s, followed one of the suspected murderers, former Private Charles W. Squier, of the Second Colorado Cavalry, to New Mexico. Squires was brought back to Denver to stand trial. In Denver, the suspect escaped and Cannon was poisoned, again, presumably by Chivington supporters. Cannon died in his Denver hotel room from the poison. The other suspect in the Soule murder, William Morrow, was never located.8

Every year on the anniversary of the massacre, local and national Indian organizations commemorate Soules and Cannon by decorating their graves in Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Colorado. His simple white government marker reads:

S.S. Soule
Capt. Co. D
1 Colorado Cav

Soule and his wife Hersa are buried separately in
Riverside Cemetery, Denver (Courtesy of
Craig H. Trout & Carol Singer,
Find A Grave contributors(#46979152 & #46822921
His wife of only twenty-three days, Thersa A. "Hersa" Coberly, later remarried Alfred E. Lea, who a miner from Boulder who had several children. She became ill and died in 1879 at the young age of thirty-four. She is also buried in Riverside Cemetery. Her marker reads: “Hersa C., Wife of A.E. Lea.” Riverside Cemetery is located at 5201 Brighton Boulevard, Denver, Colorado.

Charles W. Squires was the son of a New York Episcopal preacher. After escaping from jail in Colorado he made his way back to New York where he stayed with his brother E.G. Squires. According to historian and author Tom Bensing, Squires drifted from job to job, attempting at one time to re-join the army and later unsuccessfully seeking passage to Central America.9  In 1869 he was involved in a railroad accident in which his legs were crushed. Squires eventually died due to gangrene.According to Tom Bensing the author of Silas Soule; A Short Eventful Life of Moral Courage, Squires is buried in the Bronx, New York’s Woodlawn Cemetery. (Note: an independent search of records by the author could not confirm Squires burial in the cemetery.)

Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY
John Milton Chivington was a Civil War Union Army Officer. An Abolitionist and Methodist minister, he was known as the "Fighting Parson" during the border wars in Kansas during the 1850s but will be forever defined by his actions at Sand Creek, Colorado. The panel of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which investigated his conduct at Sand Creek, declared:

As to Colonel Chivington, your committee can hardly find fitting terms to describe his conduct. Wearing the uniform of the United States, which should be the emblem of justice and humanity; holding the important position of commander of a military district, and therefore having the honor of the government to that extent in his keeping, he deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre which would have disgraced the verist [sic] savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty. Having full knowledge of their friendly character, having himself been instrumental to some extent in placing them in their position of fancied security, he took advantage of their in-apprehension and defenceless [sic] condition to gratify the worst passions that ever cursed the heart of man. Whatever influence this may have had upon Colonel Chivington, the truth is that he surprised and murdered, in cold blood, the unsuspecting men, women, and children on Sand creek, who had every reason to believe they were under the protection of the United States authorities.

He married Martha Rowlinson (sometimes spelled Rollison, Rollason or Rowlison) in Jefferson County, Indiana on July 24, 1839, and had at least three children; Thomas (?-1866), Elizabeth Jane Chivington Ottaway (1842-1914) and Sarah (?-?). Note: Thomas drowned in the North Platte River while trying to pull a freight wagon from the flooding waters. A second version has Thomas drowning in June 1866 as a ferryboat had broken loose at the crossing of the North Platte River near Fort Halleck in present day Wyoming. Thomas had volunteered to help retrieve the boat, which capsized as it was being returned to the landing. Martha died the next year. In 1868 he seduced and then married his daughter-in-law, Sarah Lull Chivington in an attempt to make a claim on his late son's (Thomas) freighting business.  When that failed he abandoned his new wife. In October 1871, she obtained a decree of divorce for non-support. Sarah, battled cancer until her death on August 51912. She is buried in Wyuka Cemetery, Nebraska City, Nebraska, lot: OG-512-03, near both her parents. The cemetery is located on South 19 Street, Nebraska City, Nebraska. His third wife was Isabella Arsen (Amzen) of Cincinnati who he married on November 251873 and was arrested for beating.10 In later years he was described as a broken man who 
finally drifted away from Colorado, his political future destroyed by the disgrace of Sand Creek. He wandered from place to place, finally returning to his native Ohio in 1872. He purchased and ran the Blanchester Press for ten years. In 1882, he entered the race for the State Legislature, but his opponent brought up Sand Creek, and he withdrew from the campaign. He returned to Denver where William Byers helped him find several minor jobs. He died in 1894 of cancer, his last days haunted by the memories of Sand Creek.11 
William Newton Byers was the founder and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News, Denver’s first newspaper and a lifelong supporter of Chivington once describing him as “one of Colorado’s greatest heroes.” It should be noted that in 1864 Denver experienced a catastrophic flood in which at least 15 people perished. Byers stated that Chivington saved his family.12 Chivington died of cancer on October 41894 and was buried in Fairmont Cemetery in Denver, Colorado, plot: block 2, lot 143 section 1The address of the cemetery is 430 South Quebec Street, Denver, Colorado. An ordained minister, a man of God, his life was filled with lies, fraud, embezzlement, wife beating, accusations of burning two of his homes for insurance money but…his life and legacy will be forever marked by his ordering and commanding the massacre at Sand Creek.--Rich Smyth


     1 See Oswald G. Villard, John Brown 1800-1859 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, & Co., 1910, 1929), pp. 575-78.  

     2 "She Looks Back Seventy-five Years to the Founding of Lawrence," The Kansas City Star, January 13, 1929, Sec. C.

     3 Gary L. Roberts and David Fridtjof Halaas, "Written in Blood," Colorado Heritage (Winter 2001): 25.

     4 Michael Allen, "A Massacre in the Family | My Great-Great-Grandfather and an American Indian Tragedy," Wall Street Journal, Nov. 24, 2014.  Retrieved from https://on.wsj.com/32dpMG3.

     Stan Hoig, The Sand Creek Massacre (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1974, 2005), p. 153.

     6 See the website, The Sand Creek Massacre at http://bit.ly/2OPIRKi.

     7 United States Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1865, Appendix, p. 57 (testimonies and report).

     8 Lieutenant Cannon was found dead in his hotel room in Denver.  A postmortem examination reveals Cannon died of a lethal mixture of liquor and morphine.  Cannon was seen drinking and gambling at a Denver saloon before his death, and witnesses reported hearing a struggle in his room later that night.  The timely and coincidental circumstances of his death fuel speculation that Chivington's “Thirdsters” poisoned him.  No evidence was ever produced to prove that Cannon was murdered.  See "The Sand Creek Massacre Timeline 1865" at:  http://bit.ly/2Me6wCF.

     9 Tom Benzing, Silas Soule: A Short, Eventful Life of Moral Courage (Dog Ear Publishing, LLC, July 2012). 

    10 Information on Chivington from Lone Wolf, the website of author Kevin I. Cahill,  at http://bit.ly/2VDhODp.

    11 Soule Kindred Newsletter V:3 (July 1970): 121.

    12 Byers died on March 25, 1903 at the age of seventy-two and is buried in Fairmont Cemetery in Denver, as is Chivington.


Saturday, September 28, 2019

Re-introducing Emperor: A New Book on the Well-Known, Little Known Shields Green

Last year, when it was announced that Mark Sobini's film production company was making a movie about Shields Green, one of John Brown's raiders, I thought I might write a piece for a magazine about the "real story" of the man who called himself "Emperor."  I knew that my files--now pretty extensive after two decades of research on Brown--had scattered bits and pieces about Shields Green, so I began to put them together with no anticipation of presenting more than the standard narrative.  However, when I began to read some of the material in my files, I found discrepancies and questions.  In a relatively short time, the article I intended to write became too long for an article.  I also realized that I could not leave some stones unturned, and had to do some more research, using sources as accessible as the New York Public Reference Library and as distant as the South Carolina Historical Society.
William Jewett of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper made this sketch of raiders Shields Green, John Copeland and Albert Hazlett in jail.  It is the least reliable of the sketches made at that time.  Readers of Emperor Rediscovered will find out why.

In August, I was offered a publication contract by NYU Press for a book to be published early in 2020 entitled, Emperor Rediscovered.  As it turns out, assuming Sobini's "Emperor" is released this fall, my Emperor book will follow on its heels within a few months.  The book is unlike other biographies that I have written in that the amount of actual information we have about Shields Green is much more limited.  It is also a far deeper and more extensive consideration of his life than what is offered by Eugene Meyer's 2018 publication, Five for Freedom, which covers the lives of the black Harper's Ferry raiders.  Despite his skewed description of John Brown, Meyer did a good job of telling the stories of the black men who went to Harper's Ferry with John Brown.  But to no surprise, the weakest part of Five for Freedom is the part about Shields Green.  Consequently, some of Emperor Rediscovered involves evaluating the standard narrative of Green, and then sort of restarting the story based upon what can be known by deep research.   Those who are familiar with Emperor's story may be surprised to find that the evidence suggests a more nuanced account with some untold possibilities.  What was Emperor's background?  When did he flee the South?  What road brought him back to the South and why?   What parts of the conventional narrative are trustworthy and what parts have to be set aside? How many sketches of Emperor have survived and which one is the truest to the record of the man?

Well, the manuscript is with the editor now, so--as they say--it's on.  I'm looking forward to the movie to be released this fall, but I can pretty much guarantee that the story in the film is quite fictive, so I hope my original intention is still accomplished.  The cinematic Emperor is about to be introduced to a large movie-watching audience, so it's important that the real man who lived also has a showcase for those who want to gain more than a superficial understanding of his life and involvement with John Brown.--LD

Emperor Rediscovered: The Untold Story of Harper's Ferry Raider Shields Green will be published by New York University Press in May 2020.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Back By Popular Demand: The Fool as Biographer

The Fool as Biographer

(John Hendrix illustration)
John Brown was hated in his life time, especially by pro-slavery southerners and others who resented him for trying to uproot and destroy the status quo of black servitude and exploitation.  While widespread prejudice against Brown is familiar in U.S. culture today, I've become convinced that many of Brown’s critics actually “love” to hate him, which is to say that there is some kind of fascination with him that adheres to popular discourse.  Typically this fascination with Brown is negative—quite the opposite of the Jesse James legend, which is quite unworthily positive.   Meanwhile, the internet is full of random knuckleheads self-assuredly opining about John Brown despite knowing little or nothing about him.  This common contempt for Brown is shallow and reactionary, evidence that many people have been propagandized more than educated.

In contrast, a smaller number of people actually hate John Brown for reasons consciously grounded in an ideological, experiential, and existential commitment to the “values” that typified the advocates of slavery in the antebellum era.  In other words, these critics truly manifest the enmity of the historical white supremacist that John Brown faced in his own lifetime—the same mentality that ultimately required his death.  Such was his most vitriolic enemy of the late 20th century, whose contempt drove him to write a hostile biography.

Otto Scott was born Otto Joseph Scott-Estrella in 1919 and died in 2006, but his writings and videos are still quite influential.  He is widely known and loved by neo-Confederates and ultra right-wing Christians.  Although he is a hero of contemporary Confederate loyalists, Scott also labored greatly on behalf of the interests of the wealthy and powerful in the western world.  It was no exaggeration for the Southern Partisan, the premiere neo-Confederate magazine, to eulogize him as “one of the greatest” conservative writers and thinkers of the Cold War era.1  This was not a man who cared for the plight of the poor and the oppressed, especially in the non-white world, nor could he have cared for those who were their sworn allies like John Brown.


Scott in younger days
Scott served in the United States Merchant Marines during World War II, afterward working in advertising and journalism, although a Wikipedia entry says he worked in journalism in Virginia and California prior to entering the Merchant Marines. Regardless, this path led him to embark on a long career as a published author of various themes as diverse as the histories of the Ashland Oil and Black & Decker Companies, and the stories of Robespierre, James I, and John Brown the abolitionist.  All told, Scott published ten books along with numerous articles in many publications including the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union, San Diego Tribune, Salisbury Review (London), Conservative Digest, and Human Events.  However, among conservatives, Scott was known for his own monthly publication, Otto Scott’s Compass, a “journal of contemporary culture.”  The latter had a considerable run of fifteen years, ending the year before his death.  One of Scott’s relatives aptly observed that he was “one of a great many Americans who are well-known to a special audience, but unknown to the nation at large.”2  In Scott’s case, his “special audience” was predominantly one of ultra conservative “Caucasians” with interests in the maintenance of the present order of the western world.

Capitalist Ideologue

Throughout his professional life, Scott made a living as both a businessman and as the chronicler of big business.  The anonymous author of the article Wikipedia about Scott notes that between 1954 and 1963, he held three vice-president posts in Globaltronix de Venezuala, Mohr Associates, and Becker, Scott & Associates.  He was also “assistant to the chair” at Ashland Oil Incorporated in the year 1968-69.  Even Scott’s family member acknowledges that he largely made a living “from his corporate biographies.”3  As a bona fide gatekeeper of the status quo, Scott was extremely critical of any real or perceived radicalism and liberal or left-oriented ideas, and was also opposed to any liberation movement that challenged what he upheld as the supremacy of the Christian west.  He was highly critical of the anti-Apartheid movement in the 20th century and bitterly attacked the abolitionist movement of the 19th century in historical terms.

Although Scott became a major didactic figure for ultra-conservatives in later decades, he had already influenced the conservative movement as an ideologue by the later 1960s.  Most notably, he is credited for inventing the phrase, “The Silent Majority,” a term made popular by Republican President Richard Nixon.  According to Wikipedia, Nixon apparently appropriated this phrase from a speech that Scott wrote for the CEO of Ashland Oil entitled, "The Silent Majority" (which was delivered to the Chicago Men's Club on May 23, 1968). 

Alliance with Rousas J. Rushdoony

J. R. Rushdoony
No doubt, Scott’s cachet was further enhanced when he allied himself with the ultra conservative Reformed theologian, Rousas J. Rushdoony, a marginal Calvinist intellectual who similarly influenced President Ronald Reagan’s political ideology.  The two ultra conservative thinkers chaired a radio program and Scott published regularly in Rushdoony’s magazine, The Chalcedon Report.4  Scott’s alliance with Rushdoony was significant for his future lionization among extreme Southern conservative Protestants, some of them neo-secessionists.  Scott, Rushdoony and their type despised the secular North as the vector of liberal abolitionist ideology, the forerunner—in their thinking—of present day liberalism and Left oriented politics and religion.  Scott is said to have had some kind of conversion experience after reading the four New Testament gospels in one night.  However, it is not clear if Scott ever had church affiliation until his final role as “scholar in residence" at the Tri-City Covenant Church in Somersworth, New Hampshire (1998-2004), “where he provided historical insight to the school and church staff and assisted in Sunday School instruction, high-school history, and Bible and economics courses.”5 

Scott and Reconstructionism

Tri-City Covenant Church is a congregation that follows the so-called Reconstructionist (also known as Theonomy or Dominionism) teachings of Rushdoony, Gary North, and others.6  Reconstructionists are like Libertarians with a Calvinistic theological and philosophical orientation, and are hostile toward liberal and Leftist politics.  Reconstructionists are generally distinguished by their belief that the Mosaic Law should be enforced as the law of the land.  For this reason, even conservative evangelicals find Reconstructionists problematic.  In 1996, the conservative Christian activist Ralph Reed wrote, "Reconstructionism is an authoritarian ideology that threatens the most basic civil liberties of a free and democratic society.”7  Richard J. Neuhaus thus appropriately describes Reconstructionism as a “bastard form of Calvinism contending that the American constitutional order must be replaced by a new order based on ‘Bible Law.’” Church historian Carl Trueman concludes that Rushdoony “was historically incompetent, probably racist” and—based upon his use of questionable sources, “probably unhinged” too.8
. . .one can understand why Scott was so embraced by Reconstructionists, especially since he shared their core white supremacist values.
In this light, one can understand why Scott was so embraced by Reconstructionists, especially since he shared their core white supremacist values.  Like Scott, Rushdoony and his colleagues have proven extremely sympathetic to the Confederacy in historical retrospect, just as they defended racist South Africa at the peak of the anti-Apartheid movement.  Anything that smacks of egalitarian or liberationist ideas is understood as rooted in godless ideology to Reconstructionists, and this was well suited to Otto Scott.  Rushdoony and his Chalcedon Foundation proved to be extremely supportive of white Southern nationalism, especially showing proud devotion to antebellum pro-slavery theology.  The Chalcedon Foundation allied with the Alabama-based League of the South in the 1990s, and Scott himself was the featured speaker at the League’s 1995 convention.  He even produced videos for the League dealing with their historical and political reinterpretations of the Civil War and slavery.9 According to the insightful Christian blog, Racist ChurchesScott allegedly pronounced regret over the increasing number of non-whites in congress and also supported racial profiling by authorities.  He uplifted the so-called Caucasian race as the most “essential to the continued progress of world humanity,” and disdained the removal of an interracial marriage ban in post-Apartheid South Africa.  It is also reported that Scott once stood at the grave of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in Virginia and declared that it marked “the end of southern civilization.”10 This depraved orientation clearly provides the basis for Scott’s malignant interpretation of John Brown.

A Word About Conservatives and John Brown

Whatever one’s political orientation, it is not a “given” of history that conservatives have categorically despised John Brown.  In fact, he has always had admirers along a range of conservative views.  Certainly John Brown studies was largely carried in the 20th century by two conservative researchers, Boyd Stutler and the Rev. Clarence Gee.  While Gee was probably the more socially thoughtful of the two, Stutler was a hard-nosed right-winger who disparaged the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s as being too extreme.   Notwithstanding this backwards view, Stutler recognized the essential rightness of Brown’s antislavery effort and admired his willingness to die to end human bondage in the United States.  Even “tricky” Richard Nixon, coming from a Quaker background, apparently held a soft spot in his heart for Old Brown. At the time of the United States Bicentennial in 1976, Nixon even made reference to Brown’s words.11  My point is not that the politics of men like Stutler were correct, or that their brand of conservatism was identical to Brown’s political outlook.  However, when it comes to John Brown, conservatism has never been represented by one opinion, and certainly not the opinion of right-wing neo-Confederates.  Furthermore, Stutler would hardly have approved of Scott’s narrative, so replete with political contempt and mean-spirited accusations of Brown and the abolitionist movement.

Scott, Malin, and John Brown

James C. Malin
(Kansas State Historical
Scott’s primary source in his own writing is the work of James C. Malin, a Kansas scholar whose book, John Brown and the Legend of ’56, was probably the last significant scholarly effort to flagrantly discredit Brown. Louis Ruchames, editor of the quintessential collection, A John Brown Reader, called Malin “the foremost anti-Brown historian, who seems unable to forgive the North for having used force against Southern secession, or the Abolitionists for having taught that the abolition of slavery would be a step forward for American society, or the Negro for having believed that his welfare would be furthered by the forceful elimination of slavery.”12  Ruchames’ evaluation of Malin sounds quite similar to Otto Scott:

To Malin, minor errors of date or place committed by writers who have a high regard for Brown are frequently labeled deliberate falsehoods, while the errors of Brown-haters are simply unintentional blunders.  Very few anti-slavery leaders and writers emerge unscathed under Malin’s furious onslaught.  Typical of his method are his comments on Emerson, Thoreau, Parker and the other leaders of New England opinion, whom he contemptuously refers to as the “New England Transcendental Hierarchy, the self-appointed keepers not only of New England culture, but, according to their own estimates, of national civilization.”13

In retrospect, Scott not only appropriated Malin’s prejudiced hypothesis, but sought to extend it beyond Brown’s story in antebellum Kansas.  Meanwhile, serious scholars across the board, from conservative Stutler to left-leaning Louis Ruchames, had exposed Malin’s book as flawed and untrustworthy. While Malin’s effort had general value in presenting the hellish mayhem of the Kansas territory, his one-sided, ham-handed treatment of Brown and the anti-slavery side was warped and untrustworthy.14   Yet Scott saw Malin only as “a truly great American historian” and uncritically accepted his problematic book—which he lauded as “a classic of historic investigation and analysis”—because it suited his base politics.  Retrospectively, Scott continued to praised Malin for portraying Brown simply as a “multiple murderer and robber in the Kansas Territory,” even though these allegations were intentionally based upon a selective reading of pro-slavery sources.  In the short term, Malin’s John Brown and the Legend of ’56 gave ammunition to anti-Brown scholars, but soon the author was exposed, his work was discredited, and his scholarly reputation was duly diminished. Scott whined about this too, claiming that Malin’s only crime was that he had “outraged the Academy”—a ridiculous assertion, particularly because prominent historians in the mid-20th century were hardly warm toward abolitionism and John Brown.  To Otto Scott, Malin and his fetid book were the victims of academic “obloquy.”15  In reality, Malin’s work simply was too tainted and biased to be trustworthy.   To this day, no credible historian would use it without exercising extreme care—something that Scott definitely did not do.  In fact, he went on quite uncritically to make the greatest use of Malin’s propaganda for his own anti-Brown screed, The Secret Six: The Fool as Martyr.16  The identity of the “fool,” in Scott’s mind, is easy to surmise.

Scott’s “Sacred Fool Quartet”

Scott’s own treatment of John Brown the “fool as martyr” actually was third in his series known as “The Sacred Fool Quartet”—critical biographies about “extraordinary fools whose follies influenced the course of all our lives,” goes Scott’s claim.  “Without them, history would have been different, and our lives would today be lived along patterns beyond our powers to imagine.”17    Besides John Brown, Scott’s historical fool hunt targeted King James I of England, Maximilien Robespierre and the French Revolution, and President Woodrow Wilson.  Scott thought these historical figures were “sacred” in that society had supposedly conferred a “form of immortality” upon them “irrespective of character.”18  Having fed from Malin’s poisoned plate, Scott’s anti-Brown work thus extended the theme in blanket condemnation of the abolitionist movement, with the particular intention of blaming them for the ruin that befell the South in the Civil War.  Scott thus opined: “The costs of Abolitionist virtue ran high.  Officially the record is 621,000 dead,” he concluded of the Civil War death toll.19 It is difficult to imagine anyone attributing the expansive deaths resulting from the Civil War to the abolition movement without thinking the writer must be a revivified slave master.  But this represents the kind of mind and spirit that animated Otto Scott.

A Publishing Disappointment

Interestingly, the first edition of Scott’s anti-Brown book was published by Times Books, the publishing arm of the New York Times, in 1979.  Although the book was smuggled to press, Scott’s Secret Six nearly proved a Trojan horse to the “Old Gray Lady.”  Certainly, Times Books was an unlikely home for Otto Scott’s anti-liberal screed, except that he had an inside connection with Tom Lipscomb, a business associate who had become the head of the press.  The book was hesitantly published, but it grated upon the legendary Times executive, Sidney Gruson, who rightly observed that it “lowered the tone” of the company.  Fearing that his opus would get buried, Scott pulled the rights of his book, bought back the remaining copies, and donated them to his friend Rushdoony.  Fortunately for Scott, there was sufficient interest and money in the South, and the book was republished eight years later by the Foundation for American Education in South Carolina, possibly a Klan-related organization.  Although Scott lamented that his book had nearly been “murdered” by the “Establishment,” The Secret Six was much more viable than he portrayed.20  Scott may not have had liberal money behind him, but he had right-wing support, especially in a willing audience among neo-Confederates and Reconstructionists.  The book was finally published under another label in 1993, which seems to have been Scott’s own imprint.21

The Legacy of Scott’s Secret Six

Otto Scott died in 2006, but his book continues to feed the same counter-establishment of radical right-wingers, neo-Confederates, and Reconstructionists.  For this audience, The Secret Six is taken as definitive and quoted by unknowing bigots as if it were the last word in historical terms.  Scott undoubtedly knew that he had made a niche for himself with his anti-Brown book; his other “fool” books are extant but rarely mentioned.  In The Secret Six, Scott took the Southern screed to a sophisticated and polished level of argument.  By cynically portraying Brown as a deluded killer in collaboration with liberal New England elites and other subversive figures, Scott affirms the foundational sentiments of neo-Confederates and ultra-conservatives who deeply despise liberalism in government and society, and who resent the national and global changes that are challenging traditional white supremacy in state and church.

It is not my intention to do a book review and in this piece I have preferred to use Scott’s subsequent reflections as published in Southern Partisan, which present his essential argument about Brown and abolitionism as well as background to his research and the publication of the book.  However, there are a couple of points that need to be made in highlighting the fundamental errors of his interpretation. 
Scott demonizes Brown over against the opinion of every credible biographer over the past century.
First, Scott’s bibliography belies the lack of fairness that defines his work, particularly regarding Brown.  Scott demonizes Brown over against the opinion of every credible biographer over the past century.  His narrative not only impugns Brown, but inherently accuses every scholar (including myself) of being a liar and false propagandist by our presentations vis a vis the historical record.  If Scott is correct in his profile of Brown, then Villard, Oates, Stavis, Boyer, Yours Truly, Reynolds, Carton, McGlone, and Horwitz have misread the facts to a significant degree.  Not that all of us agree on every point, and some of us have considerable differences about the Old Man.  Yet none of us have presented Brown and the abolitionist movement in the manner insisted upon by Otto Scott. 

Equally important if not more so, Scott’s work is both selective and derivative.  Like Robert Penn Warren before him, Scott only mined the most negative assertions of Oswald Villard, and otherwise ignored the more positive and balanced aspects of biographers like Villard, Boyer, and Oates.  Otherwise, his work offers nothing new, original, or based on primary research.  From Stutler, Gee, Edwin Cotter, and Tom Vince to Jean Libby, Scott Wolfe, and others (including me), those who have studied Brown extensively over time and in great depth simply do not recognize the John Brown of Scott’s rendering.   Far from being a historical portrayal, Scott’s “fool” is a straw man, a self-serving caricature that suits his prejudices and privileges his political agenda.

Third, Scott diminishes people of integrity who were Brown’s allies and supporters during and after his death.  Besides his obvious criticisms of the “Secret Six” and other “liberal” abolitionist clergymen, Scott essentially calls Frederick Douglass a liar—“disingenuous”—in his testimony about Brown.22

Fourth, Scott’s argument paints the crisis between abolitionists and the South with such broad brushstrokes that he obscures the fact that Christians across the theological spectrum were opposed to chattel slavery and saw it as a great sin.  While it is true that many leading abolitionists were “liberal” clergymen, there was no lack of stridently evangelical and even Calvinistic anti-slavery people in the North too.  The abolition movement may have had a preponderance of “liberals” in Scott’s terms, but the anti-slavery and abolitionist premises were not essentially based upon heterodoxy.  For instance, the counterparts of Reformed Presbyterian slaveholders in the South were the Covenanted Reformed Presbyterians, a movement descended from the Scottish Protestant Reformation.  The “Covenanters” were fervent antislavery people and argued against slavery explicitly from the Bible and the Calvinist tradition.  John Brown himself was a traditional Calvinist, a point that Scott never properly or fairly assessed because his only interest was in presenting him as a murderous “fool” in cahoots with Northern liberal heretics. Brown was “religious,” Scott says, but certainly not Christian.  Even in his death, Brown died like every dark pagan “selected for holy execution” in places like the “Orient, Pacific, Africa, India and other parts, because the gods demanded sacrifices—for the good of the majority.”23

Finally, Scott’s viewpoint necessarily plays down and denies the evil of chattel slavery and makes the slaveholding South a victim of Northern aggression.  In his understanding, it was antislavery people who were acting out “with raging demonstrations against the Fugitive Slave Act” in the North, just as it was the “initial exertions of old John Brown” that caused Kansas rhetoric to shift into violence.  The Northern heresy “led to the Civil War” while noble Christian Southerners “watched the Northern paroxysms with fear and horror,” increasingly convinced they were to be massacred.24  There is no sense of the aggression and determination of the South to expand slavery by any means necessary.  There is no admission that Southern terrorism was already underway in Kansas before John Brown came in answer to a distress call from his family in the territory.  There is no acknowledgment that black people in the North, free and fugitive, were outraged and terrorized by the Fugitive Slave Law, and that many patient Northerners felt violated and abused by its requirements.  Nor is there any sense of the guilt and hypocrisy of the Christian South, feeding off the sweat and blood of their hapless black chattel.  All Scott understood of the antebellum drama of abolition was that it was a grand liberal heresy foisted upon the South that “resulted in a long, terrible [and avoidable] war and punitive peace.”  All that mattered to him was that abolitionists had so skewed the world by their doctrines that even future whites, such as white Afrikaners during South African Apartheid, would suffer as a result, just as anti-white terrorism was descending upon the world because of the “boomeranging back” of the abolitionist heresy.25

Epilogue: “Eternal Reality”?

After Scott’s death, one of his family members recalled that although “his work has proceeded without fanfare, it had not gone unnoticed.” This is true enough.  His influence remains real in the marginal subcultures of neo-Confederacy and reactionary right-wing Christianity.  His work on John Brown has not gone unnoticed either, since it remains authoritative and usable for these audiences.  However, Scott’s work lacks the substance of truth and integrity.  He not only writes from a standpoint of error, but also from one of tragic self-deception.  Scott was a man who gave the whole of his life to twisting history to benefit corporations, slaveholders, and alleged white racial superiority.  Gifted with doubtless ability and intelligence, yet his intelligence was wasted on the pride of a fallen slave empire, and every gesture of accusation he pointed at others will come back to rest upon his legacy. 
Otto Scott lived on the wrong side of history and left a legacy of white racist pride and denial.
Otto Scott lived on the wrong side of history and left a legacy of white racist pride and denial. As a historian, he had real ability and sensibility, even a sense of obligation to time and eternity.  Yet often these make the worst kinds of people when they align themselves to the side of oppression.  Were he merely a stupid reactionary or a paid literary assassin, Scott would have been easy to ignore.  He once remarked, “I do not regard the past as dead. On the contrary, I regard the past and the present and even the future as part of an eternal reality.”  He concluded that his generation faced the same tests encountered by former generations.  “All I do is remind my contemporaries that Eternity watches us forever,” Scott concluded.26  It is unfortunate that a man with such a broad scope did not learn from the failure of preceding generations.  John Brown was himself quite aware of that “eternal reality,” and could have taught Otto Scott a few lessons had he been willing to learn from history.  But instead of deploring those sins, he personified them as an apologist, and even magnified them by making wrong into right, and right into wrong.  Like Haman of old, the fool who erects a gallows for the just may find himself hanged on a scaffold of his own error. 

So hangs Otto Scott, the fool as biographer.

* I would like to thank the scholar Edward H. Sebesta, who provided me with some copies of Scott’s contributions to neo-Confederate publications, especially the Southern Partisan.  Sebesta’s blog, Anti-Neo-Confederate is found on the web at: http://newtknight.blogspot.com/.  He is also the co-editor of Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction (University of Texas Press, 2008) http://www.utexas.edu/utpress/excerpts/exhagneo.html and co-editor of The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader (University of Mississippi Press) http://www.upress.state.ms.us/books/1338.

Original publication date, Apr. 7, 2012


     1 “A Giant is Gone,” Southern Partisan xxv:i (May 2006): 11.
     2 “Otto Joseph Scott,” Wikipedia.  Retrieved on 12 Mar. 2012 from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Scott#cite_note-1; Phillipa Scott-Girardi, “Otto Scott,1919–2006,” Sobran’s Forum on line [originally published in Sobran’s, Apr.-May 2012, p. 12].  Retrieved on 12 Mar. 2012 from: http://www.sobran.com/articles/forum/otto_scott.shtml.  Also see “Otto Joseph Scott, May 26, 1918 – May 5, 2006” (Obituary).  Bonney-Watson (Seattle, Wash.).  Retrieved on 12 Mar. 2012 from: http://bonneywatson.com/obituaries/detail.html?id=1857.
     3 Ibid.
     4 “Otto Joseph Scott”; “A Giant is Gone.” Also see, Scott-Girardi, “Otto Scott, 1919-2006.”
     5 Scott-Girardi, “Otto Scott,1919–2006.”
     6 See Tri-City Covenant Church website (Somersworth, NH) at: http://www.tccc-tcca.org/.  Note that the sources of the church’s position paper on “Dominion & Work” are all renowned Reconstructionist scholars.
     7 Richard John Neuhaus, “Ralph Reed’s Real Agenda,” First Things (Oct. 1996).  Retrieved on 12 Mar. 2012 from: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/11/006-ralph-reeds-real-agenda-5.
     8 Neuhaus, “Ralph Reed’s Real Agenda”; Carl Trueman, “Rushdoony once again—for the last time,” Reformation 21 blog [Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals], 31 Dec. 2006.  Retrieved on 15 Mar. 2012 from: http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2006/12/rushdoony-once-again-for-the-l.php.
     9 Edward H. Sebesta and Euan Hague, “The U.S. Civil War as a Theological War: Confederate Christian Nationalism and the League of the South,” Canadian Review of American Studies 32:3 (2002).
     10 “Otto Scott,” Racist Churches blog.  Retrieved on 12 Mar. 2012 from: http://racistchurches.wordpress.com/2007/06/13/otto-scott/.
     11  See Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., John Brown: The Man Who Lived; Essays in Honor of the Harper’s Ferry Raid Sesquicentennial 1859-2009 (New York: Lulu, 2009), pp. 15-16.
     12  Louis Ruchames, ed.  A John Brown Reader (New York: Abelard-Schuman, 1959), pp. 14-15.
     13  Ibid.
     14 “Malin took much of his source material from the anti-Brown papers and records.”  Boyd B. Stutler to Clarence S. Gee, 10 July 1953, p. 2, in Stutler-Gee correspondence, Hudson Library and Historical Society, Hudson, Ohio; “The book contains a lot of good material—but it also contains too much of biased opinion. . . .  I think [Malin] violated every rule of historical method in his zeal to establish his legend, and that there are strained interpretations of some of the material he used.” Stutler to Gee, 25 Aug. 1951, p. 1, idem. 
     15 Otto Scott, “The Return of John Brown and the Secret Six,” Southern Partisan (Spring 1988), pp. 21 and 23.
     16 The final version of the book is published under the title, The Secret Six: John Brown and the Abolitionist Movement. See note 20 below.
     17 Per the book’s description on Amazon.com.  Retrieved on 16 Mar. 2012 from: http://www.amazon.com/James-I-Fool-as-King/dp/0884051234.
     18 Scott, “The Return of John Brown and the Secret Six,” p. 23.
     19 Ibid., 22.
     20 Ibid., 23-24.
     21 A routine search on the internet for Uncommon Books shows no other author or book published by Uncommon Books, except for another essay by Scott called “The Church and Modern Culture” (1992).
     22 Scott, The Secret Six, n. 10, p. 345.
     23 Otto J. Scott, “Transcendentalism: The New England Heresy,” Southern Partisan (Spring 1982), p. 20.
     24 Ibid., 19 and 20.
     25 Ibid., 21.
     26 Scott-Girardi, “Otto Scott, 1919-2006.”