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

James Redpath

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

From the Field--

Hitting Close to Home 
 H. Scott Wolfe

As should be evident from my prior contributions to this blog, I have, for the past several decades, traversed The Republic in search of John Brown and his associates. Wherever the Old Man went, so went yours truly. I was, indeed, a passionately peripatetic, some might say pathological, patron of John Brown pedagogy.

The Author is Easy to Find When Chasing John Brown
(Wolfe image)

But this travel, though consistently rewarding and always enjoyable, was transient...a purely fleeting activity. For the great majority of my time, I remained firmly rooted at my residence in Galena, Illinois -- fully engaged in a host of rather mundane tasks such as making an honest living, mowing the grass, chasing spindly-legged ungulates from my long suffering flower beds and, of course, providing incalculably valuable advice to my devoted wife.

So, while restricted to quarters, I began to ponder a question which had often rattled about within the confines of my distracted and vacuous mind. That question was this: Were there any connections between my place of residence, Galena, and the Old Man or his men?  I could find little documentation. John Brown had been in hour and a half to the east; and he had crossed northern Illinois along the diagonal train route between Chicago and Rock Island. And, of course, he had spent a good deal of time in Iowa...Springdale, the spot where many of his “soldiers” had trained for the Harper’s Ferry raid, is a mere two hours to the west. But it seemed likely that he had not visited our little corner of paradise.

Not to be discouraged, I continued to consult the sources...including Richard J. Hinton’s John Brown and His Men: With Some Account of the Roads They Traveled to Reach Harper’s Ferry, (1894). Perhaps you are all familiar with Colonel Richard Josiah Hinton, the loquacious, self-aggrandizing comrade of John Brown in Kansas, whose writings have contributed clouds of silt to the clear waters of truth. He was one of those thousands of courageous, potential Heroes who clogged the highways to Harper’s Ferry, intending to join Brown’s Provisional Army, only to be stymied when the raid came off without them. If only they had known!!  Baloney sausage! Hinton was also involved in a so-called plot to release the Old Man from the Charlestown hoosegow. As if verbosity could set him free.
Anyway, my attention was drawn to Hinton’s account of raider Francis Jackson Merriam. And you may know Merriam. He was the well-heeled, weakly constituted, one-eyed scion of abolitionist antecedents (his grandfather was Francis Jackson, president of the American Anti-Slavery Society), whose role was mainly that of a candyman, arriving on the eve of the raid with his pockets full of gold and accompanied by a cartload of munitions. As part of the triumvirate left at the Kennedy Farm, he was able to escape to the surrounding mountains...only to die in New York City in the autumn of 1865.

What caught my eye in Hinton’s book was the following: “Early in the Civil War, Merriam married Minerva Caldwell, of Galena, Ill., the daughter and sister of physicians, who also became herself a physician of note.

Francis Jackson Merriam
(Kansas State Historical Society)
Here was my chance, so I set off to seek Galena Caldwells, Doctor Caldwells, Minerva Caldwells, any flavor of Caldwells. I could find no trace of a Dr. Caldwell in Galena. I could find no likely Minerva Caldwells in the census. Upon checking the trusty  “,” I found several researchers laboring on the Merriam family...and all said Minerva was born in Galena about 1840. And, in addition, many stated that she and Merriam were actually married at Galena in about 1861. Well, in my sanctum sanctorum at the local library, I possess listings of all marriages performed in this county. And there is absolutely no record of a Merriam/Caldwell nuptial. Curses! Foiled again! It remains an open question.


But, like Captain John Paul Jones, I had not yet begun to fight. And a clue soon appeared in a local newspaper, the Galena Daily Gazette, published in November of 1874. It was a letter written to the local editor from Rohnerville, California...and was cryptically signed by “J.F.”
The story commences with George Fablinger, a native of the Kingdom of Bavaria. Possessing but a limited education, the youth sought economic security through the trade of stone masonry...but, in 1838, set sail to America, seeking to realize the universal dream of prosperity. Landing at Baltimore, he soon was employed in the construction of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, and at sundry sawmills and iron furnaces. He met and married Miss Margaret Pope, who soon produced a flock of six children (the couple were to produce an even dozen).

Then, in 1849, the family removed to northwestern Illinois, to Jo Daviess County, settling briefly in Galena. He soon entered 120 acres of land in what would become Hanover Township...and began to pursue the livelihood of farming. Their home was situated near the Mississippi River, at what became known as Blanding Station. The vicinity was also known as Sand Prairie, due to the numerous sand dunes deposited by wind and water during the remote Ice Ages. Even today, the sandy soil is noted for its culture of melons and potatoes.

It was here, on “one of the best farms in the township,” that a son, James Beatty Fablinger (a Beatty family occupied a neighboring property), was born in July of 1852.  According to a county history, the Fablingers, by degrees, built fences and planted trees, gathered together farming machinery and livestock and, after arduous labor, with much waiting and outlay of money, found themselves the possessors of a fine property. The patriarch, George, a devout Lutheran and avid Republican, was to live until 1904.

Some of the family progeny remained to cultivate the ancestral ground. But some moved on to other parts of Illinois; several migrated to Nebraska; and son James Beatty, with brother George, Jr., located in Humboldt County, practice what they had learned at Sand Prairie.  And it was James Fablinger, “J.F.,” who on November 12, 1874, penned a letter to his hometown newspaper. Besides discussing agriculture, he also mentions a number of liberal causes...temperance, woman suffrage, the farmers’ movement...and the letter deserves transcription, due to what transpired two years hence;

Rohnerville, Cal., Nov. 12 
Within the last two weeks considerable rain has fallen in this section, and it is said farther up in the mountains they had a snow storm which was quite severe. We had frost for the first time this season on the night of the 28th of Oct., but old settlers say that this is an unusually late fall for Humboldt County. The weather at present is exceedingly fine - indeed I think I never saw weather so lovely. It little forebodes the dark and melancholy days of winter which will so soon cast their shadows around us, when the windows of heaven will be opened and as it were, “the fountains of the great deep broken up.” 
Farmers are busy digging potatoes and shipping them to San Francisco markets, where Humboldt potatoes rejoice the heart and fill the stomachs of epicures and lovers of sumptuous dinners. Apples still hang on the trees, whose branches are bending ‘neath their loads of rosy cheeked mellow fruit, and the easy going horticulturist fears that Jack Frost will bite them ere he can place them out of his reach; and they will be left on the trees until they are wanted for use.
In Illinois, the farmer knew hardly how to raise hogs without corn, and if that crop fails, he looks with sadness at his herds of swine, and thinks within himself, “Now poor rooters, for you it will be, ‘Root hog or die,’” when the ground is covered with snow; and I dare say, the poor fellows realize it much more than their owners before spring or death comes to relieve them.  But here it is quite different as they do not have the long cold, snowy, frosty winters of the States. They have no corn, as it will not grow here, but feed hogs exclusively on peas, which grow here very readily, as the soil is a rich sand loam, and well adapted to grow them; they produce about from one and one-half to two tons per acre, being sown broad cast. Then when ripe they are mown with the scythe and thrown to the hogs, straw and all, which seem to prefer them to corn and fatten on them very rapidly. I think the pork of pea fat hogs is of a much finer flavor than those fed on corn alone. Pork is from four to seven cents per pound here, and beef about the same. 
Those farmers who raise more peas than they can consume, ship them to San Francisco, where they sell for about $35 per ton, and are dried and ground up and mixed with a little coffee, which mixture constitutes the ground coffee of commerce. It is said that during the war, coffee became so high that the people used coffee made from peas exclusively, as many in the States used rye. It is said to be very healthful and nourishing.
The temperance cause is slowly yet surely working itself into the hearts of the people; and public sentiment wherever expressed by the ballot, was in favor of a prohibitory law. The Local Option Law, though shortlived, has not been without its effects. Its fruits have ripened, and no doubt many poor souls will rise up to bless it, although it now is in its grave. 
Woman suffrage in this State is gradually gaining ground on the public mind; and public sentiment is being worked up to that point when woman will only speak for the right to vote and it shall be hers, as they are already eligible to school offices in this State. 
The farmers movement is steadily increasing in numbers and power, and at present wields a mighty influence in the social, political and commercial circles of the State. J.F.

On January 3, 1876, James Beatty Fablinger married Ellen Brown, the youngest daughter of the Old Hero, John Brown. The ceremony took place at the Rohnerville Methodist Episcopal Church.

My local John Brown connection has been realized. My appetite is restored. I sleep like a baby. And I am once more prepared to hit the road.--HSW
Engagement Photographs of James Fablinger and Ellen Brown
(Saratoga Historical Foundation, Saratoga, Calif.)

Monday, January 11, 2016

Osawatomie Notebook--
John Brown's Use of Force in Kansas was First about Defending His Family

Grady Atwater

The primary reason John Brown began his militant abolitionist crusade in Kansas Territory was to defend his family from death threats from pro-slavery guerrillas, and his efforts to defend his family exacerbated the existing violence in Kansas Territory and resulted in the Battle of Osawatomie on Aug. 30, 1856.

The Browns were outspoken radical abolitionists, which brought the ire of pro-slavery settlers and even moderate to conservative abolitionists down on their heads. Indeed John Brown and his family were so outspoken that their loud and constant objections to slavery put them on a pro-slavery hit list. John Brown and his sons armed themselves to defend their lives and their abolitionist beliefs and went on the offensive to attack and kill those who sought to kill the members of the Brown family.

Other radical, outspoken abolitionists who made pro-slavery guerrilla hit lists joined John Brown’s family, and John Brown’s radical abolitionist group of guerrilla fighters grew, as did his influence in Kansas Territory.

It is vital to note that John Brown’s influence was primarily wrought from his impatience with inaction in the face of the pro-slavery guerrillas’ threats for he was a man of action, not words. Once, when warned to use caution, John Brown stated, “Caution, sir, I am eternally tired of that word. It is nothing but the word of cowardice!”

John Brown was not a man to stand by and wait for pro-slavery guerrillas to sneak up on his family or other abolitionist families. He took offensive action to address the threat before pro-slavery guerrillas could ambush and kill or harm his family or other abolitionist families.

John Brown’s quest to defend his family resulted in the escalation of the fighting in Kansas Territory, for it set off a chain reaction of violence that intensified the guerrilla warfare in Kansas Territory that helped to earn Kansas Territory the nickname “Bleeding Kansas.”

In addition, John Brown made the Adair cabin and Osawatomie his headquarters, and this made Osawatomie a target for pro-slavery attacks, culminating in the Battle of Osawatomie on Aug. 30, 1856.

John Brown’s motivation to defend his family was coupled with the Brown family’s dedication to action on their beliefs, and his family shared his devotion to the abolitionist cause. John Brown once stated, “Talk is a national institution but it does nothing to help the slave.”

John Brown and his sons were frustrated by peaceful abolitionists insisting that the public could be persuaded by words to end slavery, for he told Fredrick Douglas in 1848 that the only thing that pro-slavery advocates understood was a “big stick about their heads,” and that peaceful means would never result in the abolition of slavery in the United States.

John Brown was a man of action, and his sons in Kansas Territory shared his dedication to the abolitionist cause. John Brown and his sons were first to take action against pro-slavery guerrillas who had made death threats against them, but their efforts at self-defense were a propellant to the already burning fire of guerrilla warfare in Kansas Territory and put Osawatomie and Miami County on the historical map to stay.

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

Source: Grady Atwater, John Brown went into attack mode to protect his family.” Miami County Republic (Paola, Kan.), 5 Aug. 2015

Monday, January 04, 2016

Biographical Note--
A New Year, A New Start: The Partnership of Perkins & Brown, January 1844

A great deal has been written or discussed passingly about John Brown's years as a businessman, much of it ranging from inaccuracy to gross distortion.   While Brown's business history is a theme that needs far more consideration and study, my own conclusion is that even if he was not a great businessman, certainly he was not any worse than many of his contemporaries.  The conventional narrative of his business life rarely if ever acknowledges the challenges that Brown and his others of his time faced.  Certainly, the standards of the US in the antebellum era were not like those of today's business world.  For instance, there were no limited liability corporations protecting the personal assets of business people; nor were there other economic safety nets available in the 1830s and '40s that are available today.

From a letter in 1826 to a business associate--
possibly Brown's earliest extant signature
Furthermore, there was not even a uniform monetary system in the nation after 1836, since the national bank had been shut down by President Andrew Jackson, who had all but declared war on the bank.  Even before its demise, Jackson's assaults had brought a reactionary response from the bank's leadership that made it more difficult for businessmen to acquire funds--circumstances Brown himself referred to as "General Jackson darkness."   After the President finally vetoed the bill that would have renewed the bank's charter, it completely expired in 1836, marking the beginning of a period of intensifying economic difficulties for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those in "western" states like Ohio.  As I have pointed out repeatedly, it is for these reasons that the "John Brown bad businessman" fetish that is used by Brown's detractors is really just a straw man argument.  Based on the record taken in historical context, the evidence suggests he was far more unfortunate than he was a "bad businessman," mainly due to national and regional economic difficulties.

The Nadir

Biographically speaking, I tend to think that his work with "fine sheep and wool" in the later 1840s is probably easier to evaluate, as is also his earliest (and quite successful) business ventures in northwestern Pennsylvania from 1926-35.  The more difficult phase, at least for me, has been sorting through the information on Brown's activities between 1835 and 1844, when he engaged in numerous real estate and entrepreneurial ventures, all of which failed.

Bankrupt--a segment from John Brown's 1842
Bankruptcy appraisal, listing everything from
utensils to livestock to Bibles (Stutler Collection)
When the aftershock of the Panic of 1837 reached the western states, many businessmen fell prey.  Brown's failed ventures, largely based upon credit, were focused on commercial and private property.  This left him beset by lawsuits and entangling debts that ultimately brought him to bankruptcy in 1842.  The bitter destitution of business failure was not simply a wound to his pride, but nearly reduced his family to poverty.  The nadir of this bleak period was around 1843 when, as Brown later recalled, he could not keep proper clothing on all of his children. His family's embarrassment was so bad that they even stopped attending church for a season because not all of the Brown children had shoes.

The Upswing

However, in contrast to conventional presentations about his early life, Brown actually made a fairly strong comeback in the following decade. Certainly, the notion that dire failure in business pushed him toward abolition is nonsense.  Brown was always passionate about antislavery; but he had a family and many mouths to feed, and was hardly in a position to throw himself into antislavery work full time.  Throughout this period, whenever he was able, Brown assisted fugitives in flight from slavery, and here and there he had ideas of starting a school for blacks.  After 1840 he also began to contemplate a means of leading off enslaved people in large numbers by using the Appalachian mountain system that extended into the South.  But this plan existed in his thinking for a good many years before he actually attempted to either develop or implement it.  Second, Brown's objectives as a younger man were not the same as they were in his fifties.  His first sense of himself was as an antislavery tycoon--someone whose acquired wealth and prosperity could be applied to the antislavery effort.  In fact, it was this hope that was probably revivified when his fortunes turned upward again in the mid-1840s and he regained a stable position by doing what he did best--livestock cultivation.

By January 1844, Brown had already begun to see the light of day after aligning himself with the prosperous Heman Oviatt of Richfield, Ohio. Oviatt had lost money in Brown's earlier land speculation, but he remained confident in Brown's integrity, and hired Brown to manage his farm and keep his vast flock of sheep at Richfield, Ohio.  Brown seized upon the opportunity, which also included the development of a productive tannery operation, another business in which he had excelled previously in Pennsylvania.  Quickly redeeming himself from economic shame, Brown was increasingly attentive to the care and breeding of quality livestock, especially the improvement of fine sheep. As he studied and experimented, Oviatt's flock began to prosper in productivity and reputation, as did Brown's own little flock, all of which must have proved more than a balm to his bruised hopes. He even began to travel to other counties and states, looking up various sheep farms to interview the wool-growers and study their flocks, often purchasing quality livestock for his partner or himself.   Unlike land speculation, Brown was standing on solid ground and working in a field, both literally and figuratively, where he had both talent and expertise.

"A Most Favorable Arrangement"

In late 1843, Simon Perkins Jr. of Akron, Ohio, contacted him with a proposition. Perkins had heard of his reputation and success and wanted Brown's expertise for his own farm and flocks.  For one so embarrassed and bankrupt two years before, this must have seemed like a promotion of biblical proportions to John Brown, an even greater reversal of his former misfortunes.  Perkins was far more prosperous than Oviatt, having inherited a share of his father's great fortune.  The senior Perkins was a founding leader of Akron, Ohio, and a successful banker and magnate who left his sons a good deal of wealth.  So Brown was undoubtedly elated when he received Perkins' proposition.  On January 11, 1844, Brown thus wrote to his namesake, describing his new partnership in enthusiastic detail:

I have lately entered into a copartnership with Simon Perkins Jr. of Akron with a view to carry on the Sheep business extensively. He is to furnish all the feed, & shelters for wintering as a set off against our taking all the care of the flock.  All other expenses we are to share equally & to divide the profits equally. This arrangement will reduce our cash rents at least $250, yearly & save our hiring help in Haying.
It was a sweet deal.  The Oviatt farmland in Richfield was still available to him for pasturing his sheep, but now Brown could move his family into a far nicer residence on the grounds of the Perkins land in Akron. As he described it further to John Junior:
. . . my family will go into a very good House belonging to Mr Perkins say from half a mile, to a mile, out of Akron. I think this is the most comfortable & the most favorable arrangement of my worldly concerns that I ever had, and calculated to afford us more leisure for improvement, by day, & by Night, than any other I do hope that God has enabled us to make it in mercy to us, & not that he should send leanness into our soul. 
He and his family had seen hard times, but notwithstanding his Calvinistic observation that the Almighty might yet "send leanness" again, Brown was expecting prosperity.  The Perkins arrangement not only put bread on Brown's table, but buttered it sweetly.  "Our time will all be at our own command except the care of the flock," he wrote.  "This I think will be considered no mean alliance for our family & I most earnestly hope they will have wisdom given to make the most of it."

A "Copartnership"

These words were written only two days after he had signed a "copartnership" agreement with Perkins, on January 9, 1844.  An examination of the agreement affirms that from the onset Brown had his own sheep distinct from Oviatt's flock, which itself is evidence that his determined comeback was already under way.  (In 1842, his bankruptcy report listed possession of only seven sheep and three lambs.)  Still, in the new arrangement with Perkins, Brown was to join the business "concern" of his flock with Perkins' flock, and thus to "share equally the gain or loss yearly."  For his part, Perkins furnished all the winter concerns for their sheep, providing "all the food and shelter that would be necessary" from December 1st until mid-April, when they could be returned to pasture.  In turn, Brown was to provide ongoing "care and attention of every description which the good of the flock may require"--meaning, he would wash the sheep, shear wool, and sack and ship the product to market.  Otherwise, any other expenses would be undertaken from the profits of their "copartnership."  Brown also agreed to do some secondary farming for Perkins, harvesting his turnip and potato crops, which the latter grew to fund the care of the sheep. 

Our House, is a Very, Very Nice House

As Brown mentioned to his son, the January 1844 agreement also allowed Brown to move Mary and the family into "the frame dwelling-house" on the Perkins farm, which was situated south of the Perkins mansion.  The family had moved in by April 1844, when the "copartnership" became active. As far as housing,  the agreement allowed the Browns access to yards (of which his growing and often mischievous sons took full advantage) and gardening on the grounds.  He was also granted "the privilege of getting wood for fuel" from Perkins' land.
The Brown residence in Akron, which
served as a golf club in the early 20th century
(Summit County Historical Society)

In turn, Brown paid $30 rent annually, which by one conversion chart would amount to only about $800 a year today.  Even if this is an underestimation, it is clear that the Browns were now quite comfortable, the arrangement actually giving the Browns opportunity to profit. To no surprise, Brown characteristically went hard at repaying his debts as a result of these fortunate circumstances.   In a letter to John Junior in June 1844, Brown further reported that he found the Perkins family to be "affable and kind" neighbors--and there was prosperity.  As he recounted, the first fruits of their "copartnership" had yielded nearly 600 lambs and nearly three thousand pounds of wool, which Brown himself brought to market at Lowell, Massachusetts.


What turned out to be key to their business agreement was the requirement that both men would "improve and increase" the flock "from time to time as the business will justify, and they may agree."  I believe it was this line that gave a mandate--in Brown's zealous mind--to continue his passionate investigation and experimentation of breeding and care for sheep.  One of his contributions was experimentation in order to relieve sheep from infestation by "bots and grubs," fly larvae in the heads of sheep, a blight that exacted a heavy toll upon the flock.   M. B. Bateman, the editor of the Ohio Cultivator, reported in 1845 that he had thus been approached by John Brown, who had already become known for the excellence of the Perkins-Brown flocks.  "Mr. Brown has made a large number of examinations and experiments in relation to this subject," Bateman wrote.  Brown had performed autopsies on dead sheep, or even killed sick sheep in order to examine the skull infestations; in some cases, Brown told him, there were as many as fifty "grubs" in the head of a single sheep. This affliction in flocks, Bateman explained, took place in warm climates or in the summer, when sheep could be seen huddling together, holding their noses close to the ground in an attempt to avoid infestation.  After trying various experiments, Bateman reported, Brown had devised an "effectual remedy for the evil"--a tobacco solution that he injected into the sheep's nostrils with a small syringe.  The antidote apparently killed the fly larvae without harming the sheep.    Brown subsequently wrote a detailed article for the Cultivator, explaining his experimentation and how he had devised his tobacco remedy, and advising his agrarian readers how to apply the same method to their own flocks.
"Bots and Grubs" Illustration in
John Brown's article in
The Ohio Cultivator (1845)

Equipped with his own native interest in livestock and an undoubted passion to excel, Brown thus took the contractual mandate for improvement to even greater lengths.  While it cannot be extensively documented here, an overview of his activities at this point will show that Brown continued his inclination to travel and observe other flocks, where he continued to procure sheep for breeding and improvement.  In turn, this honed his expertise and skills as a sheep farmer and wool aficionado, so that by the late 1840s he really had gained a reputation that went far beyond Ohio, distinguishing him as one of the leading experts in fine sheep and wool in the nation.  I've addressed this somewhat in John Brown--The Cost of Freedom, but it bears mentioning here because of the skewed portrayal of Brown as an utter business failure.  Brown was becoming renowned for his expertise in sheep and wool, and now he could walk with his head held high, whereas only a few years before he was shamed and broken by his circumstances. 

A New Challenge

Equally important, Brown's familiarity with the landscape of sheep and wool production in the 1840s ultimately led him to study the system that prevailed in the sheep and wool industry.  He had effectively mastered the craft of breeding sheep and wool production.  But this was not enough for Brown, who in visiting many sheep farms had also become increasingly aware of both their flaws as well as their difficulties in the marketplace.  As to flaws, Brown was bothered by the fact that many wool growers were not above cheating the manufacturers, who purchased wools by weight.  As Brown observed, the growers were so frustrated by the underpricing of their wools by New England manufacturers that they often resorted to cheating them by loading their wool sacks with dirt and debris in order to get more pennies to the pound.  This disturbed every bone in John Brown's ethical frame.  At the same time, as the perennial defender of the underdog, he was also increasingly irritated by the abuse of the growers by the New England capitalists.  Clearly, they were being taken advantage of by the manufacturers, chiefly in that the latter retained the right to set the prices and pay out what they wanted.
The P&B Circular, March 1846

In defense of the woolgrowers, Brown conceived of creating a business to mediate the market exchange between farmers and manufacturers.  With the undoubted approval of Perkins, Brown thus entered into a venture, extending their "copartnership" into a new endeavor.  In March 1846, a "circular" was issued bearing the names of Simon Perkins and John Brown, which was sent out to a long list of woolgrowers .  The circular announced a new "Commission Wool House at Springfield, Massachusetts."  The Perkins & Brown Commission operation (henceforth P&B) promised potential clients that wools would be classed and offered for sale by P&B to different manufacturers at the best possible price.

The new P&B commission house was a heady venture, but it was doubtless based upon Brown's professional self-assurance, which he summed up in the circular as "experience in the business, and extensive acquaintance with the Eastern Manufacturers and Wool Dealers."  Nor was Brown lying, since he knew the wool business well, and likewise had become well acquainted with many of the manufacturers and dealers in the northeast. On the other hand, his practical, common sense approach to business was unequal to the kind of business maneuvering and market manipulation that was typical of the New England capitalists. Certainly, the latter were hardly going to lose their advantage in the marketplace, nor yield their profit margin to an upstart firm from Ohio run by a famously idealistic but naive entrepreneur.

From a Perkins & Brown Letter in Brown's own hand
The Persistent Partnership

As the saying goes, the rest of the story is history.  Yet it is a history that often has been distorted with the use of one or two anecdotes about Brown going overseas and returning from England in defeat.  Such treatment hardly does justice to the real story behind P&B's ultimate failure.   Again, readers may check out my book, John Brown--The Cost of Freedom, in which I sketch the kinds of issues that ultimately proved the undoing of Brown's visionary effort on behalf of the wool growers.  As I also point out, it is interesting that it took many years before the woolgrowers of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and western Virginia were themselves prepared to take on the type of effort that Brown wanted for them in the 1840s.  As in the matter of "race relations," Brown likewise was ahead of his time in regard to the organization of the woolgrowers.

As far as his "copartnership" with Simon Perkins Jr., the end of P&B in Springfield did not at all entail the end of their arrangement.   Indeed, their "copartnership" apparently continued until 1854, and Brown kept his family in Akron throughout this time, even while he was battling business lawsuits and tying up the wearisome loose ends that remained after P&B closed in 1849.   Brown remained an important associate to Perkins, who neither blamed nor otherwise attributed the burden of P&B's demise to him.

On April 12, 1850, Brown wrote to John Junior after a meeting with Perkins only days before in southwestern Pennsylvania.  The meeting was apparently scheduled to discuss the continuation of their "copartnership," which seems to have been renewed annually every April 15.  Brown was delighted with the outcome of the meeting, especially in light of the failure of P&B.   He thus assured his son that Perkins had
. . . met a full history of our difficulties, & probable losses without a frown on his countenance, or one syllable of reflection, but on the contrary with words of comfort, & encouragement.  He is wholly averse to any separation of our business or interests, & gave me the fullest assurance of his undiminished confidence & personal regard.  He expresses a strong desire to have our flock of sheep remain undivided to become the joint possession of our families when we have gone off the Stage.  Such a meeting I had not dared to expect, & I most heartily wish each of my family could have shared in the comfort of it.  Mr Perkins has in this whole business from first to last set an example worthy of a Philosopher, or of a Christian. 
Early 20th century sketch of one of
P&B's warehouses in Springfield
That Perkins took such a position perhaps reflects two aspects: first, he was aware that Brown had taken on a Herculean challenge in trying to wrest control of pricing from the powerful and organized manufacturers of New England.  He had gone so far as to seek markets in Europe, and unfortunately found manufacturers there were just as determined to have their way at the expense of the woolgrowers.  Perkins himself could not have done any better, and Brown's integrity counterbalanced any misjudgments or errors he may also have committed.   By all accounts Perkins seemed far more intent on keeping Brown in Akron.

Secondly, Perkins himself was far less competent a businessman than was Brown.   Even if P&B had failed because of business ineptitude (as many narrators presume), this actually would have reflected more so on Perkins, who was the controlling partner in the effort.  After all, the real issues behind P&B's demise were the contravening maneuvers of the manufacturers, as well as the lack of solidarity and patience among the woolgrowers themselves.  In either case, Perkins evidently offered no assistance or wisdom to his partner, who was left to handle everything by himself.   In fact, Perkins was the weaker link in the operation except, of course, that he had the money.

Quite to the contrary of the "John Brown failed businessman" narrative, it is notable that Perkins was "wholly averse" to any idea of parting ways with him.  In fact, their "copartnership" continued four more years, and only seems to have come to an end because Perkins lost money in an entirely unrelated scheme, in which Brown had no part.   It seems that Perkins went broke in a railroad venture and had to be bailed out by his brothers, or else he might even have lost his estate in Akron.

Finishing Up

As to Brown, he did not finish a broken, discouraged, and failed businessman in 1854 as he had been in 1842.  While he did not finish the Perkins and Brown "copartnership" in a highly profitable manner, his overall losses were disappointing.  Yet they were not personal and financial tragedies, and he was able to move forward.  He remained in Ohio for another year, working rented farmland and tending his flocks.  Brown, his wife Mary, and their younger children finally relocated to the Adirondacks in May 1855, moving into a small farmhouse that he had built for himself.  In 1855, Brown was not rich, but neither was he broke.  As the late Ed Cotter, the late supervisor of the John Brown farm in Lake Placid, N.Y., once pointed out to me, although Brown had limited cash (as did many others), he was a property owner with both fields and flocks.  (His property in Essex County had been paid off by a joint effort of antislavery friends as a gesture of appreciation for his militant efforts in Kansas.)  At the peak of P&B's run, Brown and his family had known something of a bourgeois life while in Springfield, during which time he was no stranger to a diamond studded lapel pin or a walking stick.  But this was not John Brown's style, being rather a man of simple fabric, livestock, and scripture.   At any rate, it was at the point of his settling in the Adirondacks in 1855 that the call to Kansas came, and with it the story of the businessman and farmer ended, and the legendary story of the fighting abolitionist commenced.

In the end, John Brown became dependent upon antislavery tycoons like Gerrit Smith, George L. Stearns, and Thaddeus Hyatt--devout and prosperous men who personified the kind of profile that he once had hoped to attain for himself.   

While the story of John Brown the businessman is of little interest to most people, at least it is important to remember that for most of his life, he had hoped to cut out an antislavery niche on the basis of financial success.  In the end, however, Brown found his place as an antislavery soldier and freedom fighter, ironically becoming quite dependent upon antislavery tycoons like Gerrit Smith, George L. Stearns, and Thaddeus Hyatt--devout and prosperous men who personified the kind of profile that he once had hoped to attain for himself.

Simon Perkins Jr.
(in 1870)
Interestingly, too, his warm friend and partner, Simon Perkins Jr., seems to have been quite indifferent toward Brown's politics.  By his own admission, their correspondence was limited to their business history, and there is not a shred of evidence that Perkins ever supported Brown after he had transitioned into abolition militancy.   Perkins was perhaps a moderate antislavery man,  but he was no Gerrit Smith.  Being typically conservative, Perkins was generally indifferent to the real plight of the enslaved African, nor was he evidently willing to support his friend in trying to overthrow the hideous system of chattel slavery.   Later in the 19th century, Perkins took advantage of waning years and memories to shift the blame onto his late partner for the failure of P&B, which really was something of a betrayal.  Perkins was even less kind to Brown's legacy as an antislavery figure.  "I consider him and the men that helped him [in his Harper's Ferry raid] the biggest set of fools in the world," he told F.B. Sanborn in May 1878.

By then, too, Simon Perkins Jr. had also betrayed his flocks.  It seems that keeping sheep was no longer profitable.

L DeCaro Jr.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

"So We Go": A Decade of Blogging John Brown the Abolitionist

I find it somewhat hard to believe that it has been ten years since I launched this blog, yet as I revisit the first entries here, I find that I made the initial two or three at the end of December 2005.  Many of my readers will undoubtedly share the same experience in asking, "where did ten years go?" Personally, when I launched this blog, my wife Michele was expecting our son Louis Michael. Today he is approaching his tenth birthday.  Along with that, I'm ten years older, and am beginning to feel it. Such is life, or as Brown would put it, "so we go."

This closing decade has been eventful for our study, and a good many books were published between 2005 and 2015.  Most notably published were David Reynolds' acclaimed cultural biography, John Brown Abolitionist (2005) and Tony Horwitz's much reviewed account of the Harper's Ferry raid, Midnight Rising (2009). Doubtless, the Reynolds and Horwitz books represent different readings of the historical record, although both books on John Brown received a great deal of attention and brought the Old Man's story into popular and academic conversations beyond the other books that have been published.

Other vital books were published, too, most notably, Brian McGinty's John Brown's Trial, which for me as a student of Brown preparing an extensive study of Brown's last days over the past few years proved my greatest help.  One or two other books, along with an article here and there, on the trial aspect of Brown's last days have been written in the past, but McGinty's book brought a fair and insightful perspective to bear, along with legal expertise, on the trial episode at Charlestown.  Two other major contributions to our study are made by Steven Lubet, another legal scholar and historian, who has given us two biographies of Brown's brave raiders, John Cook and John Copeland.  John Brown's Spy (2012) and The "Colored" Hero of Harper's Ferry (2015) provide insights long unexplored by students of this study, and much needed, lest we forget that the men who followed John Brown to Virginia and--in most cases--to death, did so as patriots of human freedom with their own worthy stories.   Students of the raiders may correct me on this point, but I think there is only one other biography of a Harper's Ferry raider, that being John Wayland's John Kagi and John Brown (1961).   Further efforts are needed to bring the lives of Brown's men (and sons) to light with greater detail.

By way of reference, two other books published this decade are important: Robert McGlone's John Brown's War Against Slavery (2013) and John Stauffer and Zoe Trodd's The Tribunal (2012).   McGlone's expansive work is technically a biography, but it's greatest offerings are as a kind of thematic reference work; the Stauffer and Trodd book likewise offers an abundance of documentary material that enrich our study.  I will say nothing other than this decade has also been productive for my own work, including my two most recent books, narrating and documenting Brown's last days as a prisoner in Virginia.

By way of readership, this John Brown the Abolitionist, A Biographer's Blog cannot boast a great following or great notoriety as prominent blogs go, but to date there have been over 360,000 page views from around the world.  This blog has not only been regularly visited by readers in The United States, but also from The United Kingdom, Ukraine, Germany, Belgium, France, Russia, Canada, Poland, Netherlands, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, Brazil, China, and Mexico.

By way of writers, over the years, I've been fortunate to include submissions by a few key contributors: Jean Libby, a veteran researcher and the John Brown photographic aficionado; Grady Atwater, the administrator of the John Brown State Historic Site in Osawatomie, Kansas, and H. Scott Wolfe, the Historical Librarian for the Galena Public Library District and “staff historian” of Galena’s DeSoto House Hotel (Illinois’ oldest operating hotel).  Certainly I am grateful for the information and input they have provided over the years.  Like most amateur blogs, this one has had its gaps and downtime, but nevertheless it has stayed afloat in no small part due to the encouragement of friends like these and others in the study.

L. DeCaro Jr.
So that's it.  A new year is upon us and a decade of blogging is behind us.  I hope to continue the good work on the Old Man, and may do so, as the old song goes, "with a little help from my friends." If you've been a regular or even infrequent reader, I'd like to thank you for your interest.  Perhaps, like me, you share something of a sense of attachment to Old Brown.  He has that way with people--at least some people, although I tend to think they are the most discerning type of people as history goes.  Brown's admirers are not myriad like Lincoln's worshipful masses, but they are zealous and devoted to his legacy, not the least of which because they understand that it is Brown, not Lincoln, whose life and legacy provide the fullest understanding of the meaning of slavery and its horrible impact upon the United States.

To friends and readers, I wish you a happy and most prosperous new year.  Whatever happens in 2016, remember:

John Brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on.

Yours in truth,
L. DeCaro Jr.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


Recalling a Brave Man: Lubet on John Anthony Copeland, "The 'Colored' Hero of Harper's Ferry"

On the 16th of this month our esteemed associate, Steven Lubet, published a remembrance of Harper's Ferry raider, John A. Copeland, who was executed with three other of John Brown's raiders in Charlestown, [West] Virginia in 1859.  Lubet is Williams Memorial Professor and the Director of the Bartlit Center for Trial Advocacy, at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.  Among his other fascinating books involving law and history, Lubet's recent works on Brown's men have been wonderful contributions to our study.  The first of these, John Brown's Spy, is the first biography of John E. Cook (Yale Univ. Press, 2012), and The "Colored" Hero of Harper's Ferry, is another first, being the biography of John Anthony Copeland (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015).   I had hoped that Lubet's piece on Copeland would have been accepted for publication on December 16 in some notable national publication, and am annoyed (but not entirely surprised) that the good liberal editors of these publications did not value the memory of Mr. Copeland and his sacrifice sufficiently, nor appreciate the contribution of one of our most important contributors to the John Brown bookshelf.  Notwithstanding this disappointment, I'm happy to have the privilege of reprinting Lubet's piece from The Faculty Lounge.  

Interestingly, Lubet's book was reviewed this month in another blog, Civil War News, by Wayne L. Wolf, Professor Emeritus at South Suburban College (South Holland, Ill.), and past president of the Lincoln-Davis Civil War Roundtable.  Wolf provided a fairly positive review of The "Colored" Hero, calling it "well written and historically sound."  However, Wolf concluded that "it displays an obvious bias toward Northern abolitionist thinking. It is recommended for those contending that slavery was the cause of the Civil War and that this militancy undid decades of compromise"! Obviously, Professor Wolf is among that mystified cadre of scholars who actually believe that the Civil War might have been evaded had the mythic wisdom of level-headed compromise prevailed.  In turn, Lubet makes an appreciative response on The Faculty Lounge (Dec. 22) which I've taken the liberty of reposting as well.  Lubet's kind rejoinder is quite well stated, and certainly shows the folly of the "failed compromise" school of thought.--LD

Steven Lubet (Dec. 16, 2015)
On this day in 1859, the Commonwealth of Virginia executed Shields Green and John Anthony Copeland, two black men who had joined John Brown’s fateful attempt to free the slaves of the southern states.  Although little noted in most history books, their sacrifice should be long remembered, even as our nation continues to struggle with slavery’s legacy of racism.
Shields Green was an escaped slave from South Carolina who had been introduced to Brown by Frederick Douglass.  During the Harper’s Ferry raid – which began on Sunday, October 16 and lasted for three days – Green had been assigned to guard Brown’s white hostages, which drew the special ire of slave masters.  One plantation owner railed at Green’s “impudence” in pointing a rifle at white men, and Virginia’s governor called Green a “coward,” although in fact he had declined an opportunity to escape and had instead remained bravely at Brown’s side until they were both captured by troops under the command of Col. Robert E. Lee.
John Anthony Copeland had been born free in North Carolina, but had moved with his family Oberlin, Ohio, when he was a child.  Oberlin was the most abolitionist-minded community in the United States during the antebellum era, and Copeland had grown up in the anti-slavery movement.  He had been a leader of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of 1858, in which he had literally wrested a runaway from the clutches of slave catchers, and he had afterward escorted the fugitive to freedom in Canada.
Copeland had been recruited to the abolitionist army by John Brown, Jr., who had traveled to Oberlin the previous summer on his father’s behalf.  Arriving at Brown’s headquarters on Thursday, October 13, he scarcely had time to meet his new comrades – who numbered only 21, including Brown and three of his sons – before the historic attack on slavery began late on Sunday night.
Brown’s march into unsuspecting Harper’s Ferry was initially successful, as his men were quickly able to take control of the federal arsenal and armory.  Copeland and two others were sent to capture a nearby rifle factory, which they accomplished with ease.  Soon, however, the town awakened, as church bells rang the alarm.  Brown and his men were surrounded by the local militia, who rained fire down upon the abolitionist positions.  Ten of Brown’s men were killed in the fighting, but Brown and Green were taken alive.
Meanwhile, Copeland and his comrades staved off repeated militia attacks on their redoubt in the rifle factory.  After the seventh assault, they realized that their position was hopeless and fled through the rear entrance.  The other two men were shot and killed while attempting to cross the Shenandoah River.  Copeland, too, waded into the river, but he was cornered by the militia and surrendered when his dampened pistol would not fire.
The prisoners were brought to nearby Charlestown, to await trial before a Virginia court.  Brown was tried first and quickly convicted and condemned to death, although his inspiring speech at sentencing succeeding in stirring abolitionist sentiment across the North.  Green and Copeland were tried shortly afterward.  Their attorney, a Boston abolitionist named George Sennott, raised a remarkable defense that condemned the institution of slavery – but to no avail.  Both black men were convicted and sentenced to hang.
Brown was executed on December 2, leaving behind a prophetic note in which he predicted that “the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”
Green and Copeland faced hanging two weeks later.  Interviewed by reporters on execution day, Copeland sent word to his friends and family in the North.  “If I am dying for freedom,” he said, “I could not die in a better cause – I would rather die than be a slave.”
The two African-Americans were taken to the gallows in an open wagon.  Once on the scaffold, Copeland attempted to address the crowd.  The privilege of a final statement was routinely granted to condemned men in the nineteenth century, but the Virginians would not let Copeland deliver another denunciation of slavery.  The hangman choked off his speech, pulling a hood over his head and tightening the noose.  The trap was sprung and the two  "colored heroes" of Harper's Ferry were hurled into eternity.
Copeland’s family had gathered together for prayer on hanging day.  Following a Bible reading, Copeland’s mother turned toward her husband and children.  “If it could be the means of destroying slavery,” she said, “I would willingly give up all my men-folks.”
Slavery was indeed destroyed by the coming Civil War, sparked in no small part by the actions of Brown, Green, and Copeland.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should recall the brave men who, to paraphrase Lincoln, gave the last full measure of devotion in the battle for freedom.-Steven Lubet

My Abolitionist Bias

Steven Lubet (Dec. 22, 2015)

In an otherwise very favorable review of my book, The "Colored" Hero of Harper's Ferry, Wayne Wolf concludes that it “displays an obvious bias toward Northern abolitionist thinking.”  Well, yes, I suppose that it does, in the sense that John Anthony Copeland was an African-American abolitionist who sacrificed his life in an attempt to free slaves in Virginia.
Wolf, whose review appeared in Civil War News, evidently belongs to the “failed compromise” school of antebellum history, which holds that the Civil War was not brought about by an “irrepressible conflict,” as Lincoln put it, but was instead  a tragic blunder that could and should have been avoided.  As he writes in the review, “Support for forceful abolition of slavery quashed any hope that moderation or compromise could avert war.”
“Compromise,” however, would have meant the perpetuation of slavery for another decade or longer – meaning that 4 million Americans would have been subjected to a further lifetime of forced labor, torture, and family separation.  The Constitution itself had been a compromise with slavery.  The next compromise came in 1820, with the admission of Missouri as a slave state, after which the southerners kept pressing to strengthen and expand the institution into territories where it had been prohibited (including plots to annex Cuba, and perhaps even Nicaragua).  Then came the “Compromise of 1850,” which required northern complicity in the Fugitive Slave Act.  And then came the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which extended slavery across the Missouri River.  From 1790 to 1860, the number of  enslaved persons in the United States quintupled.
Wolf writes that “The South viewed war as its only option, and abolitionists agreed,” but of course there was another option.  The southerners could have freed their slaves – which is something they refused to do even in early 1865, when Lincoln met with Confederate officials at Hampton Roads and offered them compensated emancipation in lieu of the certainty of military defeat.
Despite our differences in outlook, Wolf was very generous in his review, fully summarizing the details of Copeland’s life and praising Colored Hero as “well written and historically sound.”  His concluding sentence is also quite accurate, though perhaps not in the way that he intended.  Colored Hero, he writes, “is recommended for those contending that slavery was the cause of the Civil War and that this militancy undid decades of compromise.”
[Note to those who think I am too partisan:  The heroes in my three Civil War books were mostly Republicans, and many of them were Evangelicals.]--Steven Lubet

Monday, December 14, 2015

Seasons Greetings--
It’s In the Cards: The Fruits of Cleanliness

H. Scott Wolfe

I was lounging about the house the other day, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the folks from Publisher’s Clearing House, with their clusters of gaily-colored balloons and the giant cashier’s check which would financially allow me to lounge about somewhere else. When they (for some reason) did not arrive, I was compelled to invent some other means of occupying my precious time. So I decided, in order to beat the seasonal rush, to do some “spring cleaning” in December.

After renting a steam shovel and two dump trucks, I vigorously attacked one of my desk drawers. While the sundry arachnids scattered to other unseen places, I began to excavate the various strata with pick and gad. At approximately the seven-inch level, I unearthed a yellow envelope, which I had deposited there during some remote geological period. Printed upon it were the words: “Nichols Drug Store, Next to Post Offices, Charles Town, West Va. - Harpers Ferry, West Va.,” along with a promise to “give the Sick the best possible service.”

Within the envelope I discovered seven colorized postcards, all relating to John Brown and Harpers Ferry, one of them hand-dated to February of 1911. It suddenly dawned upon me that this collection had been presented to me by that very Virginia friend and devoted Brownophobe whom I mentioned in my prior posting. Apparently terrified that his next-door neighbors would accuse him of being an abolitionist, he quickly removed the postcards from his premises by giving them to a resident of the Free States (i.e. yours truly). 

I spoke to my friend just the other day...(He is presently sampling every barbeque joint in the State of North Carolina.)...and I am sure that he would not oppose sharing these images with the readers of this blog. As a frequent visitor at Harpers Ferry, I personally find them of great interest as “period pieces” of the days before the creation of the present-day National Historic Site.

The images therefore follow:

One: “John Brown’s Fort, Harpers Ferry, W. Va.”

Two: “Shenandoah Street, Harpers Ferry, W. Va.”

Three: “Looking Toward the Gap from Jefferson Rock, Harpers Ferry, W. Va.”  With the additional inscription on the verso: “The view shown commands one of the most awe-inspiring scenes one ever beheld. Thomas Jefferson, standing on Jefferson Rock, said: ‘This view is worth a trip across the Atlantic.’”

Four: “John Brown’s Monument and War Tablet, Harpers Ferry, W. Va.” With the additional inscription on the verso: “The John Brown Monument, erected by the B. & O. R.R., marks the spot where the fort stood during the Brown Raid. The war tablets give a complete history of the Civil War as was fought around Harpers Ferry.”

Five: “John Brown’s Fort, Harpers Ferry, W. Va.” With the additional inscription on the verso: “John Brown’s Fort, now located on the Storer College Campus, is used as a library and museum. It was in this building that Brown and his followers took refuge after his attack on Harpers Ferry, October 16, 1859, and remained there until compelled to surrender to the U.S. Marines under the command of Lt. Robert E. Lee.”

Six: “St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Harpers Ferry, W. Va.”

Seven: “Jefferson Rock, Harpers Ferry, W. Va.” With the additional inscription on the verso: “Jefferson Rock is named in honor of Thomas Jefferson. It was on this rock that Jefferson wrote and completed his ‘Notes on Virginia,’ and an extract from the same says: ‘A view from this point is worth a trip across the Atlantic.’”

Now there may be some stretchers in those captions, e.g. Tom Jefferson writing his book on the rock. But what would a John Brown article be without a few stretchers? That’s what keeps our beloved blogmaster meaningfully employed!

Happy Holidays!--HSW

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Book Excerpt--
Burying John Brown, December 8, 1859

Although Mary Brown had reached her home state, the trek back to North Elba was yet a journey of several days and many miles, including the difficult mountain roads that would bring the old man’s body back to his humble farm in North Elba. Escorted by McKim and Phillips, she traveled northward by rail to Troy, New York, then Rutland and Vergennes, Vermont. Throughout the journey, she met well-wishers, white and black, all wanting to shake the hand of John Brown’s widow. Near Vergennes, the coffin was escorted onto an old sail ferry that took them across Lake Champlain to Westport, New York. Before crossing the lake, Mary sent a message ahead to North Elba, “to apprise the family of the approach of the remains.”
John Brown in his coffin before burial, NY Illustrated News, Dec. 17, 1859

From Westport, Mary and the humble funeral cortege traveled to Elizabethtown, the county seat, where they remained overnight. Under the direction of the Essex county sheriff, Brown’s coffin was placed in the courthouse under guard, where people from the community also gathered to hear reports from McKim and Phillips.

Brown's funeral cortege arrives home, Dec. 7
NY Illustrated News, Dec. 24, 1859
From Elizabethtown, the party faced the most difficult traveling of the journey, following a winding mountain road, with its eerie dark canopy of Adirondack forest. To make matters worse, heavy rains had caused the snow to melt, forcing travelers to use carriages instead of sleighs. Weary and frustrated, they were now beset by deep mud and an increasingly steep and challenging road. “The roads were so bad as to be almost impassable,” wrote the New York Tribune correspondent.

After a brief reception by Phineas Norton in nearby Keene, they slowly climbed the mountain pass, ascending until they reached the Brown farm at sunset, being quietly received amidst glowing lanterns. Mary was greeted by weeping daughters and daughters-in-law, along with the rest of her grieving family. The outpouring of grief deeply moved the Tribune correspondent, who wrote that it was “a scene entirely beyond description.” However, emotion shortly “was put under restraint” so that McKim could provide them with a full report of all the events that had transpired since their mother’s departure for the South. The old man’s remains were carried into the house and brought upstairs, the coffin being set in the open second floor for the night.
Rev. Joshua Young
NY Illustrated News
Dec. 24, 1859

The following day, Thursday, December 8, the funeral began at one o’clock in the afternoon, beginning with the singing of Brown’s favorite hymn, “Blow ye the Trumpet,” an 18th century Methodist invocation of the theme of the Year of Jubilee from the Hebrew scriptures. Next the eulogy was given by the Reverend Joshua Young of Burlington, Vermont, which the Tribune correspondent called “a spontaneous offering.” Religiously speaking, Brown’s first choice would not have entailed having a Unitarian minister perform his funeral service. However, the family had no evangelical clergyman in the immediate vicinity—at least, not one willing to comfort the Browns and face the inevitable conservative backlash. In fact, Young had traveled all night with an associate just to be present at the burial, and had no expectation of being pressed into service. . . .

Wendell Phillips
NY Illustrated News,
Dec. 24, 1859
After Young’s prayer, McKim spoke, acknowledging that although he had never looked upon John Brown’s face “till it was cold in death,” he had come to know the old man through the developments of the recent weeks and now felt honored to stand under his roof. Speaking to Brown’s grieving children, he declared that their fallen father and brothers “not only died bravely, but they died usefully; they were all benefactors; they were all martyrs in a holy cause.” The old man had made a great impact, McKim declared, so that even one of the staunchest proslavery officers at Charlestown had come to him secretly, begging that he might somehow obtain some memento of Brown, which he would “greatly value.”

Wendell Phillips stood to speak, declaring that John Brown had abolished slavery in Virginia. “You may say this is too much,” Phillips continued. But the old man had “loosened the roots of the Slave system,” the way a tempest might uproot a great tree. The fallen tree might remain green for months or even years, just as the slave may yet remain on the plantation. However, slavery would now struggle in dying breath, for John Brown had proved that “a Slave State is only Fear in the mask of Despotism.” Now, the old man could sleep “in the blessings of the crushed and the poor, and men believe more firmly in virtue, now that such a man has lived.” Another hymn was sung, during which the coffin was brought outside and placed on a table near the door, the top part of the casket opened for viewing. The face seemed still “almost as natural as life—far more so than an ordinary corpse,” wrote the Tribune correspondent. Like the fallen tree of slavery, the sign of life still appeared on the fallen old man too. Slowly, friends, and then family, came to bid farewell to John Brown.

Brown's coffin is lowered into the grave, NY Illustrated News, Dec. 24, 1859
As the coffin was lowered into the grave, the family’s grief poured forth, and the young minister stood up, raising “his deep and mellow voice” in the words of Saint Paul, “I have fought the good fight; I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me; and not to me only, but unto all that love his appearing.”
Brown's grave, lying a short distance
from the great rock that he loved
NY Illustrated News
Dec. 24, 1859

. . . . The funeral was over by three o’clock in the afternoon, and the guests were eager to depart for home, hoping to go as far as possible before dark, although McKim and Phillips only reached Keene by nightfall. The following day, they made their way down to Westport, crossing back over the lake, but remained one more night in Vermont before returning home.

. . . . John Brown’s family was now left alone to invent a new life without him. Outside the small farmhouse, about fifty feet from the door there stood a large boulder, some ten or twelve feet high, of granite formation. Brown loved this great rock and left instructions that he should be buried next to it, thus pairing his grandfather’s memorial stone with the Almighty’s granite monument to the ages. Two years after the Civil War, a journalist for the New York Times would stand between John Brown’s gravestone and the great boulder, pondering the relationship of one to the other. “Was this rock placed here purposely as a monument for the one who alone and silently lies at its base?”

This excerpt is taken from Louis DeCaro Jr., Freedom's Dawn: The Last Days of John Brown in Virginia (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), Chapter 18.