"Were I asked to say, in the fewest and plainest words, what Brown was, my answer would be that he was a religious man. He had ever a deep sense of the claims of God and man upon him, and his whole life was a prompt, practical recognition of them."
Gerrit Smith, "John Brown" [a broadleaf], Peterboro, N.Y., 15 August 1867

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Take Note--
The Great Rock at John Brown's Gravesite

"Was this rock placed here purposely as a monument for the one who alone and silently lies at its base?  Was this mountain chain designedly reared to wall this spot around?"
A journalist for the New York Times, quoted in "John Brown's Grave," The Independent (22 Aug. 1867): 4.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Righteous Indignation--
From John Brown to Michael Brown

"Missouri has an especially racist legacy. The last of the slavery states, it was a launching pad for numerous raids into Kansas by slaveowner militias hired to turn the vote in that state in favor of the slavers. It was from Missouri that raiders went to the abolitionist town of Lawrence, Kansas and burned it to the ground. This led to a guerrilla war that involved John Brown and his band. Symptomatic of the US’s racism is how so many history books cover that war. John Brown’s campaign is consistently labeled as murderous, while the actions of the raiders is often portrayed as a response to Brown’s tactics. This is despite the well-documented attacks on Lawrence, including one known in history as the Lawrence Massacre. The coverage of the Michael Brown murder in the mainstream press suggests that the actions of those who carry on the raiders’ task (in this case the Ferguson police) continue to be excused for their violence."

Excerpted from Ron Jacobs, "Quantrill's Raiders Come to Ferguson," Dissident Voice: A Radical Newsletter in the Struggle for Peace and Social Justice , 16 August 2014.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Checking in--
Sorry to Neglect You. . .

I apologize to the friends of this blog for my absence, which was supposed to be brief, but unfortunately has proven far longer.  Just so you have a pulse from me, I thought I'd post a few small items, and hope that I can get back to you with something a bit more substantive over the next week or two.

"Hell on Wheels"--A Brief Homage to the Old Man

Perhaps you caught the most recent installment of "Hell on Wheels," the dramatic series on AMC based upon the development of the transcontinental railroad following the Civil War (now in its fourth season).   The series annoyed me from the start, when one of its first season characters was a lunatic preacher, Reverend Cole (played by Tom Noonan) who rode with John Brown, and who ultimately acted just like the mythical John Brown that white people like to put forth in popular narratives.   Fortunately, Reverend Cole was killed off in the series, although his daughter Ruth (played by Kasha Kropinski) continues to keep a church amidst so many wild, godless railroad men.

This is a snippet, passingly recalling the fictional Cole's association with the Old Man. (Sorry it was recorded with an iPod, handy but the sound is hollow.)  However, it's different, perhaps due to the scriptwriter, who presents this conversation between Ruth and Psalms (played by Dohn Norwood), one of the leading railroad workers among the freemen.  It's interesting, especially the subtle smile in Psalms' expression when he invokes her father's association with John Brown.  Even six degrees of separation between Brown and a freeman in the 1860s would suggest a warm undercurrent.  The admiration for Brown that Norwood so skillfully conveys in Psalms' expression is probably the most authentic reference to the Old Man as portrayed yet on "Hell on Wheels."  Ruth's response is interesting too, but I'll leave you to debate that amongst yourselves.


West Virginia's Big Story

On another note, here's a link to an article by our friend, Naj Wikoff, in today's (Aug. 15) Lake Placid News, about a documentary maker with an interest in West Virginia history.  Lemuel Muniz's documentary about West Virginia necessarily includes an interest in John Brown, and I look forward to talking to him in the near future.


Keep your eyes open for Steven Lubet's next big offering on the John Brown story, namely a book about the raider, John Anthony Copeland, that will be published by Cambridge University Press. No spoilers here, folks.  But I can tell you that it will be a first for John Brown students as Lubet brings his strong research and wonderful writing to give us yet another monumental work on the often overlooked raiders (his first being John Brown's Spy, a biography of John Cook)--especially the black raiders.   Save some of your weekly allowance so you can buy it when it comes to press, I hope in early 2015.

Speaking of books, yes, that's what's kept me away from this blog a lot (besides other teaching obligations).  I'm making good progress on my narrative of John Brown's last days in Virginia.  It is going to be published by Rowman & Littlefield, and likewise will be the first of its kind.  All of Brown's biographers, including me,  have only sampled from Brown's last days in our books. This book is about John Brown's last days.  BTW, I've got another book on Brown following on its heels by the same publisher, but more about that later. . . .

Okay, that's it for now, friends.  As the Old Man would say (quoting Oliver Cromwell), trust in God and keep your powder dry. 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Take Note--
Alice Keesey Mecoy, John Brown's 3x Great Granddaughter

For three days in June 2014 Alice Keesey Mecoy, great-great-great

Grand Daughter of abolitionist John Brown will walk at the same places as did her ancestor. Mecoy will speak at Peterboro Civil War Living History Day on Friday, June 13. On Saturday, June 14 at 11:30 a.m., Mecoy will present New York to Harper's Ferry - John Brown's Journey, the historical account of John Brown's resolve to end slavery. On Sunday, June 15 at 11:30 a.m. Mecoy will share Life after the Hanging of John Brown - A Family's Legacy, the history of his wife and children, especially the women, after Brown's hanging and the war. Mecoy has researched her family history since 1976 focusing primarily on the women in John Brown's life, whose dedication and sacrifices contributed greatly to the war against slavery. Mecoy has compiled a comprehensive Brown family genealogy of 4000 names in a database from John Brown's father Owen to descendants born in the current year. It was Mecoy who chaired the reunion of the Brown family for the Sesquicentennial of the Raid at Harpers Ferry. 

The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum will host Mecoy's programs at its home in the Smithfield Community Center, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro NY during the 22nd Annual Peterboro Civil War Weekend June 14 & 15, 2014. John Brown was selected by abolition scholars to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009. Mecoy spoke during Brown's Hall of Fame commemoration in 2010.

Source: Civil War Weekend 2014 bulletin.  See http://civilwarweekend.sca-peterboro.org/
Also see The website of the National Abolition Hall of Fame

Alice Keesey Mecoy Interviewed on Extreme Genes

Alice Keesey Mecoy, our friend and associate in the John Brown community, happens to be one of the Old Man's direct descendants (through the line of John Brown and Mary Day Brown's daughter Anne Brown Adams).  She reports on her blog, John Brown Kin, that she was recently interviewed on the podcast, Extreme Genes Family History Radio.  Here is a link to the interview, which starts at 23:00.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A 19th Century Painting of John Brown Recovered, or Nearly So!

Researcher Judy Sweets
Judy Sweets is a researcher, historian, and genealogist, and has found two interviews from the early 20th century with an artist named Jeremiah Greene.  According to these interviews in the Cleveland Leader, "Jerry" Greene made a portrait of the Abolitionist based on a daguerreotype--the likely one being identified in the same feature with the assistance of Jean Libby.  I am once again appreciative of Libby for introducing me to Sweets, who has written about Greene on her blog, Portals2History.   Sweet's article, along with images of Greene and his portrait of John Brown, are found under the category, "Images in Question." Unfortunately, the actual portrait by Greene has not yet been recovered, although we hope it may yet turn up.

Actual link: http://www.portals2history.com/p/images-in-questions.html

Friday, May 16, 2014

Take Note--
John Brown in Clouds of Glory

Yesterday's edition (May 15) of The Daily Beast featured an excerpt from Michael Korda's book, Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee, about the famous Confederate military leader.  The excerpt reportedly "describes how as a U.S. Army officer, Lee adroitly quelled John Brown’s 1859 insurrection at Harper’s Ferry."  The excerpt is fairly well done and Korda is fair to Brown for the most part, although the title of the article, "When Robert E. Lee Met John Brown and Saved the Union," doesn't make much historical sense.  Lee indeed met Brown as the commanding officer of the marines who defeated the abolitionist at Harper's Ferry in 1859.  Beyond that, Lee lent his considerable abilities to the slaveholders' rebellion, helping to worsen civil conflict as a military leader.
Unidentified artist's rendering
of Brown in Kansas, 1856

The excerpt from Korda's book has several errors that should be corrected:
For three years, from 1855 through 1858, a group of Free Soilers under the “command” of “Captain” Brown (or “Osawatomie Brown,” as he was called after his heavily fortified Free Soil settlement) fought pitched battles against “Border Ruffians” (as the pro-slavery forces were known by their enemies), in one of which his son Frederick was killed.

This tends to distort the basic facts of the narrative.  Brown arrived in Kansas in October 1855 and did not become involved in any militant action until the spring of 1856, when it was clear that proslavery forces would not honor the democratic process, but had increasingly turned to the use of terrorism.  Nor did Brown consistently command men for the three-year period described by Korda.  After significant crises and conflict in the field, Brown left the territory in late 1856 with the reputation of a Kansas freedom fighter.  He was absent from Kansas throughout almost the entire year of 1857, and spent only about one month there from November to December.  After his Virginia plan was nearly betrayed, he returned to Kansas in June 1858 in order to throw off any notion that he was planning his attack in Virginia.  Back in the territory, he interacted with free state leaders, sought to support free state settlers, and evaded capture.  Brown remained in the territory until rescuing eleven enslaved people in December, and escorting them across country to Canadian freedom (Dec. 1858-Mar. 1859).  Brown's son Frederick was not killed in a battle or skirmish, but was murdered near his home by some proslavery scouts in August 1856.
Harpers Ferry, Sunday, October 16, 1859
Sketch of Brown, Oct. 1859, in
Frank Leslie's Illustrated News

Shortly after eight o’clock at night, having completed his preparations and his prayers, a broad-brimmed hat pulled low over his eyes, his full white beard bristling like that of Moses. . .
This is Korda's description of Brown at Harper's Ferry in October 1859.  By way of description, Brown did not wear a "broad-brimmed hat."  One witness says he was wearing a soft fur cap, probably the same cap that has been described in accounts of Brown from Kansas.   More important, Brown's beard at Harper's Ferry was closely cropped.  He had grown his famous beard long as late as the spring of 1859, as visible in his most famous daguerreotype.  But in the South, he cut his beard short, as can be seen in the contemporary newspaper sketch of Brown that was made after the raid.
Brown now had thirty-five hostages and possession of the armory, but the slave uprising on which he was counting did not take place, and during the night, one by one, things started to go wrong.
 Following conventional notions of the raid, he mistakenly writes that Brown was counting on some sort of "slave uprising" to take place.  This was the claim of slaveholders, but in actuality, Brown had no intention of sparking an uprising.  Historically, uprisings typically involved insurrectionary violence and the killing of slave masters and their families.  Brown had no such idea.  There is ample evidence that he intended to draw away enslaved people from their masters, retreat to the mountains, and fight only in self-defense when pursued or attacked.  His plan was not insurrection or uprising, but to destabilize slavery and upset the economy of slavery sufficiently to allow for enslaved people to establish a guerilla nation out of reach of slave patrols and U.S. military acting on behalf of slave holders.
[J.E.B.] Stuart got along well enough with his old opponent from Kansas— except for their difference of opinion about the legitimacy of slavery, they were     the same kind of man: courageous, active, bold, exceedingly polite, and dangerous.
Artist's rendering of the
Stuart-Brown parley at
Harper's Ferry

Korda describes how Stuart was present at Brown's defeat at Harper's Ferry and had delivered Robert E. Lee's demand for surrender.  To the contrary, Stuart did not get along with Brown.  At the time of the raid, there was no significant exchange between Brown and the future proslavery rebel leader.  After Brown's defeat and capture, Stuart proved to be a sniping, sarcastic, vindictive, and verbally abusive captor.  He insulted Brown repeatedly, rudely harangued him during an interview with Senator James Mason, and cursed him.  As the record shows, Stuart may have been courageous, but he was only polite to his ilk, and he was only valiant in the cause of preserving slavery.  Hardly John Brown's counterpart, let alone his equal in any sense.
Green took the bent weapon in both hands and beat Brown around the head with it until the old man collapsed, blood pouring from his wounds.
Marine Israel Green, who tried to kill
John Brown and later revised the
story as a "capture"
As Korda describes the role of Lieut. Israel Green, the marine who allegedly "captured" John Brown at the Harper's Ferry engine house.  It is true that Green beat Brown with his bent dress sword, but the evidence shows that he did not stop when "the old man collapsed."  The evidence shows that Green continued beating Brown after he fell to the ground.  In other words, Green tried to bludgeon Brown to death on the floor of the engine house.  Even Korda points out that Green at first thought he had killed Brown.  According to a letter from Stuart to his mother following the raid, Green afterward was upset that he had not been successful in killing Brown. Historians have relied on Green's revisionist version of his "capture" of Brown, written decades afterward.  However, at the time, it did not go unnoticed by journalists and abolitionists in the North how Green had brutalized the old man.

As noted, the excerpt overall is not bad, especially compared to many things written about Brown. Still, for the sake of the historical record, I point out these issues since there is a great deal of misinformation in popular thinking about the Harper's Ferry raid.  My forthcoming book on the last days of John Brown, which will be published by Rowman & Littlefield, will address these and other hackneyed assumptions that unfortunately have become part of the popular narrative of John Brown.--LD

Some Additional Corrections from Historian Steven Lubet 

I am pleased to include input from the notable historian, Steven Lubet, author of a number of books, including John Brown's Spy: The Adventurous Life and Tragic Confession of John E. Cook, and a forthcoming work on Brown's black raiders at Harper's Ferry.  Lubet writes:

As long as we are pointing out minor mistakes, here are two more:

Korda says that twelve of Brown's men died at Harper's Ferry.  The actual number was ten. Seven more were hanged and five escaped.

He also says that Colonel Washington was "delivered to Brown in his own carriage, along with a pair of pistols that Lafayette had given George Washington."  Moving now from the unimportant to the truly trivial, the Lafayette pistols were not delivered to Brown.  John E. Cook had taken only one of the pistols, which he secretly kept for himself.  The other pistol of the pair was left behind, and it was included in Washington's estate and later sold to the New York State Library.  

Saturday, May 03, 2014


John Brown Day in Lake Placid, May 10

Margaret Washington, author of
Sojourner Truth's America
John Brown Day 2014 is scheduled for Saturday, May 10, from 2 to 4 p.m.  Events will take place at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid.  Special features include the lecture, "Women and Abolition," by Dr. Margaret Washington of Cornell University. Washington is a leading authority on the abolitionist movement, and the foremost biographer of Sojourner Truth.  Also featured is Dr. Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz [see below], who will lecture on the women in John Brown's family. Admission is free.

Biographer of Brown Family Women to Speak at Lake Placid

Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz
Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, author of  The Ties That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown’s Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism, was interviewed by Robin Caudell of the Plattsburgh, N.Y. Press-Republican, in regard to her scheduled lecture in Lake Placid for John Brown Day 2014.  “There are a lot of new books on John Brown that always mention the women in his family in passing,” she said.  “You can teach classes about him but the question is what was it like to live with this guy? I have just long been interested in the antislavery movement in the 1830s and 1840s and how they were trying to live out their radical beliefs about racial equality.”

Caudell writes that Laughlin-Schultz tracked the Brown women across the country, from coast to coast, and found one of her important sources the papers of the late Edwin N. Cotter, now held at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.  “There were a lot of archives to cover,” she said.  Laughlin-Schultz did not end her study at the hanging of Brown in 1859, but continued to trace the lives of Mary Brown and her daughter Anne, long afterward.  Mary Brown and some of her family migrated westward during the Civil War, and the abolitionist's widow died on the west coast as did several of the Brown's adult children.  "Their lives forever were affected by their relation to him, in good ways and bad.”

See Robin Caudell, "The Women Behind John Brown," Press-Republican [Plattsburgh, NY], 1 May 2014

Brown and Tubman Descendants to Speak at
Peterboro, June 14 & 15

Among the events scheduled for the upcoming Civil War Weekend in Peterboro, N.Y., Brown students should note that Alice Keesey Mecoy, great-great-great-granddaughter of the abolitionist will speak at the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro. Also featured will be the great-great-grandniece of Harriet Tubman, who will be reading about her Great Aunt's historic role during the Civil War.  The lectures will be presented twice, on Saturday and Sunday, June 14 & 15, at 11:00 a.m.

An entire program of Civil War remembrance is scheduled for both days, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
To learn more about this event and the National Abolition Hall of Fame, click on this link.