"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

Monday, March 16, 2009


















Jean Libby scheduled to make two west coast presentations on John Brown photos, March 19 and 22

Jean Libby, a veteran researcher and documentary scholar has spent decades studying the abolitionist John Brown. Her tireless, enthusiastic efforts have not only inspired and encouraged others, but her work as a grassroots scholar has provided new and exciting insights in a study that has often been little more than "reheated and served" in the conventional academy. Jean's exploration of the Harper's Ferry raid and her research into the involvement of enslaved people in support of Brown has disproved a century of misinformation regarding Brown and his efforts in Virginia in 1859. In more recent years, she has made extensive study of the extant images of Brown, painstakingly tracing out the origin, background, and chronology of photographic (daguerreotype) images of the abolitionist.

This month she will be making presentations on her John Brown Photo Chronology at two west coast events: On March 19, Jean will appear before the Civil War Round Table at the United Irish Cultural Center 2700 45th Avenue, San Francisco, at 7:45 p.m. On March 22, she will be speaking at the Saratoga Historical Museum, 20450 Saratoga-Los Gatos Road, at 1 p.m.

According to a press release, "twelve different photo portraits made by John Brown and his supporters for the purpose of recruitment and promotion are gathered from the archives repositories by Jean Libby, an independent scholar and retired community college history instructor in California."

Libby's presentation features twenty high-resolution and finely printed enlarged and mounted images in the exhibit, showing historical perspectives of the original daguerreotypes. Five of the daguerreotypes are extant at archives and museums. Those by African American photographer Augustus Washington have been recovered since 1996, giving validity to the adage: “there is always something new about John Brown.” In addition, historian Libby has identified a second African American photographer who is now attributed to a John Brown original daguerreotype: Henry M. or Alfred C. Platt (brothers) who were daguerreotypists in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1856.
There are no photographs of Brown in Virginia in 1859. Contemporary drawings of John Brown at his arrest and in prison confirm that his famous long beard was trimmed close (perhaps even shaved) during the summer previous to the raid. Two enlarged drawings made from life in November and December 1859 are appended to the photo chronology of 15 x 20 mounted prints. One of the them is a long-missing original drawing of Brown in prison by Edward Spring, the twenty-two year old son of Rebecca Spring, a New Jersey abolitionist who obtained permission to visit Brown on November 5 and 6. The original sketch was acquired by Stanford University Special Collections Dept. with other papers of Rebecca Spring from her grandson in 1990.

The bottom of the pencil drawing shows a chart of the cells in the Charlestown jail where Brown and six of his men were housed. It was intended for use in a rescue mission, which Brown refused for himself, saying he was “worth much more to die than to live” to end slavery.

A forensic examination of the photo portraits was made by Eileen Barrow, anthropologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, in June 2003. Results and essay documentation were published by The Daguerreian Society in 2004, and by Palgrave Macmillan in The Afterlife of John Brown, edited by Andrew Taylor and Eldrid Herrington in 2005. Since then Jean Libby has conducted public workshops at Civil War Round Tables, the American Studies Association, and the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region (New York) to document and annotate the exhibition in a public history manner.

Libby's exhibit will be mounted in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in mid-2009 for public exhibition at the Harper's Ferry raid sesquicentennial from October through December. She will present a detailed projection at the Academic Symposium “John Brown Remembered” October 14 – 17 .

On behalf of the entire John Brown community, I would like to congratulate Jean Libby and wish her continued success in her superlative efforts. --LD

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