"Posterity will owe everlasting thanks to John Brown for lifting up once more to the gaze of a nation grown fat and flabby on the garbage of lust and oppression, a true standard of heroic philanthropy, and each coming generation will pay its installment of the debt. . . . John Brown saw slavery through no mist or cloud, but in a light of infinite brightness, which left no one of its ten thousand horrors concealed." Frederick Douglass

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Massachusetts Historical Society Features John Brown Exhibit

BOSTON, October 30, 2009—This fall the Massachusetts Historical Society, the oldest historical society in the nation, is mounting an exhibit entitled, "John Brown: Martyr to Freedom or American Terrorist—or Both?" Abolitionist John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry on October 17, 1859, was one of the major events leading up to the Civil War and remains one of the most controversial episodes in American history. This consists of personal papers, photographs, broadsides, engravings, weapons, and artifacts that illuminate Brown’s life together with evidence of the continuing arguments about the morality and meaning of his actions.

Beginning with Richard Henry Dana, Jr.’s remarkable diary account of meeting Brown at his hardscrabble Adirondack farm, long before Brown came to national prominence, the exhibition will document his violent career in “Bleeding Kansas" in the 1850s and the strong support he received from abolitionists in Massachusetts—five of his chief financial supporters, the “Secret Six,” lived in the Boston area. The exhibition will focus on the events at Harpers Ferry in 1859, Brown’s trial and execution later that year, and the controversy about how to interpret his life and these events that has continued ever since. Visitors can see examples of the weapons Brown stockpiled for the attack and one of the last letters he sent to his family from jail while he awaited execution in Charlestown, (now West) Virginia. For the debate on the interpretation of his life and death that began almost immediately after his execution—a debate carried on even in the rooms of the MHS, where many members had known and/or supported him—the Society will show letters and documents about Brown that MHS members gathered during and after the Civil War.

The exhibition is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is open to the public Monday through Saturday, from 1:00 to 4:00 PM, through December 23.


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