Mary Brown's Ordeal Remembered
|Retracing the trail of John Brown's|
funeral cortege, December 1859
On the Trail of John Brown is based upon what Mary Brown saw as the funeral cortege of her husband, John Brown the abolitionist, traveled from the train depot in Vergennes, Vermont to the family farm in North Elba, New York. We will look at the buildings that still exist along the route of the funeral cortege and describe the landscapes that they would have passed over. Of particular note are the sites relevant to the life of John Brown, the anti-slavery movement, and/or sites mentioned by members of the funeral cortege in 1859. It took two days for the cortege to travel this relatively short distance [67 miles], leaving the train depot early Tuesday morning, December 6, and arriving in North Elba on Wednesday evening, December 7, 1859.
Mary was at the exhaustive conclusion of traveling since hearing the news of John Brown's sentence of death on November 1, 1859. Moving southward through Boston and Brooklyn escorted by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the party was stopped in Baltimore and subjected to considerable hostility. Mary retreated to Philadelphia, staying at the home of William Still, the African American often called the father of the Underground Railroad. John Brown learned of the failure of her mission from his attorney, George Hoyt, and wrote to her from prison in Charlestown on November 10, pleading that she not come but wait until "after Virginia has applied to the picture already made of me ... [if] you can afford to meet the expence and trouble of coming on here to gather up the bones of our beloved sons & your husband, and if the people here will suffer you to do so; I should be entirely willing." The full letter is published from a typescript in the Oswald Garrison Villard Collection by Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., in John Brown, the Cost of Freedom: Selections from his Life and Letters (International Publishers: 2007:149-151).
|Mary Brown, from a family|
portrait, early 1850s
By Thanksgiving, Mary had received the consent of John Brown to visit him while still alive, and prepared for the journey at the home of Lucretia Mott in Philadelphia. At services presided by Rev. William Furness, she received the warm support of women in the congregation and traveled to Harpers Ferry with Mr. and Mrs. J. Miller McKim and Hector Tyndale as escort. The party was met by William Taliaferro, who was in charge of the martial law order in Charlestown. Her request to receive the bodies of Oliver and Watson was refused, but Mary was allowed to come along to the prison for a last meeting with her husband on December 1.
Collegial sharing of a scanned copy of The New York Daily Tribune of December 3, 1859 by Karl Gridley of Kansas allowed me to transcribe the interview with Mary Brown published on that day, which is published online.
A new collegial sharing is occurring in December 2010, with the December 3, 1859 account of Mary Brown's experience in Harpers Ferry through the execution and accompanying his coffin forwarded to Philadelphia in the National Anti-Slavery Standard, written by J. Miller McKim. Thanks to Warren F. Broderick, an historian in New York, I will be able to transcribe this document and put it online with her interview for use by everyone.
Jean Libby, Allies for Freedom, Palo Alto, California (3 December 2010)