"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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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hudson in 1912
Local History--
John Brown's Hudson Roots Highlighted by Historian and Archivist, Tom Vince

Anyone who knows anything about John Brown should know Tom Vince, the archivist at the Western Reserve Academy (formerly Western Reserve College) in Hudson, Ohio, and former archivist for the Hudson Library and Historical Society.  Vince is not only an unsung expert on John Brown, but also the veteran authority on Brown family history and the wider study of Hudson history as well.  I met Tom in 2000, when I was researching for my first book on Brown, “Fire from the Midst of You.” (NYU Press)  In Hudson, Tom is a local celebrity and undoubted authority on all things Hudson, which is a vital investigation to any Brown scholar.
Tom Vince, Archivist of Western Academy, an authority
on Hudson history and the Brown family history
(photo by LD, May 2009)

According to Laura Freeman of the Hudson Hub-Times (Oct. 15), Vince provided one of his famous tours/lectures at the Old Hudson Township Burying Ground on October 9, which was sponsored by the Hudson Heritage Association.  The burial grounds are also known as Chapel Street Cemetery, originally the site of founder David Hudson's apple orchard.

This historic cemetery is the resting place of Hudson and many family members, but most famously it is the site of burial for both of John Brown’s parents, Owen and Ruth (Mills) Brown. Owen Brown is buried between Ruth and his second wife, Sally Root Brown of Aurora,Ohio, who died in 1840. The abolitionist’s mother died on December 13, 1808, when he was but eight years of age, a loss that devastated young John and left him socially fractured for sometime. “At Eight years old John was left a Motherless boy,” Brown wrote of himself in the third person in 1857, “which loss was complete & permanent.”  Brown wrote that even after his father remarried, he “continued to pine after his own Mother for years.”  In somewhat archaic language, Brown explain that the loss of his mother “deprived him of a suitable conne[c]ting link between the different sexes,” which “opperated [sic] very unfavourably uppon [sic] him.”
Ruth Mills Brown's
gravestone (1808)

Brown was, as he put it, “naturally fond of females,” but he felt the loss of his mother left him awkward and extremely shy around women, and this “might under some circumstance have proved his ruin.”  What he exactly meant is not clear, although Brown said, even up to the day of his death, that he was more shy about being in social settings with women then he was going into battle.  Perhaps this suggests that his first wife, Dianthe Brown, had to help him through the initial phases of the courtship process.

With humor, Vince points out that John Brown, born in 1800, was “a product of the Hudson schools and a preppy since he attended the Morris Academy at Litchfield, Conn.”  Of course, when Brown was a boy, the school in Hudson was a frontier one-room schoolhouse, and Brown’s schooling was done in fits and starts as a result of taking on mature work assignments, and no doubt in the absence of a devoted mother.

Although the Browns were from Connecticut, Hudson was John Brown’s hometown, and as is evident in so many contemporary narratives, it is very difficult to understand his upbringing, religion, and antislavery orientation without knowing about his Ohio roots in Hudson.


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