"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, November 30, 2007

Two Harper's Ferry Raid Items Under Auction

The Heritage Auction Galleries are currently conducting an auction of Civil War era items, including two items pertaining to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, [West] Virginia, in October 1859. The items are pictured and described below, based on the Heritage Auction website.

According to the Heritage Auction description:

THE ONLY KNOWN PERIOD IMAGE OF JOHN BROWN'S CARBINE [left] On the reverse of a post-Civil War carte de visite photograph, taken by R.A. Lewis of New York City, is penned the following bold browned ink inscription, which definitively proclaims a most historic declaration:

The gun taken from the hands of John Brown at Harper's Ferry, now in possession of H.T. Drowne, New York, The lad holding it is Drowne's son. Presented to me by Mr. Drowne, Oct. 4th, 1870. The well-dressed lad on the obverse of the CDV does indeed solemnly hold an example of what has come to be known as the "John Brown model" of Sharps carbine, but no other supporting evidence of the veracity of the written testimonial is offered. Additionally, at his feet on the floor of the photographer's studio there appear some mysterious folded documents or papers for which there is also given no explanation.

Then, in 1998, out a family estate in Cooperstown, New York, the identical carbine surfaced with great fanfare and is currently on display at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Most amazingly, an envelope containing an 1870 dated letter of provenance was still with the firearm and provided a wonderfully unbroken chain of ownership up to that time, that letter being the exact one shown in this carte de visite.

According to the letter, which was written on behalf of the widow of Confederate General George W. Randolph by former Confederate Major Thomas G. Peyton, the "rifle used by John Brown at Harpers Ferry" was secured by General Randolph in his presence and further states that "the fact of the rifle being the one used by Brown and captured in his hands in the Engine house" can be corroborated by the Governor of Virginia H.A. Wise. The recipient of the letter, one J. Lyttleton Adams, may have been an associate of noted New York historical collector Henry Thayer Drowne, in whos appreciative hands the carbine was placed very shortly thereafter.

Correspondence with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and a xerox copy of the actual letter and cover accompany this lot. An incredibly significant and extremely important photograph, backed with impeccable documentation. Condition: Very Fine, with great contrast Estimate: $2,500 - $3,500.


A JOHN BROWN CARTRIDGE...SAVED BY ONE OF HIS RAIDERS [top]. During the summer of 2006, a grouping of Civil War personal effects and ephemera attributed to a Federal officer (whose family had moved to Ohio from Boston at some point after the war ended) was sold at an estate auction held near Cincinnati. The officer, Benjamin H. Ticknor, first served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 45th Massachusetts Infantry, but was later commissioned as a Captain in the 2nd Massachusetts Artillery.

A number of his more treasured mementos had been stored in labeled and rather colorful "PRIDE OF VIRGINIA" tin tobacco boxes made by the J. Wright Company of Richmond, actually highly collectible pieces in their own right. In the box marked "Political" was something extra special, an original wrapped .52 caliber Sharps cartridge from John Brown's Raid.

Written in old browned in on the back of one of his engraved calling cards was the true history of this singularly unique and most extraordinary relic, penned in the hand of Captain Ticknor himself:

This bullet was carried on the John Brown raid by Francis Jackson Merriam and was by him given to Dr. David Thayer by whom he was secreted after his escape. Given by Dr. T. to me today. August 31st, 1889. B.H.T.

An official solder of Brown's Provisional Army, Francis J. Merriam is described by one source as "one-eyed and mentally challenged." Born into an elite Boston abolitionist family and wielding a modest inheritance, he joined the raiders late in the game and was assigned to help guard their farmhouse stronghold and also supply weapons and distribute munitions to arriving slaves at their schoolhouse rendezvous point. Upon the failure of the Raid, Merriam escaped and eventually fled to Canada with the able assistance of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, as well as the above mentioned Dr. David Thayer. He later returned to the U.S. and became an officer in a colored infantry regiment, where his wild and quirky behavior soon earned him a leg wound. He died mysteriously in late 1865.

An incredibly intriguing artifact with wonderful period provenance. Full details, plus additional background and particulars upon request. One of the most interesting Civil War cartridges one is ever likely to encounter.

Condition: Fine, powder is falling out Estimate: $2,500 - $3,500.

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