"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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Monday, January 14, 2008

The Brave Old Man": Her Ancestor's Diary 1859

Holly Phaneuf, Ph.D. (who takes a nice picture, as you can see), is a biochemistry professor at the University of Utah with an interesting ancestor. William Harrison Combs, her great-great-grandfather, was a school teacher in Springfield, Wisconsin, at the time that our man Brown was hanged in December 1859 by the Old Dominion. Recently in her blog, Dr. Phaneuf has thankfully transcribed some interesting diary entries from Combs, who was only 19-years-old when he "commenced" as the "Pedagouge of District No. 9 Towns of Springfield and Dane, County of Dane State of Wisconsin," on December 5, 1859--the Monday immediately following Brown's execution down in Virginia (on Friday, December 2). On December 15, schoolmaster Combs was reading news reports, perhaps relayed from The New York Tribune, regarding Brown's execution, the widow Brown and family, and the abolitionist's famous jail house letters. It was the publication of Brown's letters which not only made him one of the most famous martyrs in history, but also helped to move many northerners out of their complacency and moderation with respect to the unrelenting audacity of the Slave South. Combs's brief entry is thoughtful and sensitive--a private entry that in many respects captures the sentiments of many people scattered throughout the North who were drawn to Brown by his brave death and uncompromising witness. We are grateful to Dr. Phaneuf for sharing her family treasure, not only as a testimony to her ancestor's dedication and hard work, but to Brown's real impact upon a whole generation--a generation that shortly went to war singing, "John Brown's body lies a molderin' in the grave, but his soul goes marching on."
"December 15, 1859
This evening I have been reading the account of the execution of John Brown and the letters of sympathy which he wrote to his wife and children. All the sympathies of heart and all that is noble in my nature unites in pity for the fate and admiration of the brave old man. Walking to the scaffold with a smile on his countenance to offer his life on the altar of slavery. The Demon of Slavery once more rests himself in fancied security after satisfying his inhuman thirst with the blood of Old John Brown. John Brown has passed from the Bar of Virginia Justice to the Bar of the Judge of all in Whose court an undying love for freedom is not called Treason." William Harrison Combs


Joe Lyou said...

Today I came across an atlas owned by my grandmother (born Ruth Manson Day, 1906-1972). In it she wrote a note about a reference to John Brown that says, "my great grandfather." I think she might have been wrong. I think her great grandfather was more likely to have been General W.R. Brown(http://skyways.lib.ks.us/genweb/civilwar/W%20Brown.htm). Do you have any suggestions on how I might confirm this information?

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr. said...

Day is the name of John Brown's in-laws (second marriage), but I couldn't tell you any more beyond that. You may wish to investigate this through Genealogy.com.--LD