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"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

John Brown 150th Commemoration Begins at Lake Placid, New York

Friday, May 8
Santa Fe Trail, film starring Raymond Massey as John Brown, Errol Flynn, Olivia deHavilland and Ronald Reagan; post screening discussion led by Brendan Mills, John Brown Farm Site Manager. 7:00-9:00 p.m. at Old County Courthouse in Elizabethtown

Saturday, May 9
11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at John Brown Farm State Historic Site, Lake Placid, featuring:

•“Black & Brown: A Contemporary Perspective on John Brown’s Impact on Black America”, the keynote address by JW Wiley, Director of Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion, SUNY Plattsburgh

• Sandra Weber portrays Mary Brown in “Times of Trouble”, with musician David Hodges

• Anti-slavery singer Jim Mandracchia performs hymns and freedom ballads

• Author and filmmaker Libby MacDonald discusses her forthcoming book about a Crown Point girl who came of age when religious revivalism stirred abolitionist fervor in the Adirondacks

• Brad Hurlburt reads John Brown’s last letter home to his wife Mary

Refreshments will be available. Free

Contact John Browns Lives! for more information: 962-4758

John Brown 2009 Commemoration is sponsored by John Brown Lives!, the John Brown Farm State Historic Site, the Adirondack History Museum, and the Lake Placid Visitors Bureau

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Historian Hannah Geffert: Blacks Played a Large Part in John Brown's Historic Raid

Davin White, Sunday Gazette-Mail [Charleston, West Va.], Apr. 26, 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Abolitionist John Brown has been labeled as "crazy," "nuts" and a "traitor" for leading the 1859 raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry. Brown, however, carefully and secretly crafted his revolution with help from top black abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and free blacks from Detroit to Baltimore, according to Hannah Geffert, a history professor at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown. Geffert presented "John Brown and His Secret Alliance" Sunday as part of the West Virginia Humanities Council's Little Lecture Series. "We have a very different view that has been picked up by a lot of historians," Geffert said.

In the late 1850s, Brown was trying to revive activity in the Underground Railroad movement, "which was really fading," Geffert said. While he sought whites to bankroll his endeavors, Brown sought alliances with free blacks and their acceptance of his revolution, she said.

In Pennsylvania, Brown met up with abolitionist Martin Delaney, a Charleston native and early advocate of black nationalism. Douglass sent Brown to meet with Delaney, Geffert said. Delaney later served in a black unit during the Civil War and rose to the rank of major in the U.S. Army.

In Detroit, historians found a document in a time capsule where blacks wrote, "we were on our way" to Harpers Ferry, but the raid happened earlier than expected, Geffert said.

Geffert said the local black community in Harpers Ferry had some sense that Brown's raid would occur before it did. In 1859, there were 540 freed blacks in Jefferson County, the most of any county in Virginia at that time, she said. Also, many African Methodist Episcopal churches could be found in Jefferson County.

In the post-raid period, many of Brown's suspected cohorts ended up fighting in all-black brigades for the Union army. After Brown and his fellow raiders were convicted (Brown was hanged shortly after), "specific" fires were set at the houses and farms of the jurors who voted for convictions, Geffert said.

Geffert went into detail about one story of an old weapons cache found at a home near Baltimore, Md. A family met with Geffert at Shepherd and mentioned several 19th-century weapons they discovered. The cache included a government-issued revolver, a double-barreled shotgun, a rifle issued to black soldiers and a very expensive foreign-made rifle, all in the house of a man involved in the Prince Hall Masons, a black organization, and an African Methodist Episcopal Church, an institution connected to the masons.

The old Woodland family home was located right next to an AME church, and the home welcomed black ministers who were sympathetic to Brown's movement, she said. "All of this may be coincidence," Geffert said. "I don't think so."

In effect, historians now view the raid in new ways, she said. "Black people were crucial to the raid," she said. "They participated in the raid -- and they did fight for their freedom."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

John Brown: The Cost of Freedom reviewed by Ed Edinger of The John Brown Heritage Association, Meadville, Pa.

Louis A. DeCaro Jr.'s book, John Brown: The Cost of Freedom discusses activities and events in John Brown's life that do not appear in most biographical accounts. For example, the Chatham Convention held in May of 1858 is rarely discussed in any detail by other writers. The town of Chatham had a population of about 4,000 in1858 and was located in the Canadian province of Ontario, about 50 miles due east of Detroit. If was at this convention that Brown secured a ratification of the "Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States." The purpose of this document, as DeCaro put it, "was to provide a system of laws and guidelines for the guerrilla notion that he expected to lead in the mountains of the South throughout his campaign against slavery." The proceedings at Chatham were a necessary prelude for Brown to the actions he intended to carry out at Harpers Ferry.

Attending the convention were 34 blacks, John Brown and 10 of his followers, The most notable black in attendance was Dr. Martin Delany. Delany was born a slave in Charles Town, Virginia in 1812. He escaped slavery and lived for a time in Pittsburgh. He and Frederick Douglass established the North Star newspaper together. He was active in the Negro Emigration Movement but eventually lost faith in that program. When the Civil War broke out he served in the Union Army and attained the rank of major. As it turned out only one person from all the blacks that attended the convetion stayed with Brown and made the trip to Harpers Ferry. That person was Osborne Anderson. Seventeen of the blacks at the convention enlisted and served in the Civil War when they later had the opportunity. This fact probably is evidence that they had doubts about Brown's plan to conduct guerrilla warfare in the Appalachian Mountains setting.

DeCaro explains that John Brown, while established at the Kennedy farmhouse in Maryland, did far more than most people realize to prepare for a successful Harpers Ferry raid. During that summer of 1859 in Western Maryland he traveled as far as Philadelphia to meet black groups hoping to enlist more men in his guerrilla band. Contacts were made with free and enslaved blacks in the vicinity of Harpers Ferry. Up to 1,000 slaves were ready to join his effort at the right moment. The main source of this fact is some testimony given in 1869 by a young black man, Antony Hunter, who in 1859 was enslaved on a farm at Sheperdstown,Virginia (now West Virginia) about 12 miles north of Harpers Ferry. During the Civil War when Union troops were occupying Harpers Ferry, Hunter escaped from his farm and enlisted forces with the Union. He became an aid to Lieutenant Robert Morris Copeland of the Massachusetts 2nd Regiment. Hunter told Lieutenant Copeland that at the time of Brown's raid between 500 and 1,000 blacks would have gathered with Brown had he left the town in time, returned to the Maryland side of the Potomac River and gathered his supplies that were being guarded by his son Owen and five other of his men, This then would have been the guerilla band to go off into the surrounding mountains and begin their work to destablized the slavery economy of the South. Antony Hunter further stated that the Negroes gathered on the east bank of the Potomac waiting for Brown's arrival disappeared when they realized Brown was trapped in the town and his plan failed. The conventional thinking that has surrounded the Harpers Ferry incident has been that the blacks were not sufficiently motivated to seek their freedom and/or that Brown did little to make sure blacks were aware of his aims at Harpers Ferry. DeCaro explains that this thinking is erroneous. It was Brown's almost inexplicable delay in departing from the town– due in large part to his inordinate concern for the fate of his white hostages–that was the fatal element that upset Brown's stategy at Harpers Ferry. A quote from Osborne Anderson's book, A Voice from Harpers Ferry, reflects his view on this matter:
. . .and could our brave old Captain have steeled his heart against the entreaties of his captives, or shut up the fountain of his sympathies against their families–could he, for the moment, have forgotten them, in the selfish throught of his own friends and kindred, or, by adhering to the original plan, have left the place, and thus looked forward to the prospective freedom of the slave–hundreds ready and waiting would have been armed before twenty-four hours had elapsed.
Unfortunately, historians beginning with Oswald Villard in 19[10] have discounted the eyewitness account of the raid given by Osborne Anderson, who was one of the few of the raiding party that escaped Harpers Ferry and left a written account of the event. DeCaro applauds two current historians, Jean Libby and Hannah Geffert, who continue to develop information on the widespread support that Brown and his men had developed prior to the raid. These ladies have documented the considerable damage slaves did to the property of the slaveholders and jurors (those that stood in the jury at Brown's trial) following the raid. Libby and Geffert have documented that there was an unprecedented increase in black runaways in the counties surrounding Harpers Ferry in the year after the raid. This is Louis DeCaro's second book about John Brown. It was published in 2007 by International Publishers of New York. His first book, published in 2002, was entitled, Fire from the Midst of You: A Religious Life of John Brown.

Ed Edinger is the secretary of the John Brown Heritage Association (JBHA) and is a long term student of Brown’s life. JBHA publishes the only continuous John Brown publication in the country. If you wish to join JBHA email Mr. Edinger at peter5@zoominternet.net.
May 2, 2009 – Rededication of John Brown House

Description: The rededication and grand opening of the John Brown House will include house tours, a public reception and a walking tour of John Brown sites in Chambersburg .
Time: 1:00 P.M.
Location: 225 East King Street , Chambersburg , PA
Contact Name: Ann Hull
Contact Number: (717) 264-1667
Website: http://pafch.tripod.com



2009 marks the 150th anniversary of abolitionist John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and his subsequent trial and execution. The annual John Brown Day Celebration on May 8th-9th in Elizabethtown and Lake Placid , respectively, will launch a yearlong commemoration of Brown, whose raid on Harper’s Ferry set the nation on a path to Civil War.

In this year that marks the election of the first African-American as president, Brown’s determined effort to tear down the institution of slavery that held over 4 million in bondage has special meaning and is drawing special attention as historians re-examine his life, his actions, the repercussions and the many rumors and circumstances that surround this most controversial figure that changed the destiny of our nation.

On Friday, May 8th, the 1940 western, Santa Fe Trail, will be shown at the Old County Courthouse in Elizabethtown , NY , at 7:00 p.m. The film features Raymond Massey as Brown and also stars Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Ronald Reagan. Brendan Mills, Site Manager at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site, will lead a post-screening discussion.

The John Brown Day Celebration will continue on Saturday, May 9th, the anniversary of Brown’s birth, from 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site on the outskirts of Lake Placid .

JW Wiley, Director of the Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh , will give the keynote address. Author and storyteller Sandra Weber will perform an original work, “Times of Trouble” about the life of Mary Day Brown, wife of John Brown. In period costume, Weber and musician David Hodges will weave narrative and song to present a portrait of Mary, from her early life and marriage to John through her hardest times of trouble in the aftermath of the Harpers Ferry raid.

Anti-slavery singer Jim Mandracchia will perform hymns and freedom ballads from the period and Brad Hurlburt, a teacher in Keene Valley , will give a dramatic reading of Brown’s last letter home to Mary in which he expresses his dying wish that his body be brought back home and buried at the family homestead in North Elba . Westport author and filmmaker Libby MacDonald, Naj Wikoff and other invited guests will also participate in this first-in-a-series of commemorative programs that will take place in the North Country.

The Town of North Elba and Essex County, in partnership with the Adirondack Center for History, the Lake Placid North Elba Historical Society and John Brown Lives!, and lead by the Lake Placid Essex County Visitors Bureau, are planning their own special events, which will be announced at a press conference held as part of the May 9th activities.

John Brown Day is free, open to the public and will be held outdoors. Refreshments will be provided. For more information, contact Martha Swan, John Brown Lives!, at 962-4758.

For more information about the yearlong commemoration in the Adirondacks , contact Naj Wikoff at the Lake Placid Visitor’s Bureau.
I am enjoying adding John and Mary Brown events and photos to the front page of the Allies for Freedom website. Hope you will enjoy them too! Thank you for sending. www.alliesforfreedom.org

Jean Libby, editor
Allies for Freedom

Friday, April 10, 2009

Jean Libby's Latest Book Reviews

Review : John Brown: The Man Who Lived; essays in honor of the Harper’s Ferry raid sesquicentennial 1859 – 2009.

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr.
ISBN 978-0-557-03519-9
Lulu Press $9.94

This book of essays is an appropriate immersion into the John Brown anniversary commemoration. Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., the author of the first full biography of John Brown in the 21st century: Fire from the Midst of You; a Religious Life of John Brown, NYU Press 2002 and John Brown, the Cost of Freedom, International Publishers 2007.

His particular genius is the study of Brown’s early years in Ohio , Pennsylvania , and Massachusetts . In so doing he places John Brown directly in his historical milieu. This historical placement is what is lacking in contemporary analyses and depictions, which DeCaro skillfully skewers in several historiographical essays on ‘Scientific historians’ of Brown and especially the characterization of John Brown as a terrorist in contemporary terms.

My research relationship with the author has spanned fifteen years of sharing, discussing on email, and occasional meeting, most notably at the commemoration of John Brown’s birth at North Elba in May 2000. Therefore it is with gratitude that I am honored with dedication of the book of essays. The preface is written by Alice Keesey Mecoy, a descendant of John and Mary Brown who is avidly researching and speaking about the family.

My favorite essay is “John Brown’s Steamers,” the travel method used for domestic and overseas travel in the late 1840s and 50s. As a wool merchant and farmer Brown traveled frequently, and found steamers a good way to concentrate and catch up on business and personal correspondence. This delightful essay includes drawings of the vessels such as the ‘ United States ’ on Lake Champlain and the ‘Cambria,’ on which Brown traveled to England in 1849.

If you want the wonderful story that Louis A. DeCaro has researched called “A Steamer of His Own” you will need to consult the book. It is, as James Baldwin put it, worth “the price of the ticket.”

Jean Libby, editor
Allies for Freedom

Review: People of the Underground Railroad; a Biographical Dictionary

Tom Calarco
ISBN 978-0-313-33924-0
Greenwood Press $75.00

Description: The Underground Railroad was perhaps the best example in U.S. history of blacks and whites working together for the common good. People of the Underground Railroad is the largest in-depth collection of profiles of those individuals involved in the spiriting of black slaves to freedom in the northern states and Canada beginning around 1800 and lasting to the early Civil War years. One hundred entries introduce people who had a significant role in the rescuing, harboring, or conducting of the fugitives--from abolitionists, evangelical ministers, Quakers, philanthropists, lawyers, judges, physicians, journalists, educators, to novelists, feminists, and barbers--as well as notable runaways. The selections are geographically representational of the broad railroad network. There is renewed interest in the Underground Railroad, exemplified by the new National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati and energized scholarly inquiry. People of the Underground Railroad presents authoritative information gathered from the latest research and established sources, many of them from period publications. Designed for student research and general browsing, in-depth essay entries include further reading. Numerous sidebars complement the entries. A timeline, illustrations, and map help put the profiles into context.

LC Card Number: 2008019934
LCC Class: E450
Dewey Class: 973

Jean Libby’s review: People of the Underground Railroad; a Biographical Dictionary is an essential reference for historians, libraries, and Network to Freedom partners. The section on John Brown is detailed, precise, and definitive. Not only that, the writing throughout is interesting! Every time I pick it up and read one of the 100 profiles I learn something completely new – and know where and how to find it when I need it for my own research. The price of the ticket is high, but well worth it. Please recommend it to your public or school libraries for purchase.

John Michael Cummings’ debut novel
The Night I Freed John Brown
published by Philomel Books (Penguin Group)

Recommended by USA TODAY!
"...a blend of history and suspense."
April 19, 2009 – Author reading, “The Night I Freed John Brown”

Description: Harpers Ferry native John Michael Cummings will read from his nationally acclaimed debut novel.
Rave reviews by Kirkus Reviews, The Boston Globe, The Buffalo News, BookPage, and The Orange County Register, along with five award-winning literary magazines, including Mid-American Review, Black Warrior Review, and The Texas Review. Recommended by USA TODAY for Black History Month.
Time: Sunday 1:00 P.M. – 3:00 P.M.
Location: Harpers Ferry Park Bookshop - Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Contact Name: Harpers Ferry Historical Association
Contact Number: 304-535-6881

John's Panhandle-to-Panhandle West Virginia Book Tour:
Launch date: Apr 17
A 25-county, 75-stop, month-long book tour through the panhandles and upper-tier counties of wild wonderful West Virginia

These three good new books are consolidated with order links on the website www.atozproductions.com/AlliesforFreedom_Titles.html
Thank you, Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz for sending photographs of the graves of Ruth and Henry Thompson in Pasadena.
Thank you, Alice Keesey Mecoy for researching and sharing the information about your family.
Jean Libby, editor
Allies for Freedom

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

John Brown Symposium to be held in his hometown, Hudson, Ohio, May 2

The Hudson Library and Historical Society will host a symposium on the life of noted American abolitionist John Brown on May 2nd, 2009 at 1:00 pm. This program marks the 150th anniversary of Brown’s unsuccessful raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. John Brown, who grew up in Hudson, was one of the most controversial figures of the 19th century. His advocacy and active participation in extreme abolitionist activities in Kansas and later at Harper’s Ferry earned him a pivotal place in American history. Many historians believe the Harper’s Ferry incident escalated tensions between the North and South, ultimately leading to the American Civil War.

The symposium will feature presentations by Brown scholars as well as a question and answer session for the public. Moderating the panel is Dr. Kenneth E. Davison, Emeritus Professor of History and American Studies at Heidelberg University and author of the prize-winning biography, The Presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes.

Panelists include Professors Paul Finkelman, David S. Reynolds and Louis A. DeCaro. Professor Finkelman is the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy at the Government Law Center at Albany Law School in Albany, New York. He is the co-editor of Terrible Swift Sword : The Legacy of John Brown. Professor Finkelman has published widely a number of scholarly journals and his essays have appeared in publications including the New York Times and USA Today.

David S. Reynolds in Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His books include: John Brown, Abolitionist, winner of the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award; Walt Whitman’s America, winner of the Bancroft Prize; the Ambassador Book Prize and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Beneath the American Renaissance, winner of the Christian Gauss Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr. is Assistant Professor of History and Theology at Alliance Theological Seminary in New York City. DeCaro’s works on Brown include: John Brown – the Cost of Freedom; and ‘Fire from the Midst of You’: A Religious Life of John Brown. He also contributed to The Afterlife of John Brown, edited by Eldrid Herrington and Andrew Taylor.

Library Director and Curator E. Leslie Polott is “delighted to bring these noted Brown scholars to Hudson to commemorate this important period in American History. The Hudson Library and Historical Society is especially pleased to do this since its Archives contain one of the most significant Brown research collections in the nation.”

Following the panel discussion the Library will host a book signing and dessert reception. This program is free to the public but registration is required. Please contact the Reference Department at 330.653.6658 extension 1010 or askus@hudson.lib.oh.us. For more information visit our website at www.hudsonlibrary.org.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

John Brown Topic of Seminar in Chambersburg, Pa.

Franklin County's place in Civil War history was again the focus Friday and Saturday as 30 people from seven different states turned out for a seminar on John Brown, who stayed in Chambersburg while planning his famed raid on Harpers Ferry.
"In the Footsteps of John Brown" marked the beginning of the 20th year Chambersburg Civil War Seminars have been sponsored by the Chambersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. The seminar Friday and a bus tour of Brown's raid sites in Chambersburg and elsewhere also recognizes the 150th anniversary of Brown's raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, W. Va.
The raid on the arsenal is looked upon as the spark that became the inferno of the American Civil War, according to the park's chief historian, Dennis Frye. Brown and his men stayed at what is now known as the John Brown House at 225 E. King St. in Chambersburg, and the survivors returned there after the raid.
Chambersburg is also the place where Brown, a militant abolitionist, met with Frederick Douglass to tell him of his plans to raid the arsenal in Harper's Ferry.
Friday's seminar at Four Points Sheraton included several bonus sessions on John Wilkes Booth's presence in Charles Town during John Brown's trial and execution, "The Perfect Steel Trap: Harper's Ferry, 1859," "The Life and Times of A.K. McClure," and "First Blood in the Raid: The Death of Hayward Shepherd."
Participants also talked about the depiction of Brown and the raid in cinema and Brown's mental state as he planned and carried out the raid and then was arrested, tried and executed.

Cindy Baker, who coordinated the seminar and bus tour for the Chamber of Commerce, said this year's spring seminar was well received by participants including "regulars" who show up for many of the annual seminars.
"Every seminar has a different theme," she said. "Last year we focused on Gettysburg. This year it is John Brown at this seminar, Stonewall Jackson (July 22-26) this summer and Jeb Stewart in the fall (Oct. 9-11)."
The Chambersburg seminars are coordinated by Ted Alexander of Greencastle, the chief historian at Antietam National Battlefield.

Vicky Taylor, Public Opinion News