History, Research, and Current Themes

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

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Outgoing Summit County Historical Society Director: John Brown's Legacy "Just Not That Important" to the "Foundation Community"
She Tried Unsuccessfully "For Years" to Raise Enough Money to Have John Brown's Home in Akron Renovated*

To Paula Moran, abolitionist John Brown ''is the quintessential historic figure'' from Summit County. That is just one of the things she has learned about local history after heading the Summit County Historical Society (SCHS) for the past dozen years.

Moran, 51, worked her last day Wednesday as executive director of the nonprofit group and will be moving to Maryland and then to Norfolk, Va., to join her husband, Harry P. ''Hank'' Lynch, former president and CEO of Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens. He is now executive director of Nauticus, a marine science museum. Leianne Neff Heppner, curator of the historical society, has been named interim executive director.

Moran answered Beacon Journal [Akron, Ohio] questions about Brown, Akron and her hopes for the future of the historical society.

Q: What are you proudest of during your time here?

A: I am most grateful — I never say proud — for the incredible relationships I have enjoyed, many of whom have assembled to work together for the benefit of the Summit County Historical Society [SCHS]. It was a pure team effort, and I am a very lucky woman to have been right here, right now, as a part of that wonderful team.

Q: What story will you tell people when they ask you for a quick tale about the history of Summit County?

A: The story I will tell is Akron is home to many firsts, such as public education, mass-produced toys, breakfast cereals and marbles . . . but all we talk about is the big ditch. We have what is arguably the best park system around, between Metro Parks and the National Park, easy access ski resorts and unique shopping experiences to rival much bigger cities. West Point Market and Mustard Seed Market I will miss terribly. We forget that the catalyst for the Civil War was our very own John Brown, discounting his life and legacy by pronouncing him a madman. Our weather may leave something to be desired some of the time, but it is still a wonderful, warm, and friendly place to live with myriad opportunities for living a wonderful quality of life.

Q: Can you talk more about John Brown and would you like to see more done at the John Brown home to explain his life here?

A: John Brown is the quintessential historic figure here and I have fought to get that recognition for him the entire time I have been at the helm of SCHS. However, SCHS does not and will not for the foreseeable future, have the resources to renovate the exterior of his historic home. The assessments (city highway maintenance taxes) we pay the city of Akron are so high that we have often had to access a line of credit just to pay them. I quite frankly am appalled by this. I have tried for three years to raise the $100,000 required to cover the John Brown Home [with special siding] to preserve and maintain it and have been able to raise only a fraction of that thus far. It just isn't that important to the foundation community or to international history and to the cause of civil rights.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Quentin Tarantino: On Doing a John Brown Movie (Again)

An article in the New York Magazine (on line) posted on Aug. 26 notes the appearance of film maker Quentin Tarantino on The Charlie Rose Show on Aug. 21. Tarantino was naturally discussing his recent cinematic triumph, but as in a former interview [April 18, 2007] by Rose, the subject of making a John Brown movie came up again.

Tarantino: . . . there is one story that I could be interested in doing, and probably it would be one of the last movies I'd do--ah, my favorite hero in America, is John Brown.

Rose: Of course.

Tarantino: John Brown is my favorite American who ever lived.

Rose: And why is that. . .because of what he did?

Tarantino: Yeah, you know. He basically, you know, he basically, single-handedly, started the road to end slavery, and the fact that he killed people to do it, you know, he decided, "OK, we start spilling white blood, then they're going to start getting the idea."

The film maker went on to note that Brown has not been portrayed in too many movies, and he alluded to Raymond Massey's portrayal of Brown in the fundamentally negative and hostile (Southern) cinematic interpretation, Santa Fe Trail [1940]. Actually, Massey portrayed Brown again in the slightly more sympathetic Seven Angry Men [1955], but the latter was not influential, and certainly failed to challenge the negative cultural impact of Santa Fe Trail.

As John Brown bio-pics go, Tarantino says that he does not want to make a "solemn" bio-pic. That is, he doesn't want to try to portray a life story, but would rather do an epic moment or episode. For instance, he would portray Brown's role as a guerilla fighter, making raids on pro-slavery men. His production would be biographical in that it would be "true," but he would not make a "musty" life-to-death story about Brown because he feels those kinds of movies are "showcases for actors but not really showcases for story-tellers or directors."

Unfortunately, Tarantino reiterated the idea that this project is something he will do later in life, perhaps toward the end of his career. We would like to remind Mr. Tarantino that, notwithstanding our hopes that he has a long and fruitful career, tomorrow is not promised. Indeed, the time is ripe for him to begin working on a John Brown movie before someone else who despises Brown or who thinks he was a prairie psycho makes the ground-breaking movie.

Biographers and historians obviously have a different set of expectations of a bio-pic than film makers, and my own record suggests concern that Tarantino might reduce Brown's life to a blood-fest. After some consideration, I would like to think that Quentin Tarantino would take a higher road to telling John Brown's story because, unlike many historians, he seems to "get" John Brown--notwithstanding the fact that his descriptions of Brown are idealistic and simplistic. Certainly it is unfair to a great cloud of witnesses to say that Brown started the road that led to the end of slavery. For instance, Brown was deeply moved and educated by black revolts in the U.S. (Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner) and Haiti (Toussaint L'Overture). My fellow Brown biographer David Reynolds makes this case to be sure, but he is careful to make the necessary qualifications of a historian in pointing out how Brown can be said to have been on the vanguard in ending slavery. Likewise, to reduce Brown's contribution to killing white people also begs for qualification and explanation. In fact, Brown failed at Harper's Ferry precisely because he was trying to avoid the killing of whites--he knew how easily his effort could slide from a self-defense liberation effort to a full-scale insurrection and bloodletting. His error at Harper's Ferry was overcompensating in favor of protecting the moral and ethical quality of his raid, and ended up forcing him and his surviving raiders to sacrifice their own lives instead of conducting what could easily have been a successful terrorist campaign. But Brown was not a terrorist and I hope that when Quentin Tarantino makes his John Brown movie (next year!), he will be careful to make that point clear toward the re-education of many ill-informed viewers.

Mr. Tarantino is urged to take this project on now, in the sesquicentennial year of John Brown's raid and hanging by the State of Virginia.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Descendants of John Brown and his followers attend reception

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Brenda Pitts remembers standing where her uncle, John Anthony Copeland, was hanged Dec. 16, 1859.

“It felt very somber,” the Columbia, Ind., woman said. “I thought about what he went through. They used the wrong rope. It took 30 minutes for him to die.”

Pitts was among less than a dozen descendants of John Brown, his followers and others involved in the raid on Harpers Ferry who attended a reception Friday night in the parking lot behind the Jefferson County Courthouse.

The event was sponsored by the Jefferson County chapter of the NAACP as part of its 17th Annual Jefferson County African American Culture & Heritage Festival this weekend.

Pitts said she learned about her great-great-great uncle by reading about the raid on Harpers Ferry, which occurred Oct. 16-18,1859.

Copeland, one of Brown’s 21 followers in the raid, was a free black man and a student at Oberlin College in Ohio. His uncle, Lewis Leary, was also one of Brown’s men.

Pitts said her family plans to come to Harpers Ferry for a reunion in mid-October during the 150th anniversary of Brown’s raid on the town.

“My family feels so strong about the contribution Uncle John made,” she said.

The guest of honor Friday was Alice Keesey Mecoy of Allen, Texas, Brown’s great-great-great granddaughter. She said Brown’s raid was a family secret no one ever talked about.

Thursday was her first visit to Harpers Ferry.

Judy Ashelman of Ranson, W.Va., has family connections with Barclay and Edwin Coppoc, two of Brown’s raiders. Barclay escaped; Edwin was captured and hanged.

The brothers were nephews of Ashelman’s great-great grandfather, Joshua Coppoc.

Deana Steece of Shepherdstown, W.Va., said her great-great grandfather, the Rev. Joshua Young, officiated at Brown’s funeral in New York.

Elliott B. “Bud” Perrett of Frederick, Md., said his great-great grandfather, Seldon Perrett, was Brown’s second cousin. He produced a copy of the genealogy to prove it.

Today’s festival highlight will be a parade at noon that will wind through Third Avenue and North George Street in Ranson then south to Washington Street in Charles Town to Lawrence Street.

The festival will continue at Wright Denny Alternative School in the 300 block of South Lawrence Street.

On Sunday, a re-enactment of the meeting between Frederick Douglass and John Brown, featuring actor Fred Morsell, will be shown at 3 p.m. at the Betty Roper Auditorium at the corner of South Charles and West Congress streets.

Source: Richard F. Belisle, The Herald-Mail [Hagerstown, Md.], August 15, 2009

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Notes on John Brown's Names of War

Students of John Brown's public career as a freedom fighter are well aware that he employed the use of pseudonyms in both the Kansas and Harper's Ferry episodes. Indeed, Brown's use of the nom de guerre is legendary. Yet biographers and students of Brown's life seem never to have bothered to inquire into the origin of these names, the assumption being that they were all simply "made up" names with no significance otherwise. To the contrary, because John Brown chose them, they reflect some aspect of his life, and may even unlock aspects of character that are meaningful to the biographer.

This is certainly the case of the his rarely used pseudonym, "James Smith," which appears in two of Brown's letters written on June 3, 1857. Brown was known to have said in his family that he liked having a common name and would even have preferred the more common name of "Smith." Perhaps this is why he used the pseudonym "James Smith" in writing to his Kansas associates, Augustus Wattles and William Addison Phillips, the chronicler of the Kansas struggles and the author of an important reminiscence of John Brown. In my study of Brown's letters, I have not found his usage of "James Smith" repeated thereafter, probably because he decided upon an even better nom de guerre, Nelson Hawkins.

Before proceeding, it should be noted that Brown was not the only one who employed the use of pseudonyms on the Kansas scene. In fact, his "James Smith" letter to Phillips is actually addressed to William "Adison," Brown's misspelling of the writer's middle name. Evidently both men felt it necessary to employ false names to evade the watchful eyes of pro-slavery interests in Kansas. In one of Brown's memorandum books (held in the Boston Public Library collection), he notes also having written to "W.B. Edmonds" on August 4, 1857, and just above it wrote three initials, "EBW." As it turns out, "W.B. Edmonds" was the pseudonym for E. B. Whitman, the general agent of the National Kansas Committee. So Brown hardly invented the idea of using pseudonyms in Kansas.

I have mentioned that Brown did not apparently continue to use the "James Smith" pseudonym, although most students of his story will recognized that he later appropriated the "Smith" name for the Harper's Ferry venture. I will return to that name below. In 1857, however, Brown found a new name that he used frequently in communicating with family and associates, the legendary pseudonym, "Nelson Hawkins."

While I have generally found that most of my "discoveries" have already been noted by the late great Boyd B. Stutler, I'm humbly sure that the source of Brown's "Nelson Hawkins" pseudonym seems even to have evaded Stutler (and every other scholar). I was fortunate enough to come upon a lead when examining a letter from John Brown Jr. written to his sister, Ruth Brown Thompson on February 23, 1851, now held in the Gilder Lehrman Collection, currently residing at the New York Historical Society. In that interesting letter, John Junior describes a warm evening at home with family and friends, including one Nelson Hawkins, who happened to be playing chess with his brother Jason Brown. It seems, Junior explains in the letter, that Nelson Hawkins was hanging around the Brown household because he liked Jason's sister-in-law. This passing reference to Jason's chess mate opened up a world of interest to me. Who was this Nelson Hawkins since Junior obviously was not referring to his own father? Happily, Nelson appeared in the 1850 census for Summit County, Ohio. From the census we surmise that he would have been in his late 20s at the time that Brown began to use his name in Kansas, and that he was a carpenter by profession. Since John Brown had moved his family back to Akron, Ohio in 1851 (where they remained for four years before returning to the Adirondacks), we can assume that he was well acquainted with the real Nelson Hawkins. (It would be interesting to learn if Nelson eventually married Jason's sister-in-law, but I never checked.) As I've pointed out in my book, John Brown--The Cost of Freedom, Brown's appropriation of Nelson Hawkins' name is strongly suggestive of Brown's sense of humor. Most of the letters in which Brown signed off as "Nelson Hawkins" actually are written to his family. While Franklin B. Sanborn received at least one "Nelson Hawkins" letter from Brown, he would not have known the significance of the name. But wife Mary Brown, namesake John Jr., and others in the family probably were amused. (Nelson Hawkins is listed in the cut-out of the census below, on the third line, from the 1850 Census, Portage, District 14o, Summit County, Ohio, Oct. 15, 1850, p. 433.)

Perhaps more interesting is another discovery of mine, also featured in John Brown--The Cost of Freedom) concerning Brown's most famous nom de guerre, "Isaac Smith," the name that he carried with him to Harper's Ferry in 1859. Like "Nelson Hawkins," it is more likely that this "Smith" name was appropriated from an actual person and was not simply a variation of his beloved "common name" theme.

Reading through microfilm of the Springfield [Mass.] Republican some years back, I began to see that a frequent advertiser in that paper was an umbrella manufacturer named Isaac Smith. Considering that Brown lived in Springfield from 1846-49, it is unlikely that Brown would have missed the advertisements of "Isaac Smith & Co." Even after his residence in Springfield ended (April 1849), Brown later visited Springfield when raising funds for his anti-slavery efforts in the later 1850s. Furthermore, the Smith company had its corporate office in New York City and a branch office in Boston, so it is also possible that Brown either became aware of the name or was reminded of it during subsequent trips east, especially his notable visits to Boston. All in all, there is a reasonably good basis for concluding that John Brown's Harper's Ferry pseudonym, "Isaac Smith & Sons" was an appropriation of "Isaac Smith & Co." of New York and Boston. With the possible exception of the real Isaac Smith, who would have suspected that the controversial abolitionist had hijacked the name of an umbrella manufacturer in his great anti-slavery plan? Certainly none of the John Brown scholars has made this connection thus far, and it seems the most reasonable one in my own estimation.

Although I have likely established the sources for Brown's pseudonyms "Nelson Hawkins" and "Isaac Smith," his third notable nom de guerre remains a mystery: "Shubel Morgan." "Shubel" is a Hebrew word, a biblical name which means "captive of God." (This is a proper name that is rendered in the Hebrew both as Shubael or Shebuel. See 1 Chronicles 25: 4, 20.) The name has great resonance when one considers that this was the name that Brown chose to employ when he and his men forcefully brought eleven people out of southern slavery and escorted them safely to Canadian freedom in early 1859.

Yet even this does not necessarily explain the source of the name. As we have already seen in two other cases, it is possible that "Shubel Morgan" was the name of someone that Brown had actually known or heard of in his life and travels. To be sure, no evidence has come to light showing that Brown knew or interacted with anyone named Shubel Morgan. Still, it is possible that the name, in whole or part, was appropriated by Brown and not simply contrived because of its biblical reference to captivity.

Consider the possibility that "Shubel Morgan" is actually a combination of two names. While this is sheer speculation, it is interesting to consider that Brown's famous pseudonym is a combination name based upon two religious leaders in North America, Morgan Edwards (b. 1722) and Shubal Stearns (b. 1706). Morgan Edwards emigrated from Wales to North America and founded the first Baptist college in the colonies, a school that later became Brown University in Rhode Island. (He and John Brown shared the same birthday of May 9.) Shubal Stearns was from a Boston Congregationalist home and became an advocate of the Great Awakening's separatist revivalism. Departing from the paedo-baptism of the Congregational church, Shubal Stearns himself became a renowned Baptist preacher of the "born again" message. While these men are obscure and forgotten in our time, it is possible that Brown had heard of them. Was his pseudonym, "Shubel Morgan" another example of John Brown's tendency to appropriate real names, or was it simply a clever concoction based upon his frequent Bible reading? We will never know, but perhaps John Brown students and scholars will continue to find the theme of his pseudonyms to be a point of interest in reflecting further on his life, personality, and traits as a religiously-motivated radical.--LD

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

John Brown: His Fight for Freedom to be released in time for the Harper's Ferry Raid Sesquicentennial

I am currently enjoying two newly released books on the Old Man, Robert E. McGlone's John Brown's War Against Slavery [review forthcoming] and the delightful and brilliant John Brown: His Fight for Freedom by John Hendrix. Hendrix's John Brown is a beautiful, yea, masterful illustrative work for young people. As I have no technical or professional knowledge of the illustrator's craft, I will leave it to readers of greater understanding to detail the beauties of this work. Suffice it to say that the book is wonderful--beautiful images, colors, and wonderfully imaginative use of typography. John Hendrix, although still a relatively young man, is a seasoned illustrator with an impressive curriculum vita and portfolio, and you are encouraged to visit his professional website, which includes an array of information, a sketchbook, and a gallery (you can purchase prints, including prints of John Brown).

What makes John Brown: His Fight for Freedom even more interesting is that the illustrator is also the author of the book, and a truly excellent writer in his own right. Of course I must acknowledge a measure of bias here: I met John and Andrea Hendrix about a decade ago when they moved to the east coast so that John could pursue his studies at The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Having studied at Lawrence, Kansas, John was already endowed with a real interest in Brown and had done some illustration work on a Kansas project related to the subject. Delighted as I was to have the Hendrixes attend the church where I was serving as pastor (in nearby Jersey City), I was even more pleased to learn that I found someone else who was actually interested in talking about the Old Man. It quickly became evident to me that John is not only a super-talented guy at his craft (I was also tickled to learn that he worked in his sketchbook during church service, which means that a few of his sketches were sort of illustrated notes on my sermons), but that he has the mind of a scholar. While I am honored that my books have, along with other texts, served to inspire and instruct John in his own reflections on Brown, his work as writer equally impresses me for its clarity and faithfulness to the record.

He has not only written an honest, studied account of John Brown, prepared for a young audience and thus crafted as succinct and simple (in the best sense of the word), but has captured critically important themes of the story. One of my favorites is a line from a page picturing John Brown perplexed as the raid at Harper's Ferry turned for the worst: "The unfolding events shook John to the core," our John writes. "He became a hesitant leader." This is a critical moment in the story, best chronicled by Osborn Anderson, the surviving raider who left us the only written account by a participant in the raid. John also provides a thoughtful author's note, a short bibliography of selected sources, and an index. However impressive for its art, this is not simply a book of grand illustrations that will excite the imagination of young people and interest adults as well. It is also a reflective, researched, and arguably relevant interpretation of Brown in its own right.

I believe that, broadly speaking, should young people have the opportunity to read John Brown: His Fight for Freedom, this book may prove to be a significant factor in creating a generational turning-point in the way that Brown is understood in this nation. Hendrix not only knows art and illustration; he also understands Brown as a cultural and religious figure, and he seems far more mature, liberal, and reflective in handling Brown than do many academics still caught up in the same old pants-piddling commentaries about the Old Man as a fanatic, madman, and terrorist.

I thought I would also include a brief entry that John Hendrix made about the book this past spring on Drawger:

"This is the first book I wrote and illustrated, and it represents over 6 years of work, struggle, heartache and caffeine. Seeing it exist as a real book for the first time is so thrilling and humbling. Truly, I have no idea how this book got made. A book, for children, about a religiously motivated abolitionist who was hanged for treason is the definition of a hard sell.

The book was picked up in 2003 the first time at another publisher and we worked on it for a year and a half before they dropped it due to the controversial nature of the content. But, it came to life again at the amazing Abrams Books for Young Readers in 2006, thanks to editor Howard Reeves.

Writing any book for children is not an easy undertaking, but a non-fiction book adds an entirely new level of scholarship and responsibility to the historical record. I found that I really enjoyed learning everything I could about a subject. Lets just say, next time you see me at an opening, don't bring up John Brown- because I have hours of material.

Most people ask me why I chose to write a book, for children, about John Brown.

In my opinion, he is a true civil-rights hero. And, generally, most people think he was a lunatic. We have this popular image of him as an insane loony who killed people with some flawed notion of his own importance who was punishing innocent civilians because of his religious beliefs. When you really read what he believed and why he was brought to his actions- you see just how unique he was in his own era. A true visionary, and he has been minimized because I think most people are uncomfortable with people who are strongly motivated by religious ideas. So, I feel as though he deserves a more accurate account of his life.

The challenges in telling this story are easy to pick out. Though I really think there is value in talking to children about the nature of human conflict and the nature of evil, showing the events of his life (visually!) to an audience of young people was tough. You don't want to sugar coat his action and create some inadvertent propaganda. But you also need to be sensitive and protect young people from things that would negatively affect their minds. Generally I think that kids are pretty robust thinkers and can handle cognitive dissonance, as long as we present it in a manner that is clear.

I've been invited to present my work at the 150th anniversary of the Harper's Ferry Raid at the John Brown Conference this year... and yes, I will be wearing my full John Brown costume.

It is not officially released till September, but just track me down in person.... I'll be carrying a copy with me at all times for the next three months. Now, its time to start the next book. A John Brown sequel!"

John Brown: His Fight For Freedom: An Exhibit (University City, Mo.)

You may have seen John Hendrix's illustrations in Entertainment Weekly, the New York Times or Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine for United Airlines. Hendrix combines his significant skill at crafting a strong drawing with a designer's eye for composition to create visually arresting images that are heavy with significance. He's also a big fan of Civil War history, a fact that informs his forthcoming children's book, John Brown: His Fight For Freedom. The famous abolitionist may seem an odd choice for a young reader, what with the murders and the attack on the Harpers Ferry Armory and all, but Hendrix handles the matter truthfully and with respect for his readers' intelligence. Hendrix also highlights the idealism of a man out of step with his own time, who believed slavery was an abomination in God's eyes, and who was recognized by Thoreau and Emerson as a visionary civil-rights advocate. In honor of John Brown, Hendrix has commandeered the gallery and the front window at Subterranean Books (6275 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-862-6100 or www.subbooks.com) with original illustrations and developmental drawings that show the process of making the book itself. His front window display, a massive open Bible with a chain and padlock atop it and a Bowie knife slicing said chain asunder, is classic Hendrix magic. Nothing could more perfectly represent the two sides of Brown's public character. Hendrix's work is on display daily through Sunday, September 27. On Thursday, September 10, Hendrix celebrates the official release of the book with a reception and signing.

Date/Time:Daily from Mon., August 10 until Sun., September 27
Price: free

Subterranean Books
6275 Delmar Blvd.
University City, MO

Monday, August 03, 2009

Abolitionist John Brown's Pikes Were Made to Order in Canton, Connecticut

CANTON — Residents of this town can be forgiven if they've never heard of a particularly grisly and medieval-looking weapon produced here that changed American history. But that situation that could change as conferences and memorial events this year observe the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid in Harper's Ferry, Va., in October 1859.

In the late winter of 1857, Brown, an abolitionist whose family originally settled in Canton, stopped in the Collinsville section while on a fundraising tour of the Northeast. Brown and his supporters had just spent two years fighting a series of pitched battles in "Bleeding Kansas," against pro-slavery forces. While relaxing and telling stories one morning at the Collinsville pharmacy, Brown met Charles Blair, manager of the Collins Co., later known as the Collins Axe Co., which by the end of the century would become one of the world's largest edge tool and farm implement manufacturers.

Brown pulled from his boot a fearsome-looking 8-inch dirk, or pike, which he said he had seized from pro-slavery fighter H.C. Pate at the Battle of Black Jack in Kansas. Fixed to the end of a 6-foot pole, Brown said, the pikes would make an excellent defensive weapon for free-soil settlers in Kansas. Blair agreed to have the Collins Co. make 1,000 pikes, affixed to cured wooden handles, for $1 apiece.

Brown promptly disappeared after paying Blair for about half of the order, and then suddenly reappeared in the summer of 1859 with enough cash to pay for the rest of his pikes. By then, Brown and about 20 radical abolitionists were finishing plans for a raid on the federal arsenal in Harper's Ferry, which they hoped would incite a slave insurrection in the South. The pikes would be used to arm slaves on Virginia plantations, though Brown was evasive when Blair asked why he needed them.

By that time, the Collins Co. was busy, and arranged to have the second half of the order completed by another ironworks, C. Hart & Son of the Unionville section of Farmington. In the late summer of 1859, the completed order of pikes was shipped in unmarked crates, ending up at the farm in Sharpsburg, Md., that Brown and his co-conspirators were using as a staging ground for their raid.

Except for one pike that Brown carried on the Oct. 16 raid itself, none of the Collinsville weapons ever made it into the hands of slaves. After Brown's raid was quickly thwarted by federal forces, about half of the pikes were found in a large farm wagon that Brown's party had sneaked into Harper's Ferry. The other half were found at the Sharpsburg farmhouse.

Brown, who was severely injured when the arsenal was retaken by federal forces, was tried for treason and then hanged in Charles Town, Va. — now West Virginia — in December 1859.

But the Connecticut pikes and their intended use in arming slaves became a potent symbol for outraged Southerners during the inflammatory period leading up to the Civil War, from the raid to the attack on Fort Sumter 18 months later.

Pikes As Propaganda
Dr. Lawrence S. Carlton has studied the fate of the unused pikes. The retired doctor and medical school professor has acted as the unofficial historian of the Canton Historical Museum, which is on the former grounds of the Collins Axe Co.

About a dozen of the pikes, Carlton said, were secured as souvenirs shortly after the raid and somehow found their way to Edmund Ruffin, a Virginia pro-slavery leader who sent them to Southern governors and political leaders with a label that read, "Sample of the favors designed for us by our Northern brethren."

At least one Northern abolitionist, Wendell Philips, acquired a pike and carried it on stage during anti-slavery lectures just before the Civil War, when Brown was being posthumously lionized in the North as a martyr for the anti-slavery cause.

"It's ironic that both sides used the John Brown pikes for propaganda purposes in the hysterical period leading up to the war," Carlton said.

Collinsville and Unionville have also conducted a lively, but mostly friendly, competition over the years about who can claim rights to making the pikes for the famous raid.

Interest in the pikes, and John Brown's raid, seems to be growing as the October anniversary approaches. An evening procession from the Sharpsburg farm to Harper's Ferry will be staged on Oct. 16, and as recently as two years ago, a Dallas auction gallery sold a pike for $13,000.

"$13,000 for a John Brown pike doesn't sound like much to me," said Blair Tarr, the museum curator at the Kansas Historical Society, which bought one of its two original pikes in 1881 for $15, from a Charles Town man. "Anything related to John Brown is very coveted today. He was a very important figure in American history." Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant