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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Friday, June 18, 2010


Through a Glass Darkly: The Skewing of John Brown in the 20th Century

Unfortunately, as his writing suggests, Gregory
A. Stiverson, Historic Annapolis Foundation president,
cannot see John Brown with clarity.  Is this due to lack
of real research,or is it just plain old prejudice?
I have often pointed out that serious students of John Brown must work harder than the biographers and scholars of any other figure in U.S. history, because no historical personality in this nation is so beset by prejudice, misinformation, and the skewing of facts than is “The Old Man” of Harper's Ferry.  Over the past forty years, many U.S. historians and writers have ostensibly been content to work from one authoritative text, To Purge this Land with Blood  (1970) by Stephen Oates.  While Oates’s book is a solid work of scholarship, it is hardly sufficient to represent the life and legacy of John Brown the man who lived and died; it has only been in this first decade of the 21st century that the “John Brown bookshelf” has begun to fill out with a number of thoughtful, researched, and fair-minded biographies and biographical studies.  [This complete entry is available only in the forthcoming book, John Brown: Emancipator]


Jean Libby said...

There is excellent analysis and historiography here. It has inspired me to buy a copy of Barrie Stavis, The Sword and the Word, which I had read in a library but somehow never obtained.

Both Stephen Oates' biography and the play by Barrie Stavis are formative in my thinking.

I agree completely that a group of naysayers (Hearn, McGlone) make a practice of trashing John Brown.

Stiverson's motive is to made the Frederick militia, the closest large military group, look competent while they are stumbling about above Harpers Ferry on the Maryland side. Impossible task.

Even Robert E. Lee gave up on them, offering them the "glory" of Brown's capture when he was completely surrounded by Virginia militia and U. S. Marines. Instead, they waited for a cannon to be delivered, and rail transport instead of walking down the Maryland Heights.

No wonder this primary source was lost for so many years.

Thank you so much for keeping everyone up on the literature.

Jean Libby

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr. . . said...

Hi Jean,

Thanks for stopping by the blog and for your added insights. You were doing the field work on the raid when I was still doing my Communications 101 class-- the emphasis being on wisdom and experience, not age :)

Speaking of Stavis, if I recall, he pretty much was on your page regarding the support that Brown actually received from the locally enslaved black community. Of course, you were the one who demonstrated how Villard was oh so wrong about Osborne Anderson, and how valuable Anderson really is to us all in understanding what happened at HF.

Anytime you want to share anything, long or short, on this blog, you know I'd love it. Many thanks.--LD