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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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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kansas News:
Osawatomie Notebook: Edward Payson Bridgeman, Kansas Associate of John Brown

Edward Payson Bridgeman Sr. was an Osawatomie pioneer who established land claims near what is now Osawatomie State Hospital in 1856. He witnessed parts of the Battle of Osawatomie and recounted his experiences in With John Brown in Kansas: the Battle Of Osawatomie (1915).
“In the spring of 1856, I went from my house in western Massachusetts to Kansas to give my influence and vote in behalf of the free-state cause,” Bridgeman wrote.

He reported that Brown and his men were a tough lot, but did not attack peaceful proslavery men. “The Border Ruffians were determined in their efforts,” he wrote. “A price was on John Brown’s head, dead or alive. He had a few men staunch and true. It was better for a man not to cross their path unless he was peaceably inclined.”

On the morning of Aug. 29, 1856, Bridgeman said, Brown’s men camped on his claim northeast of Osawatomie on the modern-day site of Osawatomie State Hospital. Brown “came with his faithful band and camped in the dooryard around our house,” he wrote. “They comprised some 20 to 25 men. They were a tired set of men, and at the edge of the evening, without any supper, they threw themselves on the ground and slept.”
Brown and his men were a tough lot, but did not attack peaceful proslavery men.
Bridgeman went on to describe Brown’s actions on Aug. 30, 1856, the day before the Battle of Osawatomie:
He was a stern visage man but kindly spoken and approachable, of strong will and determination, of indomitable purpose and withal, a deeply religious man. To illustrate: When we all turned in for the night, he, as was his custom, read a chapter in the Bible. He laid the book on the stairs. A candle was left burning, and I had the curiosity, after he had gone to bed, to look into the Bible. I noticed that the margins were written over with his comments, and lines were emphasized by interlineations, particularly in the gospels and the Psalms.
As the guerilla force ate breakfast on the morning of Aug. 30, Brown and his men were warned about the proslavery forces attack on Osawatomie. “I saw John Brown strap his knapsack on his back as he commanded his little band to ‘fall in,’ and hurriedly marched forward,” Bridgeman reported.

Bridgeman and his friend, Win Anthony, the brother of Susan B. Anthony, quickly joined them in the defense of Osawatomie. “Anthony and I waited only long enough to take the dishes off the fire when we each took a gun and followed on after,” Bridgeman wrote.

Edward Payson Bridgeman’s first time under fire was under the command of Brown, and he took his military experiences at the Battle of Osawatomie into the Civil War, during which he fought for the Union from 1862 to 1865. Brown’s abolitionist crusade played a part in preparing him for his service in the war, which Brown’s actions sparked.

— Grady Atwater is administrator of the John Brown State Historic Site

Source: Grady Atwater. "Pioneer Gives Insight On John Brown." Osawatomie Graphic [Osawatomie, Kan.]

Decoding John Brown Junior's Love Letter

PITTSBURG, KANSAS —A Pittsburg State University graduate student has found the key to several coded letters written by the son of abolitionist John Brown.

History Detective:
Bill Hoyt
(Pittsburg Morning Sun)
Bill Hoyt, an employee in Pitt State’s Advancement Services Office and a Pitt State alumnus, said he came across the coded letters, written by John Brown, Jr., the oldest son of the famous abolitionist, while doing research for his master’s thesis in history. The contents of the letters, which Brown, Jr., had sent to his wife, surprised him, he said.

The messages helped reveal details about the wartime life of the man who rode with the Kansas 7th Cavalry. They also surprised officials at the Kansas State Historical Society, who have decided to restrict access to the contents of the letters to adults only.

Hoyt said he came across the letters by chance while he was researching one of Brown, Jr.’s lieutenants, George Hoyt (no relation). The letters had recently been acquired by the KHS.

“I was going through the personal correspondence of a few members of the Kansas Seventh Cavalry, like Brown and Daniel Anthony (brother of Susan B. Anthony) when I hit on the Brown coded letters,” Hoyt said.

The letters, from John Brown, Jr., to his wife, Wealthy, are written in a numerical code and appear as columns of numbers. Hoyt said the coded letters had all been written around the time period in which he was interested — about 1861-62 — which motivated him to try to crack the code.

Finding the key to the 150-year-old mystery wasn’t as difficult as he expected, Hoyt said.

“It took the better part of a night,” he said.

Hoyt said the code is a simple letter/number replacement system based on descending even and ascending odd numbers. For example, start with A=24, B=22, C=20, and continue to L=2. Then go upwards with odd numbers. M=1, N=3, O=5, among others. 00 is a space filler to hide the existence of one-letter words. Each page begins in the bottom right-hand corner, goes up to the top of the page and then begins again at the bottom of the next column to the left.

“It had to be simple enough that his wife would be able to decode it, and that he could write it and produce letters any time, no matter where was,” Hoyt said.

The letters, he continued, have been authenticated, and they match the context and progression of a series of letters Brown, Jr. had written.

“As he was writing to her, he say ‘I’m going to tell you something secret,’ and then put it into code,” Hoyt said. The letters were decoded by a volunteer at the KHS who was given the key.

What the key revealed, Hoyt said, surprised him.

“What I was hoping to find was information about George Hoyt,” Hoyt said. “Wealthy Brown and George Hoyt knew each other and corresponded on occasion, so it would not have been out of place for John Brown, Jr., to mention Hoyt to his wife.”

Instead, Hoyt said he found missives between Brown, Jr., and his wife, as well as evidence of money problems and a strong desire to return home from the war. Brown, Jr. also showed the same intensity his father possessed.

“Basically, he really, really missed his wife,” Hoyt grinned. “I think the letters are better described as fiercely intimate, maybe even the 19th-century version of sexting. But he was also very interested in getting the war over. He had an intense love of home and wanted to get back.”

The letters are graphic enough, however, that the KHS decided against posting Hoyt’s key on its website in order to keep it out of the hands of school-age youngsters. Patrons 18 and older may access the key and the letters at the Historical Society’s reading room, however.

Hoyt said the letters didn’t provide much help with his thesis research, but he’s not disappointed.

“It’s exciting to solve a mystery this old and it does add to what we know about some significant historical characters,” Hoyt said. “One of things it does show us is that throughout history we see people doing great things, and we forget that they’re real people, just like us. They share the same concerns we do. Seeing the intimate details of John Brown’s life helps us to see the real person.”

Mike Kelley, chairman of the Department of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences, said research often takes people in directions they didn’t expect.

“Original research gets the blood pumping,” Kelley said.

Source: William Klusener, “PSU grad student breaks letters’ code.” Pittsburg Morning Sun [Pittsburg, Kan.], 24 March 2011.

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