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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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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tentatively Speaking--
Should Owen Brown's Remains be Relocated?

Owen Brown was the fourth son/child of abolitionist John Brown and Dianthe Lusk Brown, born November 4, 1824, in Hudson, Ohio.  Like the rest of his siblings, he was a devoted antislavery man in his own right and his involvement both in the Kansas and Harper's Ferry episodes is a matter of historical record.  In later years, Owen moved westward and lived with his older brother Jason (b. 1823) in near seclusion, six miles north of Pasadena, California, in the Las Casitas homestead.  While Jason (who was married) returned to Ohio where he died in 1912, Owen died on January 10, 1889.  His closest residing relatives were his brother-in-law Henry Thompson (b. 1822) and sister Ruth Brown Thompson (b. 1829), of Pasadena.  Owen was well loved and regarded and in his later years was featured in newspaper articles and interviews.  When he died, he was given a notable burial and his gravesite was for many years a place of historical pilgrimage for white and black admirers.

Owen Brown from
Hinton's John Brown
and His Men
The simple (and actual) grave stone that marked Owen's final resting place was a point of interest well into this era but was never made a historical landmark and so remained on private property.  Unfortunately, in recent years the land and burial site fell into the hands of an owner who by all accounts has proven hostile toward tourists and pilgrims coming to visit Owen's resting place on his property; more recently, we have been told that the simple stone marker bearing Owen's name has disappeared--perhaps removed by the landowner, although this is speculation.

Lately there has been some interesting emailing going on about the possibility of having Owen's remains disinterred and moved from California to New York State, to be reinterred at the John Brown Farm at Lake Placid (North Elba, N.Y.), with the legendary body of his father, as well as his half-brothers and many of the Harper's Ferry raiders.

This is an exciting, admirable, and worthy idea given the fact that Owen's resting place has been subjected to the whims of a landowner who by all accounts seems something of an ogre.  It is easy to imagine that such a project could become quite a cause célèbre in John Brown circles from coast to coast.  However, in my opinion (and I have already expressed this via email to the friends of John Brown), any idea of moving Owen's remains from California to New York should have the approval of as many Brown family descendants as possible.  Owen never married nor had children, but there are direct descendants of his siblings and half-siblings (the children of John and Mary Day Brown), and a genuine effort should be made to poll their opinions as a family in order to determine whether they approve or not.
This stone marked the site of
Owen Brown's grave for many years

In the event that a sufficient basis of family approval can be determined, then we should be willing to strategically consider the effort, particularly from the standpoint of interstate concerns and funding since we cannot expect either the Golden State or the Empire State to take an interest in bearing the cost of such an effort.

On the other hand, depending on the outlook of Brown family descendants, we may want to consider whether it might be more worthwhile to consider a nationwide campaign to bring pressure to bear upon the landowner to make that portion of his property accessible to tourists and pilgrims, and to accept assistance in placing a worthy marker on Owen's gravesite.  

These are matters to be considered.  Owen Brown evidently chose to live out his days in California and perhaps we should begin by respecting this point in our best intended plans.

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