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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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Friday, August 19, 2011

Bell & Howl III--
Marlborough speaks of its own liberty bell 

Another interesting installment on the "John Brown Bell" controversy is found in an op-ed piece in today's (19 Aug.) MetroWest Daily News [Framingham, Mass.] by Paul Brodeur.  The author points out that the Union soldiers who stole the bell from the Harper's Ferry engine house were no mere thieves, but heroic figures in the Civil War.  Some of the original group who removed the bell did not survive the war, and others suffered great personal loss as a result of fighting for their country and emancipation.  Brodeur clearly resents Howard Swint's inclination to portray these soldiers as mere thieves and opportunists.  More interesting is this closing paragraph from Brodeur's piece:
Apart from their exemplary community spirit, some of these men were also involved in the resettlement in Marlborough of the slaves from the Harpers Ferry Wager Hotel. To them, abolition was not an empty phrase, but an idea that required commitment. The very presence of these freed slaves in Marlborough make a compelling case that the Bell, a neighbor to them in Harpers Ferry, belongs with them in Marlborough.
In a real sense, this important aspect weighs far more heavily on the side of Marlborough's side of the argument.  Not only as the Massachusetts town possessed the bell for over a century, but its soldiers were far more than souvenir hunters.  The same spirit that inspired the removal of the Harper's Ferry engine house bell also animated these men and their community to extend the work of John Brown by liberating quite literally the same people that Brown had intended to liberate.  In so doing, they deprived the slave holders of Harper's Ferry of their "property" and resettled them in their own community.  Could a more fitting defense of the Marlborough side be made?

What did these liberated black people and their descendants in Marlborough think whenever they looked upon the "John Brown Bell"?  We may never know.  But I suspect they were not particularly concerned about its return to Harper's Ferry.

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