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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, August 04, 2011

John Brown Notes—

Atwater Corrects the Record About Osawatomie, August 1856

The typical rant about John Brown in Kansas is that because of the so-called “Pottawatomie massacre” in May 1856, tensions between proslavery and free state people were exacerbated to an explosive point, resulting in the retaliatory assault on the free state community of Osawatomie in the summer of 1856.  But like so many other assumptions presented as historical fact, the cause of the proslavery attack on Osawatomie was not primarily due to John Brown’s role in defending his family by the preemptive strike at Pottawatomie.

Grady Atwater, the administrator of the John Brown State Historic Site in Osawatomie, Kansas, currently has an informative piece in the Osawatomie Graphic in which he reveals that the primary cause of the proslavery assault of August 30, 1856 was a free state raid upon a new proslavery settlement called New Georgia, on August 8, 1856.  Equally interesting is the fact that, according to a letter from Brown’s brother-in-law Samuel L. Adair dated August 14, Brown had specifically advised the free state raiders from attacking the proslavery settlement.

Atwater concludes:
The Osawatomie Free State Guerilla’s raid on New Georgia was an offensive military action that John Brown advised against because he and other cooler heads knew that it would motivate an attack on Osawatomie. However, a group of young hotheaded Free State guerilla fighters disregarded Brown and other’s counsel and attacked the proslavery town anyway, which enraged proslavery forces and set the stage for the Battle of Osawatomie on August 30, 1856.
Source: Grady Atwater, “New Georgia Raid Fueled Free State Feud,” Osawatomie Graphic (no date).  Retrieved from: http://www.kccommunitynews.com/osawatomie-graphic-news/28751131/detail.html
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The Quindaro Statue of John Brown Still Stands As Witness to History

Radio station KCUR of Kansas City, Missouri, currently has a feature on its website about the 1911 marble statue of John Brown that stands in an old section of Kansas City, Kansas.  The website features an article and audio from the broadcast feature by journalist Elana Gordon, who interviewed Jesse Hope III, a direct descendant of enslaved blacks who found their freedom by running away from Missouri and settling in Quindaro, a “pro-abolition, Native American community” that “existed before Kansas even joined the union.”  Quindaro bravely co-existed with towns nearby, like Wyandotte City, that were proslavery.

"We celebrate the fact that he gave his life for the cause of freedom to the black man, and to erect a statue in his remembrance here is a great privilege to us," says Hope, who is the curator of a nearby museum.  Looking at the statue, Hope describes its worn and damaged stated: "It's missing its nose, and its scroll, and the coat's broke.  But it's still - I know who it is, it's John Brown."  According to Hope, Quindaro means “bundle of sticks,” an allusion to the principle, “in union there is strength.”

The statue of John Brown is the only vestige of Western University, the first black university west of the Mississippi, a school born from an earlier abolitionist school that served fugitives from slavery after the Civil War.  In the early 20th century, Quindaro was thriving and migrants from all over the country came to settle there.  According to Hope, it was at this time that people from a broad range of Quindaro’s society began to raise money for the statue of Brown, until the $2000 needed was raised.  The statue is carved from Italian marble and is situated on a granite base with an engraving that reads: "Erected to the memory of John Brown by a grateful people." It was first presented at the college commencement of 1911.

“Quindaro,” says Hope, “was founded and confirmed on the idea of freedom."  It was a fitting site for a statue of John Brown.


Ridiculous: A John Brown “Ghost” Sighting

A posting on A& E Community, a website of the cable station of the same name, with an interesting photo that someone claimed to have taken late in the evening this past April 23, at “The Haunted Cottage,” in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.   Apparently, this establishment gives “ghost tours” and the photographer had been given a tour as a gift from his wife.  To no surprise, this metaphysical tourist apparently saw “John Brown” staring at him through a window of this establishment and snapped a picture.  The tourist writes that he recognized the apparition as “some guy,” but only afterward did he realize it was “John Brown the abolitionist” while doing some research “on the slave movement.”  What clinched it for the tourist, as he puts it, was “that big burly mustache.”  (Oh yes, whenever I think of Brown, I think of his “big burly mustache” too.)  He also recognized the apparition’s “right eye, because John Brown had those piercing fire and brimstone eyes that would put the fear of God in anybody he looked at.”  The tourist then allegedly confirms this by providing an artistic image that actually is a derivation from the famous 1859 Black & Batchelder daguerreotype (see Jean Libby’s book).  For comparison purposes, the tourist pasted the artistic rendering in the pane above the image of the alleged apparition of the Old Man.

What neither the tourist nor “The Haunted Cottage” proprietor can explain is why Old John Brown is hanging around Harper’s Ferry and peering into windows at night.  

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