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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, December 27, 2012

John Brown Studies Past, Present, and Future

It almost goes without saying that in the century and a half since his death, the abolitionist John Brown has been the subject of a good many books and articles.  To be sure, the Brown bibliography—including everything in print from the best studies and biographies to the very worst screeds and fiction—cannot rival the number of books written about Abraham Lincoln.  Yet even the professional gatekeepers of “American history” cannot deny that the controversial abolitionist has enjoyed a popular come back in the 21st century that has now become prominent in the academy as well.  For more than a decade now, there has been a steady stream of books about Brown, including four biographies, a number of valuable cultural studies, essay collections and readers, as well as novels and illustrated books for young people.  While a number of these works are problematic to say the least, nevertheless they bear witness to the upsurge of interest in Brown.
            Whatever the biographer may conclude about Russell Banks’ fictive interpretation of the Old Man in Cloudsplitter (1998), there is no doubt that this successful novel both signaled and enabled a sea change in popular thought about Brown.  Indeed, Cloudsplitter probably did for John Brown what Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” movie did for the popularization of the Muslim activist in the late 20th century.  Of course, in both cases (and I can attest to this first hand as a student of both leaders), the undercurrents of interest in Malcolm and Brown were already quite vital, and it is not always easy to determine when novels and movies have inspired trends or when they are simply manifestations of what is already at work in society.  Neither can we be certain that for all the popular appeal created by biographical novels and films they do not also undermine real historical understanding in the long run, since they typically revivify their stories as much as they skew them in the name of art.  Then, perhaps they also tend to both stimulate and satiate the popular appetite for history at the same time.   Regardless, Cloudsplitter was a boon to the rising popular interest in Brown that had ripened by the time of the sesquicentennial of the Harper’s Ferry raid in 2009.  Certainly the kind of popular sympathy for Brown did not exist when a former generation commemorated the centennial of the Harper’s Ferry raid in 1959.
Boyd B. Stutler
Yet as important as novels and movies may be in popular culture, the academy has its own ways of thinking. Certainly by the mid-20th century, the prominent attitude toward Brown among leading historians was negative. Historians like Allan Nevins, C. Van Woodward, and David M. Potter really knew little about Brown, although this did not stop them from banishing him to the margins of history as little more than a mentally unstable troublemaker.  Meanwhile, the two most knowledgeable scholars in the John Brown field, Boyd B. Stutler and Clarence S. Gee, were a magazine editor and a clergyman, respectively.  Stutler, a very conservative man in political and social concerns, took academic prejudice against Brown in stride, but privately lamented the misrepresentations of Nevins and other renowned academics of the day, somewhat facetiously referring to them as the “scientific historians.”  Still, it is quite telling that Stutler advised and assisted both Oswald G. Villard in correcting and revising his supposedly definitive 1910 biography, and Stephen B. Oates in preparing his supposedly definitive 1970 biography.  While the Villard and Oates biographies remain important works for the historian, in a sense they also frame the relatively thin and worthless academic contributions to John Brown studies during the 20th century.
Thomas Vince
Even after the appearance of Oates’ landmark biography, To Purge This Land With Blood, the wealth of research in John Brown studies largely remained in the hands of grassroots and local scholars throughout the rest of the century.  This is evident in the case of two young associates of Stutler and Gee, Thomas Vince and Edwin Cotter.  Vince, an archivist and community historian in Hudson, Ohio, and Edwin Cotter (d. 2001), for many years the supervisor of the John Brown Farm in Lake Placid, New York, did more ongoing, on-the-ground research than contemporary academics.  Both Vince and Cotter were not only knowledgeable generalists in the study, but also became specialists in specific areas of Brown’s life by amassing knowledge of community history and documentation that far outstripped the work of professional historians.  Other local historians have likewise done significant research on Brown even to the present time, and these researchers, many of them librarians or people affiliated with local historical societies, represent vital streams of research almost completely removed from the academy.  (I dare not fail to mention that I have periodically featured articles by Scott Wolfe, an independent scholar and research librarian in Galena, Illinois, as well as articles by Grady Atwater, the superintendent of the John Brown cabin in Osawatomie, Kansas.)
Jean Libby

Historically speaking, another notable figure is Jean Libby, a photographer and college teacher from Palo Alto, California, who has worked mainly in the milieu of local historians in her study of the Harper’s Ferry raid.  In the 1970s, Libby actually did field research in Jefferson County, (by then) West Virginia, including the oral traditions of whites and blacks reflecting the direct impact of Brown in 1859.  In so doing, she overturned the popular notion of the non-involvement of enslaved people in the Harper’s Ferry raid, revived and contextualized Osborne Anderson’s vital black witness, A Voice from Harper’s Ferry (1861), and buttressed her arguments with actual research.  Libby has subsequently studied original documents and daguerreotypes of Brown in a manner far beyond what any pure bread academic has done.  Her contributions are unparalleled, and the academy heretofore has offered nothing even close to this kind of in depth, ongoing research.
Given the conventional hostility and lack of adequate scholarship in the academy regarding John Brown, one must appreciate the impact made when David S. Reynolds, a professor of English and American Studies at the City University of New York, published his breakthrough biography, John Brown Abolitionist, in 2005.  While Reynolds was not the first scholar to publish a full biography of Brown in the 21st century, his work received immense and immediate attention, and deservedly so.  While John Brown Abolitionist was not without some problems, its strengths are considerably more important.  Portraying the abolitionist as “the man who killed slavery, sparked the Civil War, and seeded Civil Rights,” Reynolds turned the tables on the conventional 20th century academic portrayal of John Brown, rendering him a flawed hero, but far more a hero—a man in advance of his times, a racial egalitarian in an age of flagrant white supremacy, whose life and death can no longer be filed away under conventionally dismissive categories.

To be sure, Reynolds cannot be credited for single-handedly bringing about a John Brown revolution among scholars.  A great deal of thinking and writing was already underway for years prior to the publication of John Brown Abolitionist.  Historian Robert McGlone had been working in John Brown studies for decades, and his important biography, John Brown's War Against Slavery—which finally appeared in late 2009—was undertaken in part as a response to Stephen Oates’ acclaimed 1970 biography.  Other scholars had undertaken the John Brown theme following Oates, and perhaps the leading spirit in this regard was Paul Finkelman, a professor of law and history who has edited two collections of scholarly writing on Brown, the first and most notable being His Soul Goes Marching On: Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid (1995).  Finkelman also spearheaded a notable scholarly conference on John Brown at the Mount Alto campus of Penn State University in July 1996, "John Brown: The Man, the Legend, the Legacy"—perhaps the first sign that academia was awakening to the fact that the Old Man could not be so easily dismissed.
The Mont Alto Conference,

While the Mount Alto conference had its inevitable share of screeds and “terrorist” papers, it pointed toward the immediate future of John Brown scholarship.  A number of its attendees published books on John Brown in the first few years of the 21st century, thus proving that interest in Brown had already come to a head by the time of the Reynolds biography.  Yet it was John Brown Abolitionist that proved to be muscular enough as a work of scholarship to break through academic barriers of prejudice and misinformation, and lyrical enough to become the banner text of a new era.  In a sense, every new biography and study of John Brown in the 21st century will be considered against the backdrop of Reynolds’ text and interpretation, and no narrative of the abolitionist will escape the long shadow of John Brown Abolitionist, just as most writing on Brown in the 20th century could not help but reflect the importance of Oswald Garrison Villard’s 1910 biography.

Nevertheless, none of this suggests that the John Brown study has been exhausted.  We are far from the point, as we are in the case of Abraham Lincoln, where one may justifiably sigh aloud at the appearance of yet another new book.  While the Lincoln narrative has been exhaustively parsed like a Greek verb in a seminary classroom, Brown’s narrative begs more work in almost every facet of the story, from his less exciting early life and business efforts to his militant anti-slavery efforts in Kansas and Virginia.  Works like Brian McGinty’s John Brown’s Trial (2009) and Steven Lubet’s John Brown’s Spy (2012) have demonstrated what can be accomplished by working in heretofore unexplored areas of the story.  Indeed, notwithstanding McGlone’s belated but formidable John Brown’s War Against Slavery, the McGinty book on the historic trial of the abolitionist may prove to be the single most important contribution to a sadly neglected but central category of John Brown biography.  I have hardly been exhaustive in this article--there have been other quite notable works published in recent years that have likewise contributed to the forward movement of John Brown scholarship, a noteworthy contribution being Evan Carton's very popular biography, Patriotic Treason.  I may not agree with significant aspects of his book, Midnight Rising, but Tony Horwitz should also be saluted as for demonstrating the vitality and influence of the Old Man's story in our own time.  This is a good time for John Brown studies, and we are looking forward to what 2013 may bring.

To all my readers, I wish a most happy and studious new year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Abe on John, Fred on Abe

"Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a state.  We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong.  That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason.  It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right."  Abraham Lincoln, December 2, 1859

"It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model.  In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.  He was preeminently the white man's President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men."  Frederick Douglass, April 14, 1876

Saturday, December 08, 2012

"The Tribunal": A New John Brown Reader!

Following Tony Horwitz's Midnight Rising, the release of yet another acclaimed John Brown book, The Tribunal, may suggest that the Old Man may be getting more attention than all the Civil War sesquicentennial can attract, even with the release of Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln."  It is almost as if--and I write this with a great measure of delight--historians cannot get beyond 1859.  This time around, the publication of The Tribunal promises to be a wide lens blockbuster in which the editors, John Stauffer and Zoe Trodd, have returned with what promises to be a definitive reader.  I have not yet gotten my copy, but I'm happy to report that our friend and fellow biographer, David Reynolds, has written a good review in The Wall Street Journal, excerpted here. "The Tribunal," Reynolds writes,
"demonstrates just how central John Brown was to the cultural and political life of his time. Included in the book are powerful writings about Brown by some of the century's most notable people: Walt Whitman, Henry Ward Beecher, Jefferson Davis, Herman Melville, Stephen Douglas, Louisa May Alcott, Victor Hugo and Karl Marx, to name a few. Brown's name echoed among thousands of average folk too. Little wonder that Julia Ward Howe's "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" was inspired by a tune sung by Union troops as they tramped southward that contains the memorable words: "John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, / But his soul is marching on." 
The Tribunal doesn't whitewash Brown. To the contrary, it recognizes his flaws and provides a broad sampling of just criticism. But it reveals as well that those most hostile toward Brown were pro-slavery types who felt threatened by his forward-looking views. Some of Brown's strongest defenders were people like Thoreau, who had formerly espoused nonresistance but who came to realize that only violence could uproot an institution so deeply entrenched as slavery. . . .  There are a few unfortunate omissions in The Tribunal, such as a letter and an article in which the novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, who had formerly gained fame for her portrayal of the nonresistant slave Uncle Tom, signaled a turnaround when she praised Brown for attacking slavery "with fire and sword." But, all in all, Mr. Stauffer and Ms. Trodd should be commended for making available so many documents that were formerly hard to find and that reveal so much about this key figure in American history. The Tribunal confirms what has become increasingly clear in recent years: To understand America fully, we would do well to reflect on John Brown—on what he stood for and the ideals he embodied for some of the nation's deepest thinkers." (David S. Reynolds, "The Other Great Emancipator."  The Wall Street Journal, 3 Dec. 2012)
The book is a whopping 570-pages and looks like an embarrassment of riches with respect to post-Harper's Ferry statements about John Brown.  Harvard University Press can hardly be exaggerating when it declares that Stauffer and Trodd "have assembled an impressive and wide-ranging collection of responses to Brown’s raid: Brown’s own words, northern and southern reactions, international commentary, and reflections from the Civil War and Reconstruction era. Represented here are all the figures one would expect to see (Lincoln, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass), many surprises (John Wilkes Booth, Karl Marx, Giuseppe Garibaldi), as well as free and enslaved blacks and white citizens. The result is a book that views Brown from multiple vantage points."

The publisher's website continues:

The Introduction describes the panic that Harpers Ferry created in the South, splitting the Democratic Party along sectional lines and altering the outcome of the 1860 presidential election. Without Brown, it speculates, the Civil War and emancipation would have been delayed by another four years—probably more—which in turn might have disrupted emancipation movements in Brazil, Cuba, and even Russia. The Tribunal is essential reading for anyone interested in the Civil War era and the history of social protest movements."

I provide here the entire table of contents, which is most impressive, and includes a substantial amount of Brown's own writing in Part 1.

Part I: In His Own Words
“Sambo’s Mistakes,” 1848
“League of Gileadites,” January 15, 1851
“Dear Wife and Children, Everyone,” June 1856
“Old Brown’s Farewell,” April 1857
“To Mr. Henry L. Stearns,” July 15, 1857
“Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States,” May 8, 1858
“A Declaration of Liberty by the Representatives of the Slave Population of the United States of America,” 1859
“Interview with Senator Mason and Others,” October 18, 1859
“Last Address to the Virginia Court,” November 2, 1859
“Prison Letters,” October–December, 1859
John Stauffer, Harvard University

Part II: Northern Responses
Horace Greeley, “Tribune Editorial,” October 19, 1859
Boston Courier, “A Lesson for the People,” October 20, 1859
Illinois State Register, “The ‘Irrepressible Conflict,’” October 20, 1859
Anonymous, “To the Clerk of Court, Charlestown,” October 23, 1859, and “To Friend Wise,” December 2, 1859
The Patriot, “The Harper’s Ferry Affair,” October 26, 1859
Lydia Maria Child, “Dear Captain Brown, ” October 26, 1859, and “The Hero’s Heart,” January 26, 1860
E.B., “To John Brown,” October 27, 1859
Joshua R. Giddings, “The Harper’s Ferry Insurrection,” October 28, 1859
Friends’ Review, “The Riot at Harper’s Ferry,” October 29, 1859
Salmon P. Chase, “To Joseph H. Barrett,” October 29, 1859
New York Evening Post, “A New Version of an Old Song,” October 29, 1859
Henry Ward Beecher, “The Nation’s Duty to Slavery,” October 30, 1859
Henry David Thoreau, “A Plea for Captain John Brown,” October 30, 1859, and “The Last Days of John Brown,” July 4, 1860
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Courage,” November 8, 1859, and “Remarks at a Meeting for the Relief of the Family of John Brown,” November 18, 1859
Frederick Douglass, “Capt. John Brown Not Insane,” November 1859
Edmund Clarence Stedman, “How Old Brown Took Harper’s Ferry,” November 12, 1859
William Dean Howells, “Old Brown,” November 1859
John Andrew, “Speech at Tremont Temple,” November 18, 1859
Charles Langston, “Letter to the Editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer,” November 18, 1859, and “Speech in Cleveland,” December 2, 1859
Theodore Parker, “To Francis Jackson,” November 24, 1859
Henry Clarke Wright, The Natick Resolution, December 1859
Albany Evening Journal, “The Execution of John Brown,” December 1, 1859
“Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Cleveland Resolutions,” November 29 and December 2, 1859
Henry Highland Garnet, “Martyr’s Day,” December 2, 1859
J. Sella Martin and William Lloyd Garrison, “Speeches at Tremont Temple,” December 2, 1859
Fales Henry Newhall, “The Conflict in America,” December 4, 1859
Anne Lynch Botta, “To Henry Whitney Bellows,” December 6, 1859
Wendell Phillips, “Eulogy for John Brown,” December 8, 1859
Edward Everett and Caleb Cushing, “Speeches at Faneuil Hall,” December 8, 1859
Charles Eliot Norton, “To Mrs. Edward Twisleton,” December 13, 1859
Charles Sumner, “To the Duchess of Argyll,” December 20, 1859
John Greenleaf Whittier, “Brown of Ossawatomie,” December 22, 1859
Thomas Hamilton, “The Nat Turner Insurrection,” December 1859
William A. Phillips, “The Age and the Man,” January 20, 1860
Louisa May Alcott, “With a Rose That Bloomed on the Day of John Brown’s Martyrdom,” January 20, 1860
Stephen Douglas, “Invasion of States,” January 23, 1860
Richard Realf, “John Brown’s Raid,” January 30, 1860
Abraham Lincoln, “Address at the Cooper Institute,” February 27, 1860
William H. Seward, “The State of the Country,” February 29, 1860, and “The National Idea,” October 3, 1860
John S. Rock, “Ninetieth Anniversary of the Boston Massacre,” March 5, 1860
William Henry Furness, “Put Up Thy Sword,” March 11, 1860
Carl Schurz, “The Doom of Slavery,” August 1, 1860
Pennsylvania Statesman, “Old Brown’s Argument,” October 20, 1860
Lucretia Mott, “Remarks to the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society,” October 25, 1860
Osborne P. Anderson, A Voice from Harper’s Ferry, early 1861

Part III: Southern Responses
Henry Wise, “Comments in Richmond, Virginia,” October 21, 1859
Republican Banner and Nashville Whig, “The Harper’s Ferry Riot,” October 24, 1859
Robert Barnwell Rhett, “The Insurrection,” October 31, 1859
Richmond Daily Enquirer, “A Suggestion for Governor Wise,” November 2, 1859
Southern Watchman, “The Harper’s Ferry Insurrection,” November 3, 1859
D.H. Strother, “The Late Invasion at Harper’s Ferry,” November 5, 1859, and “The Trial of the Conspirators,” November 12, 1859
Sarah Frances Williams, “To My Dear Parents,” November 7 and 11, 1859
Margaretta Mason, “To Lydia Maria Child,” November 11, 1859
Arkansas Gazette, “The Harper’s Ferry Insurrection,” November 12, 1859
Richmond Whig, “Editorial,” November 18, 1859
Natchez Courier, “Forewarned, Forearmed,” November 18, 1859
Mahala Doyle, “To John Brown,” November 20, 1859
Edmund Ruffin, “Resolutions of the Central Southern Rights Association,” November 25, 1859, and Anticipations of the Future, June 1860
Susan Bradford Eppes, “Diary,” October–December 1859
Amanda Virginia Edmonds, “Diary,” November and December 1859
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, “Dear Friend,” November 25, 1859, and “The Triumph of Freedom—A Dream,” January 1860
Thomas J. Jackson, “To Mary Anna Jackson,” December 2, 1859
John Preston, “To Margaret Junkin Preston,” December 2, 1859
Raleigh Register, “The Execution of John Brown,” December 3, 1859
Moncure Conway, “Sermon,” December 4, 1859
Reuben Davis, “The Duty of Parties,” December 8, 1859
Anonymous, “A Woman’s View of a Woman’s Duty in Connection with John Brown’s Crimes,” December 11, 1859
Andrew Johnson, “Remarks to the Senate,” December 12, 1859
James A. Seddon, “To R.M.T. Hunter,” December 26, 1859
Anonymous, “Old John Brown, a Song for Every Southern Man,” ca. December 1859
Mann Satterwhite Valentine, “The Mock Auction,” 1860
George Fitzhugh, “Disunion within the Union,” January 1860
C.G. Memminger, “The South Carolina Mission to Virginia,” January 19, 1860
Alexander Boteler, “Speech on the Organization of the House,” January 25, 1860
John Tyler, Jr., “The Secession of the South,” April 1860
National Democratic Executive Committee, The Great Issue to Be Decided in November Next, September 1860
Howell Cobb, “Letter to the People of Georgia,” December 6, 1860
William Gilmore Simms, “To a Northern Friend,” December 12, 1860
John Wilkes Booth, “Philadelphia Speech,” December 1860
Richard K. Call, “To John S. Littell,” February 12, 1861
James Williams, “To Henry Peter Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux,” February 1861
Dr. Zoe Trodd, University of Nottingham

Part IV: International Responses
The Times, “Editorial,” November 2, 1859
Joseph Barker, “Slavery and Civil War,” November 1859
L’Univers, “Editorial,” November 24, 1859
Cyprian Kamil Norwid, “To Citizen John Brown” and “John Brown,” November 1859
Victor Hugo, “A Word on John Brown,” December 2, 1859; “To M. Heurtelou,” March 31, 1860; and “To the Memory of John Brown,” October 21, 1874
Ottilie Assing, “John Brown’s Execution and Its Consequences,” December 1859
Harvey C. Jackson, “An Address to the Colored People of Canada,” December 7, 1859
Glasgow Herald, “The Outbreak at Harper’s Ferry,” December 19, 1859
Aberdeen Journal, “A Martyr or a Criminal?” December 21, 1859
Manchester Examiner and Times, “The Execution of John Brown,” December 24, 1859
Harriet Martineau, “John Brown; South’s Political Posturing,” December 24, 1859, and “The Puritan Militant,” January 28, 1860
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, “Captain John Brown,” December 25, 1859
Caledonian Mercury and Daily Express, “A New Year’s Reverie,” January 2, 1860
Anti-Slavery Reporter, “The Harper’s Ferry Tragedy,” January 2, 1860
Argus, “A Revolt in America,” January 10, 1860
Karl Marx, “To Friedrich Engels,” January 11, 1860
Feuille du Commerce, “John Brown,” January 21, 1860
Joseph Déjacque, “To Pierre Vésinier,” February 20, 1861
William Howard Russell, “Diary,” April 20 and August 17, 1861
J.M. Ludlow, “A Year of the Slavery Question in the United States (1859–60),” December 1862
Louis Ratisbonne, “John Brown,” February 1863
Giuseppe Garibaldi, “To President Lincoln,” August 6, 1863
W.T. Malleson and Washington Wilks, “Speeches to the Emancipation Society,” December 2, 1863
John Stuart Mill, Autobiography, 1873
Hermann von Holst, “John Brown,” 1878

Part V: Civil War and U.S. Postwar Responses
Various Authors, “John Brown’s Body,” May 1861
Elizabeth Van Lew, “Occasional Diary,” 1861
Mary Boykin Chesnut, “A Diary from Dixie,” November 28, 1861
Wilder Dwight, “Letters,” July 30, 1861, and March 4 and 8, 1862
George Michael Neese, “Diary,” January 3 and 26, 1862
Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Chiefly about War Matters. By a Peaceable Man,” July 1862
John Sherman, “To William Tecumseh Sherman,” September 23, 1862
Charlotte Forten, “Diary” and “Letter,” November 1862
Moncure Conway, The Golden Hour, 1862
Adalbert Volck, “Worship of the North” and “Writing the Emancipation Proclamation,” 1863
John H. Surratt, “Diary,” January 16 and 20, 1863
Anonymous, “John Brown’s Entrance into Hell,” March 1863
J. Sella Martin, “Speech to the Emancipation Society,” December 2, 1863
William Henry Hall, “Oration on the Occasion of the Emancipation Celebration,” January 1, 1864
John Wilkes Booth, “Remarks on Lincoln and Brown,” November 1864
Walt Whitman, “Year of Meteors (1859–60),” 1865
Joseph G. Rosengarten, “John Brown’s Raid: How I Got into It and How I Got Out of It,” June 1865
C. Chauncey Burr, “History of Old John Brown,” July 1865
Henry Ingersoll Bowditch, “Dear Mrs. H—,” July 27, 1865
Charles Sumner, “The National Security and the National Faith,” September 14, 1865
James Buchanan, Mr. Buchanan’s Administration on the Eve of the Rebellion, 1866
Herman Melville, “The Portent (1859),” 1866
Gerrit Smith, “John Brown,” August 15, 1867
John Milton Hay, “Diary,” September 10, 1867
Richard Henry Dana, Jr., “How We Met John Brown,” July 1871
Henry S. Olcott, “How We Hung John Brown,” 1875
Colored Citizen, “Wanted, a Few Black John Browns,” January 4, 1879
Eli Thayer, “To G. W. Brown,” January 13, 1880
Frederick Douglass, “John Brown,” May 30, 1881
George Washington Williams, “John Brown—Hero and Martyr,” 1883
David N. Utter, “John Brown of Osawatomie,” November 1883
Mark Twain, “English as She is Taught,” April 1887
Frank Preston Stearns, “Unfriendly Criticism of John Brown,” 1888
T. Thomas Fortune, “John Brown and Nat. Turner,” January 12 and 29, 1889

Not having seen the book, my only concern is that the editors have provided solid citations and contextualization when necessary, something Professors Stauffer and Trodd did not do in their less successful prior John Brown reader.  However, they are thoughtful scholars and I am optimistic that The Tribunal will be an excellent resource for the John Brown shelf.  Certainly, Stauffer and Trodd deserve our salutation and best wishes at the completion of such a mammoth challenge.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Saturday, December 01, 2012

John Brown Dead
The New-York Tribune, 3 December 1859, p. 6.

Slavery has killed John Brown.  We state the fact simply, and not by way of complaint.  We have discouraged all appeals by others than Virginians to the clemency of the Slave Power in the premises.  Slavery and John Brown were foes to the death; Slavery for the moment is victor, and the law of the exigency is a very old one, Va victis—We to the conquered!  John Brown defeated and a captive?  War has its necessities, and they are sometimes terrible.  We have not seen how Slavery could spare the life of John Brown without virtually confessing the iniquity of its own existence.  We believe Brown himself has uniformly taken this view of the matter, and discountenanced all appeals in his behalf for pardon or commutation, as well as everything savoring of irritation or menace.  There are eras in which death is not merely heroic but beneficent and fruitful.  Who shall say that this was not John Brown’s fit time to die?
“We are not of those who say, ‘If Slavery is wrong, then John Brown was wholly right.’  There are fit and unfit modes of combating a great evil; we think Brown at Harper’s Ferry pursued the latter.  We dislike Popery; yet we did not therefore feel justified evil, when we saw the Pope pass in ostentatious procession, in a palanquin born on the shoulders of men, surrounded by an armed legion and reverenced as a demi-god, to shy a stone at his head, much less point a pistol at his breast.  We have never felt at liberty, while in a Slave State, to do any act inconsistent with the laws and fixed polity of that State.  If any slaveholder introduces the topic, we respond to his suggestions; but we never begin the discussion.  And, while we heartily wish every slave in the world would run away from his master to-morrow, and never be retaken, we should not feel justified in entering a Slave State to incite them to do so, even if we were sure to succeed in the enterprise.  Of course, we regard Brown’s raid as utterly mistaken and, in its direct consequences, pernicious. 
“But his are the errors of a fanatic, not the crimes of a felon.  It were absurd to apply to him opprobrious epithets or wholesale denunciations.  The essence of crime is the pursuit of selfish gratification in disregard of others’ good; and that is the process opposite of Old Brown’s impulse and deed.  He periled and sacrificed not merely his own life—that were, perhaps a moderate stake—but the lives of his beloved sons, the earthly happiness of his family and theirs, to benefit a despised and down-trodden race—to deliver from bitter bondage and degradation those whom he had never seen.  Unwise the world will pronounce him—reckless of artificial yet palpable obligations he certainly was—but his very errors were heroic—the faults of a brave, impulsive, truthful nature, impatient of wrong, and only too conscious that ‘Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.’  Let whoever would first cast a stone ask himself whether his own noblest act was equal in grandeur and nobility to that for which John Brown pays the penalty of a death on the gallows. 
And that death will serve to purge his memory of any stain which his errors might otherwise have cast upon it.  Mankind are proverbially generous to those who have suffered all that can here be inflicted—who have passed beyond the portals of the life to come.  John Brown dead will live in millions of hearts—will be discussed around the homely heart of Toil and dreamed of on the couch of Poverty and Trial.  To all who have suffered for human good—who have been persecuted for an idea—who have been hated because of their efforts to make the daily path of the despised and unfortunate less rugged—his memory will be fragrant through generations.  It will be easier to die in a good cause, even on the gallows, since John Brown has hallowed that mode of exit from the troubles and temptations of this mortal existence. 
Then as to the ‘irrepressible conflict:’ Who does not see that this sacrifice must inevitably intensify its progress and hasten its end?  Thirty Millions of Americans—including the Four or Five Millions of Slaves—are talking and thinking of John Brown—of his daring, his purpose, his defeat, and his death.  How can the most hostile, the most stolid, suppress the questions—What was it that required the execution of John Brown?  How came such a man to die the death of a felon?  What is the Juggernaut that demanded this bloody sacrifice?  Admit that Brown took a wrong way to rid his country of the curse, his countrymen of the chains of bondage, what is the right way?  And are we pursuing that way as grandly, unselfishly as he pursued the wrong one?  If not, is it not high time we were?  Before censuring severely his errors, should we not abandon our own? 
Yes, John Brown dead is verily a power—like Samson in the falling temple of Dagon—like Ziska, dead, with his skin stretched over a drumhead, still routing the foes he bravely fought while he lived.  Time will doubtless make plain the object and effect of this sacrifice, and show the errors of Man overruled and made beneficent by the wisdom and loving justice of God.  So let us be reverently grateful for the privilege of living in a world rendered noble by the daring of heroes, the suffering of martyrs—among whom let none doubt that History will accord an honored niche to Old John Brown.”

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Kate Drumgoold Speaks of John Brown, 1898

"And there is another one who sleeps yonder whom I shall not forget and that is Father John Brown, whose ashes are as dear to me as the apple of mine eye; and how can I forget him after four years of study at the dear old place where he was taken from and hanged, because he saw the wrath of God upon the nation and came forth to save his people."

Source: A Slave Girl's Story. Being an Autobiography of Kate Drumgoold (Brooklyn, N.Y., 1898), p. 35.

Kate Drumgoold published her autobiography, A Slave Girl's Story, in 1898.  In this brief verse she reflects upon John Brown's grave and upon Harper's Ferry as well.  She studied at "the Harper's Ferry school" according to her autobiography--which I assumed is a reference to Storer College, although she doesn't seem to refer to it as such in the book.  She does refer to doing a lot of hard work, which brought to my mind the combination work/study schools that existed in the 19th century.  John Jr. and Ruth Brown both attended the Grand River Institute in Ohio, which was a work/study school.  Does anyone know if Storer had that kind of program, or perhaps "the Harper's Ferry school" was a different school altogether?  Let me know if you have any info.--LD

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Jean Libby Writes:
Harper's Ferry Sharp's Rifle Highlighted in New Article

Michael J. Konowal, a Senior Attorney with Microsoft Corporation, and a collector of manuscripts and artifacts, has published an article in the Fall 2012 (LXIV:4) issue of Manuscripts about how he found an authentic Sharp's rifle from the Harper's Ferry episode, which turned out to have belonged to Dauphin Thompson, one of Brown's raiders.
Documentary authority Jean Libby assisted Konowal in providing historical context for his article, and has sent the following chronological overview in conjunction with the aftermath of the raid.  

  • November 16, 1859:  Shields Green and John Copeland, in John Brown’s Provisional Army, sentenced to hang.  They were convicted, like John Brown, of murder and inciting slaves to insurrection.  They are not convicted of treason to the Commonwealth of Virginia because as black men their citizenship is legally unrecognized.  Their execution date is December 16.
  • Fires are set in the haystacks and barns of the jurors of the trials of Green and Copeland by local African Americans.
  • “Hundreds” cross the gap near Kabletown to the Shenandoah, then to Leesburg and Alexandria .  Governor Alexander Wise declares martial law to contain the flow of enslaved African Americans from Jefferson County .
  • Edwin Coppoc and John Cook sentenced to hang.  Their counts include treason to the Commonwealth of Virginia because they are white. Their execution is December 16.
  • November 17:  Arely, the mother of Ben, liberated from John Allstadt in the raid and who died in prison in Charlestown after fighting on Brown’s side, perishes in the cold on Shenandoah Heights.
  • Osborne Anderson, the sole survivor of the battle in Harpers Ferry to successfully escape, is secreted in the basement closet of William Goodrich, a wealthy African American photographer and merchant in York, Pennsylvania.
Mary Brown is making her way to Virginia to see her husband in prison via the Underground Railroad (William Still and Mr. and Mrs. J. Miller McKim) in Philadelphia.  She carries letters of safe conduct from Governor Wise due to physical harassment of the traveling party in Baltimore .  Her mission is to bring the body of her husband John Brown after his execution on December 2, 1859 home to New York.  She also seeks recovery of the bodies of her slain sons, Oliver and Watson Brown, and those of her neighboring connected family, William and Dauphin Thompson.  She is not successful in retrieving the bodies of the young raiders. 

This is the provenance for publications in Fall 2012 on the discovery of artifacts of the John Brown raid:

Michael J. Konowal, “The Dauphin Thompson Carbine and Brown’s Raid at Harpers Ferry .” Manuscripts Vol. 64, No. 4, Fall 2012.  The author has given permission for his research article to be published on the website of Allies for Freedom.  [Readers are advised to click on the link to the Allies for Freedom website, where they will see some great photos Konowal and the prize rifle, along with an authentic image of Dauphin Thompson, along with further links to a podcast interview with Konowal by Tom Calarco, and a link to Konowal's article!] In March 2012 Mr. Konowal and Dauphin Thompson’s 1853 Sharps carbine were welcomed in Sunnyvale California by the PanAfrican City Alive! store and cultural center on 108 S. Sunnyvale Road. 

            Photos of the event honoring Annie Brown at the Sunnyvale Public Library and the excellent research article by Mick Konowal are posted on Santa Clara County Connections to the Civil War page.  It may be downloaded without charge

             Allies for Freedom is a group of local historians and teachers who organized in 1999 to research local African American in the vicinity of John Brown's raid (Jefferson County, West Virginia and Washington County, Maryland).  Most of us are retired now.  To continue publishing John Brown Mysteries by Allies for Freedom (Pictorial Histories, Missoula Montana 1999) I have edited and updated "The Guns of October" by Hannah N. Geffert and "The Woodlands of Maryland," which traces the Civil War service of the owners of the guns in the article and their likely path to the black community of Catonsville.   It is online and may be downloaded without charge.

With much appreciation,

Jean Libby
Dauphin Thompson: Remembering a Noble, Young Soldier of Freedom

Dauphin Osgood Thompson was born on April 17, 1838, the youngest child of Roswell and Jane Thompson, who settled in North Elba, Essex County, N.Y. in 1824.1   In local history references for Essex County, the Thompsons are spoken of as the largest family in North Elba, and this is born out by the 1850 census which states that Roswell and Jane had eleven children. There were nine sons: John, Archibald ("Archie"), Henry, Franklin, Samuel, Leander, the twins William and Willard, and the youngest in the whole family was Dauphin.  The Thompsons also had two daughters, Isabelle and Roby, born between the twins (William and Willard) and the youngest, Dauphin.  Perhaps Roby (b. 1834) died sometime in the 1850s because she is not mentioned in any accounts focused on the Thompsons and Browns at the time of the Harper's Ferry raid.2  
Sketch of Dauphin O. Thompson from
Richard Hinton's John Brown and His Men
            Local historians would immediately recognize that Dauphin Osgood Thompson was the namesake of Dauphin Osgood, the son of a leading figure in the community, Iddo Osgood.  "Squire Osgood," as he was known, was an early settler of North Elba who owned an inn and eatery spot as well as a good bit of real estate in North Elba.  Although there was no established church in North Elba in that era, he was also known as "Deacon Osgood" because of his religious leadership in the community.  Indeed, John Brown's actual residence in North Elba was relatively brief, but during his time there he and Osgood seem to have served together as informal spiritual leaders in church services.  Furthermore, Brown must have trusted Osgood greatly; when wanted by federal agents for his anti-slavery activities, the abolitionist even sent mail to his family through Osgood.  One such letter sent by Brown in 1857 has a verso note that reads: “Iddo Osgood Esqr, Dear Friend  Please give this to some one of my family  Very Respectfully Yours  John Brown.”3  Since Osgood was a beloved figure in the community, it is no surprise that the Thompsons might name one of their sons after his son, especially if Dauphin Osgood had died in youth.  It is not clear if this is the case, but it was interesting to note that there were two younger boys in North Elba that were named Dauphin, including Dauphin Osgood Thompson, in the 1850 census.  Yet if the Thompson family held "Squire Osgood" in high esteem, ultimately they were far more impacted by John Brown, who had first moved to North Elba with his family in the spring of 1849.  

United in Love and Death

Indeed, the Thompsons are remembered prominently because of their extensive involvement with the Brown family, first as neighbors whose children intermarried, and secondly for the heavy price they paid by supporting the Old Man's anti-slavery efforts.   In 1850, Brown's eldest daughter, Ruth, married Henry, the third Thompson son (b. 1822).  In 1856, Watson Brown (b. 1835) married Isabelle "Belle" Thompson (b. 1836).  According to Konowal's new article, there may also have been an attachment of affection between Dauphin Thompson and Brown's daughter Anne ("Annie," born 1843).  I suspect Konowal is overly romanticizing the relationship that Annie had with Dauphin, who was five years her senior.  That fact that Konowal has found “Annie” etched on the metal sling bar of the rifle is probably evidence of the close relationship that she had developed with him and the other raiders while she kept house at Brown’s Maryland headquarters in the summer of 1859.  Konowal himself found that Dauphin had also inscribed the name of his sister, Isabel, or “Bessie Bell” on the rifle.4  Perhaps Annie had merely done the same thing in order to express her affection.  Looking back as an old woman, Anne did not describe Dauphin either as a lover or a suitor, but as a tender, almost pitiable figure: Dauphin was “more like a girl than a warrior,” wrote Anne, “with his light yellow, curly hair and innocent blue eyes, and face as smooth as a baby's.”  She found him both diffident and quiet, remembering that he never spoke much to anyone except close friends, and was “very affectionate and child like with his friends.”5

            Of course, Henry Thompson was particularly dear to Brown because he was strongly anti-slavery in conviction and a great supporter of his father-in-law.  Henry accompanied Brown to Kansas in 1855, and was one of the lethal sword-wielders in the Pottawatomie incident of May 1856, in which the Browns and some allied neighbors conducted a preemptive strike against pro-slavery conspirators.  Afterward, Brown wanted Henry to go with him to Harper’s Ferry too, but both Ruth and Henry begged off, undoubtedly much to the Old Man's disappointment.6  Instead, two other Thompson boys joined Brown, William (b. 1832) and young Dauphin. Both men tragically perished at Harper's Ferry—William being murdered by his ruthless Virginia captors, and Dauphin bayoneted by a marine at the taking of the armory engine house on October 18, 1859.  To say that the Thompsons paid dearly for their alliance with the Browns is an understatement.  Isabelle Thompson, too, suffered greatly, being left a young widow with a two-month-old baby after her husband, Watson Brown, perished at Harper’s Ferry.  Baby Freddy evidently was named for Brown’s son who was slain in Kansas in 1856.  Unfortunately, Freddy died several years after his father’s death; his small headstone remains in the cemetery at North Elba.  It reads: “Gone Home—August 19, 1863.”  Isabelle remarried after moving to Ohio, but remained an in-law to the larger Brown family when she was wed to a cousin, Salmon Brown, and lived out her days in Wisconsin.7

The Last Moments of Lieutenant Thompson

            Dauphin Osgood Thompson was one of only two men among the raiders to be commissioned by John Brown as a lieutenant.8  He stood his ground and fought fairly, even to the last.  I would take issue with Konowal’s use of the New York Times and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News reportage of the marine assault, which clearly are flawed sources.9  Although I would agree that marine Major William Russell acquired Dauphin’s rifle after he was killed in the engine house, Konowal unknowingly misrepresents his last moments.  First, it is not the case that the marines were exchanging fire with Brown’s men at the point of their breakthrough, since they had been sent into the engine house with strict orders to use only bayonets in order to avoid harming the hostages and enslaved people inside.  Second, although he was the first fatality of the assault, Private Luke Quinn did not enter first through the breach.  Actually, he followed Lieutenant Israel Green and Major William Russell, neither of which was armed with a deadly weapon.  Since Green and Russell were not carrying a gun, it is understandable why the raiders momentarily ceased firing and lowered their carbines.
            However, when armed marines momentarily followed through the breach, Thompson and Anderson realized that their lives were in jeopardy and quickly began to fire their weapons.  This can only be understood based upon the fact that one of the other raiders, probably Edwin Coppoc, wanted to surrender and Brown had called outside that one of his men wanted to give up.10  Unlike Coppoc, Dauphin Thompson and Jeremiah Anderson seem to have hesitated without surrendering, as did John Brown.  Thus, when the first two marine officers entered without weapons, they were not shot, probably because Brown thought they were going to receive the surrendering raider.  Brown later told Major Russell that he easily could have shot him down when he first entered the engine house.  Instead, Lieutenant Green proceeded to attack Brown, even as the other marines poured through the hole. Although Thompson and Anderson were able to shoot one and wound two others, they could not escape the ferocity of the close attack and were impaled quite ruthlessly on marine bayonets.11  In the terror of the final onslaught, poor Dauphin had slid down under one of the fire engines to take cover—his boyish blue eyes filled with terror as his attackers approached and the bayonet found its mark.  
Louis A. DeCaro, Jr.

Nov. 21, 2012
Always glad to get feedback from Jean Libby.  Here's her response (Nov. 20):

Interesting review and depth of new research on the raid.  I believe in Annie's romantic attachment to Dauphin, as testified by her sister Ruth Brown Thompson but more so for a lock of hair found in a leather case on the body of Dauphin.  It was the only thing on his person.  The New York Times writes of it, saying the raider was Albert Hazlett, who was out in the mountains with Osborne Anderson.  With your quotation from her age I can see Annie still with the matching lock from the boyish curls of Dauphin Osgood Thompson. 


            1 The Plains of Abraham: A History of North Elba and Lake Placid: Collected Writings of Mary MacKenzie.  Edited by Lee Manchester (Utica, N.Y.: Nicholas K. Burns Publishing, 2007), p. 97-98.  Some sources erroneously give him the middle name, Adolphus.

            2 Thompson Family of North Elba, Essex County, N.Y.  1850 Census, Schedule I.
Recorded by I. F. Morgan, Ass't Marshal on September 6, 1850.

            3 Mary MacKenzie, More from the Plains of Abraham.  Edited by Lee Manchester (Lake Placid, N.Y.: Makebelieve Publishing, 2008), pp. 85-89; Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., "Fire from the Midst of You": A Religious Life of John Brown (New York: NYU Press, 2002), pp. 173-74; See John Brown to “Dear Wife, & Children,” 20 Oct. 1857, in John Brown Collection of the Chicago History Museum.

            4 Michael J. Konowal, “The Dauphin Thompson Carbine and Brown’s Raid at Harpers Ferry,” Manuscripts 64:4 [Fall 2012]: 280-81.

            5 Katherine Mayo’s notes from letter of Anne Brown Adams to Richard Hinton, 15 Feb.1893 (Hinton Papers, Kansas State Historical Society), in Dauphin Thompson folder, Box 17, Oswald Garrison Villard—John Brown Papers, Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Collection.

            6 While Brown was staying with Frederick Douglass in early 1858, he wrote to his daughter Ruth and asked if she would release her husband, Henry Thompson, to go “to school. . . for another term.”  This was referencing Henry’s valuable role in Kansas, and his desire to have his trusted son-in-law likewise join him in Virginia. “I know of no man living; so well adapted to fill it,” Brown wrote.   In April, Ruth and Henry wrote to Brown, who was working among black expatriates in Canada, that they had mutually agreed that Henry should not join the raiders.  See John Brown to “Wife & Children everyone,” 30 Jan. 1858, in Franklin B. Sanborn, Life and Letters of John Brown (1885; rpt., New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969), pp. 440-41; Henry and Ruth Thompson to “Dear Father,” 21 Apr. 1858, John Brown Collection, #299, Box 1, Folder 31, Kansas State Historical Society.

            7 The Plains of Abraham: A History of North Elba and Lake Placid, pp. 103-04. Also Katherine Mayo’s notes of interview with Annie Brown Adams by Richard Hinton on 23 May 1893 (Hinton Papers, Kansas Historical Society, Hinton Papers), in Watson Brown folder, Box 6, Oswald Garrison Villard—John Brown Papers, Columbia University.

            8 “John Brown’s Invasion.  Cook’s Confession,” New York Tribune, 26 Nov. 1859, p. 7, col. 4.           

            9 The account offered by Leslie’s seems to have been based upon the erroneous New York Times report, published three days after the raid.  Konowal, “The Dauphin Thompson Carbine,” p. 270; “The Negro Insurrection. . . Storming and Capture of the Armory,” New York Times, 19 Oct. 1859, p. 8; See section, “Storming of the Conspirators’ Stronghold,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News, 29 Oct. 1859, p. 336, col. 1.

            10 I am inclined to disagree with Tony Horwitz’s dramatic account at this point, as I believe the only raider in the engine house who wanted to surrender was probably Edwin Coppoc, whereas Tony presents Dauphin Thompson and Jeremiah Anderson as having tried to surrender, and Coppoc as trying to fight on with Brown.  Although one cannot be definitive about what transpired in those last, heated moments, it does not make sense that Thompson and Anderson would try to surrender and then pick up their guns and start shooting at the marines.  More likely, Coppoc saved himself by dropping his weapon and standing nearby with the hostages, all of which had their hands upraised in a posture of surrender in order to avoid the deadly marine assault.  Whether or not Coppoc’s gun misfired, as Horwitz says, is not clear.  Either way, he had probably put it down right away in order to save his life.  See Tony Horwitz, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011), pp. 178-80.
            11 See my essay, “The Slavemasters’ Butcher: Israel Green and the ‘Capture’ of John Brown,” in John Brown, Emancipator (New York, 2012), pp. 68-81.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Nussbaum's "End of John Brown"

A friend called my attention to a posting on the website Ask Art, which features the painting, "The End of John Brown," by the late Ervin Nussbaum.  Unfortunately, you have to pay to get membership access to this website, which is geared to art collectors, dealers, and students, so the only image available is somewhat small.  According to The Voice, an online publication based in Winsted, Connecticut, "The End of John Brown" was donated to the Torrington Historical Society, Torrington, Connecticut (the place of John Brown's birth in 1800) by the artist's widow, Muriel Nussbaum, in September 2001.  It is described as a "large oil painting."
Ervin B. Nussbaum, "The End of John Brown" (1940)
Torrington Historical Society (Torrington, Conn.)

Although I am hardly an expert on such matters, I find this a hauntingly beautiful image, fascinating and intense in depiction.  To be sure, it is historically inaccurate as far as Brown's last hour and ride to the site of his gallows in Charlestown, Virginia, on December 2, 1859.  There were no citizens present in the procession from the jail to the open field where he was hanged.  The town was heavily endowed with militia by order of the governor; with few exceptions, citizens were proscribed from viewing the hanging.  Fearing that Virginia might be invaded by Brown's allies, slave masters were encouraged to stay home and guard their "property," which included their human chattel.  As suggested in this painting, Brown indeed sat on his coffin in a (furniture) wagon, but he was dressed in a dark suit with red slippers, and a black (wide-brimmed) "slouch hat."  Certainly he would not have presented such a slumped and defeated appearance.  From beginning to end, John Brown appeared cool, confident, and courageous--something that won him a small measure of sympathy from some onlookers.  Finally, despite the beautifully dismal shades of brown in the painting, the morning of December 2nd was sunny and unseasonably warm.  One of the last things Brown said pertained to the beauty of the western Virginia countryside.

Still, Nussbaum apparently grasped the heaviness of Brown's whole time as a prisoner in Virginia.  He was deeply and passionately hated and would have been lynched were it not for the military.  Local editors railed against him, and streams of visitors took advantage of visitation rights to verbally harangue and castigate him and the imprisoned Harper's Ferry raiders quite often.  Besides the surrounding hostility and contempt, the picture perhaps represents the larger sense of human interest that pushed in on John Brown, even as it pushed him forward to the gallows.  We have long forgotten, but in the stormy weeks between the raid and his death, he was the foremost subject of newspapers of the day.  The whole nation was fixated upon the little jail in Charlestown, and the whole nation read detailed accounts of his final hours and courageous walk up the stairs of the gallows to his execution.  The subject of "The End of John Brown" is not so much a prisoner of Virginia militia, but a brooding outcast who seems resigned to die while being crowded by the southern people who found him both repugnant and irresistible.  It is the people who escort him away, not the vaguely suggested soldiers who lead the procession.  This is a great interpretive work, and I would love to have a reproduction.  "The End of John Brown" (1940) won first prize at the Central Ohio Competition in 1941 and was shown at the San Francisco Museum, the Butler Art Institute, the Philadelphia Academy and the Corcoran Gallery.

Ervin B. Nussbaum
(The Hour, 11 Nov. 1994)
The Artist

From what I have been able to glean online, Nussbaum was born in Columbus, Ohio, on November 11, 1914, and was a graduate of Ohio State University.  After winning the Central Ohio Prize, "The End of John Brown" was exhibited throughout the United States.  Nussbaum's years in New York City entailed a range of work, from non-objective canvases to semi-abstract landscapes done in city parks, the New England countryside, and along the shore.  He later focused on Hebraic themes, and was commissioned to do a bronze sculpture for the Trumbull Library in Connecticut.  He also created a wooden bas-relief for Temple Emanuel in Yonkers, N.Y.  Nussbaum also did sculptures of exotic birds in wood, metal, or combination of media.  Nussbaum died in Norwalk, Connecticut, on January 22, 1996, where he had lived for thirty-six years. He had also worked as a professional graphic designer and illustrator prior to his retirement. His work is in the permanent collections of the Columbus Art Museum, the Frankfort Art Museum, and the Norwalk Museum.

Thanks to Norman Marshall for calling this painting to my attention--LD


"Ervin B. Nussbaum (1914-1996)," Ask Art website.

"Sackler Gallery show spotlights Ervin Nussbaum." The Hour [Norwalk, Ct.], 11 Nov. 1994, p. 15

"Ervin Nussbaum: Illustrator, graphic designer." The Hour, 24 Jan. 1996, p. 27.

"Book Signing at Torrington Historical Society."  The Voice News [Winsted, Conn.], 25 Oct. 2002.

Friday, October 26, 2012

"The Sentiment of Mercy": Emerson on Brown
"It would be nearer the truth to say that all people, in proportion to their sensibility and self-respect, sympathize with John Brown.  For it is impossible to see courage and disinterestedness and the love that casts out fear, without sympathy.  All gentlemen, of course, are on his side.  I do not mean by 'gentlemen' people of scented hair and perfumed handkerchief, but men of gentle blood and generosity, 'fulfilled with all nobleness'. . . . The sentiment of mercy is the natural recoil which the laws of the universe provide to protect mankind from destruction by savage passions.  The arch-abolitionist, older than Brown, and older than the Shenandoah Mountains, is Love, whose other name is Justice. . . ."
Excerpted from Emerson's speech at Salem, Mass., on January 6, 1860.  Also quoted by F. B. Sanborn, "Comment by a Radical Abolitionist," The Century (July 1883), p. 415.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

On this date--
John Brown's trial begins in Charlestown, Virginia, October 25, 1859

Osawatomie Notebook--
Pro-Brown Preachers Helped to Shape His Historical Legacy
The Case of Reverend S.H. Taft 

Grady Atwater *

John Brown was eulogized by abolitionist ministers in the north following his execution for his raid on Harpers Ferry, Va., one of them being an abolitionist minister named Rev. S.H. Taft of the Church of Martinsburgh, N.Y., who delivered a eulogy for John Brown on Dec. 12, 1859.  Rev. Taft’s sermon illustrates the salutatory nature of the sermons and how they helped to build John Brown’s image as a major figure in American history, and his role in combatting proslavery forces in Kansas Territory.

“My text this afternoon, my hearers, is ‘John Brown,’” Rev. Taft wrote. “You will find it recorded in all the newspapers of the land and it will yet be inscribed in bold characters on the record of the World’s History!”

Rev. Taft argued that John Brown was not executed for his Harpers Ferry raid, but for his success in his militant abolitionist crusade in Kansas Territory, and wrote: “For be it known, my hearers, Brown was not executed for his tragic conquest of Harpers Ferry; he was taken prisoner, tried and condemned for this; but he was executed for having driven the myrmidons of slavery from Kansas.”

Rev. Taft further stated that John Brown’s actions in Kansas had so inflamed the spirit of revenge in southerners that they hung him in Harpers Ferry.  “But they remembered that to John Brown, more than any other man, the slave power owed its signal defeat in Kansas,” he wrote. “Such a crime could know not forgiveness, neither in gubernatorial mansion nor in the Legislative halls of Virginia.”

Rev. Taft further wrote that John Brown was a leader in the Free State forces and was an extremely effective guerilla fighter:
When the marauding forces led on by Atchison, Stringfellow and others were pouring into Kansas to overthrow the three great bulwarks of liberty – freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the ballot box – Mr. Brown gathered around him a band of faithful, upright men (for he would never allow a profane or unprincipled man in his camp), and went forth to defend the right. So successfully did he contend with the foe, that his name became at once a tower of strength to the Free State party, while it inspired corresponding terror in the hearts of the slaveholder and his allies.
Rev. Taft further argued that John Brown’s abolitionist crusade was successful at combatting slavery in Missouri: “A Southern writer lately said that the decrease in slavery in Missouri is so rapid that ‘Whole counties would soon be without a single bondman.’”

Certainly, Rev. S.H. Taft’s sermon alone did not establish the historical importance of Brown’s abolitionist crusade in Kansas Territory.  However, abolitionist ministers across the north eulogized Brown and extolled his actions in Kansas Territory following his execution in Charlestown, and helped build up Brown’s militant abolitionist crusade in Kansas into a major event in American history that is still studied today.

Grady Atwater is the John Brown State Historic Site Administrator in Osawatomie, Kansas.  This article was originally published in The Osawatomie Graphic, 24  Oct. 2012, under the title, "Sermons boost Brown's legacy."   It is used by kind permission of the author.--Ed.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shetterly's portrait of John Brown, with the
abolitionist's famous last written words
(Adirondack Almanack)
Take Note!--
North Country Event Remembers Emancipation, New Portrait of John Brown Introduced

According to The Adirondack Almanack (9 Oct.)John Brown Lives! and North Country Community College have announced that Robert Shetterly, an artist from Maine, will present his portrait of John Brown during a program in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, New York, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2012.  The program, "Freedom Now, Freedom Then: The Long History of Emancipation," is designed for students, educators and the general public.  Shetterly's portrait of the abolitionist is the latest addition to his project, "Americans Who Tell the Truth," which the artist began ten years ago.  Shetterly's portraits include both contemporary and historical figures and feature their own words in order to provide a “link between a community of people who struggled for justice in our past and a community of people who are doing it now.” The project now includes more than 180 individuals of note, Brown following such historical figures as Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth and Mark Twain.  The Brown portrait will be unveiled on Friday, Nov. 30th at North Country Community College, Saranac Lake campus, at the opening program of “Freedom Now, Freedom Then: The Long History of Emancipation.”
Artist Robert Shetterly
(Americans Who Tell the Truth website)

With a focus on high school and college students as well as their teachers, the program features an exciting array of important guests: independent scholar Amy Godine,  Kenneth Morris, Jr., the great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass and President of The Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, and Civil War Memory blogger Kevin Levin make educational presentations to students. A major component of the work of John Brown Lives!, an organization founded by activist Martha Swan, has been provide teachers excellent opportunities to interact with historians, scholars, and anti-slavery activists and artists.  In this program, Heaven Hill Farm in Lake Placid will be the venue for a full day of programs featuring Dr. Gloria Marshall-Browne on freedom and the Founding Documents; Dr. Margaret Washington on women and emancipation; Civil War Memory blogger Kevin Levin on film and emancipation; Magpie, the folk duo, on emancipation in song; Artist Robert Shetterly on art to promote courageous citizenship; Morris, President of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation, on engaging youth, congregations and communities in emancipation today; and Dr. Franny Nudelman on emancipation our texts and textbooks.  David W. Blight, preeminent scholar on the U.S. Civil War, will give the closing keynote address, “The Historical Memory of the Civil War and Emancipation at 150” on Saturday night in Lake Placid (venue to be determined). Blight is the Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University and the author of numerous award-winning books and publications.

For more information, presenter bios, and a complete schedule of workshops, film and music programs, visit John Brown Lives! on Facebook or contact either Martha Swan, Executive Director John Brown Lives!, or Cammy Sheridan, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences at North Country Community College. Swan may be reached at 518-962-4798 or info@johnbrownlives.org. Sheridan is available at 518-891-2915, ext. 1271 or csheridan@nccc.edu.