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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, March 30, 2012

John Brown News

California Teenage John Brown Scholar in National History Day Competition

On Friday, March 9, 2012, Keegan McLean, a seventh grader in California, won the National History Day competition for his division. This year's theme is "Revolution, Reaction, and Reform," and Keegan's topic is John Brown. I was happy to be one of his resources for his project, a website that won him first place in his division.  Keegan will be competing in the State History Day competition in Riverside, California this month.  Congratulations Keegan!  Best wishes for the state and national competitions ahead.

Yesterday John Brown's Trial, Today Videoconferencing

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Court officials from eight states and the District of Columbia will observe two mock trials in Charles Town next week to see how West Virginia provides language interpreters from afar.

A demonstration of the state's multi-cast videoconferencing unit is set for Thursday at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Charles Town. The historic building where abolitionist John Brown was convicted of treason in 1859 was chosen to show the system can work in any kind of facility.

Excerpted from Associated Press, "W. Va. Courts to Showcase Remote Interpreter System."  The Northwestern.org [Oshkosh, Wis.], 30 Mar. 2012

Harper's Ferry Raider Aaron Stevens Remembered

Lisbon Connecticut Historical Society
Aaron D. Stevens, who preferred his middle name, Dwight, was born on a farm on Route 169 in Lisbon in 1831. He worked on the family farm, becoming a passionate antislavery advocate in his youth. His cousin and close friend was Charles Whipple, whose name Stevens used by an alias later, during the conflict over the Kansas territory. His first departure from Connecticut was to fight in the Mexican War.  After returning home, Stevens again enlisted in the army, going west in 1851.  Following a conflict with an officer, Stevens was court-martialed and jailed in 1855.  Stevens shortly escaped and joined the free state forces in Kansas under Jim Lane, through which he--as Capt. Charles Whipple--made connections with John Brown.  Stevens later participated in Brown's famous Missouri raid in late 1858, in which eleven enslaved people were liberated and escorted across country and into Canada.  Stevens finally followed John Brown to Harper's Ferry in October 1859, where he was seriously wounded when the effort failed.  Stevens was jailed, tried, and convicted in the same Virginia court that condemned Brown.  Brown was hanged in December 1859 and Stevens followed him on the gallows in March 1860.  In his last letter to Jenny Dunbar, a young woman that he admired, Stevens wrote: “Slavery demands that we should hang for its protection. I regret nothing except I will not live to see this country free.”  He is buried near Brown in North Elba, N.Y., nearby Lake Placid.

Inspired by a somewhat flawed article by Richard Curland, "Historically Speaking: Lisbon man aided famed abolitionist."  The Bulletin [Norwich, Conn.], 24 Mar. 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ashtabula County History Program--
They Hid John Brown's Weapons in Ohio

According to a report in the Tribune Chronicle of Warren, Ohio, a descendant of John Brown’s associates in Ashtabula County made a presentation about the abolitionist last week.  The descendant is Linda Lipps, a great grand niece of Alexander Fobes, a brother-in-law of John Brown Jr.   The Fobes-Brown connection was based on the fact that Fobes and John Jr. married sisters, Eunicia and Wealthy Hotchkiss.  John Jr. and Wealthy were settlers in the Kansas territory in 1854, along with his brother Jason and family, and other sons of John Brown.  It was John Jr.’s letter of appeal for help in the spring of 1855 that brought his father to the territory with a wagon full of weapons.

According to Mrs. Lipps, her forebear, Esther Fobes, a sister of Alexander Fobes, was a lifetime resident of Ashtabula County, and died at age ninety-five.  She dictated many of her memories of Brown to her family members.  Inspired by these stories and knowledge of this connection to John Brown, Lipps has done research in local history about Brown and the raid.

This is an interesting story, coming as it does through the Fobes family line.  The Fobes not only had a connection to the Brown family through marriage, but some actually helped him by hiding his weapons in Ashtabula County in the months prior to the Harper’s Ferry raid in 1859.  According to Oswald Garrison Villard, Kansas rifles, pistols, and ammunition were shipped through Iowa to Ohio, where they were shuttled around a number of places in Ashtabula County, including a hiding space on the farm of E. Alexander Fobes in Lindenville, Ohio.  In 1909, Oswald Garrison Villard’s field researcher, Katherine Mayo, visited Ashtabula County and interviewed a number of surviving contemporaries of Brown.  One person, A. B. Noxon (a Fobes son-in-law) also recalled that E. Alexander Fobes and his cousin Franklin Fobes later helped John Brown Jr. move the weapons into Pennsylvania, where they were then shipped by canal to Brown.  The latter Fobes was a cooper by profession, and was the one who packaged the weapons in wooden containers, marking them, “Isaac Smith,” Brown’s pseudonym in Maryland and Virginia.  The weapons were finally freighted to Brown in Chambersburg, Pa., and moved by wagon to Brown’s Maryland headquarters. 

Apparently, Lipps’ attitude toward Brown is not new in her family.  According to the Mayo’s interview notes, Eunicia Fobes, John Brown Jr.’s sister-in-law, lived long enough to recount her family’s involvement with the Harper’s Ferry raiders. According to Mayo, Fobes recalled that the guns were hidden in a sugarhouse in the woods.  Fobes herself disliked John Brown, thinking of him as conceited because he seemed to think “himself capable of doing anything.”  Looking back over the years, the elderly Fobes thus recalled the famous Brown self-assurance and stubborn self-determination, a characteristic that we know about from other sources.  However, Fobes also resented Brown because he never paid them for holding the guns.  Apparently, she did not share the same convictions as the Browns.  "He seemed to think it our duty to contribute that to the cause,” she told Mayo. “It made me angry."   

Over one hundred years after that interview, her descendant has mixed feelings about John Brown too.  Although she believes him to have been “courageous,” she finds “his methods questionable.”  It is quite possible that her ambivalent attitude toward John Brown is part of the family’s legacy passed down over the generations:  When the Fobes family heard about the Harper’s Ferry attack, they did not support the idea.  Fobes relative A. B. Noxon told Mayo in 1909 that when news of the raid reached them in Ashtabula County, they thought Brown "injudicious and wrong." But they knew he would be hanged, and they were sympathetic. 

See Bob Coupland, “Gustavus couple share history,” Tribune Chronicle [Warren, Oh.], 11 Mar. 2012.  

And a Really Super
Postscript from Our Expert in the Field, Scott Wolfe

Just a note to comment upon the interesting posting in regard to E. A. Fobes of Lindenville, Ohio. It should be remembered that the Fobes farm was not merely the place that weaponry and other supplies were clandestinely kept....but also a rendezvous point for a number of the members of Brown's Provisional Army. In particular, William Leeman (who was to die at Harpers Ferry), Charles Wesley Moffett and Luke Francis Parsons spent a good deal of time at the Fobes place during late 1858 and early 1859. It was at this time (after the Chatham Convention) that the indiscretions of "drillmaster" Hugh Forbes necessitated a delay in Brown's plans...and the men had scattered about northeastern Ohio to find work. 

     Leeman was employed by Fobes for a significant portion of the summer, and the latter is mentioned frequently in his letters.  For example, in one dated 7/4/1858 to his sister Mattie, Leeman explains the tardy receipt of an epistle by writing: "...it was not directed to the care of E.A. Fobes which accounts for it not being forwarded to me...."

     Moffett also was employed in the vicinity.  In a letter from Luke Parsons to William Leeman dated 11/14/1858, the former writes: "...started for home a going by C. Moffatt...to see if he had heard from any of the boys. I stoped out in the road in front of his house and hollered, he came out and told me to go in. I would not, but he took holde of my hoarse and led him in the barn. So I went in and found E.A. Foabs and wife, Martha and Louisa there eating a roasted turkey...."

     Parsons also assisted Fobes. In two diary entries of 4 and 7 March 1859, Parsons writes: "A.E. Foabs and I gathered about sixteen barrels of sap. Charlie (Moffett) boiled all down in one day." And: "Helped Foabs gather sap and boiled it in the evening. Charlie and I went up to John Brown Jr's."

     All in all, E.A. Fobes is an exceedingly important character in the events leading up to the Harpers Ferry incursion. I'm glad you recognized him in the blog entry.

Best wishes,
Scott W.

* H. Scott Wolfe is the Historical Librarian of the Galena, Illinois, Public Library District and now a regular correspondent and contributor to this blog. He has devoted many years of grassroots research on John Brown, the Harper's Ferry raiders, and related themes.

Bloated Bloggers--
Blustering Al Benson versus John Brown

I used to get annoyed, even angry, at bloggers and other internet trollers who wrote malicious things about the Old Man.  The truth is that one could waste a lot of time sniping and fighting with self-assured idiots and racists over their remarks about John Brown because they frequently appear on line.  Of course I've learned that these people are speaking from their hearts first, not their intelligence.  They are hateful, prejudiced, and malicious in intent.  They are not people of reason or learning, so they do not merit engagement.  I've learned to ignore them.  Indeed, only a handful of anti-Brown critics bear any kind of notice, mainly because they write from positions of influence and intelligence, and for the most part they are academics who throw out insinuations and half-truths.  Right now I'm working on a piece about Otto Scott, a rabid anti-Brown author now deceased, that I'll be posting shortly.  Scott was malicious in intent, but he was a thoughtful and able writer despite his gross errors and racism, and should at least be dismissed at the intellectual level because his clever volume on Brown and the "Secret Six" is treated as the definitive work by neo-Confederates, crypto-racist Southern Calvinists, and other right-wingers with an agenda that includes bashing the Old Man.

Then there are people like Al Benson Jr., a man that I do not know and do not wish to know.  Benson has a blog called Revisedhistory and is currently on a rant against the Old Man that reveals a depth of ignorance and hatred that could only come from a neo-Confederate or someone who thinks like one.  I find it hilarious--a comedy of errors composed by someone intelligent enough to read, write, and keep a blog, but little more than that.


Benson's bluster is probably provoked by Tony Horwitz's recent publication, Midnight Rising, which has garnered more media attention on the Subject than anything we've seen in this era.  Whether or not Midnight Rising will have the impact upon scholars and historians that David Reynold's John Brown Abolitionist is another question.  Tony's book is written for a wider and more popular readership and has been marketed and promoted in an unprecedented manner, and although I have significant differences with him over key themes in the John Brown story, his reading of the Old Man is much closer to mine in comparison to people like Benson.  The latter's reaction suggests that extreme right-wing neo-Confederates just can't stand the amount of attention that Brown has gotten lately, and apparently Midnight Rising has Benson's prejudiced blood rising too.  This is what makes his harangue so hilarious, so entertaining. Benson's multi-part rant (which is still in process) has thus far two segments under the title, "John Brown-from business failure to terrorist and media hero."  He begins his diatribe with this profound declaration: "Much has been written about John Brown of Harpers Ferry, Virginia fame over the years.  And much of  it is historical and political goop."  Goop?

Re: Obama, of Course

After recounting some inane anecdote about how Kansans love John Brown (which is a generalization, by the way), he writes: "Why do you suppose that Obama went to Osawatomie, Kansas to give that speech awhile back?  That's John Brown territory and Obama knows it.  He was identifying with the crowd that thinks John Brown was the greatest thing since sliced bread."  This pretty much establishes the trajectory of Benson's writing: he doesn't know history and he's a reactionary bigot.  Actually, President Obama went to Osawatomie to speak because that's where Teddy Roosevelt spoke in 1910, fairly well exploiting the John Brown historic site to make a speech about his political objectives, and did so virtually without mentioning Brown in his speech!  Afterward, Roosevelt wrote an article diminishing Brown in favor of Lincoln to avoid being associated too closely with Brown.  President Obama never once mentioned John Brown either, which shows he was following Roosevelt's strategy more than identifying with the Old Man.

Consider the Source(s)

Benson fairly well seals it in the rest of the first entry, citing his two main sources: Otto Scott's twice published assault on Brown and the "Secret Six" and J. C. Furnas', The Road to Harper's Ferry.  In fact, both books are anti-Brown, and neither is based upon original research, nor does either have any value to John Brown scholarship.  To no surprise, these are the works that Benson cites for his information on Brown, although he clearly is aware of other published efforts.   But this kind of narrow prejudice and selective reading is what defines conservative and right-wing historical treatments, allowing people like Benson to scream "historical revision"--as if their narration of history is truth and everyone else's is just "goop."

The second installment of Benson's right-wing tirade is more of the same.  He starts with a reference to a review of David Reynold's book (I suppose Benson wouldn't want to dirty his Sadducee hands by actually picking it up and reading it), in which he laments that all "progressive" treatments of John Brown are "socialist," then some gratuitous references to "terrorists" like Che Guevara and Bill Ayres versus the noble Tea Party, with the conclusion, "You can see why John Brown looks so much better when socialists are running the country."

Benson's Bitterness

Benson's bitterness is seething and it is really evident that he's using his hatred of John Brown to vent his own warped hatred of the current Presidential administration and all things not right-wing.  The fact that right-wingers cannot distinguish between liberal capitalism and socialism is itself a sign that most of the anti-Obama "socialist" claptrap reflects the political and historical ignorance of the Right.  Benson is just too ignorant to reason with, but his blogging extravaganza is at least illustrative, which is why I'm spending time on it here.   While I'm hardly a spokesman for liberal politics, I cannot help but point out that it is liberals who have contributed the most intelligent, thoughtful, and reasoned political discourse, and without liberal scholars, there would have been no explosion of in depth research on slavery, abolition, and the histories of people of color that has taken place over the past forty years.  Benson fairly well highlights just how politically and historically stupid so many self-proclaimed conservatives happen to be.


Yet the heart of Benson's second segment is his vituperations against John Brown's Calvinist faith and Puritan legacy.  He writes:
I have also read, over the years, some comments by writers who actually considered people like John Brown and Thaddeus Stevens to be Calvinists! Where they came up with such flights of fancy I have no idea–maybe from the same people who blithely inform us that Abraham Lincoln was a Bible-believing Christian. One is as equally ludicrous as the other. But that seems to be the trend today. Demonize Christian Southerners and try to make agnostic and apostate Northerners look like Christian crusaders.
I don't know if Benson has read my religious life of John Brown.  I doubt his reading on Brown has gone beyond the Southern partisanship that he evidences in such words.  While I would agree that Lincoln has often been made far more a Christian than he was in reality, it is not "equally ludicrous" to say that Brown was a devout evangelical Christian and Calvinist.   By all accounts, Brown was as much an advocate of the Reformed doctrines of grace as was the errant Southern general, Thomas Jackson.  In fact, I have often said that apart from their view of slavery and "race," Brown and Jackson were cut from very similar cloth, and they have similar profiles as devout Christian men in the reminiscences of their followers and associates.  

Brown's upbringing in the Reformed Congregational church, with its deep roots in the English Reformation and the Great Awakening is a matter of history.  Nor was he a creature of the New Side and experimental evangelical movements of his era as some historians like to claim.  Brown was fairly conventional if not backward looking in his Reformed theology, so much so that liberal Christians like Franklin Sanborn and Thomas Higginson were the ones who recognized that Brown's religion was wed to the historic evangelicalism of the Protestant Reformation.  Brown made profession of faith in Christ at sixteen years of age and joined the First Congregational Church of Hudson, Ohio, although he was reared in a home as replete with evangelicalism as it was with anti-slavery doctrine.  He never withdrew his membership as a Congregationalist officially, although he widened his practice of worship to include other evangelical churches during his lifetime.  He was a voracious Bible student throughout his life, a constant gadfly to his sons' liberal and spiritualist tendencies, and even fairly good apologist for Calvinism over against advocates of Wesleyan-Arminianism.   His letters, while largely personal and occasionally motivated, reflect many personal references to his faith in Christ, his belief in Scripture, and his devout belief in the singular claims of Christianity upon humanity.  To deny this as does Benson is, frankly and flatly, prejudice. 

Bearded Fundamentalists

After making a mess of Brown's religion, Benson brings part two to a close by noting that Tony Horwitz  "noted that Brown was a terrorist," which probably is more a reference to a piece in the New York Times that Tony did a year prior to the publication of his book.  To be sure, Tony seems to believe that Brown was a religiously oriented terrorist, although he is more careful in how he frames his presentation in Midnight Rising, somewhat setting up the reader to draw that conclusion without proclaiming it himself.  Yet Benson objects to Tony's reference to Brown as a "bearded fundamentalist," concluding: "Let’s don’t try to tar the Fundamentalists with John Brown’s brush. That’s grossly unfair to them. Otto Scott’s comments about Brown’s theology, or lack thereof, show that Horwitz was off base on this point."

This is hilarious stuff.  It reveals nothing about Brown, but a great deal about Benson and his ilk, the ultimate historical revisionists.  These are the folks who are bent on making the antebellum South--so full of cruelty, rape, theft of labor, and heart-rending injustice--as if it were a land of godliness, piety, and biblical orthodoxy.  It is comical that a man with so little understanding of the historical facts, and one so dependent upon discredited and useless narratives, should enter such trash under the heading of historical revision without realizing his own role in the perpetuation of the slave master's revision.

I have no intention of reading Benson's next installment, nor will I revisit his blog.  But highlighting his folly should not only give us a good laugh.  Afterward it serves also as a sober reminder that John Brown is hated because what he represented challenged the forces of evil in places high and low.  As the gospel writer put it, "men love darkness rather than light" (John 3:19), and this romancing of the Old South is darkness.  Indeed, as Jesus said to the enemies of righteousness in his day, 'If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, 'We see,' your guilt remains" (John 9:41).

Saturday, March 10, 2012

West Coast Update--
Jean Libby Writes

Much gratitude to all who made the program “Santa Clara County Connections to the Civil War” at the Sunnyvale Public Library on March 7 a public history event.

African welcome was created by Keisha and Peter Evans, the proprietors of Pan African City Alive!  in Sunnyvale (www.panafricancity.com), a community resource for all things Africentric that was appreciated by the audience of more than 100 people.

The welcome was notable for the sharing of an artefact of the John Brown raid, an 1853 Sharps rifle, by Mick Konowal, who is a senior attorney for Microsoft Corporation at their Washington state headquarters.  It had been owned (his name hand-engraved on the stock) by Dauphin Thompson.  It was taken from his hands at the time he was bayoneted to death by the U.S. Marines in the enginehouse at Harpers Ferry on October 18, 1859.  For 152 years the carbine was in the family of Major William Worthington Russell, as well as a pike that was identified by serial number as taken from the raid.

Many thanks to Tony Horwitz, the author of Midnight Rising; John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War (Henry Holt, 2011) for recommending me to Mick Konowal, and especially to the new owner of the artefacts for sharing his treasures in public history spirit.  Mick has a Certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Washington and is a member of the Manuscript Society.  He can be reached at mkonowal@hotmail.com

Members of the South Bay and San Francisco Civil War Round Tables assisted with viewing the rifle.  (www.sbcwrt.org)  Larry Gonzalez of SBCWRT and Debbie Grace, re-enactor and cannon specialist, did the honors posts.

The John Brown Photo Chronology, authored and curated by Jean Libby is on view at the Sunnyvale Public Library until March 17.  I am very grateful to Bill Noyes and these organizations for workshops and installation.

John William Templeton spoke about the Underground Railroad in California, documentation for which begins in 1850 in San Jose.  John’s style is always interactive, and this program is no exception.  He spoke about Rev. Peter Williams Cassey, the first ordained Episcopal deacon of color in the West, connected with the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in San Jose, founded in 1863.   His interests and publications on black technology innovators in Silicon Valley (another name for the heart of Santa Clara County ) and jazz are welcome as well.  (www.Californiablackhistory.com)

‘Am I Not John Brown’s Daughter?’ Annie Brown in the Civil War, took on new meaning with the discovery of “ANNIE” etched secretly behind the sling bar on Dauphin Thompson’s rifle.  Annie was fifteen when she was with her father’s army at the Kennedy Farm in Maryland in the summer of 1859.  Dauphin and his brother William Thompson as well as Annie’s brothers Oliver and Watson Brown were all killed in the raid.  Her grief was alleviated a bit by becoming a teacher among freedmen at Fortress Monroe in Hampton Roads, Virginia in 1863, at Rolleston, the confiscated mansion of the former governor, Henry A. Wise.  Documentation grows to support this part of Annie Brown’s story.  Sources:  “Living Legacies of Harpers Ferry” by Sandra Weber of Pennsylvania in Civil War Times Illustrated, February 2005 and Robert F. Engs, Freedom’s First Generation: Black Hampton, Virginia 1861-1890 (Fordham University Press, 2004). Thank you, Sandra, for your warm and excellent work (longtime John Brown Scholar).

Members of the Santa Clara County Historical and Genealogical Society, who also came to Mary Brown’s birthday party at the Saratoga Community Library on April 15, 2011, were back in Sunnyvale.  Special thanks to Mary Hanel at the Santa Clara City Library.  We look forward to including your presentation about Sarah Brown at Mary Brown and Her Daughters’ Homecoming in Saratoga at Hakone Gardens on September 25, 2012 (www.alliesforfreedom.org/Mary_Anne_Day_Brown_birthday.html).

Alice Mecoy, descendant of Annie Brown Adams, is scheduled to keynote the Saratoga Homecoming event in September.

The community audience included Mattie Tinsley from African American Heritage House in San Jose.

Journalism coverage is under the auspices of Create TV, who will have a broadcast on Channel 15 Comcast that includes interviews at Pan African City Alive! and the library event.  Thomas Libby, history columnist at California Lawyer Magazine, will follow up with the legal side of the New Almaden Quicksilver Mines and attempted seizure by President Abraham Lincoln in May, 1863, presented by Bill Noyes as the third portion of the program.   Bill's presentation is based on the work of R. Larry Comstock for SBCWRT.

Susan Denniston, administrative librarian at the Sunnyvale Public Library, and the staff made it all happen.  Thank you, Susan, for your flexibility and  making guns and elephants and even a giraffe right at home.

With gratitude and smiles,

Jean Libby
Allies for Freedom