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"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

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Tuesday, 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.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

History Speaks for Itself--
Thomas Jefferson and Blacks: Gradual Emancipation and Deportation, or "shudder at the prospect held up"

"The day is not far distant when the public mind must bear it and adopt it, or worse will follow.  Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate, than that these people [i.e., blacks] are to be free; not is it less certain that these races, equally free, cannot live in the same Government.  Nature, habits, opinion, have drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.  It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation and deportation, and in such a slow degree as that the evil wear off insensibly, and their place be pari passu filled up with free white laborers.  If on the contrary it is left to force itself on, human nature must shudder at the prospect held up.  We should in vain look for an example in the Spanish deportation or depletion of the Moors."

Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography Draft Fragment, Feb. 8, 1821, American Memory: The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Series 1(Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress).

Thursday, October 04, 2012


When and Where: Saturday, October 20, 2012,  Golden Auditorium, Colgate University, Hamilton NY 13346, 2:30 pm    

Robert Djed Snead, "Search for the Real Life of J.W. Loguen,"  Saturday, October 20, 2012     Golden Auditorium    Colgate University    Hamilton NY 13346 7:00 pm  

Robert Djed Snead,  "I Find No Fault in Him,"  Sunday October 21, 2012
Onondaga Historical Association, 321 Montgomery St, Syracuse NY 13202 11a - 4p     

Freedom Bound: Jermain Wesley Loguen & Jerry Rescue 2 pm         

Abolitionist Amble: Walking Tour of Syracuse Abolition Sites 
Reserve by October 16, 315-428-1864, ext 312 LUNCHEON & DINNER INFORMATION AND RESERVATION,  11:30 am Buffet Luncheon Catered by the Colgate Inn at the Hall of Presidents, Colgate University

Keynote: Honoring Tubman in 2013: Kate Clifford Larson PhD   4:45 pm, Dinner catered by the Colgate Inn at the Hall of Presidents, Colgate University

Keynote: NYS Historian Robert Weible, "An Irrepressible Conflict, New York State in the Civil War."   Dinner selection Chicken Piccata, Pork Loin or Vegetarian - BY OCT. 9!
To Reserve Meals and For More Information:   www.nationalabolitionhalloffameandmuseum.org   mercantile.gerritsmith.org   nahofm1835@gmail.com   Phone: 315-684-3262