History, Research, and Current Themes

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

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

From the Field:
“Sweet is the Memory of the Just”
Images of the Old Hudson Township Burying Ground, Amongst Other Recollections

by H. Scott Wolfe*

       Back…back…in the days of yore, I would customarily devote my vacation time to the active pursuit of John Brown and his men. For more years than I wish to admit, I would load the camper shell on the trusty Chevy pickup and hit the old lonesome highway in search of something excitingly new that was decidedly old. Stirring times, I must say they were.


Sometimes I would traverse the State of Iowa, following the long-forgotten track of the “Jim Lane Trail,” an overland route to Kansas once utilized by antislavery folk (including John Brown) in order to evade the proslaver’s blockade of the Missouri River. I would cross the prairies they crossed; encounter the streams they encountered; and camp in the villages in which they camped.

Beginning in Springdale, at the lonely spot where the Old Man’s recruits trained for the Harpers Ferry incursion…I would meander all the way to Tabor, in the southwest corner of the state. There I would be compelled to jackknife myself, to view the mud-walled cellar of the home of the Reverend John Todd…the very place where those Sharps rifles that made it to the Ferry were once stored. And, of course, there were many other sights to see on my journey…ranging from weed-clogged Mormon cemeteries, to the covered “Bridges of Madison County,” to elaborate country weddings…the field-tanned participants resplendent in pastel leisure suits.

Once Across the Wide Missouri, I would gorge on pancakes at the “John Brown Family Restaurant” in Nebraska City, Nebraska (Birthplace of Arbor Day!!). Close by was “John Brown’s Cave,” and the cabin of Allen and Barbara Ann Mayhew…the latter being the sister of the Old Man’s Secretary of War, John Henri Kagi. And then into northern Kansas, where I explored the Nemaha country and strolled the banks of Pony Creek, where William Leeman…that tragic victim in the Potomac…tried to make a go of it as a pioneer farmer.

And, finally, Free State Topeka, where I would spend a week at the old Kansas State Historical Society, sifting through the Richard Hinton and John Brown manuscript collections…overworking both their copy machines and their staff members, who sacrificed a considerable amount of shoe leather to my esoteric requests.


"Days of driving. . . ."
And sometimes I would point that trusty Chevy toward the eastern regions…to places such as Charleston, West Virginia. It was there that I would set up housekeeping in a convenient Red Roof Inn on the banks of the Kanawha. Each morning, my lungs filled with the fragrant emissions of a multitude of oil refineries and chemical plants, I would “commute” to the West Virginia Department of Archives and History…to view the “Holy Grail,” the Boyd Stutler Collection.

Day after day…the beard growing to John Brown proportions…my overworked eyeballs bulging like the Old Man’s in the Curry painting…I would peruse more fascinating stuff than H.J. Heinz has pickles. Today, it all seems so quaint and old-fashioned. Days of driving…motel and food bills…damaged lungs…terminal eyestrain. Now one can simply bring up the Stutler Collection website in the comfort of one’s own home…pretzels and spinach avocado dip optional…and achieve the same exciting, illuminating results.

And yet another regular eastern destination was the steeped-in-John-Brown village of Hudson, Ohio. Despite its gentrification…its “bedroom community” aura…one can still loaf in the village green and imagine oneself back in Old Connecticut. (Believe it or not, the same feeling can be generated in the center of faraway Tabor, Fremont County, Iowa.)

Headquarters here was a Victorian bed and breakfast in the nearby, picturesque community of Peninsula. And my “commute,” less hectic and damaging to the respiratory system than in Charleston, was to the Hudson Library and Historical Society…to view the “secondary” Holy Grail, the Clarence Gee Collection. During that long ago, mist-shrouded era, the proprietors were Tom Vince and the late Jim Caccamo…and, like all archivists I seemed to encounter, these guys were good. I would spend the day scribbling illegible notes…organize them in the evening amidst Queen Anne splendor…and then regurgitate them at breakfast to my kind, unsuspecting hosts.
Hudson Library and Historical Society,
Hudson, Ohio
Peninsula is plopped within the confines of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a beautifully scenic area between Cleveland and Akron, and those beleaguered hosts (despite the names of a regiment of radical abolitionists still ringing in their ears) introduced me to sundry other historic sights nearby. I was transported to Akron to view the Simon Perkins Mansion…and the adjacent John Brown House. I was allowed to hike the towpath of the old Ohio & Eric Canal. And I was directed to the cemetery in Richfield, where the Old Man’s fever-ravaged children share a common grave. And then there was another graveyard…in Hudson itself…awash in memories of the family of John Brown.


Our grim correspondent, his hands freshly painted, 
poses betwixt the parents of John Brown, 
Owen and Ruth Mills Brown
(H. S. Wolfe photo)
I paused in Hudson this past April, and found it much the same…though increasingly yuppie-ized and more traffic-clogged than in the olden days. And, as during earlier sojourns, it seemed as if I were magnetically drawn to a spot on the south side of Chapel Street, hard upon the campus of the Western Reserve Academy. This particular parcel of real estate, as announced boldly upon the metal archway at its entrance, is the OLD HUDSON TOWNSHIP BURYING GROUND.

A modern stone, immediately within, reveals it as “the oldest existing cemetery in Hudson and Summit County,” established by David Hudson and Benjamin Whedon in the year 1808. Also engraved upon this marker is the fact that: “Ruth Mills Brown (1772-1808), wife of Owen Brown and mother of abolitionist leader John Brown (1800-1859) was the first burial here.” Yes, within lie the parents of ol’ Osawatomie. Thus the attraction. For here one may pay respects to the Old Man of the Old Man, et.al.

The cemetery is quite attractive in the springtime, with green grass and blooming fruit trees. Yours truly, intent upon such seasonal beauty…and eagerly anticipating yet another visit to the Brown family plot…seized the entrance gate with both paws…only to discover that it had been freshly anointed with a most persistent and malodorous type of black paint. My search for an effective solvent continued that entire day…success only coming with dinner, in the form of a mixture of vodka and sweet vermouth.

A short walk brings you to the stones of the Brown family, standing in a straight row as if for military inspection. From right to left, they include (accompanied by images from my humble camera):
Ruth Mills Brown
(H. S. Wolfe photo)

RUTH MILLS BROWN…Owen Brown’s first wife, her stone is definitely showing its age. The elements have obliterated the inscription, but a transcription of what once appeared is as follows:

Sacred to the Memory of Ruth, Wife of Owen Brown who died Dec. 10, 1808 in the 37th year of her age 
She was a dutiful child, a Sprightly youth, a loving wife, a Tender parent, a kind neighbor, and an Exemplary Christian. 
Owen Brown
(H. S. Wolfe photo)
Sweet is the memory of the Just.

OWEN BROWN…The father of the abolitionist John Brown, his stone retains a clearly legible:
Owen Brown   Died May 8, 1856  Aged 85 Years
SALLY ROOT BROWN…Owen Brown’s second wife, her inscription reads:

Sally   Wife of Owen Brown  Died Aug. 11, 1840  Aged 51 Years

Sally Root Brown
(H. S. Wolfe photo)
WATSON HUGH BROWN…Son of Owen and Sally Root Brown, his inscription remains bold despite the passage of the years:
Watson Brown
(H. S. Wolfe photo)

Beneath this stone lie buried the mortal remains of Watson, 7th son of Owen Brown & 1st son of Owen and Sally Brown, who was born at Hudson on the 22nd day of July 1813, and died on the 29th day of Jan. 1832  AE 18 Years
Additional lines praise him as "a kind hearted, generous, and manly youth, who by his mild and amiable character was endeared to his numerous friends."

and  LUCIEN BROWN…Son of Owen and Sally Root Brown, his stone reading:
Lucien Brown
(H. S. Wolfe photo)
Lucien Brown   Died Dec. 1, 1847   Aged 20 years
Amos Lusk
(H. S. Wolfe photo)
Nearby the Brown plot, and facing them in familial perpetuity, is the stone of AMOS LUSK, father of Dianthe, and first father-in-law of John Brown. A small, simple stone, it reads:

Capt Amos Lusk   1773-1813   War of 1812


The Brown family plot, Old Hudson Township Burying Ground,
Hudson, Ohio (H. S. Wolfe photo)

Hopefully, all of the John Brown researchers and enthusiasts who might pause to read this posting (assuming that they survive the ordeal), will be able to visit some of the historic sites mentioned in the foregoing. I have always been a strong proponent of WALKING THE GROUND where the dramatic events of the past have transpired. Yes, there may today be a Burger King astride a spot where heroes attempted to liberate a people…but in the mind’s eye, one can still visualize and appreciate such noble deeds.
So whether it be Springdale or Tabor…Nebraska City or Topeka…Charleston or Hudson…and utilizing a favorite word of a certain Dr. DeCaro: Leave the ACADEMY, and HIT THE ROAD!

* 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.

1 comment:

Jean Libby said...

This journey brings tears to my eyes as one who attempted to follow the path nearly 35 years ago.

All of our journeys must be made as individuals. It is the story of John Brown.