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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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Sunday, November 03, 2013

Brown Family News--
There's Something About Mary

In recent years, the growth of interest in John Brown has happily sparked interest in the abolitionist's faithful second wife, Mary Ann (Day) Brown. Certainly, Jean Libby has once again led the way in exploring the Brown family's westward sojourn and later years in California, and has focused research on Mary Brown and her daughters for quite some time.  More recently is the publication of The Ties That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown's Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolitionism (Cornell University Press, 2013) by Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, Professor of History at Eastern Illinois University.  Laughlin-Schultz had evidently made a notable contribution to the study by producing the first extensive study of Mary Brown, who was an antislavery figure in her own beliefs.  The author also provides material on Anne Brown Adams, perhaps the most colorful of the abolitionists' daughters.  I look forward to reading The Ties That Bound Us, although I am sorry that Laughlin-Schultz chose to emphasize Anne's later years to the exclusion of the later years of Brown's eldest daughter, Ruth Brown Thompson.  It would seem to me that Ruth, being the eldest daughter, bears far closer examination.  Laughlin-Schultz is reasonable in focusing on Anne, since she did spend some months in Maryland, keeping house for her father prior to the Harper's Ferry raid.  In contrast, Ruth was not present with her father in the famous episodes of his antislavery activity, Kansas and Virginia.  Yet she was the eldest, and was married to Brown's favorite son-in-law, Henry Thompson, who was in Kansas with the Old Man.  An expansive study of Ruth's life would have made a study of "the women of John Brown's family" truly complete. Notwithstanding this gap, this book appears to be well-researched and documented, and will stand as a major contribution to the literature.  As to her reading of the Old Man both personally (including religion) as well as politically, I hope to provide a more helpful review in the near future.

Mary Brown en route to meet
her husband for the last time
(Frank Leslie's Illustrated News, 
Dec. 12, 1859)

Mary Brown, "A Bastion of Strength," Says Atwater

Osawatomie, Kan.--John Brown’s widow, Mary Day Brown, had the daunting task of caring for her family after John Brown’s hanging at Charlestown, Va. (now West Virginia), and John Brown’s supporters came to her aid.

Mary was a strong woman who took up the challenge of being a widow and a single mom amid the glare of publicity that came with being the widow of John Brown in the 1860s.
Mrs. George Stearns was one of John Brown’s supporters, and Mary related her gratitude for Stearns’ support for her family and John Brown’s abolitionist crusade in a March 13, 1863, letter. She wrote:
I saw the same account in the Liberater [sic] of the meeting of some the most noble souls that our country contains at your beautifull [sic] home and I must say that my soul leaped for joy when I read it. I was indeed and truly with you in spirit on that most glorious and long to be rememberd [sic] day. I saw that a committee of the same noble spirits visited the Presidend [sic] soon after I was much rejoiced at hopeing [sic] that some great good might result from it. My mind has been much with you ever since I knew the bust of my dear beloved husband was in your house. It was truly a place that he delited [sic] to visit when he was in the body. Oh I am so glad that he never made any move that you have to reflect on him for but that you rather rejoice over he done. It has been a great comfort to me to know that his own personal friends have never condemed [sic] his movements. It is only those that are capable of appreatiating his motives that can see any beauty in them.
Mary's last meeting with Brown, Dec. 1, 1859
Her faced obscured, this artist's rendering reminds
us that the devoted wife of the Abolitionist has
often been overlooked by historians
(Frank Leslie's Illustrated News, 17 Dec. 1859)
Mrs. George Stearns had helped John Brown’s daughters, Sarah and Annie, attend school, and Mary gave Mrs. Stearns a report on how Sarah and Annie were faring at school:
Sarah is realy [sic] doing well and Annie is doing quite well. I shall have them stay at school another term. I think that if you ever feel like doing any more for Sarah you will find it more satisfactory than you did before. She is capable of more improvement. I will send your love to them when I write.
Mary also thanked Mrs. George Stearns for story books that Mrs. Stearns had sent her daughter, Ellen, and wrote, “Ellen is a learning a great deal at home this winter. She begins to read the story books you sent her. She is a good girl.”

Mary Day Brown was a bastion of strength for the Brown family when John Brown was alive and engaged in his abolitionist crusade and stood stronger after John Brown’s death in 1859. She worked to provide for her family’s support and education in difficult times and is an unsung heroine in the John Brown saga in American history.

— Grady Atwater is administrator of the John Brown State Historic Site

Source: Grady Atwater, "John Brown' widow an unsung heroine," Osawatomie Graphic, 30 Oct. 2013

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