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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, January 24, 2014

Is Springfield's "Puritan" Statue John Brown in Disguise?

Stephen Jendrysik, an educator and historian of the town of Chicopee, Massachusetts, has an interesting piece on the news website, Mass Live, discussing some interesting local history and John Brown.  Readers will recall that John Brown lived in Springfield, Mass., from 1846-49, when he was engaged in business in that city.  
"The Puritan"

In his column, Jendrysik suggests that a famous local statuary, "The Puritan," by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, might actually have been modeled on Brown's face.

Previously, Jendrysik writes, he believed that "The Puritan" was based upon "a purely imaginary" figure of Chester W. Chapin, a wealthy resident of Chicopee, near Springfield.  This is commonly believed because "The Puritan" is a tribute to an early ancestor of the Chapin family.  However, he has reconsidered this belief.  Noting that the sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, "was an admirer of the violent abolitionist," he now believes that John Brown is the "hidden" image behind the tribute to Chapin.  "The Puritan," was unveiled in 1887, and has been relocated once within town to its present site in Springfield's Merrick Park. 

"The Puritan"
Jendrysik points out that for years, "experts have debated the possibility that Saint-Gaudens' image of one of Springfield's Founding Fathers was in fact a muted tribute" to Brown, who himself consciously identified with Puritan theology and militancy.  Apparently there is no definitive way to prove whether or not Saint-Gaudens modeled his statue from images of Brown, or whether he used a descendant of Chapin.

The rest of Jendrysik's column reflects upon John Brown vis-a-vis David Reynolds' biography, the author concluding that Brown was both a "saintly liberator" and a "bloodthirsty terrorist." Jendrysik is positive toward Brown and seems to understand that his reputation declined in this nation's history because society at large did not share his passion for racial justice.  However, his conclusion that Brown could be both a saintly man and a terrorist is nonsense.  If Brown's famous/infamous actions in Kansas were as they are commonly portrayed, it is hard to imagine he was also a saintly figure.  Rather, it is more likely that the "bloodthirsty terrorist" is a misrepresentation of the facts.  As I have argued in my biography, Brown was hardly perfect, and he was no saint in the Roman Catholic sense of the term.  But he was very much a saint according to the Protestant definition.

Still, Jendrysik's piece is certainly interesting.  It seems arguably possible that Brown was the "hidden" model and inspiration for "The Puritan."  Jendrysik concludes: "The bushy eyebrows, the chiseled features and the dominant nose belong to John Brown."  I don't know that Brown had "bushy eyebrows"; however, the face of the sculpture could very well be that of the old man.

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