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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, October 24, 2014

New View--
Will Hausman: Playwright Brings His John Brown Story to Film

I was pleased this week to learn about Will Hausman, a playwright and screenplay writer based in Maui, the Hawaiian Islands.  His play, "John Brown's Body," was presented last year on the stage of the Maui Fringe Theater Festival, at Wailuku's Historic 'Iao Theater.   Hausman's "John Brown's Body" won several audience awards.  "I tried to create a personal, full-bodied characterization of Brown," he told a reporter from the Maui Weekly in 2013.  In the play, he sought to portray the Old Man "more as a multidimensional and fallible human being as opposed to the historical depiction of him as a religious fanatic, madman, murderer and martyr."  Hausman's goal as a playwright was "to depict [Brown] as he might see himself, as opposed to what the historians later judged him to be."

Interestingly, the lead actor in Hausman's play was Paul Janes-Brown, a descendant of the Brown family with roots in Connecticut.  Janes-Brown is a journalist and theater professional.   Hausman's award-winning play prompted him to consider transposing the story into "a genuine cinematic film with the play's script as its basis."

Hausman's film will not be a documentary, but he has produced a five-minute video about John Brown's life in documentary style for a Kickstarter campaign. According to Hausman, his short video is intended "to inform and educate people about Brown's life and why he is such a significant person in American history." 

Historically speaking, Hausman stays close to the narrative, although a biographer might be picky about a few points, none of which obscure the appreciative focus on Brown.  Perhaps my only point of clarification would be Hausman's reiteration of the conventional notion that Brown intended to seize the weapons from the Harper's Ferry arsenal, a point that saturates most of the writing on the raid.  To the contrary, Brown explicitly denied any intention of seizing the weapons, and the evidence supports Brown, not the conventional notion espoused by most of the historians.  In fact, throughout his occupation of Harper's Ferry, Brown did not remove the weapons, made no such order, and rather seems to have posted his men to guard the arsenal from being drawn upon by locals.  I discuss this matter at length in my forthcoming book.

There are a number of John Brown film efforts currently being discussed or developed, and my own sentiment is that this indicates a sea change in cultural attitudes toward him in the 21st century. There is a growing interest in and appreciation of the Old Man, and this is increasingly displayed on the stage, in video and films, as well as novels and historical narratives.  Hausman, I expect, will get Brown right.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hudson in 1912
Local History--
John Brown's Hudson Roots Highlighted by Historian and Archivist, Tom Vince

Anyone who knows anything about John Brown should know Tom Vince, the archivist at the Western Reserve Academy (formerly Western Reserve College) in Hudson, Ohio, and former archivist for the Hudson Library and Historical Society.  Vince is not only an unsung expert on John Brown, but also the veteran authority on Brown family history and the wider study of Hudson history as well.  I met Tom in 2000, when I was researching for my first book on Brown, “Fire from the Midst of You.” (NYU Press)  In Hudson, Tom is a local celebrity and undoubted authority on all things Hudson, which is a vital investigation to any Brown scholar.
Tom Vince, Archivist of Western Academy, an authority
on Hudson history and the Brown family history
(photo by LD, May 2009)

According to Laura Freeman of the Hudson Hub-Times (Oct. 15), Vince provided one of his famous tours/lectures at the Old Hudson Township Burying Ground on October 9, which was sponsored by the Hudson Heritage Association.  The burial grounds are also known as Chapel Street Cemetery, originally the site of founder David Hudson's apple orchard.

This historic cemetery is the resting place of Hudson and many family members, but most famously it is the site of burial for both of John Brown’s parents, Owen and Ruth (Mills) Brown. Owen Brown is buried between Ruth and his second wife, Sally Root Brown of Aurora,Ohio, who died in 1840. The abolitionist’s mother died on December 13, 1808, when he was but eight years of age, a loss that devastated young John and left him socially fractured for sometime. “At Eight years old John was left a Motherless boy,” Brown wrote of himself in the third person in 1857, “which loss was complete & permanent.”  Brown wrote that even after his father remarried, he “continued to pine after his own Mother for years.”  In somewhat archaic language, Brown explain that the loss of his mother “deprived him of a suitable conne[c]ting link between the different sexes,” which “opperated [sic] very unfavourably uppon [sic] him.”
Ruth Mills Brown's
gravestone (1808)

Brown was, as he put it, “naturally fond of females,” but he felt the loss of his mother left him awkward and extremely shy around women, and this “might under some circumstance have proved his ruin.”  What he exactly meant is not clear, although Brown said, even up to the day of his death, that he was more shy about being in social settings with women then he was going into battle.  Perhaps this suggests that his first wife, Dianthe Brown, had to help him through the initial phases of the courtship process.

With humor, Vince points out that John Brown, born in 1800, was “a product of the Hudson schools and a preppy since he attended the Morris Academy at Litchfield, Conn.”  Of course, when Brown was a boy, the school in Hudson was a frontier one-room schoolhouse, and Brown’s schooling was done in fits and starts as a result of taking on mature work assignments, and no doubt in the absence of a devoted mother.

Although the Browns were from Connecticut, Hudson was John Brown’s hometown, and as is evident in so many contemporary narratives, it is very difficult to understand his upbringing, religion, and antislavery orientation without knowing about his Ohio roots in Hudson.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Proslavery artist Adalbert Volck's facetious
sketch of Brown as a saint
Biographically Speaking--
The Usefulness of "Panegyrics"

Many historians and scholars are quick to label the most famous 19th century biographies of the old man as panegyrics, meaning they are works of praise.  True enough, the 19th century biographies of Brown are works of praise--Redpath's 1860 authorized biography is certainly a panegyric, as are the later writings of Franklin B. Sanborn, one of Brown's close associates from the later 1850s. Even later in the 19th century, the aged Richard Hinton, another former Brown associate, wrote his book about the old man and his raiders.

Sketch of Sanborn
in youth
These works are generally branded as too adoring of Brown to be trusted as worthy historical works, and it is fairly typical of contemporary academics to treat them dismissively to some degree.  Another problem with these works, especially Redpath and Sanborn's respective works, is their reference to divine providence and so forth, which is a real no-no for contemporary scholarship.  While Sanborn was hardly an evangelical like his subject, he does seem to have believed that the phenomenon of John Brown signified some sort of divine providence in history.  Of course, none of this is acceptable by today's standards.  Whatever one may feel about some leader being a godsend, such thoughts are restricted to the realm of private faith and thought to have no place among professional historians.
Early photographic portrait
of James Redpath

There is no doubt that Redpath, Sanborn, and Hinton wrote works of praise; they also wrote works of apologia--works intended to defend Brown against his critics.  Furthermore, their works do have errors, mistakes, and suppositions that historians must check, correct, and recheck at times.  When Oswald Garrison Villard prepared his 1910 biography, he touted it as being objective and definitive, and privately scoffed at the aged Sanborn for being too admiring of Brown, as well as for his mistakes.

Richard Hinton
in later years
Villard is widely considered the first "modern" biography of Brown, and undoubtedly he was granted far more trust than he granted to others, including W.E.B. DuBois.  DuBois' biography of Brown preceded Villard's by one year, and Villard ruthlessly attacked his work in print, pointing out DuBois' mistakes and reliance upon less reliable sources.  What makes this more unfortunate is that poor DuBois had not even wanted to write a biography of Brown in the first place.  In fact, his work on Brown was really a third choice.  His first choice was to do a biography of Frederick Douglass, which was denied him because Booker T. Washington had his sights set on a Douglass book.  Then, DuBois turned to the idea of doing a biography of Nat Turner, which would have been a great contribution had he been permitted to execute the work.  Unfortunately, the Turner biography was also refused by his publisher.  John Brown, it is in many respects an excellent interpretation of the old man and well worth reading.
W.E.B. DuBois
Only then did DuBois turn to Brown as a subject, and when he did write his biography, he did so under great stress from his teaching and activism.  Furthermore, DuBois lacked the financial resources that rich Oswald Villard possessed.  Of course, despite the unreliability of many little details in DuBois'

On the other hand, Villard, the supposed fountainhead of objective John Brown scholarship in the 20th century, was really writing with an ax to grind--indeed a double ax.  Not only was Villard a fanatical pacifist who resented Brown's resort to "violence," but he was also the grandson of pacifist abolitionist great, William Lloyd Garrison.  It's not hard to sniff out the family vendetta in Villard's book.  Like his grandfather, Villard didn't seem to know whether he loved or hated Brown, and he concluded to write an appreciative sort of condemnation of the old man, calling him a murderer at Pottawatomie while elevating his martyrdom.   Villard's book was widely praised, although its worst side was what appealed so much to 20th century scholars, who subsequently used and abused Villard's take on Pottawatomie so much that it became the well-beaten path of almost any historical commentary on John Brown, often to this day.
Oswald G. Villard

In fact, Villard was biased.  His reading of the expansive data gathered by his assistant, Katherine Mayo, was selective and deliberate in its critical conclusions about Brown's supposedly unwarranted violence in Kansas.  Of course, anyone who reads carefully through that data (as I did years ago) knows that Villard's conclusions were hardly obvious.  He was simply writing with a predetermined conclusion of condemning Brown as a murderer, and he was quite persuasive.  Nor was Villard in the place of one worthy to cast the first stone when it came to scholarly errors.
Katherine Mayo

When Villard was an aged, sickly man, his work came under the careful and authoritative eye of Boyd B. Stutler, whose interest in John Brown had started in the 1920s.  Stutler, a native of West Virginia, started as a young newspaper man and a West Virginia history buff.  But the more he collected Brown's letters and built a library of other primary and secondary sources, the more he became pointedly interested in John Brown.  Prior to Villard's death, the author asked Stutler to go through his 1910 opus, and Stutler produced several pages of corrections, allowing Stutler to revise his work before dying.  It's too bad DuBois didn't know about this, or he might have had a few choice words for the merciless Villard.
Boyd B. Stutler
Despite a number of interesting works on Brown in the 20th century, nothing more of significance was written until 1969-70, when Stephen Oates published his landmark biography, To Purge This Land with Blood, and the playwright, Barrie Stavis, published his short but profound, John Brown: The Sword and the Word.  Stutler assisted both writers, but I think that he actually preferred Stavis' little book insofar as capturing the man who lived is concerned.  Unfortunately, Stavis' book didn't get much attention, while Oates' book became the standard for the rest of the 20th century.  

During the 20th century, Robert McGlone began his work on John Brown and seems to have intended to publish the next definitive response to Oates, although for some reason McGlone's work was not published until the 21st century, and by then he was already following on the heels of a number of new biographers.  His work is erudite and even magisterial to some degree, although he seems needlessly cynical at points.  More importantly, McGlone's work lacks the readability of Oates' plain text narrative, or the literary splendor of David Reynolds' 2005 blockbuster, John Brown Abolitionist.  
I'll refrain from going further with this little sketch, except to say a few things about the older works and their "usability."

As I noted above, there's a tendency to slap down Redpath, Sanborn, and Hinton immediately. Indeed, any book that is too warm toward Brown is accused either of being a panegyric or "hagiography" (a saint's life), and such works are all but disqualified in the contemporary realm of history writing.

There are a number of problems with this kind of bias:

While Redpath, Sanborn, and Hinton wrote in defense of Brown, and often quite adoringly with tones of hero worship, they were also primary witnesses who knew Brown and his context better than we do today.  Being part of the story doesn't mean you're objective, but it does mean that their witnesses are valuable, even if they have to be carefully weighed at times.  Their works have errors, but they also contain a wealth of information that biographers and students need.

As we can learn from Villard, "modern," "objective" scholarship is not reliable either.  There is a great deal of bias and prejudice against Brown in the academy.  Many writers who like to point out the "panegyrics" of the 19th century are actually prone to a cynical or polemical approach to Brown. The mainstay of much contemporary writing on John Brown is typically beset with baseless references to contemporary terrorism and violent characterizations of the man, although most writers (and this includes journalists too) know very little about John Brown.

The fact is, there is a great deal more anti-Brown writing on the shelves and on the internet than there are panegyrics, and some of the things labeled hagiography are simply appreciative of John Brown rather than negative characterizations.  When it comes to Brown, the language of contemporary scholars is full of regret, apprehension, even fear.  The cultural norm for writers, at least among "whites," is to approach John Brown with a reserve of suspicion, cynicism, or condemnation.

This aspect should be considered when the old dismissive reproach, "panegyric" is rolled out by the "experts."--LD

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Er, Thank You, We Think. . .

Kenneth Mack on John Brown: Tipping His Hat, or Talkin' Smack?

I'm only a humble historian teaching at a small, fully accredited seminary, teaching a typically heavy load of courses because that's what small religious institutions tend to require of their faculties.  At our school, the administration packs us two professors to an office in order to save space, and puts us in fishbowl type circumstances so that anyone with any question can see us while we're working and knock on the door.  Sometimes I wonder what it's like to be an important professor--you know, the kind with an endowed chair and a professorial title (named after some rich, dead donor), teaching one or two courses a semester, along with a research assistant, and an office where you can actually close yourself in sufficiently to read and write.  (I do my serious work at home.)

Important Scholars

This wondering on my part becomes especially acute when I read the declarations, pronunciations, and opinions about John Brown that are issued forth from one or another important scholar, somewhere out there in the "high up on the hog" Academy.   Over the years I've noticed that high-class academics inhabit a higher echelon of discourse than the mass of humble academics, especially those of us in small institutions with hard-earned accreditation.   In their higher academic echelon, their books, articles, and opinions matter--the media seek them out and take their word for fact; and they take each other's words as fact.  Their discourse and research is exclusive--they quote each other, compete with each other, collaborate with each other, and tend to ignore everything and everyone else.  Now, this wouldn't be so bad if they actually were the most learned in their subject matter.

But as far as John Brown goes, at least, I can quite confidently say that they're not.

I don't want to seem harsh, but as an example, I reviewed a book by an Ivy League graduate a couple of years ago, the scholar now having moved onto a notable academic position, his resume replete with publications and columns in prestigious and notable journals and magazines.  The book he wrote on Brown was very poor, and although I handled it as gently as possible, his book was quite bad--riddled with errors, presumption, bias, and more bias.  To no surprise, the book was nominated for a prestigious historical award because this is the way his world works.  As a biographer, I never saw a work so fraught with mistakes and bias, although one or two Ivy League publications on Brown have come close.  Of course, my criticism probably was just ignored, because there is no actual dialogue with Mt. Olympus from down here.

Professor Mack

Prof. Kenneth W. Mack
I was reminded of this reality this very evening, when I  read a blurb, ostensibly made on behalf of the Old Man by Kenneth W. Mack, whose academic title is "the inaugural Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law at Harvard University, and the co-faculty leader of the Harvard Law School Program on Law and History."  By all accounts, Mack's Harvard website is impressive."  Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer (Harvard University Press), was selected as a Top 50 Non-fiction Book of the Year by the Washington Post, was a National Book Festival Selection, was awarded honorable mention for the J. Willard Hurst Award by the Law and Society Association, and was a finalist for the Julia Ward Howe Book Award.  His is also the co-editor of The New Black: What Has Changed – And What Has Not – With Race in America (New Press, 2013)."  Pretty impressive.  Besides this, Mack is a columnist for many notable publications, and a talking head for PBS.
His research and writing have focused on the legal and constitutional history of American race relations. His 2012 book,

I will also add that Professor Mack is black, which makes his recent blurb on John Brown perhaps a bit more interesting.
"What the @#!!, Mack.  With 'help'
like that, who needs enemies?"

In the November 2014 online edition of The Atlantic, Mack is quoted among a number of other important scholars under the column, "The Big Question."  In this edition, the big question is, "Who is the most underrated politician in history?"  Mack's blurb reads:
An antislavery zealot and murderer who failed at everything he did in life, John Brown was executed for the ill-planned 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. Everyone underestimated him, including the Virginia political leaders who made the mistake of putting him on trial, the platform he used to help bring on the Civil War.

The Company He Keeps

Taken at its best face, Mack's remarks seem to fall in the tradition of a number of other African American intellectuals, including Ralph Ellison, Kenneth Clark, and Benjamin Quarles, whose fealty to the white liberal establishment, blended with the black heritage of regard for Brown, produced a peculiar kind of loyalty to the old man.

Kenneth B. Clark
In Robert Penn Warren's 1965 book, Who Speaks for the Negro?, the white Southern writer interviewed the notable psychologist, Kenneth B. Clark, who seemed of two minds on the subject of John Brown.  While Clark held to Brown on one level, he too easily surrendered the old man to the liberal-racist Warren (who wrote an unworthy biography of Brown in the 1920s).  Clark compared Brown to Christ and Socrates, but also conceded that he was "mad," "neurotic," a "murderer," and a "fanatic" (see Who Speaks for the Negro?, pp. 318-21).  

Although writing two excellent books in appreciation of the African American, Benjamin Quarles declared Brown "warped in many ways" (Allies for Freedom, p. 197).  Ralph Ellison, also interviewed by Robert Penn Warren, similarly concluded that Brown was "demonic" rather than a "lunatic," but also "utterly impractical" and a "little off his beam." (Warren's interview with Ellison, 25 Feb. 1964, Ser. II, tape #1, p. 12, no. 030H42, RPWCR, 32, R.P. Warren Civil Rights Oral History Collection, Margaret I. King Library, University of Kentucky.  Trans. courtesy of Best Efforts, Inc.)

So, Professor Mack is standing on the stooping shoulders of other brilliant but conflicted black scholars in both saluting and denigrating John Brown in a single statement.

On One Hand. . .

On the positive side, of course, that Mack would advance Brown's memory among "underrated politicians" seems a point of loyalty.  Obviously, Brown was not a politician, and he would be offended being included in such a group.  The Old Man had no use for politicians after John Quincy Adams, and certainly there is nothing of a "politician" in Brown's straight-shooting, single-minded determination to destroy slavery.   So Mack's willingness to salute Brown seems awkwardly stated in the context of the question.

It may be that Mack's awareness of how white society has undervalued and underrated John Brown found voice in this opportunity, and for that he is to be commended.  A black scholar tells white society, in effect, not to overlook or underestimate the importance of John Brown by viewing him as a freak who stumbled on and off the stage of history just in time for Abraham Lincoln to appear.

On the Other Hand

Still, Mack has done Brown no favors, and reflects not only a flawed and unstudied knowledge of the Old Man, but reflects his own tendency to frame his discourse to placate the white liberal establishment in which he seems to thrive.  Like Clark, Quarles, and Ellison, Mack talks this smack, thinking that he is speaking the truth about Brown, when in fact, he is only muddying the waters of history.   And as unfair as this may seem, this kind of blend of admiration and effed-up historical understanding is perhaps worse for John Brown than an outright assault upon him by some stupid Neo-Confederate or right-wing Philistine who has sufficient racist instinct to recognize Brown as an inimical force in opposition to their white supremacist outlook.

Mack may be a Harvard scholar and an important scholar by all accounts.  After all, The Atlantic asked his opinion.  But frankly, John Brown could do without this kind of help.  That John Brown was a "murderer" is simply not true, and at worst stands to be reevaluated.  The evidence suggests his lethal activity in Kansas were defensive, preemptive, and taken in a situation lacking in protection by law enforcement.  For Mack to simply call Brown a "murderer" just shows ignorance, and reinforces the prejudice of many people who have no regard for the Old Man.

Furthermore, for Mack to call Brown a failure at everything he did shows that the professor has not read sufficiently, and may have relied too much on famous writers and elite scholars, since this is typically the way of life in the upper-echelons of Academia.  For the record, Brown faced hard knocks in life, but he enjoyed a number of episodes of success and certainly a period of recognized expertise in the area of fine sheep and wool, so that he had no perception of himself as a failure as many of the recognized "experts" contend.  I have written about this in John Brown--The Cost of Freedom.

Spare Him (and Me), Please

Finally, Mack's contention that "everyone underestimated him" is only true in a limited sense.  In fact, Southerners did not underestimate Brown.  They screened his mail as a prisoner, denied him a jailhouse photograph, and explicitly lied to cover up his success in attracting enslaved people, maligning him as a rank insurrectionist and recognizing his utter sincerity and the force of his intentions.  They, more than Republicans in the North, understood his importance, which is why they wanted to kill him as quickly as possible.   When they could not, they absolutely prevented every Northern journalists from entering Charlestown.  Were it not for a certain undercover Tribune journalist from New York, they would have accomplished their goal.   Verily, it seems that Mack himself has actually underrated Brown.  (Of course, all of this is featured in my forthcoming book, Freedom's Dawn: The Last Days of John Brown in Virginia.)

Notwithstanding Mack's good intentions, I would remind him what is proverbially said of "the road to hell."  My own sense is that Professor Mack and others who are not prepared or competent to speak for John Brown, ought to do him a favor and quit paying him such backhanded salutations.  He doesn't need Mack or anyone else to pat him on the back while calling him a murderer, a failure, and a fanatic whom no one took seriously.  

Furthermore, this kind of smack only forces me to stay up late, writing rejoinders to important scholars who won't read them, when I should be preparing for one of my five classes this semester.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bulletin Board--

Filmmaker's Documentary to Explore John Brown's Activities in Iowa

Kelly Gallagher, a candidate in the MFA program at the University of Iowa, is working on a short film about the Maxson house in Springdale, Iowa and the John Brown episode.  Gallagher primarily produces handcrafted animations and animated docs, but her John Brown film will be a live-action documentary.  We look forward to seeing the finished film, which explores a chapter of the old man's story that is not often discussed.

John Brown in Iowa - Teaser 2 from Kelly Gallagher on Vimeo.

Jean Libby's John Brown Photo Chronology Revised 2014-2015 at the African American Museum and Library of Oakland [CA] October 16

Researching and reproducing the photographs of John Brown the abolitionist is a lengthy project of historian Jean Libby, a retired community college history instructor who publishes in the name Allies for Freedom.   

Exhibition of sixteen different photo portraits of John Brown at the African American Museum and Library of Oakland (AAMLO) on October 16, 2014 is presented as a workshop for public information and participation.  The photo history reveals strong interest in the new technology by Brown and his friends seeking replication of the images and facsimile signatures to advance the cause of ending slavery and establishing equal rights and citizenship to the liberated people. 

Jean Libby has written and published three books about Brown and his African American supporters since 1979.  Since 2006 Libby has researched and published on the history of John Brown’s family in California.  Mary Brown is central to the continuation of her husband’s legacy of antiracism with community activities and association with his photographs and art. 

The Photo Chronology took root with the contribution of forensic analysis in 2002 and publication by The Daguerreian Society in 2004.  Research and analysis continues for revision of her 2009 exhibition created for the 150th anniversary of the John Brown raid in Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. 

In September 2014 Jean traveled to central New York, eastern Ohio, and western Pennsylvania in search of additional photographs history.  The AAMLO event on October 16 synthesizes her findings in preparation for revised publication.

The African American Museum and Library of Oakland is located at   659 14th Street Oakland, CA  94612    (510) 637-0200 

Please contact AAMLO for further information on the October 16 event from 6 to 8 p.m.  

Grady Atwater on the Battle of Osawatomie

"The Battle of Osawatomie was an important battle, for it was the largest battle during the conflict over slavery during the Bleeding Kansas era. The battle built the courage of the Free State forces to stand and fight proslavery forces in Kansas Territory. John Brown made the decision to start his abolitionist crusade as he watched Osawatomie burn when John Reid’s proslavery militia men sacked and burned the town.  John Brown and 30 to 45 Free State guerillas battled John Reid and 250 to 400 proslavery guerillas in modern day John Brown Memorial Park on Aug. 30, 1856. By later Civil War standards, it was a skirmish, but by the standards of guerilla warfare, the Battle of Osawatomie was a large battle. . . .

To read the entire article visit Grady Atwater, “Abolitionists more determined after Battle of Osawatomie.” Osawatomie Graphic, 24 Sept. 2014

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

"Site-ing" History--
The Charlestown Jail in Images

The Charlestown jail, then in Virginia and today in West Virginia, was where John Brown spent the last weeks of life.  Unfortunately, the building is no longer standing, although it can still be seen in a number of pictures that have survived over the past century, especially in postcards that pop up online from time to time.

Perhaps Charlestown historians could provide far greater detail, and it would be welcomed here.  We can say the jailhouse was not originally built as a jail, but as a private residence.  At some point, the two-story building was converted into a jail, which included a residence for the jailer.   During Brown's stay, of course, the jailer was John Avis, who was married and had a family.  More about Avis can be found in my forthcoming book.

   In the first picture at the right, I have provided a detail from an illustrated newspaper sketch that shows Brown being taken on a wagon to the site of execution.  The artist captured an excellent rear view of the jailhouse, showing the 12-13 ft. wall that surrounded the back yard, the barred windows, and the back entrance.  Perhaps there is also a small guardhouse to the left.  
Next is another postcard artist's rendering of the rear view of the jail, in this case a night scene showing guards at the walls.

The third image shows the building in the late 19th century or early 20th century.  This image provides color and detail to the building, although, once more, it is from a later time and I have no idea if this was simply colorized for style (it is also a postcard that appeared on eBay).  It may be that the larger front entrance was an addition to the building made after Brown's time.  The larger entrance does not seem to be visible in newspaper sketches of the jail at the time of Brown's incarceration.  Clearly, windows on the street side of the building either were added or restored at a later point. 

Brown's cell was located on the first floor, and during his incarceration, he had only one window looking into the enclosed backyard. At least once, he was known to have stood on his chair in order to get a view somewhat over the back wall of the troop movements in town.

Finally, here is a photograph taken in the early 1900s, when the jailhouse was torn down.  Unfortunately, it was not preserved as a landmark, as it would have served as a great point of interest today.  The Charles Town post office is now situated on the site of the old jail.   

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

"No Brag, Just Fact": Seven Reasons Why You Will Want to Read My Forthcoming Book on John Brown's Last Days 

The first and most extensive of my two forthcoming books to be published by Rowman & Littlefield is focused on the last days of John Brown in Virginia. In the 19th century, a number of writers produced articles under this theme, but the reader can be assured that the forthcoming will present the most extensive and detailed narrative of Brown's last days in the 154 years since his death.  As Walter Brennan's character in the TV series, "The Guns of Will Sonnett," used to say, "No brag, just fact."

Readers can be assured of the following:

1.  They will get as close as possible to Brown, from the Harper's Ferry raid to his burial, that is, unless readers have a time machine.

2.  They will read a carefully reconstructed narrative of Brown's last days that includes letters, jail visits, and significant themes and episodes that took place during that time.

3.  They will gain a better understanding of the role of journalists, especially the undercover New York Tribune journalist who actually preserved a realistic front-seat view of Charlestown at the time of Brown's incarceration.

4.  They will observe a number of conventional notions about the raid are challenged, if not overturned.

5.  They will observe how the proslavery press functioned to hide or misrepresent Brown and his impact in Virginia, and the paradigmatic influence of the antislavery Tribune versus the proslavery and racist New York Herald.

6.  They will see a number of never-before-published sketches of Brown made from life, and will see the more familiar newspaper illustrations contextualized in association with the three major illustrated newspapers rivaling each other in covering this episode.

7.  While other books may overlap, no other book looks at the raid, defeat, incarceration, trial, hanging, and immediate aftermath of Brown's impact so fully, since most biographies and studies tend to close with the conclusion of the raid.  This book will begin with an assessment of Brown's broader plan, what actually went wrong in the raid, what really happened to Brown when he was "captured," and then recounts the rest of his life in an unprecedented narrative.

No brag, just fact.