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Monday, February 22, 2016

A Photographic Connection to Jason Brown's Disappointing Book Tour, William H. Day, and W.E.B. DuBois 

I.  An Engineer's Re-Discovery

Stephen H. Smith, a former design engineer and local historian and author residing in York, Pennsylvania, keeps a blog called YorksPast.  His blog recently featured a new discovery from York history regarding an 1891 visit by Jason Brown, the Old Man's second son.  Although Smith was aware of Brown’s visit to York from his own research, he became aware of the 1891 photograph through a woman named Gussie Jones, who submitted to find out more about it.    Smith happily featured the image on his blog,1 which was also picked up by the website of the York Daily Record.2

Smith positively identified it as an image of the Rev. John H. Hector, the initial Post Commander of the David E. Small Post, No. 369, G.A.R. [Grand Army of the Republic], a black veteran’s post in York.  According to Smith, Brown and Hector were photographed at the studio of Shadle & Busser in York, which operated in York from the late 19th century into the early 20th century.
Jason Brown and Rev. John H. Hector in 1891
(A. R. Degenhardt/Findagrave.com)

However, the image is not so much a discovery as a re-discovery that Smith has made possible because we seem to have missed it elsewhere.  In fact, the same image is already featured online on the website Findagrave.com, where it seems to have been posted by A. R. Degenhardt in 2014, in conjunction with an entry prepared Gloria Erhart Miller in 2008.  Degenhardt also posted a portrait of Hector with his wife and their unidentified son, likewise made at the York studio of Shadle & Busser.3  Furthermore, while the Smith blog and York Daily Record present the image alone, Miller's presentation of the image shows that it is a "cabinet card," a popular fashion of the later 19th century in which an image is mounted on a cardboard backing that could feature the name of the studio.  In this case, the card features the name and address of Shadle & Busser in York.


According to Gloria Erhart Miller's information, John H. Hector was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, around 1845.   Windsor is a notable place in black history in regard to the underground railroad, being located across the Detroit River from the city of Detroit, Michigan, a major terminus for escaping fugitives from slavery.  Blacks living in Detroit and in "Canada West" (as that section was known in the antebellum era) moved back and forth across the US/Canadian border, as did John Brown in preparation for his Harper's Ferry raid--incidentally, a theme that I have addressed in the newly published collection, A Fluid Frontier: Slavery, Resistance, and the Underground Railroad in the Detroit River Borderland, edited by Karolyn Smardz Frost and Veta Smith Tucker.

Smith says that Hector was a well-known preacher and popular lecturer, nicknamed as the “Black Knight” by his admirers, and Erhart Miller provides further information complementing the images, describing the activist minister as a man of small stature, standing 5' 3", with a compact frame and dark complexion.   In 1860, Hector was a farmer in the vicinity of Rhode Island, and he served as a drummer in the segregated U.S. Colored Artillery, having enlisted in 1863 with Company G, 11th Artillery.  He was honorably discharged in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1865.

Rev. Hector, wife Eliza, and son
(A.R. Degenhardt/Findagrave.com)
Following the war, Hector lived variously in Burlington, Illinois, Troy, New York, and in Washington D.C., where he seems to have been active in establishing black posts for the G.A.R. as well as some point having entered the Christian ministry.  In 1876, he married Eliza H. Meade in Peekskill, N.Y.  Erhart Miller adds that minsters in the post-Civil War era were somewhat "nomadic," although in a sense this is probably an ongoing case with the life of many clergyman, who generally serve at least in several pastorates throughout their lives.

It is probably the case that if Hector seems to have led a "nomadic" life, it was also due to his blend of ministry and activism among black military veterans.  The blend of church, political, and social association have a unique aspect in African American history given the constant struggle against slavery, racism, and white supremacy that has always kept the church much closer to political activism than in the white community, which always had the privilege of keeping religion entirely separate from politics.   In this sense, Hector was something of a forerunner to other church-based activism, such as found among activists in the Marcus Garvey movement in the first part of the 20th century, who often used the Christian pulpit to advance the social and political concerns of the black community.

Smith says that Hector was in York in 1883-84 in order to establish Post No. 369, G.A.R., and was engaged in ministerial duties in Washington, D.C. in 1887, afterward moving out to California, where he seems to have met and befriended Jason Brown.  Smith says that Hector returned to York in 1890, and remained there a year or two and resumed his activity with Post No. 369, during which the Brown visit took place. Hector returned subsequently to York, where he died on April 8, 1914.4


Jason Brown
Jason Brown was born from the union of John Brown and Dianthe Lusk of Hudson, Ohio,  in 1923.  As the second eldest of John Brown's children, he had grown to young adulthood and married in 1847.  Jason, who was by nature the most benign and non-aggressive of Brown's sons, fought and suffered alongside his father and brothers in Kansas, and lost his personal possessions more than once as a result of having his home set afire by proslavery thugs.   Neither Jason nor John Brown Junior were directly involved in their father's militant efforts following Kansas, although they certainly defended his legacy in later life.   Jason was enthusiastic for nature, scientific developments, and the US frontier, and spent some years living apart from his wife in California, in a mountain cabin with his brother Owen.  After Owen's death in 1888, Jason seems to have stayed on in California, but after his home was destroyed in 1892 by a "mountain gale" in the area of Pasadena, as he recounted in a letter to his father's biographer, Franklin Sanborn, in 1892.   After his hope of establishing a homestead in California failed due to economic difficulty, Jason seems to have migrated back to Ohio, finally dying there in 1912.5

II. A Portal to the Past

In his presentation of the image, Smith happily provides the text of an article that provides a fascinating portal into the past. “Receptions to John Brown’s Son,” from The York Daily, February 17, 1891 issue, reads:
Jason Brown, son of John Brown, of Harper’s Ferry fame, is in York. In consideration of the great services he has rendered in the freedom of the colored race it is purposed to tender him a reception Wednesday and Thursday nights of this week in the court house. Mr. Henry Small, whose father was among the early advocates of freedom, will preside at these receptions. Prof. W. Howard Day, of Harrisburg, who was at one time private secretary to John Brown, will be present and address the assembly. Miss Jennie Stuart, of Harrisburg, said to be one of the finest colored singers in America, will render choice selections both nights.  
On Thursday night, the 19th inst., Rev. J. H. Hector will deliver his famous war lecture. The same evening, Mr. Jason Brown will present his book, “Life and Letters of John Brown,” to the public, a lately revised work. This is Mr. Brown’s first appearance before the general public and he will relate and correct some incidents concerning the life of his father. The stories of his own life are themselves wonderful.  
Mr. Brown will remain in York several days, when he will go to Washington, D. C., accompanied by Rev. J. H. Hector. In the Capital City arrangements are being made to entertain him. Grand Army Post No. 369 and No. 37 will attend the meeting on Wednesday night in a body and dressed in full uniform.6
The article contains a number of interesting details, including a reference to Jennie Stuart, a black female vocalist from Harrisburg, Pa., and Henry Small, whose father, David E. Small (identified by Smith) was a leading advocate for freedom within the black community of York.

William H. Day

Most notable for me, however, is the reference to William H. Day, mistakenly identified as "private secretary to John Brown."  Day (1825-1900) was a black abolitionist who resided in Canada prior to the Civil War.  Day was not Brown's secretary, but did serve as something of a go-between for Brown and Harriet Tubman when the former was seeking black recruits for his Virginia invasion.  In the John Brown story, Day is remembered as an antislavery activist, graduate of Oberlin College, and a printer by trade.  It was Day who prepared the published version of Brown's Provisional Constitution, which the Old Man introduced at his "quiet convention" Chatham, Ontario, May 8-10, 1858.
William H. Day
(African American Registry.org)

It is notable that Day is listed in the York Daily as having been a resident of Harrisburg, Pa., providing background for his burial there, in the Lincoln Cemetery:
Scholar, Humanitarian, Churchman, Civic Leader, Educator, Editor, Publisher, Lecturer.
A Life Devoted To The Intellectual, Civic And Spiritual Uplift Of Man, Endowed By God With Unique Talents To Serve A Common Humanity Which He Did With Humility, Patience, Fortitude, And Dignity.7
As a young child, Day was taken into the home of a prosperous white family named the Willistons of Northampton, Mass., who reared him and sent him to Oberlin.  He dedicated his life to the struggle for black freedom, serving as secretary of the National Negro Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in September 1848.  He was elected president of the National Board of Commissioners of the Colored People by the Black citizens of Canada and the United States in 1858, which is possibly the main reason he was sought out by John Brown that same year.  Day preached in Lincolnshire, England, in 1859, working with the YMCA in that country, also forming an African Aid Society with a number of colleagues.8  Boyd Stutler observed that Day published various papers in Cleveland, Oh., Brooklyn, N.Y., and Wilmington, Del., and that Day served as a Union recruiter under Martin Delany during the Civil War.9  After the defeat of the Confederacy, Day took a role working for the Freedman's Bureau.   Professionally, Day also  served in a variety of educational offices in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, and in the 1880s was the first black school board member and elected as school board president in Harrisburg, Pa.  Along with other black education leaders, he started Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C. in 1879. 10

Day's grave marker in no way exaggerates the contributions of this black leader and associate of John Brown.  However, the marker bears a dedication date of May 30, 1950, curiously late given that Day had died fifty years before.  Yet even herein lies another story of re-discovery.

Boyd B. Stutler, the godfather of John Brown scholarship, was a relentless researcher beginning from the early 20th century until his death in 1970.  One topic that Stutler hotly pursued in the mid-20th century was Brown's Chatham conference and his activities and associates in Canada, including W. H. Day.  As it turned out, Stutler somehow located Day's gravesite in Harrisburg, which by this time had been overgrown and forgotten.  As Stutler later recalled, after discovering Day's resting place, "by correspondence [I] sparked enough interest to secure the erection of a modest monument at the grave."  The "modest monument" was thus dedicated on May 30, 1950, apparently overseen by an ad hoc committee comprised of local black leaders.    According to Stutler, "[t]he group in charge wanted some elaborate dedication ceremonies---and invited DuBois to deliver the principal address."11
Boyd B. Stutler
W. E. B. DuBois

Stutler was a white West Virginian who had stumbled into Brown studies largely out of interest in his state's history, and had become attracted at first to the impact of Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry. Although his admiration for Brown grew expansively, Stutler evidently was never more than passively sympathetic to the black struggle, and certainly held no political ideas exceeding traditional conservatism.  A right-wing type with a career in local government, military, and veterans' affairs, Stutler made no connections between Brown and the Civil Rights movement of his own day, and was generally hostile toward anyone associated with the Left.  Stutler disdained even the Civil Rights marches of his later years, and when it came to W.E.B. DuBois, Stutler was particularly contemptuous since the former had moved in the direction of communism before his own death in 1963.  Writing to his associate, the Rev. Clarence Gee, following the news of DuBois' death (the black leader left the US and took up citizenship in Nkrumah's Ghana by this time), Stutler recalled DuBois' presence at the Day memorial meeting in May 1950: "[DuBois] spoke briefly and took his departure immediately.  It was not his going away so soon that irked the group, it was his attitude in general and some parts of his address--Day was anything but a left-winger," he concluded.12

III.  A Disappointing Book Tour

While these are all interesting aspects relating to the John Brown story, the central theme of the re-discovery of the Jason Brown and J. H. Hector association is reflected in both the 1891 York Daily article and the image of Brown and Hector.  The York Daily reporter states that for two evenings, Jason was to appear at the court house in York, initially for a reception greeting his first visit to the city, on Wednesday, February 18, and on the following night, he would appear alongside Hector.  The article, which probably was placed in the paper by Hector himself, says that the latter would deliver a lecture on the Civil War--which undoubtedly included an oratorical highlight on John Brown.  Then Jason Brown would "present his book, Life and Letters of John Brown, to the public, a lately revised work."  The article promised that Jason would "relate and correct some incidents concerning the life of his father," along with "wonderful" stories about his own life and experiences. Hector afterward was to escort Jason to Washington D.C. to speak once more along these lines.
F. B. Sanborn

Brown scholars will recognize, of course, that the book to be presented was not actually of Jason's authorship, but rather the bio-letter collection by Franklin B. Sanborn of Concord, Mass.   The first edition of Life and Letters was published by Sanborn himself in 1885, and the second edition was picked up for publication (without substantial changes being made) by Roberts Brothers of Boston, Mass., and republished in 1891.  Sanborn worked closely with John Brown's children in compiling the letters and biographical information for his work, and when the second edition was published in 1891, he enlisted Brown's sons to support its sale.  It was the republication of the Sanborn book that apparently brought Jason Brown into partnership with J. H. Hector, although it seems the black minister and activist was more enthusiastic in advancing the arrangement.

According to a letter from Jason to Sanborn in 1892, Jason and Hector had gone on the road to promote the Sanborn book in the northeast, including places in Connecticut in 1891, and the latter acted as the promoter of these appearances by advancing "showbills."   Jason's words suggest that he entered the partnership with hesitancy, determining to himself that he would "make as little show of myself as possible."  Jason was famously shy and found it burdensome to be put into the spotlight. Worse, Hector's advertisements were "flaming," promoting Jason as an orator with exciting stories to tell, whereas the whole idea of public speaking seems to have made him sick.  Jason did not fault Hector for trying, but the end result was that he felt "ruined. . . forever for the show business."

Rather than success, Jason began to see himself "as others see me," he wrote, until he became deeply discouraged and incapable of continuing the book tour with his black colleague. "The false light Hector[']s showbills placed me in was the principal cause of my giving it up," Jason wrote.  He had hoped to make it a profitable venture for both himself and Sanborn,  he concluded, and would have done so if he were half as good a speaker as Hector.  Having disappointed his friend and himself, Jason finally withdrew to his home in Akron, Ohio, where he could only make a living by farm work, or "digging" as he put it.  When a bill came from the publisher that Hector was supposed to pay for the books, Jason promised that he would cover the expense as soon as he could earn the money.13


1 Stephen H. Smith, "York Hosts Son of John Brown of Harper's Ferry Fame," YorksPast (York, Pa.), a blog found at: http://www.yorkblog.com/yorkspast/2016/02/17/york-john-brown/

2 Stephen H. Smith, "York Hosts Son of John Brown of Harper's Ferry Fame," York Daily Record (York, Pa.), 17 Feb. 2016.  http://www.ydr.com/story/news/history/blogs/yorkspast/2016/02/17/york-john-brown/80520742/

3 Gloria Erhart Miller, "Rev. John H. Hector," Find A Grave (13 Sept. 2008).  Images added by A. R. Degenhardt, 21 Oct. 2014.

4 Smith; Erhart Miller.

5 General summary of Jason Brown's life based upon a variety of readings.  His reference to the "mountain gale" is found in Jason Brown to F. B. Sanborn, 13 July 1892, MS-04-0015, Boyd B. Stutler Collection, West Virginia Memory Project. http://www.wvculture.org/history/wvmemory/jbdetail.aspx?Type=Text&Id=618

6 “Receptions to John Brown’s Son,” The York Daily, 17 Feb. 1891,  transcribed in Smith, "York Hosts Son of John Brown. . . ."

7 Inscription of William H. Day's monument/gravestone on Find A Grave, from image provided by Kathy Gifford on 25 Mar. 2014.  See http://image1.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=57203230&PIpi=98344465See

8 "William H. Day: Minister, Abolitionist, and College Founder,"  (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina). See http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/william-h-day-minister-abolitionist-and-college-founder

9 Boyd Stutler to Dwight Wilson, 29 Sept. 1948, RP03-0066E-F, Boyd B. Stutler Collection. See: http://www.wvculture.org/HiStory/wvmemory/jbdetail.aspx?Type=Text&Id=2575

10 "William H. Day: Minister, Abolitionist, and College Founder."

11  Stutler to Gee, 24 Nov. 1963, p. 1, Stutler-Gee Correspondence, Hudson Library and Historical Society, Hudson, Oh.

12 Ibid.

13 Jason Brown to Franklin B. Sanborn, July 13, 1892, MS04-0015 A-K, BBS.

Monday, February 15, 2016

John Brown in the News

Dennis Frye, Harper's Ferry Historian, Lecture, Dec. 5, 2015

On December 5, 2015, Dennis Frye, chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, presented a lecture, "John Brown and the Election of 1860," at Shepherd University's Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education, sponsored by the university's department of Civil War studies. Mr. Frye's lecture is available online on the website of C-SPAN3 here. (or see the full link below *)
Dennis Frye

"John Brown brought the topic of slavery into the parlors of every home in America. . . .  Geography no longer separated someone from the issue, and it became the topic of the day. John Brown not only spurred the discussion, but his actions spurred the South into secession."

"Our country would probably not be where it is today without John Brown. He was one of the most transformative figures in history."

Based on Mary Stortstrom, "John Brown history program to air on national TV."  Journal News [Martinsburg, West Va.], 13 Feb. 2016.


Mini-Series Published on Brown’s Early Life by Kansas Authority

Grady Atwater
Grady Atwater, the site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site in Osawatomie, Kansas, published a mini series on John Brown’s youth and early influences during January 2016.  The articles, published in the online version of The Miami County Republic (St. Joseph, Mo.) in the month of January are: “John Brown learned many of his beliefs from his parents” (6 Jan.); “John Brown’s mother had profound impact on his life” (13 Jan.); and “Experience as young boy helped shape John Brown’s ideology” (27 Jan.).

Links to Atwater articles:




Art Imitates Life Except, Apparently, When it Comes to Brown

In an article on Smithsonian.com dated January 27, historian and poet David C. Ward includes an interview with a poet and woodworker from the Harper's Ferry area named Steve Scafaldi, the winner of the 2014 Miller Williams Arkansas Poety Prize.  The article is typical of the misinformation and bias of many scholars and artists, such as Ward who begins the piece by drawing on the words of Sean Wilentz, a scholar whose bias against Brown is well known.
John Hendrix Illustration

Ward quotes poet Scafaldi:  “Many people in Virginia and West Virginia still see [Brown] more as a terrorist than a freedom fighter."  One of Scafaldi's poems, entitled "The Beams," explores Brown on the gallows, reflecting the poet's contaminated vision more than the historical record, typically fixated with Brown's "violence," which he imagines reflected in the dead abolitionist's eyes--“hard and wild/to see—like two slender crimson laser beams.”  Ward frames the Scafaldi piece further with a reference to Herman Melville's "Weird John Brown," the hackneyed conclusion that Brown was complex, and Scafaldi's conclusion that Brown “is still the wild ghost of that place.”  

Yawn.  Art imitates life except, except, all too often in the US, when it comes to John Brown.  Then it more or less imitates the miseducation of the artist.

Source: David C. Ward, "Can the Civil War still inspire today's poets?" Smithsonian.com (27 Jan. 2016).