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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Saturday, April 23, 2016

From the Field--

by H. Scott Wolfe

I have remarked before in this space that John Brown is not exactly a common topic of conversation around supper tables out here in The Holstein Belt. In fact, I would consider a local citizen well-versed in the story of the Old Man to be about as rare as a passenger pigeon or, at the very least, as a selfless Congressman. If the inhabitants of this “historic” burg do not first recognize John Brown as a gifted wide receiver for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, they probably think he was more likely the guy with the saggy pants who, last week, admirably connected their septic system.
The Fanatical Invader of Virginia

Thus my recent hiatus from these pages. I often am required, in my role as local librarian, to abandon the realms of Kansas, Harpers Ferry and Militant Abolitionism for that of Ulysses Simpson Grant . . . who, because of his very brief residence in this community during the 19th century, has been providing meaningful employment for our Chamber of Commerce . . . and enriching the local capitalists . . . ever since.

So I am known to meander about the countryside, orating upon the deeds and misdeeds of the General and 18th President. Everyone hereabouts knows, or claims to know, about Grant. Patrons continually surge into my office seeking to validate hereditary claims that their ancestors were the General’s neighbors; or maids; or schoolmates; or drinking buddies; or members of his military staff. Ad nauseam. Actually, my future wife was one of those patrons. And to this day she insists that the reason I adopted her as my spouse is that she knew who John Brown was.

But only a tiny few assail me with questions about the Old Man. Perhaps some day I will be able to historically link both Grant and Brown. There are persistent stories of the former’s father, Jesse Grant, having been apprenticed under . . . and living within the household of . . . John Brown’s father Owen. I have been recently communicating with the distinguished Brown scholar Tom Vince, of Hudson, Ohio, on this particular point.

The Respectable Invader of Virginia
But despite the fact that Grant, in his celebrated “Memoirs,” noted that his father “. . . worked for, and lived in the family of a Mr. Brown, the father of John Brown - whose body lies mouldering in the grave, while his soul goes marching on. . ,” both Tom and I would prefer to have a bit more reliable documentation to prove this relationship.

Also in the “Memoirs,” the General penned: “I have often heard my father speak of John Brown, particularly since the events at Harper’s Ferry. Brown was a boy when they lived in the same house, but he knew him afterwards, and regarded him as a man of great purity of character, of high moral and physical courage, but a fanatic and extremist in whatever he advocated. It was certainly the act of an insane man to attempt the invasion of the South, and the overthrow of slavery, with less then twenty men...”

Thus Ulysses S. Grant . . . who was rather adept at invading the South himself. It is in vain that I search the chroniclers of Grant’s 1864-65 Overland Campaign . . . when scores of Virginia slaves flocked to his army . . . to find one who describes the General as an extremist. As a fanatic. Or as one acting as would an insane man.

Ah history, don’t you love it?--H. Scott Wolfe


Comrade Makhyanov said...

Sir I have been reading this blog for about a year or more and I would like to say thank you. Your writings about John Brown are great and have given a lot of information on my favorite American Hero. I would like to have an interview with you about John Brown. My community of socialist podcasters and youtubers would like to have this interview aswell. Sorry I wasn't able to find another way to contact you and also sorry about this comment. If you don't want to contact us you can, but if you do i would very thankful.

sincerely comrade Makhyanov and God bless.

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr. . . said...

CM--thank you for your comment/note and interest in JB. Should you wish to reach out to me, use my school email: Louis.decaro@nyack.edu. Should you wish to interview my associate, who is a frequent contributor (and the author of this particular article), I will be happy to put you in touch with him. Regards-LD