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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, December 09, 2016

From the Files--Covering John Brown's Burial

From the Files--
Covering John Brown's Burial

Two New York daily newspapers figure preeminently in covering the last days of John Brown, Horace Greeley's antislavery New York Tribune and James Bennett's New York Herald.  It is not exaggerating to say that to a great degree, the rest of the newspaper reportage on John Brown's last days--at least in the North--was dependent upon what was published in these two papers.  While a good many newspapers dispatched journalists to cover the final reel at Harper's Ferry in October 1859, and then again for Brown's execution in December, the main flow of information from Virginia to the North about Brown throughout his final ordeal was provided by the Herald and the Tribune.

James G. Bennett

As I have observed in Freedom's Dawn: The Last Days of John Brown in Virginia, the New York Herald was privileged by Virginia authorities because of Bennett's ultra-conservative and proslavery position.  However, Bennett did not consistently have his New York journalists in Virginia, but rather depended upon local reporters to feed reports to the Herald.  Indeed, some of the most problematic reportage in the Herald seems to have come from a local newspaperman named Gallaher (sometimes written Gallager) who misrepresented facts in order to protect the image of slaveholders and to belittle Brown's impact in Virginia.  The Herald, however, is still quite useful in many respects because Bennett generally emphasized thorough gathering of details and so published a great deal of primary material, letters, and statements that are valuable to the historians.  For instance, Bennett could publish an entire article by abolitionist Frederick Douglass without interpolation, except for a demeaning title.

Horace Greeley

Quite in contrast, Horace Greeley's New York Tribune, was no less thorough, and equally ambitious in covering a wide range of topics.  Greeley's paper covered every aspect of contemporary life, from theater reviews to agricultural items and religious intelligence.  When it came to the Brown episode, Greeley accomplished what seemed impossible at the time, by placing one of his correspondents in Virginia incognito, since the Tribune was hated and banned by Virginia authorities.  While Greeley was not pro-Brown, he was at least sympathetic toward the abolitionist, and used his editorials to invoke sympathy for him, and to criticize the hasty and determined manner that Virginia had gone about in rushing the Old Man to trial and execution.

After Brown was executed on December 2, 1859, the Herald and the Tribune continued to cover details about his hanging, the removal of his body from Virginia and certain stops made en route to its final resting place in the Adirondacks.  When Brown's remains reached his farm in North Elba, Essex County, reporters from both papers were present to document the burial in their respective dailies.  I have not yet been able to document the names of these journalists, although it is very unlikely that they had previously covered Brown's last days in Virginia.

Five Sketches by Thomas Nast

Interestingly, when Brown was buried on Thursday, December 8, 1859, only one sketch artist from New York City was present on the ground in North Elba, having been sent upstate for J. Warner Campbell's New York Illustrated News.  Campbell's paper was a brand new publication, as it were, cutting its teeth on the John Brown episode.  Campbell had sent another artist, DeWitt Hitchcock to cover Brown's last days in Virginia, competing with two established illustrated publications, Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.  Nor was the competition friendly, with Campbell and Leslie feuding in the pages of the Tribune about the authenticity of their respective illustrations.  Interestingly, however, Leslie seems to have failed for some reason to extend the competition to sending an artist upstate to cover Brown's burial.  It appears that when the short, pudgy German artist, Thomas Nast, arrived at the Brown farm, the young artist had the entire episode to himself.

In Th. Nast: His Period and His Pictures (1904), biographer Albert Paine recalled the young artist's first job with Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, where he worked under the auspices of the high-minded German illustrator, Albert Berghaus.  In later years, Nast made cartoon of himself, the small, chubby newcomer, with Leslie towering over him. Interestingly, however, by 1859, Nast had left Leslie and gone over to Campbell's New York Illustrated News.  As the rising star of newspaper illustration, it was under assignment from Campbell that the young artist managed to capture the return and interment of Brown's remains for history.  In remembering the 157th anniversary of Brown's death and burial, then, what follows are scanned images of both the Tribune and Herald coverage, along with Nast's brilliant sketches in The New York Illustrated Newspaper.

*  *  *

"The Burial of John Brown."  New York Daily Tribune, 12 December 1859, p. 6, col. 1-3


Thomas Nast, "our artist on the spot," captured the arrival of the carriage carrying Mary 
Brown, Wendell Phillips, and abolitionist James Miller McKim on Wednesday evening, 
December 7.  Note the great rock to the left, where Brown was buried the following day 
following a brief viewing of the body.  New York Illustrated News, 24 Dec. 1859, p. 85.

Rev. Joshua Young, a Unitarian minister, had already alienated some of his congregation in Burlington, Vt.,  after preaching a Thanksgiving Day sermon that included admiring references to John Brown.  When Brown was hanged, Young took it upon himself to make the arduous trek from Vermont to North Elba, N.Y. in order to attend Brown's funeral.  Little did he know that he would be the only clergyman present, and that he would end up eulogizing Brown.  Young's ministry was adversely impacted, since there were many conservatives in Vermont, and eventually he was forced to resign his pulpit in Burlington as a result of intense resentment among his neighbors and congregants.  As an old man, Young returned to preside over the interment of the remains of Brown's raiders after they were recovered from Virginia in 1899.  New York Illustrated News, 24 Dec. 1859, p. 92.  See this blog, H. Scott Wolfe, "The Second Harper's Ferry Raid: The Fate of John Brown's Men" (Part 3 in a series), 13 Sept. 2015 

Nast made perhaps the most important of the funeral set of sketches in capturing Brown's 
partially opened coffin being viewed by family and admirers.  I suggest the following 
identification from left: Jane and Roswell Thompson, parents of two of Brown's fallen 
raiders; orator Wendell Phillips; Lyman Epps, a black colonist and friend of the Brown 
family; Salmon Brown (son); Ellen Brown (young daughter); James Miller McKim, holding 
the arm of the widow, Mary Brown; daughter Ruth Brown Thompson and husband Henry Thompson.  
Perhaps the man at the foot of the coffin is Phineas Norton of Keene, N.Y., a 
friend of Brown.  This sketch appeared in The New York Illustrated News, 24 Dec. 1859, 
p. 93.  The figure on the far upper right seems to be Nast with his sketch book, the artist 
having included himself in the picture.

"The 'Impending Crisis; The Burial of John Brown."  New York Herald, 12 December 1859, p. 1, col. 1-3

Nast captured the lowering of the coffin into the ground, near the great rock, with the empty viewing table in the background near the Brown house.  New York Illustrated News, 24 Dec. 1859, p. 81.

Before departing, Nast sketched the grave of John Brown near the great rock.  New York Illustrated News, 24 Dec. 1859, p. 92


Rich said...

Wonderful to read the complete story all in one block. Of course I have seen all the images but never looked at them in detail. Thanks for the explanations. In the viewing of the body outside the North Elba farmhouse, I assume that is the headstone in the right of the picture.

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

Thanks Rich, I appreciate your interest. Yes, I didn't comment on the grave stone, but might do so in a separate post. My conclusion is that it is properly not a grave stone, although it became one with Brown's death. Initially, it was a memorial marker placed in Connecticut in remembrance of John Brown's grandfather, Capt. John Brown, who died during the war of rebellion against Britain. During Brown's lifetime, that stone had been replaced and set aside literally, where Brown found it when visiting Connecticut in 1857. At that time, he arranged to have it shipped to North Elba, NY, where he intended to use it as a memorial for his son Frederick, who had fallen as a homicide in Kansas the year before, in 1856. It was Brown's intention to keep the stone as a double memorial, to his grandfather and to his son, both as fallen heroes of freedom. When he failed in Virginia and was sentenced to death, he directed that his name, and the names of his sons Oliver and Watson, who died in the Harper's Ferry effort, also be inscribed on the stone. The guy who did the carving on the stone in 1859 was interviewed in the later 19th century paper and has some interesting reminiscences. Hopefully I can pull that together in the near future. Regards--LD