From the Files--
Covering John Brown's Burial
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.
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
"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|