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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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Saturday, December 22, 2018

Rich Smyths's Where Are They Now? "BLEEDING KANSAS"

The wind sowed in Kansas, reaped a whirlwind in Virginia.1

Ironically, the issue of slavery began with the birth of freedom in this country. In the eyes of many, the proclamation in The Declaration of Independence that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” was a lie.

Slavery, which ate away at the union until it split apart and was almost destroyed, was not simply abolished by a president’s stroke of a pen, but after decades of struggle with bloodshed on both sides.

In the late 17th century, the people speaking out against slavery were derisively termed Abolitionists by southern slave holders. The label stuck and was worn as a badge of honor by those opposed to the “peculiar institution.”

But the degree of opposition was varied, with some hoping that the issue would eventually just fade away over time and others with more militant feelings, that it had to be done away with immediately, regardless of how that end was achieved.

By the 1840’s, hundreds of slaves each year were escaping their oppression by traveling north to freedom using a loosely formed but highly effective and motivated Underground Railroad system.

In 1850 the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law or Fugitive Slave Act which required that all escaped slaves were, upon capture, to be returned to their masters and those officials and citizens of free states had to cooperate in this law or face arrest.

This act galvanized the Abolitionists who faced the prospect of violating their religious or personal beliefs by returning fugitive slaves to their masters. When northern states announced their intention to violate the law, President Millard Fillmore retaliated by threatening to use federal troops to uphold the ruling.

Although troops were never used, the warning had an unintended effect. Abolitionists believed that the government was firmly in support of the southern states and slave holders and that they would have to act on their own to accomplish their goal.

In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska act was passed that placed the country on a course of civil war. This law, which organized these two territories for settlement, proposed that the residents would vote on whether or not to allow slavery when the territory became a state in what was termed “popular sovereignty.”

Kansas Territory would become the early battleground for those with strong opinions on both sides of the slavery question - soon to be called “Bleeding Kansas.”2

The time was fast approaching when more decisive action would be taken.

Proslavery forces versus both Free-staters and Abolitionists organized efforts to rally support for the impending elections which would decide the fate of the state. These efforts turned to threats and then violence on both sides when Missouri “border ruffians” streamed across the state line illegally claiming land for voter’s rights and in retaliation Northern Abolitionists organized groups of immigrants to settle in Kansas.

The largest of the aid groups was the New England Emigrant Aid Company originally incorporated as the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company until the name was changed in February, 1855. Supported by New England abolitionists, the company negotiated reduced transportation costs for the future Free-state settlers as well as temporary housing upon arrival. Although the New England Emigrant Aid Company was the most well known, other smaller emigrant aid companies organized to assist antislavery supporters in settling Kansas.

The first group of immigrants arrived in Kansas on August 1st 1854, at an area that would become the city of Lawrence.  Thirteen additional parties would follow establishing Lawrence as a Free-state city along with the newspaper Herald of Freedom becoming their voice.

By late 1855 the two opposing groups had set up rival governments. Presidents Pierce and Buchanan would each recognize the proslavery group in their administrations.

Violence occurred on both sides but mostly and including murder being inflicted by pro-slavery forces who wished to continue the subjugation of Black people… upon the Free-staters, Free-soilers, Abolitionists and jayhawkers.

Into this dispute entered John Brown.

With funding and weaponry from antislavery supporters in New York and Ohio, John Brown headed for Kansas where he would first take up arms during the pro-slavery versus Free-state struggle in 1856 (the larger time frame of the struggle in the Kansas Territory was 1854-1861). Five of Brown’s sons had previously migrated to Kansas to settle and assist in the effort to prevent the state from becoming a slave state. After his sons sent word concerning fear of being attacked by proslavery thugs, Brown went to Kansas, arriving in the fall of 1855 with a wagon load of weapons.3

Prior to 1856, the struggle was one-sided, with the Free-state side doing all the bleeding.  Notably, a Free-stater named Charles W. Dow was shot and killed by pro-slavery settler Franklin N. Coleman on November 21, 1855 as a result of a land dispute. Just as Dow had passed Coleman’s claim, Coleman fired at him. His gun misfired and Dow begged for mercy, but he was finally shot dead in the road.

Jacob Branson, who lived with Dow, made threats against Coleman and was arrested by Sheriff Samuel J. Jones, a proslavery official.  However, Branson was quickly rescued by a group of Free-staters led by James Burnett Abbott and taken to safety in the Free-state town of Lawrence.

Franklin Coleman could never have realized that his actions on that November day were part of a chain of events of local and national significance (The Wakarusa War, The sack of Lawrence, Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry and subsequent hanging) that culminated in the firing on Fort Sumter and the ensuing Civil War. Along with the ballots of the majority Free-state settlers, these actions would result in Kansas being admitted into the Union, and later the eventual end of chattel slavery in the United States.

In 1855, things had escalated quickly as well over a thousand pro-slavery Missourians under the command of Sheriff Jones crossed the border to menace the town of Lawrence under the pretext of arresting Branson a second time. In fact, Jones had just been waiting for an excuse to attack the town. John Brown had lived peacefully in the territory from the fall of 1855 until the pro-slavery invasion in the spring of 1856.  Along with four of his sons and James Lane, he mustered the citizens and erected barricades in defense of Lawrence. This episode became known as the Wakarusa War. Prior to Jones arriving at Lawrence, Branson and a few friends quietly left town.4

One of the newly arrived Free-state immigrants, Thomas Barber, had taken a land claim north of the Wakarusa River. On December 6, 1855 he received word that pro-slavery forces were headed towards Lawrence.

In the company of his brother, Robert F. Barber and Thomas M. Pierson, Thomas Barber rode towards the town. About four miles southeast of town they met a pro-slavery party which reportedly included George Washington Clark, the Indian agent in the area who then shot and killed Barber. Clark bragged that he had "sent another of these d----d abolitionists to his winter quarters.”5

When Thomas said that he had been shot, his brother Robert responded, “It is not possible, Thomas?” To this he replied, “It is,” at the same time smiling again. I do not think that he realized how badly he was hurt. After uttering these--his last words--he dropped his reins and reeled in his saddle; seeing that he was about to fall, his brother recalled, "I caught hold of him by the left shoulder, grasping the loose overcoat which he wore. I held him thus for nearly a hundred yards; I could then hold him no longer, and he fell to the ground; as he did so, I slipped from my horse, at the same time calling out 'Whoa!' Both horses stopped immediately; I bent over my brother, and found that he was dead, and felt that we could do nothing for him."

The city of Lawrence was barricaded against the invading forces. The two sides were at a standoff for a week when a peace treaty of sorts was enacted by the governor of Missouri. Sheriff Jones would have to wait four months to attack the abolitionist town. Thomas Barber’s body was then taken to Lawrence where he was instantly recognized as a martyr to the cause of freedom. The poet John Greenleaf Whittier penned the verse, “Burial of Barber,” which received national attention and further stirred antislavery sentiments in the North.

Thomas Barber was buried in Oread Cemetery in Lawrence and his plot was marked by a large obelisk until toppled, separated into three pieces and covered over by grass and weeds. The cemetery became known as “Pioneer Cemetery” but fell into disrepair and finally abandoned until the 1990’s, when a local group sought to clean up the burial ground. Barber’s nine-foot monument was restored in 1997 with Whittier’s poem engraved and placed next to the marker.

Thomas Barber is buried in Pioneer Cemetery – Lawrence, Kansas
(Image courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society)

The cemetery is located at the intersection of Constant Avenue and Irving Hill Road, Lawrence, Kansas. The cemetery also contains the remains of four of the 200 victims killed by Confederate William Clarke Quantrill and his raiders on August 21, 1863 which was considered one of the bloodiest events of the entire Civil War.

George Washington Clarke was born in Washington D.C. on February 22, 1812. On June 22, 1844 he married Malvina Deluren Doak and they had six children; Joseph Mastella (1847-1899), Elizabeth Renetta (about 1849-?), William (about 1852-?), Perkins (about 1854-?), Georgie (1858-1943) and Cora Anne “Dixie” (1862-1928).6

George had been a newspaper editor in Arkansas and Texas until his appointment in 1853 as Indian Agent for the Pottowatomie Indians in the Kansas Territory.7

He joined the Confederate army at the beginning of the war and at its close immigrated to Mexico where he resumed his newspaper career as editor and proprietor of the Two Republics (Dos Republicas), an American newspaper published in the city of Mexico.8

His wife Malvina died about 1864 in Bexar County, Texas. She had been born circa 1827 in Mississippi.

Clarke died in Mexico on December 19th 1888 of heart disease and was buried in Mexico City’s National Cemetery, location: Plot 4, row 4, wall W, crypt 5.

This image shows the west wall where Clarke is buried
(Image courtesy of Find A Grave contributor student of the world, I.D. 47980946)

--> The cemetery which was established in 1851 by the United States Congress to gather the American dead of the Mexican-American War that lay in the nearby fields and to provide burial space for Americans who died in the vicinity is located at 31 Virginia Fabregas, Colonia San Rafael about 2 miles (3.2 km) west of the Metropolitan Cathedral and about 1-mile (1.6 km) north of the U.S. Embassy.--Rich Smyth

NEXT MONTH: the Charles W. Dow murder, where are they now?


     1 Quoted by Abolitionist Lydia Maria Child in regards to abolitionist and Free-state activities in Kansas.

     2 The term "Bleeding Kansas" was coined by Republican Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune.

     3 The wagon also contained the body of 4-year-old Austin Brown, son of Jason Brown. The young boy had died of cholera during the trip west and was hurriedly interred in Missouri. He was reburied near the Brown land claims in Osawatomie. Pro-slavery forces seeking revenge on John Brown would burn their homes and torch the wooden cross marking young Austin’s grave. Information taken from The Secret Six by Edward J. Renehan, Jr. (University of South Carolina Press), pg. 88.

     4 Some accounts suggest that John Brown and his sons only arrived in Lawrence a few days prior to the treaty being signed.

     5 In addition to Clarke, another in the party claimed responsibility for the murder. James Burnes, known as Col. Burnes, a merchant of Westport, Missouri said he shot Barber. Neither of them ever knew who fired the fatal shot. Clark said to an acquaintance three days after, "I tried to kill him and if it was not me I wish it had been."  The man who fired the fatal shot rode a gray horse, had on a cap and a light-colored overcoat. He was a short, stout man. Neither Clark nor Burnes in years after, sought to solve the uncertainty or claimed the honor attached to "shooting an Abolitionist." - William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas, TERRITORIAL HISTORY, Part 26 - THE WAKARUSA WAR, PART 2 - (https://bit.ly/2Gzwq2Z)

  Image courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society.

     6 See the website, Laura's Lineal and Collateral Ascent, "George W. Clarke." (https://bit.ly/2BDcarm)

     7 Ibid.

     8 Ibid.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

John Brown's Grave

After his execution on December 2, 1859, Brown's body was conveyed to New York City first, where it was prepared for burial by sympathizers, and then sent upstate to Essex County, in the Adirondacks.  His body was conveyed by rail, then by boat across Lake Champlain from Vergennes, Vermont to Westport, N.Y.  The body was then carried by wagon up to North Elba, where he was interred on the grounds of his own farm on December 8.   His widow and surviving family sold the farm and moved west in 1863.  Over the years, the Brown farm was privately owned and eventually passed into the ownership of New York State. The John Brown Farm and gravesite has not attracted the numbers of visitors that have commonly visited the sites of presidents and statesmen, but over many years it has attracted myriads of faithful pilgrims, white and black.  Unlike those prominent sites that tend to service the mythology and top-down narrative of "America," the John Brown Farm is truly a site of conscience that testifies to the real history of the United States with its gross wrongs and injustices, and perhaps the quintessential story of one family that sacrificed everything for the cause of justice.  Perhaps it is time for you to make that pilgrimage.

John  Brown's body lies a mouldering in the grave.  His soul goes marching on.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

John Brown's Brother: Frederick Brown Supports the Greeley Campaign of 1872

1859 Lithograph of Brown
holding Greeley's 
(Library of Congress Collection)
Horace Greeley (1811-72) is remembered as the founder and publisher of the New York Tribune, the most prominent antislavery newspaper in the antebellum era.  Greeley was a liberal Whig in politics and was despised by the slave South and proslavery Democrats in the North. Antislavery people read the Tribune, including John Brown.  In one of his memorandum books captured and published after the Harper's Ferry raid, Brown recorded having sent $3 for a subscription to the Tribune, presumably for his family in North Elba, N.Y., since he was preparing to go to Maryland under an alias.  It was Greeley's newspaper that provided the single most important coverage of Brown's last days as a prisoner in Virginia, particularly through the incognito reportage of the Tribune's theater critic, Edward H. House.

Greeley: Preparing the Way for the End of Reconstruction

Toward the end of the Civil War, Greeley was heavily criticized for opposing Lincoln’s renomination by the Republican Party in 1864, taking the position that Lincoln could not win the war. He was also criticized for contributing to the bail bond of former rebel president Jefferson Davis in 1867.  Unfortunately, he was joined in this effort by another double-minded hero of the antebellum era, Gerrit Smith, an alumnus of Brown's "Secret Six."  Greeley in particular reflected the easy backflip that many antislavery whites made after the Civil War, and which led to the ultimate demise of Reconstruction.

An 1895 sketch portrays Greeley's role in
signing the bail bond for Jeff Davis

(New York Public Library)
In fairness to Greeley, however, it is a matter of record that the first term of Pres. Ulysses S. Grant was rife with corruption, particularly the Crédit Mobilier affair of 1872-73, in which railroad company shares were accepted by various leaders in Washington D.C., bringing scandal to the Grant Administration.  But although a more generous reading of Greeley and others backpedaling from the Republican Party can be attributed to scandal, it is nevertheless the case that Greeley was on the vanguard of white society's pushback against radical Republicans in favor of the white South.

When Grant ran for reelection in 1872, Greeley joined a group of Republican dissenters who took the name of the "Liberal Republican Party," and was nominated as their candidate to run for the Presidency.  The Democratic Party, which had taken the wrong side of history prior to the Civil War, tried to do a quick fix by supporting Greeley's platform too.  But there were yet many consistent antislavery Republicans who saw through Greeley's "liberal" posture, recognizing that his politics were not just about anti-corruption but also a move away from the radical Republican position toward compromise with the former traitors and proslavery rebels of the South.  A notable opponent of Greeley was the political cartoonist, Thomas Nash, who portrayed Greeley as a sell-out willing to compromise with the racists and former rebels of the South.

This political cartoon by Thomas Nast in Harper's Weekly, Oct. 1872, portrays Greeley shaking hands
with a racist white Southerner, the bodies of blacks and the U.S. flag under his feet

Horace Greeley ca. 1870
(Wikimedia Commons)
One source says that Greeley was so harshly criticized that he was not sure if he was running for the presidency or the penitentiary. His effort to win the White House failed quite significantly, although he did not even live to see the complete outcome.  After losing his wife, Greeley himself fell ill and was institutionalized, dying before the counting of electoral college votes was complete.  As it turned out, he received only three of the sixty-six electoral votes that had been pledged to him.  On the other hand, his ability to win or dominate in several Southern states and capture forty percent of the popular vote foreshadowed something ugly on the political landscape--what Rayford Logan so aptly called "The Betrayal of the Negro" by the undermining of Reconstruction.

John and Frederick Brown

In the fall of 1872, it was widely reported in newspapers across the country that a family member of John Brown had thrown his weight behind Horace Greeley's campaign.  This was big news.  Although John Brown had been dead for well over a decade, the public was generally interested in news about his family.  When it became known that Frederick Brown, the brother of John Brown of Harper's Ferry fame was supporting Greeley, it was notably observed in the South and enthusiastically greeted by Greeley's supporters in the north and west.  Frederick Brown (1807-77) was noted in newspaper reports as being the only surviving sibling of John Brown, although this discounted his half-brothers and sisters born to his father Owen Brown's second wife, Sally Root Brown.
Frederick Brown (Source uncertain--
possibly Hudson Library &
Historical Society?)

In John Brown's surviving correspondence, Frederick figures only slightly, in the 1830s and early '40s.  The scarcity of letters to Frederick in the 1840s and 1850s may suggest that the two brothers did not entirely see eye-to-eye regarding John's radical antislavery measures.  Certainly there is no extant letter either from or to Frederick Brown among John Brown's jail correspondence--quite in contrast to the several letters between Brown and his younger half-brother, Jeremiah Root Brown.  I happily defer to Brown family member and family historian, Alice Keesey Mecoy, as to further biographical information or commentary on Frederick Brown beyond the fact that he seems largely absent from mention in much of the material on his famous brother's later years.

Perhaps the most famous letter to Frederick Brown from John Brown is accessible in Sanborn's Life and Letters of John Brown (the original is privately held by a collector who has not proven generous even in sharing images or transcriptions, although he should know that what is valuable to historians is not what is valuable to him as a hoarder of primary documents).  The letter, written in November 21, 1834, is notable to biographers of Brown because it marks his thought at a pre-radical phase of his antislavery thinking.  In the letter, John Brown writes of his "confident expectation that God is about to bring [enslaved blacks] all out of the house of bondage."  In the main portion of his letter, he requests Frederick to join him in setting up a school for young blacks.  He writes:
If once the Christians in the free States would set to work in earnest in teaching the blacks, the people of the slaveholding States would find themselves constitutionally driven to set about the work of emancipation immediately.1 
Of course, by late 1850, John Brown had changed his mind significantly from this point of view, instead having come to believe that slave hunters empowered by the Fugitive Slave Law had to be physically resisted.  He had already been nursing the plan of a "grand rescue" of enslaved people from the South, although after his time in Kansas this plan took on a more militant side: slave holders and their militia might have to be resisted with measured violence in order to destabilize slavery throughout the South.  The rest, including his invasion of Virginia, as they say, is history.

Frederick Brown, 1872

Thirteen years after his brother was hanged in Virginia, Frederick Brown made national news by coming out in support of the "Liberal Republicans" and their candidate, Horace Greeley.  In this regard, the Chicago Tribune picked up a fascinating report from The Cincinnati Commercial, describing Frederick as "an elderly gentleman of rather marked appearance, plain in manners, but bearing the impress of intelligence and decision of character regulated by knowledge of men and the world."  The article states that Frederick had practiced law but had retained the same love of "raising fine stock" for which his brother John was known.  Interestingly, the article--apparently based on Frederick Brown's own claims--say that he was an antislavery man before John, and had converted his famous brother by "sending him a copy of an address published by Birney"--meaning the Ohio lawyer and abolitionist, James G. Birney.

The article goes on to describe Frederick's basis for supporting Greeley: that "the shackles have been knocked off the limbs of four million chattel slaves, who are now with their posterity, forever free; and not only free, but citizens, with the same rights and privileges, including the right to vote, that anybody else has." The author of the article, still reiterating Frederick, concluded that "this should satisfy us" and "cause us to try to reconcile those who, as all men do, smart under such entire defeat."  This would avoid further hostility and "bring about lasting reconciliation and friendship between the two section," he wrote.

The article is telling, not only about Frederick Brown, but about the easy turnabout that many putative antislavery people--even in the Brown family--made after about a decade following the war.  That turnabout was reflective of greater concern for the unity and peace of white society than the considerable inequity and systemic changes necessary to complete the elevation of an oppressed people to a level of human and political satisfaction.  As Frederick Brown's pattern of reasoning exhibits, many whites were far more concerned with ameliorating white society's sense of instability; in such thinking, this instability could only be resolved by the restoration of white privilege and priority. Ultimately this is exactly what was accomplished when Reconstruction was undermined in the later 1870s--former traitors and rebels from the South were restored to power over the black populace, no real punishment was administered to the traitors, and black people were reduced to a state of "free" peonage and segregation, not to mention terror at the hands of former rebels masked and murderous.  In a real sense this betrayal of the liberated community was enabled by the likes of Horace Greeley and his kind, and also with the naive support of men like Frederick Brown--sadly, the very brother of the most militant ally of black people in US history.

The rest of the Cincinnati Commercial article chronicled Frederick's other reasons for supporting Greeley: that charge that Grant and his followers were less about earnest convictions of justice and more about "selfish ends and ambitions"; and finally the belief that Greeley was foremost among the antislavery generation for intelligence, self-sacrifice, and integrity.2 

The support of John Brown's brother for Horace Greeley made news across the country.  In Raleigh, North Carolina, the Weekly Sentinel picked up the Commercial's report with interest, succinctly noting the same three reasons for Brown's support of Greeley--noting that the "anti-slave [sic] party has already accomplished its work. . . . Grant and his Ring are not actuated by principle, but selfish interest," and "Greeley is honest and reliable."3  Even in John Brown's Kansas, the pro-Greeley editor of the Olathe Mirror relished the news, counting Frederick's support as one of the great gains of the Greeley campaign.  "Here is a family," the editor boasted, "to whose insight and devotion even Mr. Wm. Lloyd Garrison would be willing to bow.  Where John Brown's brother gladly goes, no declaration by Mr. Wendell Phillips of danger from Rebels can deter antiSlavery men from following."4

A Rejoinder from John Brown Jr.

Newspaper sketch of
John Brown Jr.
ca. 1870s
Clearly, the political direction taken by Frederick Brown was already a point of concern before it made national news in the fall of 1872.  In early August, John Brown Jr., whose politics were in sympathy for the radical Republicans (and later for leftists), could not remain silent on the subject of his Uncle Frederick's political choice.  In a letter first published in the Philadelphia Bulletin but then picked up by the New York Times, John Junior protested any use of the Greeley faction of the Brown family legacy, apparently in response to an editorial inquiry.  On August 2, 1872, he wrote:
It is a matter of surprise to me that you could for a moment suppose that I am in favor of placing in power the party which every friend of liberty and equal rights had found it necessary to oppose with all his might these many years.  If any other of my friends entertain  such an opinion of me, please do me the favor to correct their mistake.  I am still, as I ever have been, faithful to Republican principles, and to the only party in the United States which, it seems to me, fairly represents them--the party whose standard-bearers are Grant and Wilson.5 Very truly yours,
                                                                                                           John Brown, Jr.6
John Brown Jr., who probably was speaking for most or all of the family, was clear that he could not support any political agenda that could be combined with the Democrat Party's agenda as was Greeley's platform.  John Jr. was acutely aware that the concerns of the liberated black community in the US were not to be so easily disposed of, and that beyond liberation and giving the vote to black men it would be necessary to enable them to establish political and economic equality in the nation--something that tragically was never accomplished. When Reconstruction went sideways later that decade, John Jr. was among a number of former abolitionists who tried to go to the aid of blacks in the wake of another wave of white supremacy sweeping through the South.  John Jr. doubtlessly recognized that Greeley had abandoned the cause of racial justice too quickly in order to appease the sensibilities of white privilege and white supremacy in the nation.  Unfortunately, despite Greeley's defeat in 1872, the nation would move precisely in the direction that Greeley had anticipated by bailing out Jefferson Davis and shaking hands with an unrepentant South.  Shortly, in the movement that Greeley prefigured, even John Brown's legacy would suffer, along with the real black victims of the resurgence of white supremacy in the South and beyond.

If there is a moral to this story it is that the struggle for justice is always a constant and present effort, even when the greatest battles have been won.-LD


     1 See Sanborn, Life and Letters of John Brown, pp40-41.
     2 "John Brown's Brother," Chicago Tribune, 17 Sept. 1872, p. 2.
     3 Weekly Sentinel [Raleigh, N.C.], 24 Sept. 1872, p. 3.
     4 "The Good Cause Goes On," Olathe Mirror [Olathe, Kan.], 26 Sept. 1872, p. 2.
     5 The Wilson to which he refers is Henry Wilson, the antislavery senator from Massachusetts who ran as the vice-presidential candidate with Grant in 1872.
     6 "John Brown's Family," New York Times, 23 Sept. 1872.