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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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Thursday, April 05, 2018

In the News: From Kansas City to "Mutton Hill"

Two Martyrs Remembered

Attendees leave garlands of hearts in
commemoration of King and Brown
(Mary Rupert, Wyandotte Daily)

Yesterday a memorial program marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. was held at the Quindaro John Brown statue in Kansas City, Kan.  Mary Rupert of the Wyandotte Daily online has an excellent report with photos that was posted in the April 5th edition (https://goo.gl/a5Sgp3).

As Rupert observed, the memorial program "was an answer to the vandalism with hate slurs discovered March 18 at the John Brown statue."  Rupert also points out that the erection of the Brown statue by the black community in 1910 was prompted by the election of a racist mayor in Kansas City, Kan. 

The memorial was attended by students, educators, community leaders, and by John Brown scholar and local historian, Fred Whitehead.  One of the featured speakers, Commissioner Harold Johnson, commented:
   “Let us not fool ourselves, my brothers and sisters, there are still forces, even within our community, who allow evil to dictate their motivations,” Johnson said. “Those who would stoop so low as to deface this monument of hope, such as this John Brown memorial, we can look to history as our guide, because we can see even 50 years ago there were those who sought to silence Dr. King. They stood against his position of nonviolent civil discord. Even during this season of Easter, we are reminded of those who defamed the personhood of Christ. So while those moments in time served as a stain on the consciousness of our community, our beloved community, those heinous moments did not and must not cause the efforts of righteousness and equity to cease and desist.”

Wool Days in Akron Revisited

 The Summit County Historical Society (SCHS) in Akron, Ohio, has found some creative ways to revisit the days of John Brown and his wealthy partner, Simon Perkins Jr.   The Perkins mansion was reopened yesterday (Apr. 4) with a self-guided tour ($8 for adults and $2 for students), available from Wednesday through Saturday from 1-4 p.m. (The cost for guided tours is $12. Guided tours are now by appointment only.)  

More interesting perhaps is the news from SCHS that sheep have been restored as a presence on the grounds of the Perkins property for the first time since the mid-19th century, when John Brown resided in Akron, acting as the supervisor of the Perkins flocks and farm (1850-54).  In those days, the Perkins residence was nicknamed "Mutton Hill" by Akronites.  Here is the notice from the SCHS website:
Sheep Graze Again At Perkins Mansion 
The Society's board of directors in May approved a proposal to return a flock of Dorset sheep to the grounds of the Perkins mansion this summer. "It will be the first time in a century that the home of Akron's founding family will see the return of the animal that first made Simon Perkins and John Brown famous," says Society chairman Dave Lieberth. The proposal calls for the demonstration project to be underway by the Society's annual Family Fun Day, Saturday, July 16, and continue through August or later, depending on weather and grazing conditions. 

"Mutton Hill" is the name that residents of 19th century Akron gave to Perkins' 150-acre farm, known for its 1,500 sheep that were reputed to produce some of the finest wool in the world. The Society is collaborating with The Spicy Lamb Farm of Peninsula to bring the sheep to the mansion grounds. Owner Laura DeYoung Minnig, who is also the Executive Director of Urban Shepherds, says "I'm excited to promote urban sheep grazing as a cost-saving and environmental alternative to mowing, while educating youth and recruiting future shepherds." 

In 1844, Col. Simon Perkins employed abolitionist John Brown to tend the flock of Merino sheep. Brown lived with his family in the 2-room house at Diagonal and Copley Roads, and traveled to Europe to promote the Perkins-Brown partnership. "We want to interpret the importance of agriculture in Summit County's growth and development before it became a manufacturing center," says Society CEO Leianne Neff Heppner. For generations of the Perkins family lived at the Stone Mansion estate. Ohio was a major producer of mutton and wool in the 19th century. All of the soldiers in the Civil War wore wool uniforms. Lieberth says sheep dog herding demonstrations, craft activities for children, fiber art, and wool spinning will also engage visitors to the properties this summer.


On January 11, 1844, John Brown wrote to his namesake, informing him of his new partnership with Simon Perkins Jr.:
I have lately entered into a partnership with Simon Perkins Jr of Akron with a view to carry on the Sheep business extensively.  He is to furnish all the feed, & shelters for wintering as a set off against our takeing all the care of the flock.  All other expences we are to share equally, & to divide the proffits equally.  This arangement will reduce our cash rents at least $250 yearly & save our hireing help in Haying. [John Brown Jr. Papers, Ohio Historical Society] 
The Practical Shepherd
ca. 1857
(Kan. State Hist. Soc.)
As a side note, Brown was rejoicing that the partnership would be profitable, particularly as he would save $250 annually on rental and hiring help for haying.  In 2018 dollars, Brown was talking about saving as much as $8,000 a year.  Keep in mind that Brown was already under the employ of another prosperous Ohio figure, Heman Oviatt of Richfield, Ohio.  Brown was doing similar work with Oviatt and had begun to build quite a profile as an expert in fine sheep and wool by 1844, when he was hired by Perkins to come to Akron. Part of Brown's genius as a sheep "guru" was extensive traveling and surveying of flocks throughout the east, as far north as Vermont and as far south as Virginia.  His skill and expertise in breeding made him both a recognized expert in the field and a prospective leader among the wool growers.  This led to his (and Perkins') failed foray into the wool commission business between 1846-49, in Springfield, Mass.  However, after the closing of the wool commission house, Brown returned to Akron and remained in partnership with Perkins for four more years.  So much for the hackneyed claim that he was an utter failure in business.
Simon Perkins Jr.
in later life (ca. 1870)

While most historians make quick work of this period of Brown's life in order to rush to "Bleeding Kansas," I find the period of the Perkins-Brown collaboration most interesting and inspiring.  In some sense, one will never learn more about the man John Brown than one will by observing him in the years of this partnership.   When one is reminded that Brown and Perkins were partners for a full decade (1844-54), then it is important to note that the narrative of this period contradicts the hackneyed notion of Brown as an utter failure who turned to abolition as a kind of last effort to redeem himself.  The John Brown of the Perkins and Brown period was a maturing, active, and self-restrained figure--managing farm, flocks, and wool business concerns while intensely observing the slavery issue, engaging in conversations with abolitionists, and planning his own antislavery effort. The idea that he did not become the John Brown we know until he went to Kansas is utterly false.  Personally, though, I treasure the vignette of the "practical shepherd," the man who took great pains to care for the sheep and who believed that each sheep had a distinct face, just as do people.  

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