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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Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Return of a Kansas Classic

In 1900, William Elsey Connelley’s John Brown was issued by the Kansas publisher, Crane & Company, first in a two-part edition without notes (as part of an educational series), and then in one volume with notes.  Connelley is known as one of the leading researchers and authorities on Kansas history, an author of many books and articles covering a wide range of historical and cultural themes. 

William Elsey Connelley
The genius of Connelley’s biography was its Kansas core—his understanding of Kansas territorial history and how John Brown became a legendary figure in the dramatic conflict between proslavery and free state forces.  As a biography, Connelley’s John Brown made no great impact despite receiving some appreciative reviews.  Yet the book’s value as a source on Brown’s Kansas role is invaluable.  Notwithstanding Oswald G. Villard’s celebrated portrayal of John Brown a decade later (1910), no biographer of Brown has understood the abolitionist’s Kansas story as well as Connelley.  Indeed, it is Connelley’s reading of the evidence in context that presents a truer sense of John Brown’s significance in territorial Kansas than has been typically presented.  While Villard surveyed evidence and used interviews with survivors, it is clear that his pacifism and familial Garrisonian bias heavily influenced his interpretation, especially in regard to the controversial Pottawatomie episode.  Unfortunately, it was Villard’s claims that shaped subsequent 20th century writing about Brown rather than Connelley’s fair and studied analysis.

As a lifetime John Brown scholar, it has been my privilege to revisit William Elsey Connelley’s work in a new excerpted, edited, and reintroduced version, John Brown in Kansas.  This is not the entire Connelley biography, but its Kansas core--the central chapters of his book that frame the real history of Brown in territorial Kansas. 

Apart from Connelley’s background material on slavery, this version brings the reader into the territory with Brown in 1855, providing the author’s expert analysis of the territorial conflict, the Pottawatomie episode and its aftermath, and Brown’s overall place in the history of territorial Kansas.

What features are offered in this version?  In style, it is a thoroughly edited and rewritten narrative that preserves Connelley’s work but improves the writing and renders it in a more readable and contemporary format.  

Other features include:

·       Biographical sketch of William Elsey Connelley

·       Introductory essay (with citations) providing background to Connelley’s writing of John Brown

·       Original citations are improved and rendered in a uniform style with additional editorial  notes

·       Bibliography of Connelley’s most important sources

·       Combined acknowledgments from both versions of Connelley’s John Brown

·       Index to the new version

John Brown in Kansas is a privately produced effort, copyrighted with an ISBN number.

It is available through Lulu Publishers (https://goo.gl/MfbWqh), and shortly through Amazon.com and other online sources. –Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., Ph.D.

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