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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, May 30, 2019

Suddenly Gone: Tony Horwitz, Historical Author, Dead at Sixty

The day before yesterday, while I was moving books from one office to the another, I got a text from my friend Ian Barford in Chicago, alerting me that writer Tony Horwitz had died due to cardiac arrest.  Tony was sixty years old and his death is both a shock and a loss, first to his family and loved ones, and certainly for many friends, followers, and associates.  My sincerest condolences are extended to his wife, Geraldine Brooks, and sons Nathaniel and Bizu, and the rest of his family.  

Tony was an award-winning journalist and author with a large following and a legacy of some fascinating and influential works.  He is remembered prominently for Confederates in the Attic, although those of us in the John Brown community think of him primarily as the author of Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War (Holt, 2011; Picador, 2012).  In my exchanges with Tony, in conversation and correspondence, we had our differences concerning John Brown. But he was always thoughtful, considerate, and gracious in discussing those points over which we differed. Of course, while I am no fan of Midnight Rising, my retrospective on his work will wait for another time.  Personally, I am saddened by his death.  Anyone who had the opportunity to meet Tony Horwitz and spend time speaking with him would agree that he was a very fine person, a brilliant and caring man, and one with considerable gifts and abilities.  The landscape of prominent historical writing has been drastically altered by his loss, and one can only imagine what such a writer might have produced had the arc of his life and work been extended another quarter of a century or more.  I wish that Tony had a much longer life and his sudden departure is only a matter of sorrow.

My hope is that his family and loved ones find comfort in this hour of painful separation.--LD

Here are links to obituaries in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Rich Smyth's Where Are They Now? FREDERICK BROWN and HIS KILLER

Brown Cemetery, Osawatomie, Kan.
(Courtesy of Joy Reavis)
Frederick Brown died on August 30, 1856, shot by pro-slavery clergyman, Rev. Marvin White. Along with Frederick, three other abolitionists killed during the Battle of Osawatomie are buried beneath a monument erected in their memory at the “The Brown Cemetery” located at the corner at 9th and Main Streets in Osawatomie, Kansas. The name of Charles Kaiser who was captured and later executed has been etched on the stone, although his body was never recovered.  Frederick is buried in the Brown Cemetery, located at the corner at 9th & Main Streets in Osawatomie, Kansas.

The memory of Frederick Brown (1830-56) in the John Brown family narrative evokes both a sense of sympathy and tragedy.  Frederick was youngest of seven surviving children born to John Brown and his first wife, Dianthe Lusk (1801-32), of Hudson, Ohio, when the couple lived in New Richmond, Pa., near Meadville.  In following the custom of that time and community, Frederick was named after other members of the family. One of John Brown's half-brothers was named Frederick (1807-77). However, in a somewhat peculiar circumstance, he was also named for his sickly four-year-old brother, Frederick (1827-31), who was still living at the time he was born. Probably the firstborn Frederick was not expected to live long, but somehow lived long enough for another son to be born.  In expectation of the first Frederick's death, the second Frederick was named; the two young Fredericks lived together for several months until the first finally died at the end of March 1831.

A measure of speculation has long surrounded Frederick, particularly pertaining to his mental health and the claim of "insanity."  Boyd Stutler, a master of the primary sources relating to John Brown, provided a provisional sketch of Frederick. "From scraps gathered here and there," Stutler speculated that Frederick began to exhibit symptoms of instability and disturbance as a teenager.  Although the term "insanity" was overly used in the mid-19th century, it may be that Frederick suffered from some form of mental illness, because he seems to have had spells of being moody, depressed, and engaging in over-eating. John Brown's letters over the years are marked by passing references to Frederick's health, including a troubling reference in 1854 to him having undergone "a most terrible operation for his breach."  Whatever the "operation" involved (and I will not address the speculations surrounding this procedure), Frederick recovered his health later that  year sufficiently to drive some cattle out to Illinois, and afterward join his brothers in the Kansas Territory.

Frederick's Gravestone
(Courtesy of Joy Reavis)
Despite these personal shadows, Frederick seems to have had extended periods of normalcy in his life.  He wrote with a beautiful hand, managed livestock, and did not seem otherwise any less among his siblings.  Certainly, he was an avid abolitionist and racial egalitarian in the tradition of his father and grandfather, and in route to Kansas, Frederick did not hesitate to "talk liberty" to enslaved black people he met in Missouri.  According to the reminiscence of the Rev. Samuel Adair, the brother-in-law of John Brown, in Kansas, Frederick "was considered by those acquainted with him as an intelligent, judicious and active young man.  In the fall of 1855 he was elected a delegate to the Topeka constitutional convention, but was prevented by sickness from attending." Interestingly, too, while in Kansas, Frederick carried on correspondence with a young lady back in Ohio named Lucy Ellis, although events in the territory tragically prevented the twenty-six-year-old from ever enjoying the comforts of love and marriage.

In the summer of 1856, Frederick was caught off guard by an advance party for an invading horde of proslavery terrorists.  The party was led by Martin White, a radical proslavery Baptist "elder" from Missouri. White intentionally and maliciously shot Frederick down in cold blood; family members who found his body noted that his pistol was still in his holster and the holster snapped closed, so it is clear White was not menaced. John Brown quietly wept over his murdered "sufferer," and then gave his boots to another free state man who needed them.  Not long afterward, when "Reverend" White was within easy reach, Brown deferred taking revenge, reportedly declaring that he hoped that White had repented. 

When John Brown took his grandfather's memorial stone from Connecticut in 1857, he did not think it would serve as a gravestone.  His intention was to set it up as a monument recalling the sacrifices made by the Brown family for liberty--on one side, the original inscription of his grandfather Captain John Brown, who died in the so-called American Revolution in 1776, and on the verso side, an inscription in honor of his son Frederick, who fell in Kansas Territory eighty years later. It was only with his defeat at Harper's Ferry and sentence of death that he reconsidered the purpose of the stone to mark his own grave as well.--LD 

Martin White's Gravestone
(Courtesy of Jennifer Umland)
White, who shot Frederick Brown, died on April 21, 1862 and is buried in the White cemetery, Bates County, Missouri. He was fifty-nine years old. His wife, Kiturah (Kitty) Ann Fletcher White (1805-67), is buried with him. They had twelve children; James Fletcher (1823-1910), Sally (1823-?, may have died in infancy), John Wesley (1825-78), Griffin (1827-67), William George (1830-52), Guilford (1847-65), Robert (1838-53), Rhoda Jane White Whitehead (1838-65), Martha Custis White Slayback (1841-1906), Sarah Dulcina (1843-43), Louisa Vashti Scott (1845-65) and Jilson Gallation (1847-1934)

White was shot and killed by Charles Metz, alias Marshall Cleveland, an ex-Missouri penitentiary convict who wanted the Reverend’s mule. White refused and was killed.*   

The cemetery is located in Deepwater Township, Bates County, Missouri. From Butler, at the intersection of Business Highway 71 and County Highway H, go east 9 ½ miles, turn left (north) on gravel road (county road # 9003) and go1 ¼ miles, turn left (west) on gravel road (county road # 4254) and go 1/8 mile.  Cemetery is on north side of road.--Rich Smyth

 * Cleveland was an outlaw. On November 16th 1861, his gang robbed the Northrup and Union Banks in Kansas City. A posse made up of Company E, Sixth Kansas Cavalry, surrounded him near the Marais des Cygnes River and shot him. His wife placed a tombstone atop his grave in a St. Joseph cemetery on which was etched “One hero less on earth/ One angel more in heaven.”  The Missouri in the Civil War Message Board – Archive by Donald L. Gilmore, November 10th 2006.  See "The Missouri in the Civil War Message Board" (http://bit.ly/2w8sVIR).

ALSO SEE "Forgotten Indictment for Frederick Brown's Murderer is Found in Kansas" (1 Sept. 2011)

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

John Brown in the News: A Letter Resurfaces, A House Restored, and a New Sculpture


In his last days as a prisoner in Virginia, John Brown wrote a good many letters to family, associates, and strangers.  Brown received hundreds of letters, perhaps more, many of them requesting autographs.  These letters went unanswered and were thrown into the pot belly stove in his jail cell.  Brown's reason for doing so was that because he could not answer all such requests, he preferred to answer none of them.  Yet he did write a good many letters to friends and associates, some of which were published in newspapers in the North.

(publisher's info)
(buy on Amazon)
In 2015, Rowman and Littlefield published my collection of John Brown's jailhouse letters, John Brown Speaks: Letters and Statements from Charlestown. My goal in producing this collection was to be as comprehensive as possible, publishing and contextualizing every surviving John Brown letter.  To my knowledge, fifty-one of his jailhouse letters have survived, not counting other documents in his hand, such as written directions for his wife and other special writings.  Many of the surviving letters survive in their original manuscripts, although others have been lost, now existing only in published transcriptions from the newspaper or other sources.

One interesting letter, which heretofore has been available only in Franklin Sanborn's 1885 biography of Brown, recently surfaced on an auction website.  It was written by John Brown to Mary Gale, the sister of the Charles P. Tidd.  Tidd was one of the several of Brown’s men who were able to escape after the failure at Harper’s Ferry.  (In the aftermath of the Harper’s Ferry raid, Tidd joined the Union army at the start of the Civil War, enlisting as a private in 1861.  He died of illness during the Battle of Roanoke Island the following year.)  After the raid, a number of attempts by Tidd's family were made to request information about him from Virginia officials, but apparently these went unanswered.  However, Mary Tidd Gale was successful, writing to John Brown in Charlestown jail.  

Last month I was informed by Mick Konowal, a collector and documentary specialist in the John Brown study, that not only had Brown's original response to Gale surfaced, but that it was written on the verso side of her letter to him.  Several years ago, Konowal identified a similar jail letter from Brown to a Charlestown publisher, in which the abolitionist similarly wrote on the verso side of the inquiry.  Heretofore, I assumed that the Gale-Brown correspondence was lost; the only version of Brown's letter that had survived is in a "sanitized" transcription in F. B. Sanborn's Life and Letters of John Brown (1885, page 615).  To no surprise, Sanborn's transcription needs to be improved.  What follows, then, is a literal transcription based upon the original:

Charlestown, Jefferson County, Va., 30 Nov. 1859. Mrs. Mary Gale (or the writer of the writing). Dear Friend,
             I have only time to give you the names of those that I know were killed of my company at Harper's Ferry, or that are said to have been killed; namely, two Thompsons, two Browns, J. Anderson, J. H. Kagi, Stewart Taylor, A. Hazlett, W. H. Leman, and three colored men. Would most gladly give you further information had I the time and ability.                                                                                                                                                                                     Your friend,  

                                                                                                       John Brown
One may consult my John Brown Speaks for details about this letter. One point worth mentioning, however, is that while it was a common feature in a prevalently racist society to segregate blacks from whites even in reference, Brown is certainly not doing so here by referring to "Three colored men." Rather, it seems he's being intentionally vague and misleading.  Two of his black raiders were killed during the raid and two were captured.  The fifth black raider, Osborne Anderson, had escaped.  From Brown’s standpoint, then, if the public thought he was dead too, it would be better for his chances of escape.  Happily, Anderson did escape by means of the underground railroad and returned safely to Chatham, Ontario, whence he had joined Brown.  Thankfully, Anderson penned the only primary sketch of Brown and the raid as a participant and survivor in his book, A Voice from Harper's Ferry (1861).

Brown's original letter was apparently sold on April 22 for $95,000.  The price tag suggests that perhaps he has become of greater interest to manuscript collectors than in the past.  At the same time, however, this letter may have been purchased by collector who will hide it from scholars and students in a collection, perhaps for years to come as has often been the case.  At least, however, we have had this opportunity to glimpse the original. As Mick Konowal points out, hopefully the collector who purchased the document will invest in having the verso side restored, so that Gale's letter and Brown's response both will also be preserved for history. 


In the May 2 online edition of the Akron Beacon Journal, Mark Price reported that the house that John and Mary Brown lived in during their Akron years is having its exterior restored thanks to a $375,000 plan.  Price reported that about two-thirds of the cost is covered by a grant from the State of Ohio.  The structure, which is nearly 190-years-old, will keep it "warm, safe and dry.  According to Price, "the original old-growth tulip poplar had deteriorated beyond repair, so it has been carefully replaced to the precise dimensions with quarter-sawn cedar from Oregon."  The roof, foundations, chimneys, gutters and spouts were all modernized.  The structure will also be made wheelchair accessible and its restrooms improved so that house will be accessible to everyone. Interior work will also be done that will feature a new exhibit, Family, Farm, Freedom" that is being installed "in the original two-room section of the 1830 house and will debut Thursday during a 219th birthday celebration for Brown." The John Brown House is located at Copley and Diagonal roads, across from Perkins Stone Mansion in Akron.As Prince points out, Brown rented the home for $30 a year between 1844 and 1854 from Col. Simon Perkins (Jr.), who lived in nearby Perkins Stone Mansion and was the son of Akron’s co-founder, Gen. Simon Perkins. The men were business partners in the wool industry, and Brown raised sheep on the Perkins property." 

John Brown's Akron Residence
(Karen Schiely, Beacon Journal photo)
The ten-year association of Brown and Perkins put the lie to the notion that Brown was entirely a business failure.  What failed for Brown and Perkins was their wool commission operation in Springfield, Massachusetts; but even this operation did not decline so much because of Brown's failures as it did because of the intense, systematic opposition the firm received from the manufacturing powers of New England, who did not want the woolgrowers to gain an upper hand. In his correspondence, Brown complained about how the manufacturers united to undermine the operation by not purchasing U.S. wools in favor of foreign wools.  At one point, according to the great Boyd Stutler, it appears they even infiltrated the commission house by planting an agent provocateur named Flint.   Yet even after the firm failed in 1849, Perkins strongly appealed to Brown to continue managing his agricultural interests, and Brown accepted, remaining with Perkins from 1849-1855, when he finally removed to North Elba, New York.   In the  1840s, John Brown was one of the most renowned and respects specialists in fine sheep and wool in the North.

The article says that the Perkins Stone Mansion is open for tours from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday through December. The John Brown House will have identical hours following its opening this month.



Sculptor Woodrow Nash
(Phil Masturzo, Akron Beacon Journal)
According to a May 8 report by Craig Webb in the Akron Beacon-Journal, the artist Woodrow Nash of Akron is preparing busts of John Brown and his black Harper's Ferry raiders, Osborne Anderson, Dangerfield Newby, John Copeland, Lewis Leary, and Shields Green.  Webb reports that Nash, a veteran artist, has crated "everything from commissioned paintings to jazz album covers and fashion art."  A native of Akron, Nash lived in New York City and found his passion for sculpture before returning to his hometown.  He serves as a board member of the Summit County Historical Society and has sold sculptured pieces in a variety of sizes in galleries, commissions (including one of a well-known rapper) and museums.  Webb says that Nash has made about forty life-size depictions of  enslaved children for the historic Whitney Plantation museum and grounds in Louisiana.

The idea of larger-than-life sculptures of Brown and his men is a recent idea that Nash promoted to enhance the experience of visitors to John Brown's house.  His intention is to have the John Brown bust installed by next month, and the remaining busts of the raiders installed in the months following.

He hopes to have the John Brown bust finished and installed sometime in late June, and the ones of the men who fought beside him installed every subsequent month or so.

This particular project holds a special place in his heart since it involves a historical figure who called Summit County home.

Nash "fears there are kids who live not far from the historic home, and a nearby monument that lies hidden by trees and brush, who have no idea who John Brown was or the role he and the others played in sparking the Civil War and the end of slavery."