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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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Monday, July 22, 2019

Final Paragraphs: The Endings of John Brown Biographies Throughout the Years

James Redpath, The Public Life of Capt. John Brown (1860)

     The body of John Brown was delivered to his widow at Harper's Ferry, and by her it was carried to North Elba, where it now lies at rest on the bosom of the majestic mountain region that he loved when living.  It was interred as only dead heroes should be buried.  There was no vast assemblage of "the so-called great"; no pompous parade; no gorgeous processions; but loyal worth and noble genius stood at the grave of departed heroism; for his friends and his family wept as the Heaven-inspired soul of Wendell Phillips pronounced the eulogium of John Brown,--the latest and our greatest martyr to the teachings of the Bible and the American Idea.
     As the coffin was lowered into the grave, a clergy man, with prophetic voice, repeated these words of the Apostle Paul:
     "I have fought the good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me; and not to me only, but unto all that love his appearing."

Franklin B. Sanborn, Life and Letters of John Brown (1885)

 It has been sometimes asked in what way Brown performed this great work for the world, since he won no battle, headed no party, repealed no law, and could not even save his own life from an ignominious penalty.  In this history is yet fairly established; and the parallel runs even closer.  When Brown's friends urged upon him the desperate possibilities of a rescue, he gave no final answer,  until at least came this reply,--that he "would not walk out of the prison if the door was left open."  He added, as a personal reason for this choice, that his relations with Captain Avis, his jailer, were such that he should hold it a breach of trust to be rescued.  There is an example even higher than that of Socrates, which history will not fail to hold up, that Person of whom his slayers said: "He saved others; himself he cannot save."
     Here is touched the secret of Brown's character,--absolute reliance on the Divine, entire disregard of the present, in view of the promised future.

William E. Connelley, John Brown (1900)

     The German invaders often sang magnificently while marching.  German soldiers in our army in the war of the States returning to the Fatherland to fight the French taught their comrades the splendid marching-song which the legions of the North sang along the historic highways of Virginia, that Father Abraham's boys were coming and the soul of John Brown was marching on.  There is a bust of gold of Brown, presented his widow by Victor Hugo, in the State Museum at Topeka, Kansas, shown by the venerable superintendent, with an apology, for it is a bad portraiture of the Hero of Osawatomie and martyr of Harper's Ferry.  It is the only likeness of him giving the chief characteristic of his countenance on the morning of his last day that I have seen, except in the sketches taken for Harper's Weekly on the spot, by Porte Crayon.  The French makers of the golden bust must have caught the keen lines of this artist's pencil showing the weirdness that had crept into Brown's strong face when his eyes beheld unearthly scenes, his mind wandering in the regions on the boundary of two worlds--he must have seen cloud-capped domes not rounded by human hands--invisible by mortal eyes unless introspectively.  One wonders whether the old farmer, as he waited on the scaffold, could have beheld as in a dream--as one sees at night in stormy darkness, when there is a flame of lightning, a misty mountain-top--a vision incredible, but not unsubstantial, of his own apotheosis and immortality.

W.E.B. DuBois, John Brown (1909)

     John Brown taught us that the cheapest price to pay for liberty is its cost today.  The building of barriers against the advance of Negro-Americans hinders but in the end cannot altogether stop their progress.  The excuse of benevolent tutelage cannot be urged, for that tutelage is not benevolent that does not prepare for free responsible manhood.  Nor can the efficiency of greed as an economic developer be proven--it may hasten development but it does so at the expense of solidity of structure, smoothness of motion, and real efficiency.  Nor does selfish exploitation help the undeveloped, rather it hinders and weakens them.
     It is not a full century since this white-haired old man lay weltering in the blood which he spilled for broken and despised humanity.  Let the nation which he loved and the South to which he spoke, reverently listen again to-day to those words, as prophetic now as then:
You had better--all you people of the South--prepare yourselves for a settlement of this question.  It must come up for settlement sooner than you are prepared for it, and the sooner you commence that preparation, the better for you.  You may dispose of me very easily--I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settled--this Negro question, I mean.  The end of that is not yet.

Oswald G. Villard, John Brown 1800-1859 (1910)

      And so, wherever there is battling against injustice and oppression, the Charlestown gallows that became a cross will help men to live and die.  The story of John Brown will ever confront the spirit of despotism, when men are struggling to throw off the shackles of social or political or physical slavery.  His own country, while admitting his mistakes without undue palliation or excuse, will forever acknowledge the divine that was in him by the side of what was human and faulty, and blind and wrong.  It will cherish the memory of the prisoner of Charlestown in 1859 as at once a sacred, a solemn and an inspiring American heritage.

Stephen B. Oates, To Purge This Land With Blood (1970)

    At the outset, of course, the destruction of slavery was not a Northern objective in the war; Lincoln painstakingly argued (to the dismay of the abolitionists and antislavery members of his own party) that his only purpose  was to save the Union, not to free the slaves.  But a combination of problems and pressures (and perhaps his own conscience) caused him to change his mind; and in September, 1862, he issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, a symbolic move that made the eradication of slavery one of the North's principal war objectives.  Emancipation for all slaves, though, was not assured until the Confederacy fell and the 13th Amendment was adopted in December, 1865.  The liberation of the black man in the muck and rubble of civil war signaled the triumph of Brown's own prophecy, that the "crime of slavery" would never be purged from this "guilty land" except with blood.  And "John Brown's Body" became a Northern legend, a symbol of noble idealism and self-sacrifice, in the aura of which the man himself was all but forgotten.

Barrie Stavis, John Brown: The Sword and the Word (1970)

     He was buried on December 8, 1859.  He had asked to be buried in the shadow of a great granite rock, and he was so buried.  His body in the shadow of the great granite rock; the granite rock in the shadow of the great granite White Mountain which he loved so dear.  The granite thrust of his will, the granite thrust of his Old Testament conscience, the granite of the mountains, all were now one.
     From this tiny village, North Elba, situated high in the Adirondack Mountains, six men were lost in the raider on Harper's Ferry; two were the sons of John and Mary Brown.  All six wre intertwined into one family, relatives either by blood or by marriage.  The women of these intertwined families suffered grievous loss.  They stood around the open grave of John Brown and listened to Wendell Phillips, orator and abolitionist:
He has abolished slavery in Virginia.  History will date Virginia Emancipation from Harper's Ferry.  True, the slave is still there. So, when the tempest uproots a pine on your hills, it looks green for months,--a year or two.  Still, it is timber, not a tree.  John Brown has loosened the roots of the slave system; it only breathes--it does not live--hereafter.
     Seventeen months after the hanging of John Brown, the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, ushering in the Civil War.  John Brown's apocalyptic statement the morning of his hanging, "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood," had become a tragic reality.

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., "Fire from the Midst of You": A Religious Life of John Brown (2002)

      Toward the end of the Civil War, John Browns old Adirondack associate Willis Hodges made an investigative tour of Virginia to look into the treatment of ex-slaves by the Union army.  When he visited Princess Anne County, he happened to stay at a plantation formerly owned by Henry Wise, the Virginia governor who had been so instrumental in executing Brown in 1859.  The Wise family had fled from their secluded plantation when Norfolk fell to the Union army in 1862, and the property was being used by religious groups to house and educate former slaves.  Hodges was well aware of the significance of the home, but was overwhelmed when he found that the missionary teachers had a portrait of Brown hanging in what was formerly the Wise family's parlor.  "Before me hangs the picture of my old friend John Brown upon the nail which his murderers looking glass once hung," Hodges excitedly wrote home.  "How wonderful is the change!  How plain one can see the hand of God in this strange work!"  Indeed, it seemed a stroke of Providence to him, and as he thought of his old friend, the black man walked along the river in the moonlight, finally falling to his knees under a wild chestnut tree. And turning eastward, Willis Hodges prayed to Him who created the heavens and the earth.

David S. Reynolds, John Brown Abolitionist (2005)

   Had John Brown and a few other forceful antislavery persons not been able to bring about the fall of slavery, one can only speculate about the terrible results.  What would have happened if Brown had not violently disrupted the racist juggernaut that was America?  As we have seen, even emancipation and manhood suffrage did not ensure the security of African Americans.  It took nine decades for American to approach John Brown's goal of civil rights for all ethnic minorities.  Even today the goal is not fully realized.
     W.E.B. DuBois's startling pronouncement thunders through American history.  Indeed, "John Brown was right."

Evan Carton, Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America (2006)

 No great insight is required to see this [patriot] blood flowing now.  The egalitarian ideals and justice-seeking aspirations of the Declaration of Independence hold little interest, except as tokens to be spun for those who currently define--and would enforce--American patriotism.  The Christianity that is invoked in our national halls of power has nothing in common with the teachings that Brown understood to be at the heart of the faith: Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.  Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you.  Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
     "Whose duty is it to help them?  Is it yours?  Is it mine?  It is every man's, but how few there are to help.  But there are a few who dare to answer this call, and dare to answer it in a manner that will make this land of liberty and equality shake to its center."  There are never likely, at any given moment, to be more than a few.  Most of us have unbroken "household gods" to serve--gods that circumscribe our obligations and our risks, but also, at their best, deepen the human meaning of our lives and are worthy of reverence.  Those who answer Brown's or Thoreau's call with immoderate passion and abandon will always be controversial, always be extreme.  But their "madness" and "treason" remain necessary.  At the least, such radical actors and actions force "sanity" and "patriotism" to define themselves rather than stand exempt from examination and debate.  At the most, they reduce suicide, and sustain--perhaps even advance--the hope of fulfilling our revolutionary potential.

Robert E. McGlone, John Brown's War Against Slavery (2009)
   "I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself," his final note continued, "that without very much bloodshed; it might be done."  That apparent after thought seemed to admit that he had overreached in his war against slavery, not because God had other plans for him, but because he had failed to see that slavery was too deeply rooted to be defeated by half measures.  As if to underscore that insight, Brown refused to have local ministers on the scaffold to pray for him because they supported slavery.  Adversaries of every class, he knew at last, had to be acknowledged as enemies.  No one could attack slavery, he was now saying, without challenging the polity that upheld it.  Brown's prophecy thus resolved any cognitive dissonance he might still have had about the use of violence.  Standing motionless and hooded on a scaffold surrounded by 1,500 uniformed soldiers, Brown's silent, "unflinching firmness" as he awaited the fall of the trap door on which he stood spoke louder than the most impassioned screed anyone ever uttered in condemning him.
     For years later, as General William Tecumseh Sherman watched regiments of his army march by him from a hill above Atlanta, flames racing through the city below, a band struck up "John Brown's Body" and the soldiers sang the words lustily.  "Never before or since," Sherman remembered years later, "have I heard the chorus of 'Glory, glory, hallelujah!' done with more spirit, or in better harmony of time and place.'  To be sure, John Brown did not cause the Civil War.  But he hastened its coming.  His real legacy to his "guilty land" may have been to make war thinkable if subserved to a Godly purpose.  For thousands and ten thousands in the North, John Brown's "martyrdom" sanctified his cause and war itself.

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., Freedom's Dawn: The Last Days of John Brown in Virginia (2015)

      During the dreadful years of the Civil War, the orator Wendell Phillips stood once again upon the stage of the Cooper Union in New York.   It had been four years since his speech at the John Brown meeting, although he preferred to remind his audience that he “had the honor to assist in giving the body of John Brown to the keeping of the hills he loved.”  At the time, Phillips continued, “Selfishness, which calls itself Conservatism,” had sneered at the old man’s life “as a ridiculous failure,” and some of his friends had even sought to excuse him on the grounds of insanity.  “We know better now,” the orator nodded, knowing that his audience also understood.  “The echoes of his rifles had hardly died away on the banks of the Shenandoah before South Carolina prepared for war in defense of her system. . . . Well might he say, as he did to Theodore Parker, ‘I may fail; I may expiate my rashness on the gibbet; but I open a terrible vial.’”


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

1859 John Brown French Tribute Medal Currently for Sale on Heritage Auctions

1859 John Brown French Tribute Medal, MS63 Brown
Bronze, Dies by Jean Wurden

Link to Heritage Auctions website

1000 MS Uncertified. 1859 John Brown French Mourning Medal, Bronze. MS63 Brown NGC. 67.5 grams, 57.6 mm. This is just the third example of this important medal that we have handled. A portrait of the abolitionist with his exceptional beard faces one-quarter turn to the right on the obverse of this French medal. The obverse legend states that John Brown was born in Torrington (Connecticut) on May 9, 1800, and the medal is signed J. WURDEN below the bust. The reverse is in memory of John Brown, legally assassinated in Charlestown on December 2, 1859, and serves as a tribute to his sons and companions, dead victims of their devotion to the cause of black freedom. Jean Wurden was French artist who was born in 1807 and died in 1874. This splendid chestnut-brown medal exhibits bold definition with glossy surfaces and inconsequential, scattered spots on each side. A rare issue that seldom appears for sale.

John Brown was born in Torrington, Connecticut on May 9, 1800, and spent his childhood in Hudson, Ohio, birthplace of the famous numismatist, James W. Ellsworth. Brown and his five sons assisted several escaping slaves, and moved to Kansas in 1855 where he continued to fight slavery. Brown led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, (West) Virginia in October 1859 with the intention of starting a slave liberation movement through the south. He was hung for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia on December 2, 1859.
From The Alan V. Weinberg Collection, Part II.

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Friday, July 05, 2019

"Marching Song"--Orson Welles' 1932 John Brown Play to be Published This Summer

During the summer of 1932, 17-year-old Orson Welles, with the assistance of his mentor and lifelong friend Roger Hill, wrote a drama about anti-slavery fighter John Brown (1800-1859). The authors could not interest any New York theaters in staging their work at the time. As a result, Welles and Hill were obliged, in Frederick Engels’ phrase, to abandon “the manuscript to the gnawing criticism of the mice.” The play has received one production, consisting of a few performances, at the Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, Illinois, where Hill was the headmaster, in 1950. Fortunately, Roger Hill’s grandson Todd Tarbox has now edited the play and it will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in August. This is a significant cultural event. Marching Song is an important historical drama. 
The drama consists of eleven scenes, set in Concord, Massachusetts; Pine City, Kansas; an estate in Virginia; a farm in Maryland that served as Brown’s headquarters; and, finally, Harpers Ferry—the scene of Brown’s fateful raid—and Charles Town—where the great abolitionist was hanged—both in what was then Virginia (now West Virginia). The action takes place from some time in 1857 to December 1859, on the eve of the Civil War. 
At the age of 25 Orson Welles co-wrote, directed, and starred in Citizen Kane, widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. But this was not the first achievement in the young artist’s career. A few years earlier he terrorized America with his radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. And even before he conquered the airwaves, Welles had made a name for himself in New York theatre, with his dynamic stagings of Shakespeare classics and the politically charged musical The Cradle Will Rock. But before all of these there was Marching Song—a play about abolitionist John Brown—that Welles had co-written at the age of 17. While attending the Todd School for Boys, Welles collaborated with Roger Hill, the schoolmaster at Todd, to produce this full-length drama.  
Marching Song: A Play is a work by one of America’s true geniuses at an early stage of his creative growth. Steeped in historical detail, the play chronicles Brown’s fight against slavery, his raid on Harper’s Ferry, his capture, his conviction for treason, and his execution. In addition to the entire text of the play, this volume features a biographical sketch of Welles and Hill—written by Hill’s grandson—during their days together at Todd.
A fascinating dramatization of a pivotal event in American history, this play also demonstrates Welles’ burgeoning development as social commentator and an advocate for human rights, particularly on behalf of African Americans. Featuring a foreword by noted Welles biographer, Simon Callow, Marching Song: A Play is an important work by an American icon. 
Orson Welles was an internationally recognized actor, director, producer, writer, magician, and political activist whose films included The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil, and Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest film ever produced.
Roger Hill was the headmaster of the Todd School for Boys for thirty years. During his tenure, Hill fashioned one of the most progressive educational programs in the country, embracing the philosophy that youngsters were “created creators.”  
Todd Tarbox, grandson of Roger Hill, is an educator and the author of See the World, Imagine, and Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts (2016). He lives in Colorado Springs, CO. 
-Source: Rowman & Littlefield website (http://bit.ly/2YBsymr)