"Posterity will owe everlasting thanks to John Brown for lifting up once more to the gaze of a nation grown fat and flabby on the garbage of lust and oppression, a true standard of heroic philanthropy, and each coming generation will pay its installment of the debt. . . . John Brown saw slavery through no mist or cloud, but in a light of infinite brightness, which left no one of its ten thousand horrors concealed." Frederick Douglass

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Personal Note: Older Than John Brown

I started the serious study of John Brown in the later part of the 1990s, and while I was no longer a young man at the time, I was able to speak of him as the "old man" in a manner that corresponded to my own age.

I don't have the citation for this, but somewhere along the line I read that Brown was first called "Old Brown" in Kansas, to distinguish him from John Brown Junior.   But John senior also had aged in appearance by the late 1850s: his hair mostly grayed, and his long beard--which he wore from 1858 until his execution in December 1859 (although it was cropped much shorter at the time of the Harper's Ferry raid)--was quite gray.   He looked like a man in his late sixties, and this was probably more so because his complexion was worn, his health was beset by the ague, and he walked with a slight stoop in his later years.  So even in John Brown's lifetime, people took him for an older man and called him "old man" or "Old Brown" because he was older in appearance than many of his associates in the field.  This is nowhere more evident than his little army at Harper's Ferry.  Most of that brave association were young men, the oldest being Dangerfield Newby, who fell at the Ferry being no more than forty-four years of age.  The rest of the Harper's Ferry raiders were truly young men, and to them Brown was an old man, even if he was wiry, tough, and active.

For twenty years, my role as a "lifetime" student of John Brown has allowed me to speak of John Brown as "the old man" without a second thought.  But this week I turned sixty years of age, and now I'm older than John Brown, who is forever fifty-nine.  I know that I'm not alone in this experience, and a choir of witnesses have preceded me likewise in this experience, including the late Clarence Gee and Boyd Stutler, who exhausted their aged years by studying the "old man."

Still, when I blew out the candles on my birthday cake the other day, the Old Man crossed my mind for a second.  He did so last year too, when I turned fifty-nine, and being John Brown's age all year was sort of an aside for me throughout the year.  But as of this week, it's official.   I'm older than John Brown.

But don't get it twisted: there's only room on this blog for one Old Man.--LD


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Frederick Douglass in Columbus, Ohio, July 1850

This 1850 notice of an appearance of Frederick Douglass on July 22, 1850 appeared in the Daily Ohio State Journal (Columbus).  Although it would be great if a transcription of his speech was published, at least the journalist noted some high points of Douglass' speech, particularly his integrationist vision of the future, and his disdaining of any notion of black "expatriation" to Africa.  In the antebellum period as today, the black community was no monolith in regard to political opinions and programs.  Douglass had not only struck out on his own despite the criticism of paternalistic white Garrisonians, but clashed with the advocates of Black Nationalism in that era.

Douglass circa 1850 (Howard University)
As the scholar and documentary authority Paul Lee has observed, in the 19th century Black Nationalism was inclusive of black internationalism.  The dichotomy of Black Nationalism versus Pan Africanism was an unfortunate introduction in the 20th century, and tended to skew the fact that Black Nationalists had always been black internationalists.  Douglass would have nothing to do with the idea of blacks removing themselves to Africa, either by the racist sponsorship of white colonization (a movement that had been soundly beaten by Garrison's arguments) or according to black repatriation.

John Brown made no political statements as to this intra-community debate among African Americans, and probably took a pragmatic view of black solutions.  On the other hand, there are chunks of Black Nationalism in Brown's comfortable association with Martin Delany, Willis Hodges, and Augustus Washington (Delany made an exploratory trip to West Africa in 1859, and Washington actually relocated to Liberia).  Brown also studied the history of earlier black repatriation and maroons, and supported the experimental black agrarian community of "Timbucto" in the Adirondacks in the late 1840s.

It is perhaps an aspect of disappointment that Douglass was so intent on blacks staying put, that in his later years, at the demise of Reconstruction, that he would not even support black relocation to other parts of the United States--even when it was clear the black community was under assault in the South.1  Even in its most extreme form of argument, Douglass was always determined that black people should prioritize their identity as citizens.  In this he was the forerunner of the 20th century integrationist perspective, over against the Black Nationalist (and so-called Pan-Africanist) perspective, that prioritizes African identity over nationality.

This article, though brief, is also descriptive if not picturesque.  It describes Douglass as an orator and gives us a glimpse of the kind of racist mobs that Douglass regularly encountered when he spoke, in this case a group of white rowdies whose method was to stomp their feet during his speech.  The tone of the journalist likewise should give us a sense of the "antislavery" opinion in Ohio, which would acknowledged Douglass' abilities, but suggested his quest was impractical.

In haste--LD
=========

Frederick Douglass. 
This black orator, who has attained so great notoriety for his bold assaults on our institutions, spoke in the State House yesterday at 3 and 7 P. M. Many of our citizens, induced by curiosity, went to hear him. In his first speech, he dwelt chiefly on the injustice of American slavery, and defended himself from the charge of treason brought against him for his speeches in England, and disunion sentiments, by saying, he had no country to which he could prove a traitor. At 7 P. M., he spoke on the future destiny of the African race in America, and argued that the prejudice against color would be gradually obliterated, and the two races would live on equal terms, as expatriation was impossible. 
Douglass has a fine voice for speaking, and uses excellent language, and we think if his talents were employed in some practical scheme for the improvement of his race, that he might effect much.  
At night, some half grown boys in the gallery endeavored to create a disturbance by stamping, which was however promptly put down by the orderly portion of our citizens. We detest this spirit of mobocracy, particularly when exercised against the weak, however obnoxious their sentiments are. If individuals do not wish to hear what is said at a public meeting, let them stay away, and not disturb those who wish to hear. Such conduct is a violation of the equal rights of a portion of the community. The public press, while condemning all such doctrines as those advocated by Douglass, ought to be equally prompt in rebuking the mob spirit, which in its fickleness may soon be turned against some better cause, and persecution will only strengthen a bad cause, as all experience demonstrates.

Source: Frederick Douglass,” Daily Ohio State Journal, Jul 23, 1850, p. 1
====
     1 See Frederick Douglass, "The Negro Exodus From the Gulf States," Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly (Jan. 1880).

Friday, July 21, 2017

In the News. . .Lake Placid, Charlestown, and . . . New Jersey?

Archaeological Dig at the John Brown Farm in Lake Placid, NY

"Students search John Brown’s NY farm site for artifacts.” The Washington Times, July 15, 2017

A view of the John Brown Farm at Lake Placid NY
(photo by Martha Swan, John Brown Lives!)
NORTH ELBA, N.Y. (AP) - Students at a New York college are searching John Brown’s Adirondack farm for artifacts linked to the 19th-century abolitionist.

The State University of New York at Potsdam has been conducting an archaeology field school at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site just outside the village of Lake Placid. The school’s archaeology students are hosting an open house at the historic site Saturday.

Brown and his family lived at the farm in the 1850s, when he opposed slavery in the United States. In October 1859, he led the attack on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in what is now West Virginia.  Brown and supporters were captured. He was executed the following December. His body was returned to the farm in North Elba a week later and buried there.
========

“Students will give archaeology tours at John Brown Farm.” Adirondack Daily Enterprise [Saranac Lake, NY], July 14, 2017 

The article notes that students from the Potsdam campus of the State University of New York had concluded their third week of a four-week field school at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid, N.Y., and opened their project to public viewing.

Sierra Club President Aaron Mair, on May 6, after laying a wreath at the
abolitionist's grave on John Brown Day, this past May 6
(Adirondack Enterprise--Antonio Olivero Photo
The article notes that there were about a dozen students working on the project, "looking for the archaeological record left by the Brown family and the people who took care of the farm after the Browns moved out west."  The project has the support of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation


 SUNY Potsdam archaeology students are wrapping up their third week of a four-week field school at John Brown Farm State Historic Site, and they invite the public to observe the archaeological dig.
========

"Archaeology students dig into John Brown Farm." Adirondack Daily Enterprise, July 19, 2017

This article provides the most extensive details about the archaeology field school project at the John Brown farm, led by Prof. Hadley Kruczek-Aaron of the State University of New York at Potsdam.


To no surprise, many of the students involved in the project had never heard of John Brown before they took this course.   "One student said he may have heard his name briefly mentioned in an AP history class."

Professor Hadley Kruczek-Aaron of SUNY Potsdam
(Enterprise photo — Shaun Kittle)
The article mistakenly states that Brown first came to the Lake Placid area in 1846.  Actually Brown was an enthusiastic supporter of the black settlements in Franklin and Essex counties, but did not relocate there until the spring of 1849.  At that time, the Browns settled in a rented farm--not the present site of the John Brown Farm--and remained there as tenants until 1851, when they relocated back to Akron, Ohio.   When Brown's work obligations came to a conclusion in 1855, the Browns returned to the Adirondacks, where they settled into the John Brown Farm, which had been built for them by son-in-law, Henry Thompson, from a large North Elba family.

According to the article, Hadley Kruczek-Aaron "has looked for traces" particularly of Lyman Epps (Eppes), a black settler who became particularly close to the Browns.  The Eppes family were perhaps the last of the black families to remain in the settlement, known as Timbucto.  As the article points out, the Timbucto settlement in Essex County, near North Elba, as well as another one dubbed Blackville, in Franklin County, were made possible by land grants to free blacks in New York State. The grants were given by the wealthy abolitionist magnate, Gerrit Smith, of Peterboro, N.Y.  Smith also gave land to others, but he had a particular interest in showing support to free blacks--something that got John Brown's attention in the 1840s and drew him to the location.
Brown in the late 1840s, when
he became enthusiastic supporter
of the Adirondack land grant program

Brown was seasoned in agricultural and livestock and knew how to adapt his skills to the cold mountain climate.  Knowing that the black grantees were city folk unaccustomed to agrarian life, he wanted to place himself in their midst as a mentor.   Smith thus provided him land, and a group of antislavery allies later raised money to pay for it while Brown was off fighting slavery in the 1850s.    Unfortunately, the black settlements were not a success.  From the onset, many settlers were fleeced and exploited by local opportunists, who thought nothing of taking advantage of black city folk, and no doubt racism was part of the difficulties they faced.  However, many of the settlers found that their plots were difficult, with property lines falling in areas that they were difficult to cultivate.

 Overall, the project was more idealistic than substantive.  Most city dwellers are not inclined to wilderness life, black or white, and the black land grantees naturally would have to labored and suffered in 19th century Adirondack wilderness, something that demanded far more than most of them were prepared to undertake.  Unscrupulous whites were ready to offer them money to buy them out, and others simply got weary of the thankless and difficult wilderness life and returned to life downstate in the thriving cities of New York.  Even Willis Hodges, one of the black leaders and a good friend of John Brown, had returned to Brooklyn, N.Y. by the mid-1850s.   Quite in contrast, John Brown himself loved Adirondack life and would have remained there, along with his family, had his life not ended on a Virginia gallows in 1859.

Mary Brown with daughters Annie and Sarah ca. 1851
Kruczek-Aaron is noted as saying, “When I think about this house, I don’t really think about it as John Brown’s house; I think about it as Mary Brown’s house."  This is certainly the case, since Brown was hardly there.  He brought his family back from Ohio in the spring of 1855 and left in May of the same year for Kansas.  He did not return home until 1857, and subsequently was only home for short visits with his wife and younger children.  Of course, in the summer of 1859, he relocated to a Maryland farm house using the pseudonym, Isaac Smith.  In a sense, that rented farmhouse in Maryland was more of John Brown's farm as it was the site of his residence, planning, and adventures in the months leading up to the Harper's Ferry raid.  Mary Brown refused to join him in the South and was upset when their teenage daughter Annie decided to do so.

As to the archaeological goals of the SUNY Potsdam expedition, the article quotes Kruczek-Aaron:
We, as archaeologists, are hoping to better understand their experience.  So we know a lot about John Brown, but we know less about Mary’s experience and the family’s experience, and so that’s our goal, is to use archaeology to better understand their Adirondack story. And we do that by using archaeological evidence, which is artifacts, that can speak to everyday life.
SUNY Potsdam archaeology students working
at the John Brown farm in Lake Placid
(Enterprise photo — Dana Hatton
As the article points out further, the project is looking into the everyday aspects of life on the Adirondack farm: eating and drinking habits and implements, or the use of tobacco and medicines. "They look for these artifacts in what they believe were high-activity or well-traveled areas on the property, such as near doorways or where a porch once was. Things they’ve found so far include plenty of glass, shards of ceramics, a tobacco pipe and embroidery scissors."

After working the dig with brushes, root clippers, dustpans and other carpentry tools, the students recorded their findings "by recalling the soil color and texture, what they found, at what depth it was found and what stratum or hole they found it in, and eventually bag the artifact."   Their artifacts are then taken to a lab at SUNY Potsdam to be cleaned and later analyzed during an archaeological lab techniques course.

scissors and ceramic fragment 
(Enterprise photo by Dana Hatton)
The risk in this project is not confusing the periods of the different artifacts discovered on the site. The article points out that in the 1950s, New York State restored the farm house to its condition and size at the time of the Harper's Ferry raid.  Mary Brown actually had invested money into expanding and improving the farm house in the 1860s, and these additions and changes were removed in the 20th century, when the State undertook the restoration.

The most difficult aspect is understanding what time period the artifacts belong to. In the 1950s, the state wanted to return the house back to how it looked when John Brown died, destroying an addition and filling the hole with sand to grade the land. By understanding this history, the class has been able to look at the soil to determine the dates of the artifacts found above or below the sand.

This 19th century postcard shows the John Brown farm as it
existed after being expanded by Mary Brown in the Civil War era.
Excavations of the site must take into account that the farm house
has a history that extends well past the time of Brown's days
Kruczek-Aaron was disappointed students didn’t find more artifacts from when the Browns lived at the farm, but perhaps this is no surprise.  "Other than a few isolated items dated to the mid-19th century, she said the oldest items were from the late 19th century when caretakers lived at the site."  The time that the Browns resided on the farm was actually brief in comparison to the existence of the house and site, since no Browns remained there after 1863.

A high point of the excavation was the participation of John and Mary Brown's great-great-great-granddaughter, Alice Mecoy, who traveled from the southwest to join the students on the site. According to the article, "Mecoy hopes that the community continues to be intrigued by John Brown, 'or him to be perceived as the visionary he was. He was for equality of all people, not just men, not just women, blacks and whites, Japanese; he didn’t care. He thought everyone was equal. He taught his sons women’s work and his daughters sons’ work. He was very ahead of his time. And it’s the way we should all be striving to live.'"
=======

Renovation of West Virginia Court House Where John Brown Was Tried 

Richard Belisle, "Jefferson County Courthouse repairs cost $3M to date," Herald-Mail [Hagerstown, Md.], July 20, 2017 [excerpted]

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — An ancient furnace in the basement of the Jefferson County (W.Va.) Courthouse was replaced about 15 years ago by modern equipment, a move that signaled the beginning of a long effort to renovate the 145-year-old building. To date, that effort has cost $3 million, said Bill Polk, the county’s maintenance supervisor. The West Virginia Courthouse Facilities Improvement Authority has approved nearly $700,000 in grants for the work thus far.  The Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission has been advising the county to help ensure the building’s historic features are protected, Polk said.

The court house in which John Brown was tried
and convicted is now under renovation
(Herald-Mail photo)
Next, attention was given to the four columns in front of the building, which are among its most recognizable features. The columns, added when the courthouse was rebuilt following Civil War damage, “were made with rows upon rows of handmade bricks stacked all the way up,” Polk said.
When crews checked the condition of the bricks inside the cast-iron “boots” that surrounded the columns, they found crumbled bricks and piles of dust.  The boots were removed, and the columns repaired and covered in a fiber wrap, Polk said.

Next came landscaping work in front of the courthouse’s main entrance. Acting on a recommendation from the landmarks commission, the county removed a huge boulder with “1863” carved in it to commemorate West Virginia’s 100th birthday.  “People thought the rock was historic. It wasn’t,” Polk said. “It was put there during a 100th anniversary parade in 1963. The rock was removed and given to Wildwood Intermediate School to put on the lawn there.
A 19th century sketch of the court house

The stone wall along Washington and George streets had to be rebuilt, and the two large boxwoods on the front lawn were removed.  The work also included renovations to the large second-floor circuit-court courtroom, judge’s chambers and offices.

The first Jefferson County Courthouse was built on the current site in 1803. It was replaced with a new, larger building in 1836.  Abolitionist John Brown was tried in the first-floor courtroom in 1859.
In 1872, the Civil War damage to the building was repaired. It was enlarged, and the new courtroom was added to the second floor.
======

John Brown's Raid invoked in Case of Fired Palestinian Teacher in New Jersey

While this story does not deal directly with John Brown, the abolitionist's name popped up in a controversy that has made both local and national news for Raritan Township, New Jersey, over the past few years.

In 2015, Sireen Hashem, a history teacher at the Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, New Jersey, was fired after having a series of conflicts with the school district that seem to reflect local hostility toward her as a Palestinian and Muslim.

A December 2015 report by NJ.com stated that the school had ordered the history teacher not to "mention Islam in class," and reprimanded her for showing a movie about the young Nobel Laureate, Malala Yusufzai.  In an initial court hearing, Hashem stated that she was fired because her Muslim religion "causes 'trouble."

Sireen Hashem on CNN
According to another report in late 2015, Hashem's troubles began when a student was offended by her showing the movie about Malala Yusufzai, even though another teacher in the same school had also showed the same movie on the same day.  Based upon the available reports, it appears that Hashem was simply too frank in her political assessment of the Palestinian-Israel situation and religious leaders and parents in the district were reactionary and hostile toward her because she was a Muslim Palestinian.  Indeed, Hashem seems to have fallen prey to the tendency on the part of many people in this nation label any kind of criticism of Israel's policies as anti-Semitism.  There is no evidence whatsoever that Hashem was advancing racist views, and in a 2007 article, Hashem was even quoted as encouraging Jewish and Muslim relationships.   "We should get together. We eat halal. They eat kosher. What's the difference? We should work it out," she said.  It is hard to believe that a woman of such sentiments has been fairly accused of anti-Semitism.

It seems rather that unfortunately she fell prey to expressing the "wrong" political views as a Palestinian and Muslim.  Hashem's lawsuit, as reported in late 2015,  seeks lost wages and punitive damages for employment discrimination, disparate treatment, retaliation, conspiracy, constitutional violations, discriminatory firing and defamation.  We wish her the best given what appears to be a most unfortunate and unfair situation.

Hunterdon High School
According to an online report in February 2017,  Hashem's lawsuit against the school district "is inching its way through federal court."  Last month, an updated report stated that after reaching federal court, Hashem's case has headed into mediation by retired Superior Court Judge Lawrence Lawson, after which it will return to federal court in August for an update on the mediation effort.

The John Brown connection in the story is that Hashem was using the school curriculum which included a parallel between Osama bin Laden's 9/11 attack on the USA and John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry.   According to Hashem, she did not draw a parallel between Brown and bin Laden since this seems to have been inferred or suggested by the curriculum.  Nor was this itself controversial, since many people in this nation are so besotted by the John Brown terrorist notion, and the supposed parallel between Brown and Muslim extremists has been made numerous times, including by Tony Horwitz in a New York Times Op-Ed in 2009.

While Brown remains a controversial figure in the minds of many whites, the school district has alleged that Hashem mismanaged the classroom discussion about Brown and the raid, and "editorialized" that Bin Laden "had no intention of killing as many Americans as he did" because he chose the attacks in the early morning of Sept. 11, 2001 "to minimize the number of people killed."
The school district also contends that Hashem said that Bin Laden "should be forgiven because he later apologized for the attacks and ought not to have been buried at sea but returned to his homeland for a proper burial."

Hashem seems to deny that she made such statements in class, and attributes them to the false charges of students and her critics.  Clearly, the real conflict between Hashem and the school district is probably more related to the political bias of people in the community, including both anti-Muslim bias and pro-Israel defensiveness.   Recently, the Committee to Support Sireen Hashem has asked the school district "to apologize to Sireen Hashem and to all Palestinians" for a statement made in legal papers that "Palestine is not a nation."  That such sentiments have been espoused by Hashem's opponents suggests that the political interests of pro-Israel supporters may have been a key factor in her firing.

Hashem has since gone on to become as a teacher at Ridge High School in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

It is most unfortunate that the fallback discussion about John Brown in this day and age has become one where the abolitionist is compared to domestic and foreign terrorists.  That the Harper's Ferry raid and "9/11" are even considered worthy of comparison in classroom discussions is a tribute to the deep misunderstanding and historical prejudice that persists in many sections of this nation.  Whatever the case with Sireen Hashem, this case indirectly reminds us that John Brown has been almost irreparably demeaned and degraded in the popular thinking of this nation.  

It is increasingly difficult to imagine how such historical and cultural bigotry can ever be erased when even our high school curricula continue to deny the evils of slavery, elevate and idealize racists, and disdain and condemn those few men like John Brown who gave everything for the sake of freedom and human rights.

Don Lemon of CNN interviews Sireen Hashem here

The Facebook page of the Committee to Support Sireen Hashem here



Saturday, July 15, 2017

From the Field: In Decorah, Iowa

by H. Scott Wolfe

Your correspondent recently returned from a nostalgic sojourn in the glorious State of Montana — to which place, a half-century ago (yikes!), a seemingly uneducable citizen of Wisconsin first traveled to be educated. Today, opinions still vary as to the success of that endeavor.

Our initial leg-stretch occurred in the attractive city of Decorah, Iowa, where I halted the Hyundai beside the famous Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. Immediately, the mental wheels began spinning — for I seemed to recollect that the building adjacent to the museum, a two-story frame with a facade in the Italianate style, possessed John Brown connections. Presently the site of a business called the “ArtHaus Studio,” the structure was undergoing a cosmetic facelift — with workmen clambering up ladders and busily scraping blistered paint.

Calling upon my much oxidized memory, I seemed to recall that, in 1863, the widowed Mary Brown, her daughter Ellen, and son Salmon (with his family) had commenced their westward journey from North Elba to California — and had tarried for a time in the community of Decorah. I had once been told that they actually resided on the second floor of this building.


The location of Mary Brown's residence in Decorah, Iowa, 1863-1864
(Photo by H. Scott Wolfe)


Still possessing a troubling concern for what are today sometimes known as FACTS, I decided to seek confirmation of my recollections.  My first stop was a nearby visitors’ information center. A very kind and accommodating lady listened to my John Brown story…and was soon beset with that vacant look so often encountered when I speak of that obscure individual who may well have caused the American Civil War. Their eyes become fixed, and seem to say: “Did I purchase enough green peppers for those Western omelets I plan on preparing for tomorrow’s breakfast?” But the helpful lady sent me on to a nearby gift shop.

So another clerk was regaled with my John Brown story — and that same look returned. I may as well have been relating the dramatic story of Charles Henry Winkenwerder. At least honesty prevailed, for she politely asked: “Who is John Brown?” As I mumbled words such as “slavery,” “abolitionism” and “Harpers Ferry,” her supervisor appeared and, to his credit, knew who John Brown was. But he too was surprised to hear of the Old Man’s connection to the adjacent building. 
Finally, the clerks alerted a passing gentleman to my question — and he, amazingly, said that he had heard rumors to that effect. That yes, there were stories connecting John Brown’s family to the structure right next door. 

Another view of Mary Brown's residence in Decorah, Iowa, 1863-1864
(Photo by H. Scott Wolfe)

But there it stood. I was soon on to Sauk Centre, Minnesota, to commune with the spirit of Sinclair Lewis. But I paused long enough to take a couple of images of the Decorah building in question. Perhaps those readers of this blog who are familiar with Mary Brown’s sojourn in Decorah can fill in the story…and ease my troubled mind.


Note: By the way, Charles Henry Winkenwerder was not an important personage. He was simply my Great-grand Uncle.--HSW
=====

My colleague's interesting submission is complemented by further material worth noting here, including the insights provided by our colleagues, Jean Libby1 and Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz2, both of which have made important contributions to the story of Mary Brown's later life.  Additional information is culled from some of Mary Brown's own correspondence.

The Decision to Leave North Elba

      Laughlin-Schultz provides interesting background to the story, first pointing out that Mary and her family had grown weary of the frequent flow of uninvited guests at North Elba--as Mary put it, the "curious stares and unwelcome gaze of the populus."3  In 1909, Annie Brown Adams recalled in a letter to Katherine Mayo: "If you could only realize what members of John Brown's family have to endure on account of people's brutal curiousity. . . .  Often I used to run away and hide when I would see strangers coming, while we lived in North Elba."4  However, it is also true that despite her late husband's preference for Adirondack life, Mary Brown never really seems to have taken to it.  A decade before the Harper's Ferry raid, during the Browns' first stay in North Elba (1849-51), Mary was sick and took the first opportunity to take refuge in a "Water Cure" establishment in Massachusetts while her husband was away in Europe on business.5  Before his death, Brown encouraged his wife to remain in North Elba, apparently hoping to gather all the children together to live there as well.6

      But quite the opposite resulted, since none of the Browns ultimately remained in North Elba, and those in Ohio, especially John Junior and Jason (the sons of Brown's first wife), never wanted to take up residence in the cold elevations of Essex County.   However, the decisive factor that led Mary to leave North Elba seems to have been that both her son Salmon wanted to leave, and that her late husband's eldest daughter and son-in-law, Ruth and Henry Thompson, had already made the plunge. "Salmon and Henry Thompson have sold out and are a going to move to Iowa," Mary confided in abolitionist J. Miller McKim in September 1863.  "I think of going with them."7  Interestingly, when Mary began to seriously consider leaving, she evidently hoped that some arrangements could be made to take her husband's remains with her.  In the end, however, even her attachments to the remains of her beloved husband did not prevent her from making the move.  As one of her relatives summed it up, Mary Brown "could not resist the temptation" to leave North Elba.8  

Mary Brown as she looked
in the mid-1850s
Iowa

     It seems that initially, Mary's only destination was Iowa, following her son Salmon, who seems to have been drawn there because it was a prosperous market for sheep.  Jean Libby suggests there were relatives in Iowa, but I am unable to verify this.9   After about two months living in Decorah, Mary wrote to her half-son, Owen, describing the area quite optimistically, as there were many people in Iowa from all over the country, "and a great many wealthy people" there too.   As to livestock, there were "a great ma[n]y sheep in this part of the country and people are intending to get more."10  The winter of 1863-64 in Decorah has been described as having been harsh, but according to Mary the weather "was very fine."  More likely, it was health conditions that were harsh, with many people being sick, especially children suffering from Scarlet Fever.11  It has likewise been stated that Mary bought a farm in Decorah,12 but I find this doubtful.  Perhaps Mary rented a farm the way they had rented the Flanders farm in North Elba during the family's first residence.  More likely, Mary took up residence on the second floor of the building pictured above in Scott Wolfe's article.

      One thing is clear, once Mary had tasted an improved lifestyle in Iowa, she regretted having upgraded the North Elba farm.   Visitors to the John Brown Farm today are not aware that it has since been restored to its original form as it was built by Henry Thompson for the Browns in 1855.  However, in the early 1860s, evidently with monies provided through James Redpath's authorized biography of her husband, Mary had invested in some expansion and improvement of the house, including a porch.   "I very much regret that I ever spent a cent on that farm in North Elba," Mary wrote to Owen, "but I did not know what I do now."  She hoped that with the sale of the North Elba farm she could at least recoup some of the money she had invested.13

Toward California

     Ultimately, the fact that Mary and her family did not remain in Iowa probably amounts to greener pastures, literally and otherwise, for a family that specialized in sheep farming.  Mary might have returned to her native northeastern Pennsylvania, and there was some interest expressed through the family's connection to their old friend, George Delamater, in Crawford County.  There was also Ohio, where John Junior and Jason resided.   But California was an attraction to the Browns and had been.  Salmon Brown would later speak of the desire to find a "new country," although this was nothing new to the Brown boys.14  Even prior to the Harper's Ferry raid, the gold rush and the promise of prosperity on the west coast had drawn the interest of the Brown boys, and one of John Brown's brothers had actually relocated there (to no success) for a time.  According to Jean Libby, however, Salmon's wife, Abbie (Hinckley) had perhaps caught the California fever from an uncle, and had persisted in promoting going farther west.  It is possible that other relatives in the Brown family likewise encouraged her to consider the westward move,15 however there is no well explained rationale for Mary's almost sudden move to California. Whatever the case, Mary Brown and family joined a westward wagon train in April 1864--only about three months after arriving in Decorah--and headed for Red Bluff, California.

Concern for Her Daughters

Fort Edward Institute, where Annie and Sarah Brown studied
     If Mary had great concern during the Decorah period, however, it was not over weather or farms or sheep, but about her daughters, twenty-year-old Annie, and seventeen-year-old Sarah, both of which had been sent east to study with the financial support of John Brown's abolitionist friends.   The young ladies had studied for a while in the private school of Franklin Sanborn in Concord, Massachusetts, but had somehow been transferred to a fairly new institution located at Fort Edward, New York.   The Fort Edward Collegiate Institute has been described as a "seminary,"16 but it was not a theological training institution as the term is used in the contemporary sense.  Rather, this was a seminary in the original use of the term as a kind of "seed bed" of learning, or preparatory institution.  According to a description at the time, Fort Edward Institute was only about ten years old when the Brown women were there, a "mammoth brick" edifice "unequaled by any other Seminary edifice in the country."  It is further described as a structure with furnished rooms, board, prepared fuel, and washing," and students resided for 14-week terms to study either commercial, classical, or "ornamental" (whatever that meant!) curricula.17  It is more likely that Annie and Sarah received the most practical or commercial training.

Annie Brown ca. 1860s
      But when Mary reached Iowa, she was deeply concerned about her daughters, whom she had left behind in the east.  Sarah had continued to study at Fort Edward and had done well, having received a tuition discount as John Brown's daughter.18  In the immediate sense, Mary was far more concerned about Annie, who had apparently decided to involve herself in the cause of the Union, following in her father's footsteps by working as a teacher of liberated blacks in the South.  As Laughlin-Schultz observes, there is little direct information about her tenure as a freedmen's teacher in Norfolk, Virginia, but there is no doubt that she undertook this difficult role for a season.  When Mary first learned of her daughter's decision to teach freedmen in Virginia, she was bowled over and could not respond to her daughter's letter.  When she finally did write to Annie from Decorah in early December 1863, she expressed both concern and support.  "If you feel it to be your duty we will all submit to it," she wrote, "but I was not prepared for it just now."19

    But even as Mary was coming to terms with Annie's bold decision to venture into Virginia a second time (she had accompanied her father prior to the Harper's Ferry raid, quite against her mother's wishes), she was beginning to fear for Sarah, who would be left alone.  Sarah was finishing her studies in 1864 and planned on joining her mother, but Mary was apprehensive about her daughter being kept from traveling by cold weather, forcing her to incur greater expense and worry.   Apparently, Mary's concern had some basis, because Sarah ended up being stuck in some way and had to be assisted by her elder brother Owen.  The latter incurred some expense in retrieving his teenage sister and bringing her through the cold weather into Ohio, whence she evidently proceeded on to Decorah to join her mother.20   When Mary left Decorah for California in April 1864, she was guided by her son, Salmon and his family, and accompanied by both Annie, Sarah, and nine-year-old Ellen, the youngest daughter of John Brown the abolitionist.  Annie and Sarah would serve as teachers shortly after arriving in California.21--LD*

* The post-1859 story of the Browns is not a particular strength of mine, and while input and corrections are always welcome, they would be especially appreciated here--LD



Notes

     1 Jean Libby, "John Brown's Family and Their California Refuge," The Californians 7:1 (Palo Alto, 2006), 14-22. 
     2  Bonnie Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown's Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolition (Cornell University Press, 2013). 
     3  Ibid., 96.
     4 Anne Brown Adams to Katherine Mayo, 26 Oct. 1909, Annie Brown Adams folder, Box 1, John Brown - Oswald G. Villard Papers, Columbia University Library.
     5 Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., "Fire from the Midst of You": A Religious Life of John Brown (New York: NYU Press, 2002), 182-85.
     6 Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., Freedom's Dawn: The Last Days of John Brown in Virginia (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 296.  
     7  Mary Brown to J. Miller McKim, 2 Sept. 1863, Cornell University Library.  Transcript in Edwin N. Cotter Collection, 2/56/32, SUNY Plattsburgh. 
     8 "I Should like to know what My Dear husband[']s friends intend to do about removeing [sic] his remains or what they would advise to be done in case we all leave this Country." Mary Brown to Mary Stearns, 20 Aug. 1864, MS04-0079, John Brown - Boyd B. Stutler Collection, West Virginia Archives and History; Laughlin-Shultz, The Tie That Bound Us, 97.
     9 Libby, "Chronology of Mary Ann Day Brown, 1816-1884," The Californians 7:1 (Palo Alto, 2006), 18.
    10 Mary Brown to Owen Brown, 31 Jan. 1864.  Copy in Edwin N. Cotter Collection, 2/59/53, SUNY Plattsburgh.
    11 Ibid.  Also see Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us: The Women of John Brown's Family and the Legacy of Radical Abolition, 98
    12 Libby, "John Brown's Family and Their California Refuge," 14.
    13 Mary Brown to Owen Brown, 31 Jan. 1864.
    14 Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us, 97.
    15 Libby, "John Brown's Family and Their California Refuge," 16; Libby, "Sarah Brown, Artist and Abolitionist," The Californians 7:1 (Palo Alto, 2006), 35.
    16 Laughlin-Schultz refers to it as a "boarding seminary," The Tie That Bound Us, 93.
    17  "Fort Edward Institute," Northern Christian Advocate, 15 Feb. 1855.  Transcribed in the burial information for founder Joseph E. King, at Find-A-Grave.  Retrieved from https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=43423726
    18 Mary Brown to Mary Stearns, 7 Jan. 1863, MS04-0077, Brown-Stutler Collection.
    19 Mary Brown to Annie Brown, 3 Dec. 1863, Horatio Rust Papers, Henry Huntington Collection, San Marino, Calif.
    20 Mary Brown to Annie Brown, 3 Dec. 1863; Mary Brown to Owen Brown, 31 Jan. 1864.
    21 Laughlin-Schultz, The Tie That Bound Us, 105.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

From Root to Fruit: Jim Jatras Makes the Inevitable John Brown Reference

See, I told you so.

In my last post (June 14), I expressed apprehension that someone would respond to the recent Alexandria shootings by the anti-Trump reactionary, James Hodgkinson, with a comparison to John Brown.  In fact, the unfortunate reference to Brown was posted online only two days later, by Jim Jatras, "a former US diplomat and foreign policy adviser to the Senate GOP leadership," on the conservative website, Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

In his piece, "Waiting for John Brown" (Jun. 16), Jatras argues that if an incident of gross insult or even an assault upon the Democrats had taken place at the hands of a Republican, the Republicans would "be dunned mercilessly by media and their Democratic colleagues demanding they own up to 'the climate of hate' they’d created."  This is the gist of Jatras' complaint, that there is a double standard that allows the Democrats and a largely liberal media to blame the Republicans for a climate of violence, such as they did when former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot in 2011, and both Sarah Palin and the Tea Party were insinuated as having responsibility.
Jim Jatras (Chronicles)

In the short run, Jatras may have a point, although I'm not interested so much in arguing the contemporary issue.  My concern, as usual, is to protect the real legacy of John Brown from the abuses of bigots, snobs, and agenda-driven or ignorant narratives.   Jatras is concerned about what he believes (whether true or imagined) is a growing, hostile, and possibly violent movement arising against conservatives.  He fears that there is a evidence  of a "planned calculated armed assaults on ordinary, decent Americans who have been demonized as 'white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Klansmen along with other provocateurs from the so-called "alt-right."'"  He fears another civil war may even arise if things don't "calm down on their own," and that good citizens will "just meekly" permit themselves to be deprived of their rights by leftwing reactionaries.  Jatras fears the worst.

Apart from the shoe being on the other foot (liberals have long had similar apprehensions about a rightwing uprising), it is most unfortunate that Jatras would drag John Brown into this mess with his alarmist prediction of civil war and the loss of rights by conservatives.  Jatras fears that conservative citizens who are so deprived will "begin to respond in kind," and then he cites the civil war in Spain in the 1930s.  In contrast, he then invokes Brown and the Harper's Ferry raid in speaking of the Democrats.  Apart from the title, however, Brown is not mentioned in his piece until the end, when he writes:
At this writing we don’t know if the Alexandria shooter simply sought to kill as many people as possible, or whether he hoped to spark something bigger. We have an example of how that happens too, at Harper’s Ferry in 1859. 
It’s not clear whether James Hodgkinson intended to be a new John Brown. But the way things are going, one will show up sooner than later. 
So, on one hand, Jatras seems to be predicting that Republicans, weary of being deprived of their rights, will take up arms to "respond in kind."  On the other hand, he connects James Hodgkinson to John Brown--alleged proof that Democratic fanaticism is attempting something bigger than just a few wounded Republicans.  Hodgkinson may or may not be the "new John Brown," Jatras concludes, but he expects one to arise.  John Brown as the liberal antichrist?
James Hodgkinson

Apart from the obvious alarmism of his propaganda, Jatras makes a supreme category error in historical terms. To be sure, he is not the only one announcing the possibility of civil war.  But so far, Jatras is the only Republican to invoke John Brown following the Alexandria incident.  In doing so, he reflects partisan bias and ignorance regarding the historical John Brown.   The question is why Jatras associates Brown with the liberal repression that he fears?  Why doesn't he consider that Brown is actually representative of US citizens opposing tyranny and fascism in the antebellum era?

Certainly, Hodgkinson was no John Brown type.  According to an assessment of the FBI reported in USA Today (Jun. 21), he had an "anger management problem,'' had abruptly exited a strained marriage, and had been living alone in his van for a month with his weapons in the vicinity of the nation's capital.  Hodgkinson certainly hated Trump, and had carried a list with the names of six lawmakers that perhaps he wanted to kill.  But he "was struggling in all kinds of different ways,'' concluded the assistant director of the FBI.  According to the Bureau, Hodgkinson had acted alone.  None of this corresponds well with John Brown's profile as a man or as an activist.  Even when Brown did lead a group in a preemptive strike in 1856 Kansas territory, the five men that died were conspirators in a terrorist plan, not hapless victims of a fanatic with a predisposition to homicide.

Hodgkinson was a troubled man with inclinations that made him a social misfit and dropout.  In contrast, John Brown was well respected in his own community, even by people who thought his antislavery views were extreme.  His family life was intact and he had the love and support of his wife and children, and the respect of his larger circles of family and friends.  The attempt by his friends to argue for his "monomania"in 1859 was unfounded and intended only to save him from the death penalty.   No one who knew Brown believed he was unbalanced, and everyone knew he was a man of principle whose only design was to undermine slavery and liberate the oppressed. Hodgkinson will not be celebrated now that he's dead.  Brown was widely celebrated and long upheld with respect for his egalitarian prescience, devotion, and self-sacrifice in the antislavery arena.   For Jatras to reduce Brown to a kind of miscreant, leftwing messiah figure is completely uncalled for and unfair.

In 2015, ABC News reported that Jatras "desperately" wanted to run for Vice-President under the Republican banner, and he went so far as to issue a press release announcing his intentions to get on the GOP ticket.  In an interview, he stated his intention to stand up "for the principles of the Republican party." The question is, which Republican party?   In 1860, there was a leftwing faction of the Republican party that advocated immediate emancipation and upheld the example and principles of John Brown.  There was also a rightwing faction that was conservative and willing to compromise with slaveholders in order to save the Union--even if it meant keeping black people enslaved.

Evidently, when Jim Jatras identifies himself with the Republican party, he is putting himself squarely in the tradition of Republican compromisers who saw slavery as tolerable for nationalist priorities.  This will explain why he is fundamentally disconnected from John Brown, and why he equates him with the enemy instead of crediting him as a liberator and leader in the struggle for justice.

"You shall know them by their fruits"--and their fruits will reveal their roots.--LD



Saturday, June 03, 2017

Current Themes: FREDERICK DOUGLASS REAPPEARS IN WASHINGTON -- IS OFFERED EXECUTIVE POSITION


“CURRENT THEMES”

FREDERICK DOUGLASS REAPPEARS IN WASHINGTON
IS OFFERED EXECUTIVE POSITION

Reported by

Our Correspondent “In the Field”

“Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

The President, as reported by CNN


At the risk of life, limb and a quarter inch of shoe leather, your humble correspondent was able to obtain, from an unnamed source in the nation’s capital, the following transcription of a presidential phone conversation last February:

*Hello? Is that you Bulldog? How’s it going? Just wanted to say you’re doing a fantastic job over at the Pentagon. Just fantastic! The people love us. 
——- 
*Yeah, I know. The world’s in a helluva mess but I, I mean we, are going to fix it bigly. 
——- 
*Say, I had a meeting at the White House the other day and someone mentioned this Frederick Douglass guy. Sounds like he’s tremendous. Think we could find a place for him over at Defense? 
——- 
*What? He’s what? How dark? Do you have a picture of him? Could he pass? 
——- 
*Hmm, that could be a problem. It wouldn’t go over well with my tremendous constituency of forgotten men and women. 
——- 
*Well, maybe I can give Rex over at State a buzz. He might be able to make him an ambassador to one of those Scandinavian countries, like Uruguay or Togo or something. 
——- 
*What? Another problem? What problem is that? I certainly can fix it. 
——- 
*He did?! When? 
——- 
*1895!! I wasn’t aware of that. 
——- 
*Buried in Rochester, huh? Tremendous city, Rochester. Doing fantastic things there in Rochester. 
——- 
*Well, I guess we should forget the whole thing then - as long as he isn’t around to bother us. 
——- 
*Say, Bulldog, tremendous talking with you. You just let me know if you need something - missiles, tanks, grenades, a couple of blondes from Mar-a-Lago. 
——- 
*OK, great, tremendous, fantastic. Talk to you later. 
——-
*Bye, bye.
==============
--H. Scott Wolfe