Brown, the Abolitionist:
In Report #18,
Sacagawea told you about the lovely town of Lake Placid, New York,
and about the Olympic Training Centers here. In the shadows of the
towering ski jumps lies a small farm just outside of the town. It
is famous for the fact it was once the home of the fiery abolitionist,
John Brown, and is now the site of his final resting place. Photo:
Robert E., Ulysses, and me with Mary at the entrance to the John
Brown Farm site.
Ulysses: Did you ever hear the song, "John
Brown's Body Lies A-Mouldering in the Grave?" The song is sung to
the tune of one of America's most favorite hymns, "the Battle Hymn
of the Republic."
Robert E.: But the original John Brown of
the song is not the same John Brown whose body is buried beside
a huge boulder in North Elba, New York.
John Brown of North Elba was actually born in Torrington, Connecticut,
on May 9, 1800, but soon after his family moved to Ohio. This was
only the first of many moves John Brown made in his nearly sixty
years of life. As a young man, he studied to become a minister,
but his eyes were poor, and he soon had to give up his studies.
Then he became a tanner (working with leather), as well as a farmer
and surveyor. He married when he was twenty. He and his wife, Dianthe,
moved to Randolph, Pennsylvania, where he built a tannery as well
as organized a church, built a school, and served as the village's
postmaster. During the next twelve years, they had seven children.
When Dianthe died, John moved his family back to Ohio, and married
his second wife, Mary Ann. Together, they had thirteen more children.
Photo: John Brown.
Ulysses: Around 1846, John Brown learned
of the abolitionist movement in the Northern states. Abolitionists
thought the enslavement of African Americans in the South was morally
wrong, and they worked to pass laws that would set the slaves free.
E.: One of these abolitionists was a man named Gerrit Smith who
bought up large parcels of rugged farmland in the Adirondack Mountains
of New York. Smith offered farm plots to the free African Americans
in New York. He envisioned a special community of free African Americans
, and he called it "Timbucto." John Brown was fired up by this idea,
and he moved his large family to the Adirondacks where he settled
on one of Gerrit Smith's farms. Here John Brown set about to help
the new settlement grow by surveying the land for the free African
Americans, assisting them in building their farms, and planting
their crops. Unfortunately, Timbucto did not thrive, and many of
the would-be settlers moved away to climates that were warmer and
less harsh. Photo: Abe and Mary outside the farmhouse where John
Brown and his family lived.
Abe: Meanwhile, some of John Brown's
older sons, who were now grown up and married, had moved to Kansas,
where there was a great deal of bickering and outright fighting
over the question whether or not Kansas would enter the Union as
a free or slave state.
Ulysses: In fact, the fighting was so bad,
this western state soon became known in the east as "Bleeding Kansas."
Robert E.: John Brown's sons were fighting
to keep Kansas a free state. When John heard of this, he went out
to Kansas to give his aid. Mary Ann and the younger children stayed
on the farm in North Elba and worked the rocky land. In Kansas,
the abolitionist cause inflamed John Brown with a religious fervor,
and he waged a number of bloody skirmishes to win freedom for the
slaves of Kansas. During the next three years, John Brown increased
his war-like campaigns against slavery while attracting a following
of like-minded men -- including several of Brown's sons.
Raid on Harpers Ferry:
Abe: On the night of October 16, 1859, John
Brown and his small band of followers attacked the U. S. Arsenal
at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now part of West Virginia), with the
idea they would capture a large number of rifles with which to arm
the slaves. John Brown envisioned a slave uprising that would sweep
the South, thus ending slavery for all time.
Though his intentions were good, John Brown had overstepped the
loose bounds of the law. By attacking a government instillation
with the idea of forming a rebellion, John Brown had committed treason
in the eyes of the law. Robert E. Lee, then a colonel in the United
States Army, was sent quickly to Harpers Ferry to put down the attackers.
Photo: Robert E. Lee.
Robert E.: John Brown and his men, including
several of his sons, sought refuge inside the fire house at Harpers
Ferry. After a bloody battle, during which two of John Brown's sons
were killed, the abolitionist was captured on October 18.
Abe: John Brown was imprisoned at Charlestown,
Virginia (now West Virginia), and was tried and found guilty of
treason. On December 6, 1859, John Brown was hanged outside of Charlestown.
His last wish was to be buried on his farm back in the peaceful
Adirondack Mountains. Six days after John Brown's execution, his
body as well as those of his sons, was buried by a boulder a few
yards from his farmhouse.
Ulysses: Within two years of John Brown's
death, America was engaged in a bloody war to settle the question
of slavery. Many people saw the attack on Harpers Ferry not as an
act of treason, but as a praiseworthy endeavor.
E.: Mary Ann Brown remained on the farm until 1863, when she moved
to California in order to escape her husband's notoriety. She sold
the land in 1866, to a local farmer. In 1870, a group of John Brown's
admirers purchased the farm with the idea of turning it into a memorial.
In 1895, the farm was donated to the State of New York as a historic
Mary and Abe admire the life-size bronze statue of John Brown with
a slave boy sculpted by Joseph P. Pollia. It was unveiled on the
welcome circle on May 9, 1935, on the 135th anniversary of John
Brown's birth. You can see the farmhouse in the background.
Abe: But the John Brown who rests in peace
there is not the same John Brown who was immortalized in song.
Brown of Boston:
Ulysses: That John Brown was a young Scottish immigrant who was
a member of the 2nd Battalion Boston Light Infantry in 1861. Because
of his name, the soldier was teased by his comrades in arms. To
while away the tedious hours of camp life, members of the Boston
Light Infantry formed a singing group. Among them was John Brown,
the Scotsman. One of the many songs they loved to sing was an old
hymn called, "Glory, Glory Hallelujah."
E.: One of John Brown's fellow songsters improvised a new line to
the verse of "Glory" and sang "John Brown's Body Lies A-Mouldering
in the Grave," much to the amusement of the 2nd Battalion Boston
Light Infantry as well as the embarrassment of a very lively John
Brown. Soon more verses were added. Other Federal units heard the
song and took up the refrain. It made a great marching song. Most
of the soldiers who sang it thought they were singing about the
abolitionist John Brown -- not John Brown of Boston. Photo: John
Brown, the abolitionist.
Battle Hymn of the
Abe: "John Brown's Body" was sung during a
review of the Union Army of the Potomac in Washington, D.C., in
late 1861. Among the spectators was Julia Ward Howe, who had known
the original John Brown and was a great admirer of his. A friend
suggested Mrs. Howe compose more appropriate lyrics to the song.
The next morning, Julia rose before dawn and set down the "Battle
Hymn of the Republic."
The new verses quickly were adapted to the
old tune, and the song became an inspiration, not only for the embattled
Union forces during the Civil War, but down through the years to
the present day. "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is now one of
our country's most beloved patriotic songs.
Neither of the John Browns ever heard the
"Battle Hymn." The abolitionist had been "a-mouldering in his grave"
two years before Julia Ward Howe wrote it. And John Brown of Boston
died very early in the Civil War. He too never heard the ultimate
song that his name had inspired.
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