Wednesday, October 14, 2009

150th Anniversary of John Brown's Raid at Harper's Ferry

On October 16, 1859 Americans across the continent and around the world would be shaken by the events surrounding John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. This coming Friday, October 16, 2009 marks its 150th anniversary.

This weekend the Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park plans to hold observances as reported in the October 15 edition of the Wall Street Journal.

“Four states and four counties have begun preparations to commemorate the 2009 Sesquicentennial Anniversary of abolitionist John Brown's raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. The John Brown 150th Anniversary Quad-State Committee, comprised of various historians and officials from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland, are planning and coordinating a range of commemoration events. Officials responsible for organizing the commemorations say that events will include re-enactments, dramatic productions, art exhibits, academic lectures, special tours and much more.” Go here to the official web site events, educational resources, helpful links and more.

The Public Broadcasting System (PBS) also features a web site with an explanation of the man and the raid he led. The web link also features a teacher resource guide.

John Brown and the Valley of the Shadow features more about the John Brown story, including texts of period articles from Virginia newspapers.

From the Press Room of the New York-based Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History comes this:

As we quickly approach the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s history-making raid, the New-York Historical Society and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History present the exhibition John Brown: The Abolitionist and His Legacy, exploring the beliefs, activities and continuing significance of this critical figure, vilified by some as a murderer and venerated by others as a martyr.

On view from September 15, 2009 through March 25, 2010, this exhibition of rare materials from the Gilder Lehrman Collection and the New-York Historical Society also sets the stage for the culminating presentation of the Historical Society’s Lincoln Year, with the landmark exhibition Lincoln and New York, opening October 9, 2009.

The Institute’s web site features a newly-released podcast on John Brown by David Reynolds of the New York Historical Society.

No events are scheduled to be held in Hawaii. However, the History Education Council of Hawaii can furnish the following from Hawaii sources.

The clipper ship Webbfoot, 12 days out of San Francisco and commanded by Captain Hodge, brought to Honolulu shores a number of newspapers in late 1859. From these coveted local newspaper editors were able to glean news of the outside world, and in turn bring the news to residents throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

The Polynesian, published weekly in Honolulu by Charles G. Hopkins, reported in its December 3, 1859 edition: “An attempt at an insurrection was made at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in which 19 white men and some fifty blacks had been concerned. The insurgents took possession of the Arsenal and at one time had the town at their mercy; but troops and volunteers having poured in from the surrounding counties, the revolt was speedily put down, but after obstinate fighting. The whole blame is laid upon one man’s crazy ideas about abolitionism, a man named Brown who had lost two children and his right senses in the late Kansas troubles.

“It is said that the affair at Harper’s Ferry is the first case of the kind which has ever occurred in this country, involving at the same time both State and Federal jurisdiction. While the State is affected as to slavery and locality, the General Government is interested with regard to public property, it having exclusive control over the arsenal grounds, independently of the State, also, with regard to the mails. Already in distinguished quarters, the question of jurisdiction is discussed, as Gov. Wise will, it is said, claim the prisoners now held by the United States troops, to be dealt with according to the laws of Virginia.

“The following is the number of killed and wounded during the recent insurrection: killed: 5 citizens, and 15 insurgents. Wounded: 3 insurgents. Prisoners: 3 insurgents.

“The prisoners have been committed to the Charlestown jail to await the notion of the grand jury, when they will be indicted and tried in a few days.

“The arrangement about the jurisdiction has been settled this way: The local authorities are to try the prisoners for murder, and in the meanwhile the United States authorities will do so on the charge of treason.

“The news in last night’s dispatches is of great importance. It traces the insurrection at Harper’s Ferry, and the movements of old Brown, to a well-organized conspiracy, having its ramifications in the Free States of the Union and Canada. Names are given, among them Gerrit Smith, of New York, whose letter, enclosing a $100 check for the cause, was found. As early as the latter part of August, Secretary Floyd was advised, by a letter from Cincinnati, of the existence of secret associations in various parts of the country, having in view the liberation of the slaves in Virginia and Maryland –their plans were disclosed, just as they turned out- and no doubt can longer exist that men who have heretofore figured extensively in the country, in various ways, will be shown to have had a connection with this diabolical conspiracy.”

The December 17 edition of The Polynesian continued its coverage of the raid and subsequent events. "The trial of JOHN BROWN, the insurgent, closed at Charlestown on Monday, Oct. 31. After a short interval, the Jury returned with a verdict of guilty upon all counts of indictment; namely, for treason, for inciting insurrection, and for murder. Brown is sentenced to the hung Dec. 2."

On December 31 The Polynesian reported that "The Harper's Ferry trials were over, and the excitement through the country had pretty much subsided." Later in the same column it was reported that sermons had been preached on the raid. "Two sermons were preached in New York on the John Brown rebellion -one by Dr. Cheever, of the Church of the Puritans, and the other by the Rev. H.H. Blair, of the Associated Presbyterian Church. The remarks of the first-named divine were couched in his usual style of bitter invective against slavery and a slavery-ridden church and closed with a declaration that if 'the men of peace will not apply God's law against the sin of slave-holding, in the shape of argument and earnest truth, the men of war will put it in the shape of bullets, and fight it out.'"

"Mr. Blair," the story continued, "was more quiet in his language, but nonetheless severe in his denunciation of the Kansas pro-slavery outrages which made John Brown what he is, and finally lead to the Harper's Ferry outrage. He drew a parallel between Moses and John Brown, contending that Brown had been to the negro race what Moses was to the Israelites."

On January 7 ramifications of the raid on Harper's Ferry was reported in The Polynesian. "The Harper's Ferry affair continues the great topic of discussion, and from the press, pulpit and rostrum monopolizes general attention. The hot and bitter blood engaged in its discussion leads to many extravagancies. In Washington disunion is openly discussed on the street, and all over the Union a tone of sentiment is indulged which is to be regretted. In the South, we have nothing but alarm movements, and in the North, nothing but ridicule of the South.

"It was rumored that 600 to 1000 men were arming in Ohio, for the rescue of the prisoners.

"Gov. Wise left Harper's Ferry this morning for Richmond, after receiving a dispatch from Gov. Parker of Pennsylvania, tendering services of 10,000 men, and offering to station a guard along the dividing line between Pennsylvania and Maryland.

"On Saturday night, November 19th, a meeting was held at Tremont Temple in Boston, as advertised, for the benefit of John Brown. Upwards of $4,000 was collected, according to a dispatch dated the 22d. The dispatch from Boston on the night of the 19th represents the number of persons present to have been 2,000. Proceedings were ultrafanatical, according to a condensed report in the newspapers. Wendell Philips and Ralph Waldo Emerson were present"

News of Brown's hanging was reported in the January 21, 1860 edition of The Polynesian. "John Brown, the chief of the Harper's Ferry outrage, was hanged, in terms of his sentence, at Charlestown, Va, at 11 1-4 o'clock A.M., of 2d December. The New England and Western States had showed great sympathy, and been ringing bells and delivering speeches, &c., as tokens of condolence and indignation over the fate of John Brown. Virginia is slowly getting over her fright."

Also published on's Friday, October 16, 2009 edition. Our thanks to Malia Zimmerman.

“Never Too Old To Learn”

From the September, 1860 edition of The Friend, published monthly in Honolulu by Rev. Samuel C. Damon, Chaplain, American Seaman’s Friend Society:

Socrates, at an extreme age, learned to play musical instruments.

Cato, at eighty years of age, thought proper to learn the Greek language.

Plutarch, when between seventy and eighty, commenced to study Latin.

Boccaccio was thirty-five years of age when he commenced his studies in polite literature; yet he became one of the three great masters of the Tiscan dialect, Dante and Petrarch being the other two.

Sir Henry Spelman neglected the sciences in his youth, but commenced the study of them when he was between fifty and sixty years of age. After this he became a most learned antiquarian and lawyer.

Colbert, the famous French minister, at sixty years of age returned to his Latin and law studies.

Ludovico, at the great age of 115, wrote the memoirs of his own times, a singular exertion, noticed by Voltaire, who was himself one of the most remarkable instances of the progress of age in new studies.

Ogilby, the translator of Homer and Virgil, was unacquainted with Latin and Greek till he was past the age of fifty.

Franklin did not commence his philosophical pursuits till he had reached his fiftieth year.

Accorso, a great lawyer, being asked why he began the study of law so late, answered that indeed he began it late, but he should therefore master it sooner.

Dryden, in his sixty-eighth year, commenced the translation of the Iliad; and his most pleasing productions were written in his old age.