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VII. Kansas and John Brown

Coming into Boston Harbor in September, 1856, after a long and stormy passage in a sailing vessel from the island of Fayal, the passengers, of whom I was one, awaited with eager interest the arrival of the pilot. He proved to be one of the most stolid and reticent of his tribe, as impenetrable to our curiosity as were his own canvas garments to raindrops. At last, as if to shake us off, he tugged from some remote pocket a torn fragment of a daily newspaper,--large enough to set before our eyes at a glance the momentous news of the assault on Charles Sumner in the United States Senate, and of the blockading of the Missouri River against Free State emigrants. Arrived on shore, my immediate party went at once to Worcester; and the public meeting held by my friends to welcome me back became also a summons to call out volunteer emigrants for Kansas. Worcester had been thoroughly wakened to the needs of the new Territory through the formation of the Emigrant Aid [197] Society, which had done much good by directing public attention to the opportunities offered by Kansas, though the enterprise had already lost some momentum by the obvious limitations of its method of “organized emigration.” It had been shown that it was easy to get people to go together to a new colony, but hard to keep them united after they got there, since they could not readily escape the American impulse to disregard organization and go to work, each for himself; this desire being as promptly visible in the leaders as in anybody else. Moreover, it seemed necessary to arm any party of colonists more openly and thoroughly than had been the policy of the Emigrant Aid Society; and so a new movement became needful. A committee was appointed, of which I was secretary, with a view to sending a series of parties from Worcester; and of these we in the end furnished three.

First, however, I was sent to St. Louis to meet a party of Massachusetts emigrants, under Dr. Calvin Cutter, who had been turned back from the river by the Missourians, or “Border Ruffians,” as they had then begun to be called. I was charged with funds to provide for the necessities of this body, and was also to report on the practicability of either breaking the river blockade or flanking it. A [198] little inquiry served to show that only the latter method would as yet be available. Events moved rapidly; a national committee was soon formed, with headquarters at Chicago, and it was decided to send all future emigrants across Iowa and Nebraska, fighting their way, if necessary, into Kansas. Our three parties, accordingly, went by that route; the men being provided with rifles, revolvers, and camp equipage. Two of these parties made their rendezvous in Worcester, one under command of my friend Stowell; the third party was formed largely of Maine lumbermen, recruited in a body for the service. I never saw thirty men of finer physique, as they strode through Boston in their red shirts and rough trousers to meet us at the Emigrant Aid Society rooms, which had been kindly lent us for the purpose. The rest of the men came to us singly, from all over New England, some of the best being from Vermont, including William Thompson, afterwards John Brown's son-in-law, killed at Harper's Ferry.

I have never ceased to regret that all the correspondence relating to these companies, though most carefully preserved for years, was finally lost through a casualty, and they must go forever unrecorded; but it was all really a rehearsal in advance of the great enlistments of the Civil War. The men were personally of [199] as high a grade as the later recruits, perhaps even higher; they were of course mostly undisciplined, and those who had known something of military service — as in the Mexican War, for instance — were usually the hardest to manage, save and except the stalwart lumbermen, who were from the beginning a thorn in the flesh to the worthy Orthodox Congregational clergyman whom it became necessary to put in charge of this final party of emigrants. He wrote back to me that if I had any lingering doubts of the doctrine of total depravity, I had better organize another party of Maine lumbermen and pilot them to Kansas. Sympathy was certainly due to him; and yet I should have liked to try the experiment.

Being appointed as an agent of the National Kansas Committee, I went out in September, 1856, to meet and direct this very party and others — including several hundred menwhich had been collected on the Nebraska border. The events of the six weeks following were described by me in a series of letters, signed “Worcester,” in the “New York tribune,” and later collected in a pamphlet entitled “A ride through Kansas.” It was a period when history was being made very rapidly,--a period which saw a policy of active oppression at last put down and defeated, although backed 199 [200] by the action or sustained by the vacillation of the national government. The essential difference between the Northern and the Southern forces in Kansas at that period was that the Northern men went as bona fide settlers, and the Southerners mainly to break up elections and so make it a Slave Territory. Every member of our Worcester parties signed a pledge to settle in Kansas, and nearly all kept it. On the other hand, the parties from South Carolina and Virginia, whom I afterwards encountered, had gone there simply on a lark, meaning to return home when it was over, as they freely admitted. This difference of material, rather than any superiority of organization, was what finally gave Kansas to freedom.

The end of Western railway communication was then Iowa City, in Iowa, and those who would reach Kansas had six hundred miles farther to walk or ride. I myself rode across Iowa for four days and nights on the top of a stage-coach, in the path of my emigrants,watching the sun go down blazing, and sometimes pear-shaped, over the prairie horizon, just as it goes down beyond the ocean, and then seeing it rise in the same way. When the stage at last rolled me into Nebraska City, it seemed as if I had crossed the continent, for I had passed through Council Bluffs, which in [201] my school geography had figured as the very outpost of the nation. Once arrived there, I felt as bewildered as a little boy on the Canadian railway who, when the conductor announced the small village called London, waked from a doze and exclaimed in my hearing, “Do we really pass through London — that great city?” One of the first needful duties was to visit our party of lumbermen and restore peace, if possible, between them and their officers. For this purpose I made my first stump speech, in a literal sense, standing on a simple pedestal of that description, and reasoning with the mutineers to the best of my ability. They had behaved so like grown — up children that I fear my discourse was somewhat in the line adopted in later years by a brilliant woman of my acquaintance, whose son had got into a college difficulty. I asked her, “Did you talk the matter over with him?” “Certainly,” she said eagerly. “I reasoned with him. I said to him, ‘L- , you are a great fool!’ ” It was not necessary to be quite so plain-spoken in this case; and as I was fortified by the fact of having all their means of subsistence in a money-belt about my waist, the advantage was clearly on my side, and some order was finally brought out of chaos.

Soon after arriving I had to drive from Nebraska [202] City to Tabor on an errand, over about twenty miles of debatable ground, absolutely alone. It had been swept by the hostile parties of both factions; there was no more law than in the Scottish Highlands; every swell of the rolling prairie offered a possible surprise, and I had some of the stirring sensations of a moss-trooper. Never before in my life had I been, distinctively and unequivocally, outside of the world of human law; it had been ready to protect me, even when I disobeyed it. Here it had ceased to exist; my Sharp's rifle, my revolvers,--or, these failing, my own ingenuity and ready wit,--were all the protection I had. It was a delightful sensation; I could quote to myself from Browning's magnificent soliloquy in “Colombe's Birthday:” --

When is man strong until he feels alone?

and there came to mind some thrilling passages from Mackay's “Ballads of the Cavaliers and Roundheads” or from the “Jacobite Minstrelsy.” On this very track a carrier had been waylaid and killed by the Missourians only a few days before. The clear air, the fresh breeze, gave an invigorating delight, impaired by nothing but the yellow and muddy streams of that region, which seemed to my New England eye such a poor accompaniment for the land of the [203] free. Tabor itself was then known far and wide as a Free State town, from the warm sympathy of its people for the struggles of their neighbors, and I met there with the heartiest encouragement, and had an escort back.

The tavern where I lodged in Nebraska City was miserable enough; the beds being fearfully dirty, the food indigestible, and the table eagerly beset by three successive relays of men. One day a commotion took place in the street: people ran out to the doors; and some thirty rough-riders came cantering up to the hostelry. They might have been border raiders for all appearance of cavalry order: some rode horses, some mules; some had bridles, others had lariats of rope; one man had on a slight semblance of uniform, and seemed a sort of lieutenant. The leader was a thin man of middle age, in a gray woolen shirt, with keen eyes, smooth tongue, and a suggestion of courteous and even fascinating manners; a sort of Prince Rupert of humbler grade. This was the then celebrated Jim Lane, afterwards Senator James H. Lane, of the United States Congress; at this time calling himself only “Major-General commanding the Free State Forces of Kansas.” He was now retreating from the Territory with his men, in deference to the orders of the new United States governor, Geary, who was making [204] an attempt, more or less serious, to clear Kansas of all armed bands. Lane stopped two days in Nebraska City, and I did something towards renewing the clothing of his band. He made a speech to the citizens of the town,--they being then half balanced between anti-slavery and pro-slavery sympathies,--and I have seldom heard eloquence more thrilling, more tactful, better adjusted to the occasion. Ralph Waldo Emerson, I remember, was much impressed by a report of this speech as sent by me to some Boston newspaper. Lane went with me, I think, to see our emigrants, encamped near by; gave me some capital suggestions as to our march into the Territory; and ended by handing me a bit of crumpled paper, appointing me a member of his staff with the rank of brigadier-general.

As I rode out of Nebraska City on the march, next day, my companion, Samuel F. Tappan, riding at my side, took occasion to exhibit casually a similar bit of paper in his own possession; and we thus found that the Kansas guerrilla leader carried out the habit of partisan chiefs in all history, who have usually made up in titles and honors what they could not bestow in actual emoluments. After this discovery Tappan and I rode on in conscious inward importance, a sort of dignity à deux, [205] yet not knowing but that at any moment some third brigadier-general might cross our path. We accompanied and partially directed the march of about a hundred and sixty men, with some twenty women and children. There were twenty-eight wagons, all but eight being drawn by horses. The nightly tents made quite an imposing encampment; while some of the men fed and watered the stock, others brought wood from far and near, others cleaned their rifles, others prepared the wagons for sleeping; the cooks fried pork and made bread; women with their babies sat round the fire; and a saddler brought out his board and leather every night and made belts and holsters for the emigrants. Each man kept watch for an hour, striding in thick boots through the prairie grass heavy with frost. Danger had always to be guarded against, though we were never actually attacked; and while we went towards Kansas, we met armed parties day after day fleeing from it, hopeless of peace. When at last we reached the Kansas River, we found on its muddy banks nineteen wagons with emigrants, retreating with heavy hearts from the land of promise so eagerly sought two years before. “The Missourians could not conquer us,” they said, “but Governor Geary has.”

On my first morning in Lawrence, Kansas, [206] I waked before daybreak, and looking out saw the house surrounded by dragoons, each sitting silent on his horse. This again was a new experience in those ante-bellum days. A party of a hundred and fifty of these men had been sent to intercept us, we learned, under the command of Colonel Preston and Captain Walker of the United States Army; the latter luckily being an old acquaintance of my own. As a result, I went with Charles Robinson, the Free State governor, and James Redpath for a half-amicable, half-compulsory interview with the actual governor, Geary; and we parted, leaving everything undecided,--indeed, nothing ever seemed to be decided in Kansas; the whole destiny of the Territory was one of drifting, until it finally drifted into freedom. Yet in view of the fact that certain rifles which we had brought, and which had been left at Tabor, Iowa, for future emergencies, were the same weapons which ultimately armed John Brown and his men at Harper's Ferry, it is plain that neither Governor Geary's solicitude nor the military expedition of Colonel Preston was at all misplaced.

I formed that day a very unfavorable impression of Governor Geary, and a favorable one of Governor Robinson, and lived to modify both opinions. The former, though vacillating in [207] Kansas, did himself great credit afterwards in the Civil War; while the latter did himself very little credit in Kansas politics, whose bitter hostilities and narrow vindictiveness he was the first to foster. Jealousy of the influence of Brown, Lane, and Montgomery led him in later years to be chiefly responsible for that curious myth concerning the Kansas conflict which has wholly taken possession of many minds, and has completely perverted the history of that State written by Professor Spring,--a theory to the effect that there existed from the beginning among the Free State people two well-defined parties, the one wishing to carry its ends by war, the other by peace. As a matter of fact there was no such division. In regard to the most extreme act of John Brown's Kansas career, the so-called “Pottawatomie massacre” of May 24, 1856, I can testify that in September of that year there appeared to be but one way of thinking among the Kansas Free State men, this being precisely the fact pointed out by Colonel William A. Phillips, in his “Conquest of Kansas,” which is altogether the best and fairest book upon the confused history of that time and place. I heard of no one who did not approve of the act, and its beneficial effects were universally asserted,--Governor Robinson himself fully indorsing it [208] to me, and maintaining, like the rest, that it had given an immediate check to the armed aggressions of the Missourians.

It is certain that at a public meeting held at Lawrence, Kansas, three years later (December 15, 1859), Robinson supported resolutions saying that the act was done “from sad necessity;” that on August 30, 1877, at the unveiling of Brown's monument at Osawatomie, he compared Brown to Jesus Christ; and that on February 5, 1878, he wrote in a letter to James Hanway, “I never had much doubt that Captain Brown was the author of the blow at Pottawatomie, for the reason that he was the only man who comprehended the situation and saw the absolute necessity of some such blow and had the nerve to strike it.” Personally, I have never fully reconciled myself to this vindication of “the blow;” but that Charles Robinson, after justifying it for nearly thirty years, and after the fighting men of the Territory (Brown, Lane, Montgomery) were dead, should have begun to pose as a non-resistant, and should later have spoken of “the punishment due Brown for his crimes in Kansas,” --this appears to me to have been either simply disgraceful, or else the product of a disordered mind.

The people in Lawrence had been passing through a variety of scenes of danger and discomfort [209] before the arrival of our party; and though the Missouri attacks had practically ceased, their effects remained in the form of general poverty and of privations as to food, especially as regarded breadstuffs. The hotel and Governor Robinson's house had been burned, as well as many mills and bridges; some of the best citizens were in jail as prisoners of state, and their families were really suffering. When I visited these prisoners at Lecompton, one man reported to me that he had left six children at home, all ill, and his wife accidentally away and unable to get back; but he supposed that “some of the neighbors would look after them.” Another had in his arms his crying baby, said to be the first child born in Lawrence, and named after the settlement. Such imprisonment was the lot of more than a hundred of the Free State men. In the more rural regions-though everything in Kansas was then rural, but treeless — there was a perpetual guerrilla warfare going on in a vague and desultory way; and the parties were so far defined that their labels attached even to dumb animals, and people spoke of an anti-slavery colt or a pro-slavery cow.

Several of us visited, near Blanton's Bridge, the ruins of a large mill, built by a Pennsylvanian named Straub. We met there his daughter, [210] who was a noble-looking girl of twenty, but rather needlessly defiant in manner, as we thought, till at last she said frankly, “Why, I thought you were Missourians, and I was resolved that you should hear the truth.” We being three to one, this attitude was certainly plucky; but I heard later that this girl had walked alone into the midst of the Missourians, while the mill was burning, and had called on one of them to give up her favorite horse which he had taken. This she did with such spirit that his comrades compelled him to dismount and surrender it. She mounted it and was riding away, when the man followed and attempted to get the halter from her hand; she held on; he took his bowie-knife and threatened to cut her hand off; she dared him to do it; he cut the rope close to her hand and got control of the horse. She slipped off, defeated; but presently two of the fellow's companions rode up and gave her the horse once more. It was a time when a horse was worth more than a life in Kansas, and we can estimate the completeness of the triumph.

As I had been urged to preach to the people of Lawrence, it seemed well to take for my text that which was employed by the Rev. John Martin on the Sunday after he had fought at Bunker Hill: “Be not ye afraid of them; remember [211] the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses.” Riding a few days after to Leavenworth, then a “Border Ruffian” town, to witness an election under the auspices of that faction, I found myself in a village provided with more than fifty liquor shops for two thousand inhabitants, while the doors of the hotel were almost barricaded with whiskey casks. Strangers were begged to take a hand in the voting, as if it were something to drink; I was several times asked to do this, and my plea that I was only a traveler was set aside as quite irrelevant. Many debated on the most available point at which to cast their pro-slavery votes — for the Free State men denied the validity of the election and would not vote at all — as coolly as a knot of village shopkeepers might debate whether to go to Boston or New York for purchases. Once the conversation began to grow rather personal. Said one man, just from Lecompton, “Tell you what, we've found out one thing: there's a preacher going about here preaching politics.” “Fact?” and “Is that so?” were echoed with virtuous indignation on all sides. “That's so,” continued he, “and he fixes it this way: first, he has his text and preaches religion; then he drops that and pitches into [212] politics; and then he drops that too, and begins about the sufferina niggers” (this with ineffable contempt). “And what's more, he's here in Leavenworth now.” “What's his name?” exclaimed several eagerly. “Just what I don't know,” was the sorrowful reply, “and I should n't know him if I saw him; but he's here, boys, and in a day or two there'll be some gentlemen here that know him.” (At my last speech in Lawrence I had been warned that three Missouri spies were present.) “It's well we've got him here, to take care of him,” said one. “Won't our boys enjoy running him out of town?” added another affectionately; while I listened with dubious enjoyment, thinking that I might perhaps afford useful information. But the “gentlemen” did not appear, or else were in search of higher game; and I was to leave town that night, at any rate, for St. Louis.

I took the steamer Cataract on October 9, 1856, and went down the river; my chief companions being a large party of youths from Virginia and South Carolina, who had come into the Territory of Kansas confessedly to take a hand in the election, and also in the fighting, should a chance be offered. They were drunken, gambling, quarrelsome boys, but otherwise affable enough, with the pleasant [213] manners and soft accent of the South. Nothing could be more naive than their confidences. “Don't you remember,” said one, with a sort of tender regret, “how when we went up the river we were all of us drunk all the time?” “So we would be now,” replied his friend sadly, “only we ain't got no money.” They said that they had been inveigled into coming by Atchison and others, on the promise of support for a year and fifty dollars bonus, but that they had got neither, and had barely enough to take them to St. Louis. “Let me once get home,” said the same youth who made the above confession, “and I'd stay at home, sure. It has cost me the price of one good nigger just for board and liquor, since I left home.” Curiously enough, in reading a copy of Mrs. Stowe's “Dred,” just published, which I had bought in Lawrence, I opened soon after on the apt Scriptural quotation, “Woe unto them, for they have cast lots for my people, . . . and sold a girl for wine, that they may drink!”

The few Free State men on board were naturally not aggressive, although we spent a whole day on a sand-bank, a thing not conducive to serenity of mind; but the steamer which pulled us off had on board the secretary of the Kansas State Committee, Miles Moore, [214] and there had been an effort to lynch him, prevented only by Governor Cobb, of Alabama, who was on the boat. Renewal of hostilities being threatened, I invited Moore on board the Cataract at Jefferson City, where we lay overnight. He and I barricaded ourselves in my stateroom, with our revolvers ready, but heard only occasional threats from outside; there was no actual assault. When we reached St. Louis,--after more than four days on board the steamboat,--and I finally discharged my revolver and put it away in my trunk, there occurred the most curious reaction from the feeling with which I had first loaded it. When it fully came home to me that all the tonic life of the last six weeks was ended, and that thenceforward, if any danger impended, the proper thing would be to look meekly about for a policeman, it seemed as if all the vigor had suddenly gone out of me, and a despicable effeminacy had set in. I could at that moment perfectly understand how Rob Roy, wishing to repay a debt he owed to the Edinburgh professor, offered to take his benefactor's son back into the Highlands “and make a man of him.” In twenty-four hours, however, civilization reassumed its force, and Kansas appeared as far off as Culloden.

After returning home, I kept up for a long [215] time an active correspondence with some of the leading Kansas men, including Montgomery, Hinton, my old ally Martin Stowell, and my associate brigadier, Samuel F. Tappan, afterwards lieutenant-colonel of the First Colorado Cavalry. Some of these wrote and received letters under feigned names, because many of the post-offices in the Territory were in the hands of pro-slavery men who were suspected of tampering with correspondence. I also spoke on Kansas matters by request, before the legislatures of Massachusetts and Vermont, and was nominated by the Worcester Republicans for the state legislature on the issue of Kansas sympathy; but declined, feeling that I must at length recognize the claim of the Free Church on my attention. I was brought much in contact with that noble and self-devoted man, George Luther Stearns, of Medford, who gave, first and last, ten thousand dollars to maintain liberty in the new Territory; and also with Dr. Howe and Frank Sanborn, then the leading men in the Massachusetts Kansas Committee. In looking back on the inevitable confusion of that period, and the strange way in which men who had been heroic in danger grew demoralized in politics, I have often recalled as true the remark made by Sanborn, that it was difficult for a man to have much to do with the [216] affairs of Kansas, even at long range, without developing a crack in his brain.

It will doubtless seem to some readers a very natural transition to pass from this assertion to the later events which brought some of the above-named men into intimate relations with Captain John Brown. It has never been quite clear to me whether I saw him in Kansas or not; he was then in hiding, and I remember to have been taken somewhat covertly to a house in Lawrence, for an interview with a fugitive slave who was being sheltered by a white man; and though this man's name, which I have forgotten, was certainly not Brown, it may have been one of Brown's aliases. My first conscious acquaintance with that leader was nearly a year and a half later, when I received from him this communication, implying, as will be seen, that we had met before:--

Rochester, N. Y. 2d February, 1858.
My Dear Sir,--I am here concealing my whereabouts for good reasons (as I think) not however from any anxiety about my personal safety. I have been told that you are both a true man: and a true abolitionist; “and I partly believe,” the whole story. Last fall I undertook to raise from $500 to $1000, for secret service, and succeeded in getting $500. [217] I now want to get for the perfecting of by far the most important undertaking of my whole life; from $500 to $800 within the next sixty days. I have written Rev. Theodore Parker, George L. Stearns and F. B. Sanborn Esqrs. on the subject; but do not know as either Mr. Steams or Mr. Sanborn are abolitionists. I suppose they are. Can you be induced to operate at Worcester and elsewhere during that time to raise from anti-slavery men and women (or any other parties) some part of that amount? I wish to keep it entirely still about where I am; and will be greatly obliged if you will consider this communication strictly confidential: unless it may be with such as you are sure will feel and act and keep very still. Please be so kind as to write N. Hawkins on the subject, Care of Wm. I. Watkins, Esqr. Rochester, N. Y. Should be most happy to meet you again; and talk matters more freely. Hope this is my last effort in the begging line.

Very Respectfully your Friend, John Brown.

This name, “N. Hawkins,” was Brown's favorite alias. The phrase “partly believe” was a bit of newspaper slang of that period, but came originally from Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (xi. 18) whence Brown may well [218] have taken it. I wrote in return, wishing for farther information, and asking if the underground railroad business was what he had in view. In a few days came this reply:--

Rochester, N. Y. 12th February, 1858.
My Dear Sir,--I have just read your kind letter of the 8th inst., and will now say that Rail Road business on a somewhat extended scale is the identical object for which I am trying to get means. I have been connected with that business as commonly conducted from my boyhood and never let an opportunity slip. I have been opperating to some purpose the past season; but I now have a measure on foot that I feel sure would awaken in you something more than a common interest if you could understand it. I have just written my friends G. L. Stearns and F. B. Sanborn asking them to meet me for consultation at Gerrit Smith's, Peterboroa [N. Y.]. I am very anxious to have you come along; certain as I feel, that you will never regret having been one of the council. I would most gladly pay your expenses had I the means to spare. Will you come on? Please write as before.

Your Friend John Brown.

As I could not go to Peterboroa, he made an [219] appointment in Boston, and I met him in his room at the American House in March, 1858. I saw before me a man whose mere appearance and bearing refuted in advance some of the strange perversions which have found their way into many books, and which have often wholly missed the type to which he belonged. In his thin, worn, resolute face there were the signs of a fire which might wear him out, and practically did so, but nothing of pettiness or baseness; and his talk was calm, persuasive, and coherent. He was simply a high-minded, unselfish, belated Covenanter; a man whom Sir Walter Scott might have drawn, but whom such writers as Nicolay and Hay, for instance, have utterly failed to delineate. To describe him in their words as “clean but coarse” is curiously wide of the mark; he had no more of coarseness than was to be found in Habakkuk Mucklewrath or in George Eliot's Adam Bede; he had, on the contrary, that religious elevation which is itself a kind of refinement,--the quality one may see expressed in many a venerable Quaker face at yearly meeting. Coarseness absolutely repelled him; he was so strict as to the demeanor of his men that his band was always kept small, while that of Lane was large; he had little humor, and none of the humorist's temptation towards questionable conversation. [220] Again, to call him “ambitious to irritation,” in the words of the same authors, is equally wide of the mark. I saw him afterwards deeply disappointed and thwarted, and this long before his final failure, but never could find in him a trace of mere ambition; he lived, as he finally died, absolutely absorbed in one idea; and it is as a pure enthusiast-fanatic, if you please-that he is to be judged. His belief was that an all-seeing God had created the Alleghany Mountains from all eternity as the predestined refuge for a body of fugitive slaves. He had traversed those mountains in his youth, as a surveyor, and knew points which could be held by a hundred men against a thousand; he showed me rough charts of some of those localities and plans of connected mountain fortresses which he had devised.

Of grand tactics and strategy Brown knew as little as Garibaldi; but he had studied guerrilla warfare for himself in books, as well as in Europe, and had for a preceptor Hugh Forbes, an Englishman who had been a Garibaldian soldier. Brown's plan was simply to penetrate Virginia with a few comrades, to keep utterly clear of all attempt to create slave insurrection, but to get together bands and families of fugitive slaves, and then be guided by events. If he could establish them permanently in those [221] fastnesses, like the Maroons of Jamaica and Surinam, so much the better; if not, he would make a break from time to time, and take parties to Canada, by paths already familiar to him. All this he explained to me and others, plainly and calmly, and there was nothing in it that we considered either objectionable or impracticable; so that his friends in Boston Theodore Parker, Howe, Stearns, Sanborn, and myself — were ready to cooperate in his plan as thus limited. Of the wider organization and membership afterwards formed by him in Canada we of course knew nothing, nor could we foresee the imprudence which finally perverted the attack into a defeat. We helped him in raising the money, and he seemed drawing toward the consummation of his plans, when letters began to come to his Massachusetts supporters from Hugh Forbes, already mentioned, threatening to make the whole matter public unless we could satisfy certain very unreasonable demands for money. On this point our committee was at once divided, not as to refusing the preposterous demands, but because the majority thought that this threat of disclosure made necessary an indefinite postponement of the whole affair; while Howe and myself, and Brown also, as it proved, thought otherwise.

He came again to Boston (May 31, 1858), [222] when I talked with him alone, and he held, as I had done, that Forbes could do him no real harm; that if people believed Forbes they would underrate his (Brown's) strength, which was just the thing he wished; or if they overrated it, “the increased terror would perhaps counterbalance this.” If he had the means, he would not lose a day. But as I could not, unaided, provide the means, I was obliged to yield, as he did. He consented to postpone the enterprise and return to Kansas, carrying with him $500 in gold, and an order for certain arms at Tabor, which had belonged originally to the State Kansas Committee, but had since been transferred, in consideration of a debt, to our friend Stearns, who gave them to Brown on his own responsibility. Nearly a year now passed, during which I rarely heard from Brown, and thought that perhaps his whole project had been abandoned. A new effort to raise money was made at Boston in the spring of 1859, but I took little part in it. It had all begun to seem to me rather chimerical. The amount of $2000 was, nevertheless, raised for him at Boston, in June, 1859, and I find that Sanborn wrote to me (June 4), “Brown has set out on his expedition;” and then on October 6, “The $300 desired has been made up and received. Four or five men will be on the [223] ground next week from these regions and elsewhere.” Brown's address was at this time at West Andover, Ohio, and the impression was that the foray would begin in that region, if at all. Nobody mentioned Harper's Ferry.

Ten days later the blow came. I went into a newspaper shop in Worcester one morning, and heard some one remark casually, “Old Osawatomie Brown has got himself into a tight place at last.” I grasped eagerly at the morning paper, and read the whole story. Naturally, my first feeling was one of remorse, that the men who had given him money and arms should not actually have been by his side. In my own case, however, the justification was perfectly clear. Repeated postponements had taken the edge off from expectation, and the whole enterprise had grown rather vague and dubious in my mind. I certainly had not that degree of faith in it which would have led me to abandon all else, and wait nearly a year and a half for the opportunity of fulfillment; and indeed it became obvious at last that this longer postponement had somewhat disturbed the delicate balance of the zealot's mind, and had made him, at the very outset, defy the whole power of the United States government, and that within easy reach of Washington. Nothing of this kind was included in his original plans. 223 , [224]

At any rate, since we were not with him, the first question was what part we were now to take. It will be remembered that the explosion of the Brown affair caused at once a vast amount of inquiry at Washington, and many were the threats of prosecuting Brown's previous friends and supporters. There was some talk of flight to Canada, and one or two of these persons actually went thither or to Europe. It always seemed to me undesirable to do this; it rather looked as if, having befriended Brown's plans so far as we understood them, it was our duty to stand our ground and give him our moral support, at least on the witness-stand. This view was perhaps easier for me to take, as my name was only incidentally mentioned in the newspapers; and it is only within a few months that I have discovered that it had been early brought, with that of Sanborn, to the express attention of Governor Wise, of Virginia. Among his papers captured at Richmond by Major James Savage, of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, was this anonymous letter, received by the Virginia governor, and indorsed by him for transmission to some one else, probably in Congress,--but perhaps never forwarded. It read as follows: “There are two persons in Massachusetts, and I think only two, who, if summoned as witnesses, can explain [225] the whole of Brown's plot. Their names are Francis B. Sanborn, of Concord, and T. W. Higginson, of Worcester, Mass. No time should be lost, as they may abscond, but I do not think they will, as they think you would not think it best to send for them. A Friend of Order.” This was indorsed “A Friend to Gov. Wise, Oct., 1859. Call attention to this.” And just below, “Sent to me, now sent to you for what it is worth. Richmond, Oct. 29, H. A. W. [Henry A. Wise.] A. Huntin [presumably the name of a secretary].”

This communication was written during the trial of Captain Brown, and a few days before his sentence, which was pronounced on November 2. It is hard to say whether it had any direct bearing on the arrest of Sanborn at Concord in the following April. It is very probable that it had, and if so, his arrest, had it been sustained by the court, might have been followed by mine; but it would have been quite superfluous, for I should at any time have been ready to go if summoned, and should, in fact, have thought it rather due to the memory of Brown. I could at least have made it plain that anything like slave insurrection, in the ordinary sense of the word, was remote from his thoughts, and that his plan was wholly different. He would have limited himself to advising a [226] fugitive slave, if intercepted, to shoot down any one who attempted to arrest him; and this advice would have been given by every Abolitionist, unless a non-resistant.

There was, of course, an immediate impulse to rescue Brown from prison. I do not know how far this extended, and can only vouch for myself. The primary obstacle to it was that one of Brown's first acts, on meeting a Northern friend in his prison, had been positively to prohibit any such attempt; the message being sent North by Judge Thomas Russell, from whom I received it at the railway station on his arrival. This barred the way effectually, for after Brown had taken that position he would have adhered to it. It occurred to me, however, that his wife's presence would move him, if anything could, and that she might also be a valuable medium of communication, should he finally yield to the wishes of his friends. For this purpose I went to North Elba, New York, the mountain home of the Browns, to fetch her, and wrote, after that memorable trip, a full account of it, which was prefixed to Redpath's “Life of Brown.” Upon entering for the first time the superb scenery of the Adirondacks, I saw myself in a region which was a fit setting for the heroic family to be visited. I found them poor, abstemious, patient, unflinching. [227] They felt that the men of their household had given their lives for freedom, and there was no weak regret, no wish to hold them back. In the family was Annie Brown, who had been with the conspirators in Virginia, and had kept house and cooked for them. There were also the widows of the two slain sons, young girls of sixteen and twenty, one of them having also lost two brothers at Harper's Ferry. It illustrates the frugal way in which the Browns had lived that the younger of these two widows was not regarded by the household as being absolutely destitute, because her husband had left her five sheep, valued at two dollars apiece.

On my return, Mrs. Brown the elder rode with me for a whole day on a buckboard to Keeseville, and I had much talk with her. I have never in my life been in contact with a nature more dignified and noble; a Roman matron touched with the finer element of Christianity. She told me that this plan had occupied her husband's thoughts and prayers for twenty years; that he always believed himself an instrument in the hands of Providence, and she believed it too. She had always prayed that he might be killed in fight rather than fall into the hands of slaveholders, but she “could not regret it now, in view of the noble words of freedom which it had been his privilege to [228] utter.” She also said, “I have had thirteen children, and only four are left; but if I am to see the ruin of my house, I cannot but hope that Providence may bring out of it some benefit for the poor slaves.” She little foresaw how, within two years, her dead husband's name would ring through the defiles of the Virginia mountains in the songs of the Union soldiers. When, the next day, I had to put into her hands, in the railway-car, the newspaper containing his death-warrant, she bent her head for a few moments on the back of the seat before us, and then lifted it again unchanged. Her errand was absolutely in vain, Brown refusing even to see her, possibly distrusting his own firmness, or wishing to put it above all possibility of peril; and she returned to her mountain home.

Meanwhile, one of the few of his band who had escaped had come to my door one day in Worcester. When he reached my house, he appeared utterly demented after the danger and privations of his flight through the mountains. He could not speak two coherent sentences, and I was grateful when, after twenty-four hours, I could send him to his friends in Boston. Another and far abler refugee from Harper's Ferry was Charles Plummer Tidd, one of our Worcester emigrants,--afterwards well known as Sergeant Charles Plummer of [229] the Twenty-First Massachusetts,--who told me, in an interview on February 10, 1860, of which I still preserve the written record, “All the boys opposed Harper's Ferry, the younger Browns most of all. In September it nearly broke up the camp. He himself [Tidd] left, almost quarreling with Brown. Finally, when they consented, it was with the agreement that men should be sent in each direction to burn bridges;” which was not done, however. Tidd pronounced the Harper's Ferry attack “the only mistake Brown ever made,” and attributed it, as it is now generally assigned, to a final loss of mental balance from overbrooding on one idea. Brown's general project he still heartily indorsed; saying that the Virginia mountains were “the best guerrilla country in the world,” --all crags and dense laurel thickets; that “twenty-five men there could paralyze the whole business of the South,” and that “nobody could take them.” The negroes, he said, had proved ready enough to follow Brown, but naturally slipped back to their masters when they saw that the enterprise was to fail.

The same question of a rescue presented itself, after Captain Brown's execution, in regard to the two members of his party whose trial and conviction took place two months later,--Stevens and Hazlett, the former of whom I had [230] met with Lane's party in Kansas. In February, 1860, after urgent appeals from Mrs. Rebecca Spring, of New York, who had visited these men, I made up my mind to use for their relief a portion of certain funds placed in my hands for the benefit of the Brown family; first, of course, consulting Mrs. Brown, who fully approved. Thayer and Eldridge, two young publishers in Boston, also took an interest in raising funds for this purpose; and the fact is fixed in my memory by the circumstance that, on visiting their shop one day, during the negotiations, I met for the first and only time Walt Whitman. He was there to consult them about the publication of his poems, and I saw before me, sitting on the counter, a handsome, burly man, heavily built, and not looking, to my gymnasium-trained eye, in really good condition for athletic work. I perhaps felt a little prejudiced against him from having read his “Leaves of grass” on a voyage, in the early stages of seasickness,--a fact which doubtless increased for me the intrinsic unsavoriness of certain passages. But the personal impression made on me by the poet was not so much of manliness as of Boweriness, if I may coin the phrase; indeed rather suggesting Sidney Lanier's subsequent vigorous phrase, “a dandy roustabout.” This passing impression [231] did not hinder me from thinking of Whitman with hope and satisfaction at a later day when regiments were to be raised for the war, when the Bowery seemed the very place to enlist them, and even “Billy Wilson's Zouaves” were hailed with delight. When, however, after waiting a year or more, Whitman decided that the proper post for him was hospital service, I confess to feeling a reaction, which was rather increased than diminished by his profuse celebration of his own labors in that direction. Hospital attendance is a fine thing, no doubt, yet if all men, South and North, had taken the same view of their duty that Whitman held, there would have been no occasion for hospitals on either side.

The only persons beside myself who were intimately acquainted with the project formed for rescuing Stevens and Hazlett were Richard H. Hinton, already mentioned, and John W. LeBarnes, afterwards lieutenant of a German company in the Second Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War. It was decided that an attempt at rescue could best be made from a rendezvous at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and that Hinton should go to Kansas, supplied with money by LeBarnes and myself, to get the cooperation of Captain James Montgomery and eight or ten tried and trusty men. I was to [232] meet these men at Harrisburg, while LeBarnes was to secure a reinforcement of German-Americans, among whom he had much influence, from New York. Only one man in Harrisburg, an active Abolitionist, knew of our purpose, and I met Montgomery at this man's house, after taking up my own residence, on February 17, 1860, at the United States Hotel, under the name of Charles P. Carter. I had met the guerrilla leader once before in Kansas, and we now consulted about the expedition, which presented no ordinary obstacles.

The enterprise would involve traversing fifty miles of mountain country by night, at the rate of about ten miles each night, carrying arms, ammunition, blankets, and a week's rations, with the frequent necessity of camping without fire in February, and with the certainty of detection in case of snow. It would include crossing the Potomac, possibly at a point where there was neither a bridge nor a ford. It would culminate in an attack on a building with a wall fourteen feet high, with two sentinels outside and twenty-five inside; with a certainty of raising the town in the process, and then, if successful, with the need of retreating, perhaps with wounded men and probably by daylight. These were the difficulties that Montgomery, as our leader, had to face; and although, in [233] Kansas, he had taken Fort Scott with twenty-two men against sixty-eight, yet this was quite a different affair. For myself, I had at that time such confidence in his guidance that the words of the Scotch ballad often rang in my ears:--

I could ha'e ridden the border through
Had Christie Graeme been at my back.

Lithe, quick, low-voiced, reticent, keen, he seemed the ideal of a partisan leader, and was, indeed, a curious compound of the moss-trooper and the detective. Among his men were Carpenter, Pike, Seamans, Rice, Gardner, Willis, and Silas Soule,--all well known in Kansas. The last three of these men had lately been among the rescuers of Dr. Doy from jail at St. Joseph, Missouri,--a town of eleven thousand inhabitants,--under circumstances of peculiar daring; one of them personating a horse-thief and two others the officers who had arrested him, and thus getting admission to the jail.

The first need was to make exploration of the localities, and, taking with him one of his companions,--a man, as it proved, of great resources,--Montgomery set out by night and was gone several days. While he examined the whole region,--his native Kentucky accent saving him from all suspicion,--his comrade penetrated into the very jail, in the guise of a jovial, half-drunken Irishman, and got speech [234] with the prisoners, who were thus notified of the proposed rescue. They expressed great distrust of it, and this partly because, even if successful, it would endanger the life of the jailer, Avis, who had won their gratitude, as well as Brown's, by his great kindness. I have never known whether this opposition had any covert influence on the mind of Montgomery, but I know that he came back at last, and quenched all our hopes by deciding that a severe snowstorm which had just occurred rendered the enterprise absolutely hopeless. I was not at the time quite satisfied with this opinion, but it was impossible to overrule our leader; and on visiting that region and the jail itself, many years later, I was forced to believe him wholly right. At any rate, it was decided by vote of the party to abandon the expedition, and the men were sent back to Kansas, their arms being forwarded to Worcester, while I went to Antioch, Ohio, to give a promised lecture to the college students, and then returned home. I now recognize how almost hopeless the whole enterprise had appeared in my own mind: the first entry in my notebook, after returning (March i, 1860), is headed with the words of that celebrated message in the First Book of Dickens's “A tale of two cities,” --

“Recalled to life.”

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