Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society.

Ohio archæological and historical quarterly (Volume 30) online

. (page 15 of 43)
Online LibraryOhio State Archaeological and Historical SocietyOhio archæological and historical quarterly (Volume 30) → online text (page 15 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


average emigrant from the East who settled in this
section. Much of it is devoted to family interests, the



John Brown 213

record of the births and deaths of numerous children,
the pursuits of the pioneers, efforts to get the merest
rudiments of an education and the religious experiences
which made up a prominent part of the history of Hud-
son and the surrounding country.

Omitting the larger portion of this autobiography be-
cause it is readily accessible in The Life and Letters of
John Brozcn by F. B. Sanborn, we here quote some of
the paragraphs that relate especially to that portion of
the life of Owen Brown that was spent in Ohio:

"We arrived in Hudson on the 27th of July, and were re-
ceived with many tokens of kindness. We did not come to a
land of idleness ; neither did I expect it. Our ways were as pros-
perous as we had reason to expect. I came with a determination
to help build up and be a help, in the support of religion and
civil order. We had some hardships to undergo, but they appear
greater in history than they were in reality. I was often called
to go into the woods to make division of lands, sometimes sixty
or seventy miles from home, and be gone some weeks, sleeping
on the ground, and that without serious injury.

"When we came to Ohio the hidians were more numerous
than the white people, but were very friendly, and I believe were
a benefit rather than an injury. In those days there were some
that seemed disposed to quarrel with the Indians, but I never
had those feelings. They brought us venison, turkeys, fish, and
the like ; sometimes they wanted bread or meal more than they
could pay for at the time, but were always faithful to pay their
debts. In September, 1806, there was a difficulty between two
tribes ; the tribe on *the Cuyahoga River came to Hudson, and
asked for assistance to build them a log-house that would be a
kind of fort to shelter their women and children from the fire-
arms of their enemy. Most of our men went with teams, and
chopped, drew, and carried logs, and put up a house in one day,
for which they appeared very grateful. They were our neigh-
bors until 181 2, but when the war commenced with the British,
the Indians left these parts mostly, and rather against my
wishe-6."

A glimpse of what the second war with England
meant to this pioneer community may be had from the
following quotation:



214 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

"In July, 1812, the war with England began; and this war
called loudly for action, liberality, and courage. This was the
most active part of my life. We were then on the frontier, and
the people were much alarmed, particularly after the surrender
of General Hull at Detroit. Our cattle, horses, and provisions
were all wanted. Sick soldiers were returning, and needed all
the assistance that could be given them. There was great sick-
ness in dififerent camps, and the travel was mostly through Hud-
son, which brought sickness into our families. By the hrst of
1813 there was great mortality in Hudson. My family were
sick, but we had no deaths."

John Brown inherited his opposition to slavery.
This is clearly set forth in a statement by his father
written about 1850:

"I am an abolitionist. I know we are not loved by many ;
I have no confession to make for being one, yet I wish to tell
how long I have been one, and how I became so. I have no
hatred to negroes. When a child four or five years old, one
of our nearest neighbors had a slave that was brought from
Guinea. In the year 1776 my father was called into the army
at New York, and left his work undone. In August, our good
neighbor,. Captain John Fast, of West Simsbury, let my mother
have the labor of his slave to plough a few days. I used to go
out into the field with this slave, — called Sam, — and he used
to carry me on his back, and I fell in love with him. He worked
but a few days, and went home sick with the pleurisy, and died
very suddenly. When told that he would die, he said that he
should go to Guinea, and wanted victuals put up for the journey.
As I recollect, this was the first funeral I ever attended in the
days of my youth. There were but three or four slaves in West
Simsbury. In the year 1790, when I lived with the Rev. Jere-
miah Hallock, the Rev. Samuel Hopkins, D. D., came from
Newport, and I heard him talking with Mr. Hallock about slav-
ery in Rhode Island, and he denounced it as a great sin. I
think in the same summer Mr. Hallock had sent to him a sermon
or pamphlet-book, written by the Rev. Jonathan Edwards, then
at New Haven. I read it, and it denounced slavery as a great
sin. From this time I was anti-slavery, as much as I be now."

In 1857 when John Brown was in the midst of war-
fare against slavery and stationed at Red Rock, Iowa,
he wrote in fulfillment of a promise a sketch of his life



John Brown 215

for Henry L. Stearns, a boy only thirteen years old.
The occasion of the writing of this sketch was the grat-
itude of Brown to Mr. George Luther Stearns, a
wealthy merchant and manufacturer of Boston whom
Brown visited shortly after Christmas in 1856. Stearns
had a beautiful home at Medford and here he enter-
tained his guest, with whose anti-slavery views he was
in cordial sympathy. The oldest son of the family was
much interested in Brown and gave him some money
that he had been saving to buy shoes for "one of those
little Kansas children." When Brown left the boy ex-
acted from him a promise that he would write the story
of his boyhood days. This he did later at Red Rock,
Iowa, and sent it to the Stearns family. The manuscript
is still in existence. It has been published many times
and we quote from it simply within the limitations of
what may especially interest Ohio readers. He speaks
of the long journey to Ohio which he distinctly remem-
bered, always referring to himself in the third person:

"When he was five years old his father moved to Ohio,
then a wilderness filled with wild beasts and Indians. During
the long journey, which was performed in part or mostly with an
ox team, he was called by turns to assist a boy five years older,
who had been adopted by his father and mother."

It is rather remarkable that no difference how large
these pioneer families were they always seemed to have
room for additions by adoption. The doors w^ere usually
open to a child or youth for varied periods of time as
we shall see later. Again Brown in speaking of his
coming to Ohio says:

"After getting to Ohio in 1805 he was for some time rather
afraid of the Indians and their rifles, but this soon wore out and
he used to hang about them quite as much as was consistent with
good manners and learned a trifle of their talk."



216 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

He then proceeds to tell how he learned the tanner^s
trade under the direction of his father and to detail his
youthful experiences, his association with Indian chil-
dren and his fondness for pets. Of schooling he re-
ceived very little. He says:

"Indeed when for a short time he was sometimes sent to
school, the opportunity it afforded to wrestle and snowball and
run and jump and knock off old seedy wool hats offered him al-
most the only compensation for the confinement and icstraints
of school."

As he grew older larger responsibilities came to him
and he drove cattle, sometimes a distance of a hundred
miles. His experiences at this period are the founda-
tions from which Elbert Hubbard built up much of his
interesting novel, Time and CJiancc. As set forth in
that story, Zanesville, Ohio, was the destination of this
boy herdsman. We quote from what he has to say in
regard to the war with England, as he saw it, and the
influences that made him a foe to slavery:

"When the war broke out with England, his father soon
commenced furnishing the troops with beef cattle, the collecting
and driving of which afforded him some opportunity for the
chase (on foot) of wild steers and other cattle through the
woods. During this war he had some chance to form his own
hoyish judgment of men and measures and to become somewhat
familiarly acquainted with some who have figured before the
country since that time. The effect of what he saw during the
war was to so far disgust him with military affairs that he would
neither train or drill but paid fines and got along like a Quaker
until his age finally has cleared him of military duty.

"During the war with England a circumstance occurred that
in the end made him a most determined abolitionist and led him
to declare or swear eternal war with slavery. He was staying
for a short time with a very gentlemanly landlord, since a United
States Marshal, who held a slave boy near his own age, very
active, intelligent and good feeling and to whom John was under
considerable obligation for numerous little acts of kindness. The
master made a great pet of John, brought him to table with hi?



John Brown 217

first company and friends, called their attention to every little
smart thing he said or did and to the fact of his being more
than a hundred miles from home with a company of cattle alone,
while the negro boy (who was fully if not more than his equal)
was badly clothed, poorly fed and lodged in cold weather and
beaten before his eyes with iron shovels or any other thing that
came first to hand. This brought John to reflect on the wretched,
hopeless condition of fatherless and motherless slave children,
for such children have neither fathers or mothers to protect and
provide for them. He sometimes would raise the question, is
God their Father?"

Of his early religious experiences he says:

"John had been taught from earliest childhood to 'fear God
and keep His commandments ;' and though quite skeptical he
had always by turns felt much serious doubt as to his future
well being and about this time became to some extent a convert
to Christianity and ever after a firm believer in the divine authen-
ticity of the Bible. With this book he became very familiar and
possessed a most unusual memory of its entire contents."

Again he reverts to his work at Hudson. He says:

"From fifteen to twenty years old, he spent most of his
time at the tanner and currier's trade, keeping bachelor's hall
and he officiating as cook and for most of the time as foreman
in the establishment under his father."

While this youth was working in his father's tan-
nery, another boy by the name of Jesse Grant, whose
parents had come from Connecticut to Pennsylvania
and later to Ohio, came to the Brown home and was
admitted to the family. He and young John Brown
worked side by side daily and became much attached to
each other. Little did either dream of the future before
him. John was to become the father of sons who should
give their lives in an effort to overthrow the institution
of slavery, and Jesse was to become the father of the
general who should lead armed hosts to bind the states
closer together and make freedom universal in America.



218 OJiio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

Ulysses S. Grant, the son of Jesse, in his memoirs com-
pleted at Mt. McGregor July 1, 1885, has this to say of
his father's apprenticeship in the tannery of Owen
Brown:

"He went first, I believe, with his half-brother, Peter Grant,
who, though not a tanner himself, owned a tannery in Maysville,
Kentucky. Here he learned his trade, and in a few years re-
turned to Deerfield and worked for, and lived in the family of
a Mr. Brown, the father of John Brown — 'whose body Hes
mouldering in the grave, while his soul goes marching on.' I
have often heard my father speak of John Brown, particularly
since the events at Harper's Ferry. Brown was a boy when
they lived in the same house, but he knew him afterwards, and
regarded him as a man of great purity of character, of high
moral and physical courage, but a fanatic and extremist in what-
ever he advocated. It was certainly the act of an insane man
to attempt the invasion of the South, and the overthrow of
slavery, with less than twenty men."

In the War of 1812, Owen Brown contracted to fur-
nish beef to Hull's army, which with his boy John he
followed to or near Detroit. Though John was but
twelve years old, in after years he recalled very dis-
tinctly the incidents of the long march, the camp life of
the soldiers and the attitude of the subordinate officers
toward their commander. From conversations that he
overheard he concluded that they were not very loyal to
General Hull. He remembered especially General Lewis
Cass, then a captain, and General Duncan McArthur.
As late as 1857 he referred to conversations between the
two and among other officers that should have branded
them as mutineers. How much of this has foundation
in fact and how much is due to erroneous youthful im-
pression, must of course remain a matter of conjecture.

Like most children of his day John Brown had very
meager educational opportunities at Hudson. He sup-



Johi Brown 219

plemented the rudiments that he there acquired in the
schools and the church by reading such standard books
as Aisop's Babies, Life of Franklin and Pilgrim's
Progress.

At the age of sixteen years he joined the Congre-
gational Church at Hudson and later thought seriously
of studying for the ministry. With this purpose in
view he returned to Connecticut and entered a prepar-
atory school at Plainfield, intending later to take a course
at Amherst College. Inflammation of his eyes, how-
ever, prevented him from continuing his studies and he
soon returned to Hudson. Later at odd moments he
studied surveying and attained skill and accuracy in its
practice. In 1820 he owned a copy of Flint's Survey.
Some of his surveying instruments are in the Museum
of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society,
including his pocket and his field compasses, both in
excellent state of preservation. His chief occupation,
however, from 1819 to 1839 was the tanning of
leather.

That John Brown was a normal youth is attested by
the fact that he early fell deeply in love. This was not
reciprocated and he wrote in a letter about forty years
afterward that as a result he ''felt for a number of
years in early life a steady, strong desire to die." That
he was normal is also proven by the fact that he was
later comforted and married Diantha Lusk of Hudson,
Ohio, June 21, 1820. She was an excellent woman, very
devout and fully shared her husband's faith and enthu-
siasms. On July 25, 1821, the first child of this union,
John Brown, Jr., was born. Among his earliest recol-
lections was the presence in the home one night of some
fugitive slaves that his father was helping on their way



220 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

to freedom. This was about the year 1825. Further
details of this reminiscence are reserved for a future
sketch of John Brown, Jr.

Anticipating for the moment events extending over
a number of years, the names of the first and second
wives of John Brown and of his children are here given
with dates of births and deaths so far as known:

John Brown's first wife, as we have learned, was Diantha
Lusk. They were married June 21, 1820. She died August 10,
1832. The children of this union were born, married and died
as follows:

John Brown, Jr., born July 25, 1821, at Hudson, Ohio; died
May 2, 1895 ; married Wealthy C. Hotchkiss, July, 1847.

Jason Brown, born January 19, 1823, at Hudson, Ohio; died
December 24, 1912; married Ellen Sherbondy, July, 1847.

Owen Brown, born November 4, 1824, at Hudson (never
married).

Frederick Brown (i), born January 9, 1827, at Richmond,
Pa.: died March 31, 1831.

Ruth Brown, born February 18, 1829, at Richmond, Pa. ;
married Henry Thompson, September 26, 1850.

Frederick Brown (2), born December 31, 1830, at Rich-
mond, Pa. ; murdered at Osawatomie by Rev. Martin White,
August 30, 1856.

An infant son, born August 7, 1832 ; was buried with his
mother three days after his birth, at Richmond, Pa.

John Brown married Mary Anne Day, July 11, 1833. She
died February 29, 1884. The children of this union were born,
married and died as follows :

Sarah Brown, born May ii, 1834, at Richmond, Pa.; died
September 23, 1843.

Watson Brown, born October 7, 1835, ^t Franklin, Ohio;
married Isabella M. Thompson, September, 1856; killed at
Harper's Ferry, October 17, 1859.

Salmon Brown, born October 2, 1836, at Hudson, Ohio;
married Abbie C. Hinckley, October 15, 1857.

Charles Brown, born November 3, 1837, at Hudson, Ohio;
died September 11, 1843.

Oliver Brown, born March 9, 1839, at Franklin, Ohio;
married Martha E. Brewster, April 7, 1858; killed at Harper's
Ferry, October 17, 1859.



John Brown 221

Peter Brown, born December 7, 1840, at Hudson, Ohio;
died September 22, 1843.

Austin Brown, born September 14, 1842, at Richfield, Ohio;
died September 2y, 1843.

Anne Brown, born December 23, 1843, at Richfield, Ohio.

Amelia Brown, born June 22, 1845; at Akron, Ohio; died
October 30, 1846.

Sarah Brown, born September 11, 1846, at Akron, Ohio.

Ellen Brown, born May 20, 1848, at Springfield, Mass.;
died April 30, 1849.

Infant son, born April 26, 1S52, at Akron, Ohio ; died May
17, 1852.

Ellen Brown, born September 25, 1854, at Akron, Ohio.

In 1825 John Brown moved from Hudson to Ran-
dolph (now Richmond), Pennsylvania. Here he estab-
lished a tannery and pursued his calling, at the same
time serving as postmaster of the village. In his ample
log dwelling house a room was set aside for the local
subscription school. Here he remained ten years, mod-
estly prosperous in business and comparatively happy
in the midst of his large and increasing family. Here
his first wife died and about a year later he was married
again. While in Pennsylvania his antagonism to slavery
continued and the liberation of the bondmen through
the agency of education became with him a favorite
theme of speculation. His life at Richmond is reviewed
in interesting and satisfactory details by Sanborn and
Villard. The latter quotes from the recorded recollec-
tions of James Foreman who worked in the tannery of
Brown. This record reveals Brow^n's devotion to his
family, his sterling Puritanism and his zeal for universal
liberty. While in Pennsylvania on January 11, 1832,
he organized an Independent Congregational Society,
''its articles of faith being written out in his hand as
clerk of the Society." Here he maintained a station on



222 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

the Underground Railroad and aided negroes on their
way to Canada and freedom.

From Randolph, Pennsylvania, in 1834 he wrote a
letter to his brother in which he bore testimony to his
interest in the liberation of the slaves. At this time it will
be seen that he favored universal emancipation but there
is no intimation that he had concluded that it was to be
brought about by force of arms. We quote from his
letter as follows:

"Since you left here I have been trying to devise some means
whereby 1 might do something in a practical way for my poor
fellow-men who are in bondage, and having fully consulted the
feelings of my wife and my three boys, we have agreed to get at
least one negro boy or youth, and bring him up as we do our
own, — viz., give him a good English education, learn him what
we can about the history of the world, about business, about
general subjects, and, above all, try to teach him the fear of
God. We think of three ways to obtain one: First, to try to
get some Christian slave-holder to release one to us. Second,
to get a free one if no one will let us have one that is a slave.
Third, if that does not succeed, we have all agreed to submit to
considerable privation in order to buy one. This we are now
using means in order to effect, in the confident expectation that
God is about to bring them all out of the house of bondage.

'T will just mention that when this subject was first intro-
duced, Jason had gone to bed ; but no sooner did he hear the
thing hinted, than his warm heart kindled, and he turned out to
have a part in the discussion of a subject of such exceeding
interest. I have for years been trying to devise some way to
get a school a-going here for blacks, and I think that on many
accounts it would be a most favorable location. Children here
w^ould have no intercourse with vicious people of their own kind,
nor with openly vicious persons of any kind. There would be
no powerful opposition influence against such a thing; and should
there be any, I believe the settlement might be so effected in
future as to have almost the whole influence of the place in favor
of such a school. Write me how you would like to join me, and
try to get on from Hudson and thereabouts some first-rate
abolitionist families with you. I do honestly believe that our
united exertions alone might soon, with the good hand of our
God upon us, effect it all.



John Brown ' 223

"This has been with me a favorite theme of reflection for
years. I think that a place which might be in some measure
settled with a view to such an object would be much more favor-
able to such an undertaking than would any such place as Hud-
son, with all its conflicting interests and feelings ; and I do think
such advantages ought to be alTorded the young blacks, whether
they are all to be immediately set free or not. Perhaps we might,
under God, in that way do more towards breaking their yoke
effectually than in any other."

In 1835 he returned to Ohio to enter the tanning
business with Zenas Kent at Franklin Mills (now the
village of Kent) Portage County, Ohio. Scarcely had
he finished the tannery at that place when the firm dis-
posed of the property to Marvin Kent, the son of Zenas.
John Brown then took the contract for the construction
of that • portion of the Ohio and Pennsylvania canal
between Franklin Mills and Akron. Believing that a
large city was destined to spring up at Franklin Mills
on the completion of the canal, he entered into extensive
land speculations, making purchases entirely on his
credit with practically no capital. Unfortunately
shrewder business men were planning that the city
should spring up at Akron rather than Franklin Mills
and the diversion of the waters of Cuyahoga River to
that site doomed the investments of Brown to a dis-
astrous failure. The building in which he lived at
Franklin Mills is still standing. A farm that he pur-
chased in partnership with a Mr. Thompson was laid
out in lots and platted by Brown. A few years ago the
original plat in the handwriting of Brown was in the
possession of the Kent family. The hard times of 1837
hastened the financial disaster which was assured when
the water of the river was largely diverted to the rising
town of Akron. The failure of Brown involved to some



224 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

extent his father who had advanced money in aid of the
project along with other creditors. As a resuh he was
ultimately forced to bankruptcy. This led some who lost
money through him to raise questions as to his honesty.
Heman Oviatt of Richfield, Ohio, however, who lost
money and became involved in law suits as a result of
Brown's failure, bore willing testimony to his integrity
as did other of his creditors.

After his failure in business at Franklin Mills and
other failures later in life, he made a statement to his
son John in which he clearly set forth the fact that his
great mistake was due to his attempt to speculate on
credit. His son quotes him as follows:

"Instead of being thoroughly imbued with the doctrine of
pay as you go, I started out in Hfe with the idea that nothing
could be done without capital, and that a poor man must use
his credit and borrow ; and this pernicious notion has been the
rock on which I, as well as many others, have split. The practi-
cal effect of this false doctrine has been to keep me like a toad
under a harrow most of my business life. Running into debt in-
cludes so much evil that I hope all my children will shun it as
they would a pestilence."

The purchase of four farms on credit is declared "to
have been a chief cause of Brown's collapse." If the
city had been built at Franklin Mills instead of Akron,
however, John Brown's financial career might have been
very dififerent. It is true nevertheless that a fatality
seems to have followed practically all of his business
ventures and the fundamental cause he seems at last to
have fully realized as stated above.

His failure at Franklin Mills was followed by fre-
quent shiftings from place to place and experiments in
new ventures. He first returned to Hudson in 1837;
went back to Franklin Mills later and again to Hudson.



Online LibraryOhio State Archaeological and Historical SocietyOhio archæological and historical quarterly (Volume 30) → online text (page 15 of 43)