Historian Finds John Brown's Link To Vermont

Historians in the News

(Host) To some - 19th century abolitionist John Brown was a folk hero. To others he was a violent terrorist. To this day Brown is considered one of the more controversial figures of the 1800s. Tomorrow, December 2, marks the 150th anniversary of Brown's execution following his failed raid at Harper's Ferry Virginia.

VPR's Nina Keck spoke with two local historians about Brown's role in U.S. history and some recently discovered ties to Vermont.

(Keck) John Brown was born in Connecticut in 1800. He married twice and had 17 children. Over the years, he built and sold several tanneries, speculated in land sales, raised sheep and established a brokerage for wool growers. Nearly all of his business ventures failed. But while his financial situation weakened his determination to fight slavery grew stronger.

(Coffin) "Brown decided that he was going to make war on slavery. And contrary to popular myth, slavery was not weakening in the south it was gaining strength."

(Keck) That's Civil War historian and author Howard Coffin. In the late 1850s, Brown moved west where he fought against pro-slavery factions in Kansas and Missouri. Those violent raids put a price on Brown's head and made him a compelling speaker at abolitionist rallies. Howard Coffin says he'd heard rumors that John Brown had come to Vermont to raise money for his cause, but hadn't found any proof - until recently.

(Coffin) "About 6 weeks ago I was doing research on a visit in to Bellows Falls by President Grant - and I just happened on a reminiscence written by a person who had met with and seen John Brown in Cavendish in 1857. It was just what I was looking for and the account is so detailed and convincing that even though the writer is not identified - there's no question in my mind that it's authentic." ...

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Jon Kukla - 12/2/2009

If memory serves, didn't one of C. Vann Woodward's essays in The Burden of Southern History collection chronicle a Brown raid down from Canada to a town along Lake Champlain?