In April 1858, 15 1/2 year old Martha Evelyn Brewster married 19 year old Oliver Brown, youngest son of John Brown. She grew up in an abolitionist family, a family that believed that slavery was wrong, but did not think that blacks were equal to whites. Her family disowned her when she married into the radical Brown family. The Brown’s accepted her with open arms into the family as a daughter and sister. She was loved and adored by the entire family.
Annie Brown Adams wrote about Martha in a letter to Dr Alexander Ross on 18 DEC 1887
“It is meet that the first mentioned of John Brown’s helpers, should be Martha Evelyn, wife of Oliver Brown. She was the heroine of that affair. Married at fifteen with a full knowledge of what her young husband intended to do. Cast off by her own family for doing so, and left without a home or a prospect of any support except what she could earn with her own hands, she accepted her fate, without a murmur. She was of medium size, with pale brown (almost yellow) hair, garnet gray blue eyes, dignified and womanly far beyond her years. Always cheerful, but quiet, earnest but modest, and retired in her ways.The morning we started to go to Harper’s Ferry Martha slipped in coming down stairs and sprained her ankle so badly that she fainted entirely away. When she recovered her consciousness some one said, “now you will have to give up going” “No, I will go just the same” she bravely said, and she did go, although her pain was intense.
My father and all of the men had a great admiration for her. She was always doing for others, never thinking of herself, was caring for others that were sick, when she was taken ill herself. I can never forget how she said, “I cannot so any more, I must lie down,” she never arose again. She had a beautiful little girl baby that lived three days. She called it Olive, for its father, and said “if it lived, she should try to live to care for it, but if it dies I shall die too, as I shall have nothing to live for, then.” She died on March 2, 1860 five months after her husband’s death. She had been a wife, a mother, and a childless widow at seventeen. She had lived a longer and a nobler life in those two brief years than few are privileged to in scores of years.A braver, truer, heart never ceased to beat.
She gave her young life for others and gave it freely with out a thought of any reward in this world or the next. For she received her deathblow at Harper’s Ferry. She never recovered from the terrible shock of that affair. She never was seen to shed a tear, except when I held the little dead baby for her to kiss it, two tear drops were left on its tiny face.
She was wakened a short time before she died and asked to take some medicine, she said “no, not now, wait until Oliver comes, he will be here soon, and Watson too,” then recognizing Belle (Watson’s wife) standing near, she asked her if she had any message to send Watson, saying I shall see him soon.” (1)
The back of the gravestone features this touching poem:
But they are o’re – the hope, the fears, the anxious thoughts, but not the tears.
Nor yet the anxious prayer for Oh! thou wert most dear
Missing we can but morn thee here, if thou are blessed THERE
God granth thou art in his rest, thou art received and so art blest
Reserve from earthly care, toll and tension, woe and sin
The pearly gates thou’st entered in, as was thy daily prayer
Then though the blight came on the bloom,
thy dawning womanhood in the tomb
Was dashed – the heart stilled – we yet will trace a fathers love
In thy affection and remove and bless what he has willed
Martha is buried in the North Elba Cemetery,
Old Military Road, Lake Placid, NY, 12946
1. Annie Brown Adams Letter to Dr Alexander Ross Dated 18 DEC 1887 Original located in the Gilder Lehrman Collection GLC3007.17. Transcribed by Alice Keesey Mecoy