I was contacted a few weeks ago by Kristina Smith Horn, a reporter for the Port Clinton News Herald, who was doing a story on John Brown Jr. and his life in the Put-In-Bay area of Ohio. Below is the article and the link to the article. At the end I have added some of my own photos.
|Graves of John Brown Jr family|
Standing up for freedom
Historic Put-in-Bay figure used non-violent approach to fight slavery
PUT-IN-BAY — Though his father would be the family member best remembered and debated as a historical figure, John Brown Jr. also was a force in the anti-slavery movement.
John Brown Jr. served the Union in the Civil War, was jailed in the Wild West where he vocally opposed slavery and helped organize John Brown Sr.’s famous raid on Harpers Ferry, Va.
He distinguished himself through his non-violent, reasoned approach to fighting slavery, said Amy Huston of Put-in-Bay, a local historian.
“I would say that he was a man who thought about the means being ethical as well as the end,” Huston said. “He tried to do the right thing.”
At Put-in-Bay, he remains a well-known historical figure for a variety of reasons besides his famous father, including his Civil War service that included defending the Lake Erie Islands and his family’s role in South Bass Island history.
Brown Jr. and his siblings inherited their father’s disdain for slavery and desire to see it end.
“The clan raised by John Brown was the only white family in pre-Civil War America willing both to live with black people and to die for them,” according to the book “John Brown Abolitionist” by David S. Reynolds.
In the 1850s, Brown Jr. — a native of Hudson — and some of his brothers moved to Kansas, partly for economic reasons, according to the book. While there, they distinguished themselves as staunchly anti-slavery, an unpopular view in the territory that was plagued with violence between those who wanted Kansas to be a free state and those who wanted slavery there, according to the book.
The Browns felt they needed to carry weapons for protection, Reynolds wrote. When they realized they didn’t have enough guns, they wrote to Brown Sr. for help, said Alice Keesey Mecoy of Allen, Texas, Brown Jr.’s great-great grandniece.
He came to Kansas with supplies and found his sons living in tents, she said. So he decided to stay on and help them get settled in proper cabins.
The state, known as “Bleeding Kansas,” was near anarchy at the time. Border ruffians, people from Missouri who rode into Kansas to cast illegal votes for pro-slavery candidates, and slavery supporters sometimes shot abolitionists on sight, according to the book.
Laws were passed that allowed anyone who had an abolitionist publication or who wrote for one to be sentenced to hard labor. Death was the penalty for anyone who induced slaves to revolt, according to the book.
“Yesterday, I told a man who I since learn has a slave here that no man has a right to hold a slave in Kansas, that I called on him to witness that I had broken the law and that I still intend to do so at all times and at all places and further that if any officer should attempt to arrest me for a violation and should put his villainous hands on me, I would surely kill him so help me God,” Brown Jr. wrote to his family in September 1856.
In 1856, Brown Sr. and a small group — not including Brown Jr. — went on a killing spree in Pottawatomie Creek, Kan., in retaliation for the pro-slavery faction’s actions, which included looting part of Lawrence, Kan., and destroying a hotel there, according to the book.
In the middle of the night, the small party stopped at homes, took five men prisoner and then killed them with swords, Reynolds wrote. Although Brown Jr. was not involved, he would pay for what his father’s group had done.
“A messenger had preceded (Brown Sr. and his party) with the news that five pro-slavery men had been ‘horribly cut and mangled’ on the Pottawatomie and that old John Brown did it,” according to the book. “John Jr. was at first exultant, but soon became confused and then deranged.”
Jail and Harpers Ferry
After the incident, the members of the Brown family fled into hiding. A band of Missourians believed Brown Jr. was involved and captured him, according to the book.
They forced Brown Jr. to walk nine miles to jail behind horses, according to Huston and Mecoy. At some points, he grew too tired to run and was dragged, Huston said.
“His wrists and upper arms were bound tightly behind him, and a 40-foot rope was tied around him so that he could be tugged,” according to the book. “His arms were bleeding and so swollen that the rope around them was no longer visible. His feet had been severely lacerated by flints from creek bottoms that had punctured his boots.”
Brown Jr. had scars around his wrists for the rest of his life, and he referred to them as his “slave bracelets,” Huston said. While held prisoner, he was often in a manic state, according to the book.
A few months after his arrest, Brown Jr. was released. The horrors of Bleeding Kansas later caused friends to commit Brown Jr. to the Northern Ohio Lunatic Asylum, later known as the Cleveland State Hospital.
In a letter to his family written in December 1867, shortly before he was released from the asylum, Brown Jr. said he felt the march to jail and other violence in Kansas caused his illness.
“I have had physicians here, they have so explained the relation of the shock,” he wrote. “… I am now well-satisfied I should not be here if that did not occur.”
After Bleeding Kansas came the raid on Harpers Ferry, a town in Virginia — now West Virginia — where Brown Sr. had planned to steal weapons from an arsenal in town, free the slaves and move them to a settlement in the mountains. The group invaded the town and took some people prisoner, but the plan ultimately failed when Brown Sr. and his followers were captured by then-Col. Robert E. Lee. Brown Sr. was later hanged.
Although Brown Jr. did not participate in the raid, he did help organize it. He sent weapons to his father and his father’s men, Mecoy said. He also went to Canada to recruit men for the raid, she said.
“Obviously, he believed in what (Brown Sr.) was doing because he helped him,” Mecoy said.
Brown Jr., however, did not know the details of the operation.
“The news of the attack on Harpers Ferry surprised me both on account of the place upon which it had been made and the time when it occurred, as I had not anticipated it to be at so early a period,” he was later quoted as saying, according to Ohio Historical Society records in Huston’s collection.
Still, the event made the members of the Brown family well-known, Huston said.
“Harpers Ferry put him into the spotlight for the rest of his life,” she said.
Civil War service
In 1861, Brown Jr. pledged to fight for the Union cause and joined the Seventh Regiment Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, Co. K. After about a year, he was honorably discharged because he suffered from sciatica, a disorder that causes pain in the hip and thigh, Huston said.
In July 1862, he wrote to a friend describing how sleeping on the frozen ground throughout the winter seemed to cause the illness.
“One of my limbs is entirely useless,” Huston quoted him as saying in the letter. “It is confined chiefly to my right hip, rendering me unable to step without the aid of crutches and a cane.”
After he left the Army, he and his family moved to Put-in-Bay. But that was not the end of his Civil War service.
During the war, a boat from Canada called the “Island Queen” headed for Middle Bass Island, and Brown Jr. learned Confederates might be aboard and planning to break out their fellow rebels being held at the prison on Johnson’s Island, according to an article by Roger Long, of Port Clinton, in the March 1987 edition of “Blue and Grey Magazine.”
Brown Jr. quickly gathered some volunteers and set out in a rowboat for the mainland.
“The water was especially rough that night, and it took the rowers an inordinate time to fight the currents while keeping a lookout for pirates,” according to the article.
They rowed to Catawba Island and then walked to Johnson’s Island, which included crossing two channels. By dawn, they arrived at the prison, where guards were already awaiting a Confederate invasion, according to the article.
Brown Jr. volunteered for duty. Ultimately, he was not needed because the Confederates’ plan fell apart.
The experience, however, prompted him to write the commander at Johnson’s Island and request permission to form a militia at Put-in-Bay in 1864, Huston said. The militia was called Brown’s Independent Company of Infantry, she said.
The state armed the men with rifles, bayonets and other weapons, and the group’s call was to protect the islands and defend commerce on the lake, she said.
|John Brown Jr.|
Life at Put-in-Bay
While living on South Bass Island, Brown Jr. had a variety of jobs.
He surveyed lands for lots that would be used for farming, Huston said. He also grew grapes for the wine business and was interested in geology.
Later he was justice of the peace in Put-in-Bay, which was like being an associate judge, Huston said.
Brown Jr. also dined with Civil War financier Jay Cooke at Cooke’s Castle on nearby Gibraltar Island.
“Brown was well-liked by his island neighbors, who looked up to him as a heroic and learned man,” according to biographical information from the Encyclopedia Britannica Library Research Services in Chicago that Huston has in her Brown Jr. historical collection.
Brown’s daughter, Edith, married an actor named Thomas Alexander, who later became mayor of Put-in-Bay. The couple owned the Crescent Tavern, which remains a popular stop in the village’s downtown.
The Alexanders had no children, and neither did Brown Jr.’s son, John III. Brown Jr. and his wife and children and Thomas Alexander are buried in Crown Hill Cemetery on South Bass Island.
“John Brown Jr. was a very interesting man, very level-headed,” Mecoy said. “He had a very hard life. He was very proud of what he did accomplish.”
Per Email I received from Kristina Smith Horn on Sept. 5, 2011, the photos in the original article were incorrectly attributed to Horn. The photos are courtesy of the Rutherford B Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio.
Below are close up photos of the grave sites of the John Brown Jr family at the Crown Hill Cemetery on South Bass Island, Put-In-Bay Ohio taken by my son Manfred Mecoy.
|John Brown Jr|
|Wealthy Hotchkiss Brown|
|Thomas Alexander and Edith May Brown Alexander|
|John Brown the 3rd|