In the Summer of 1896, the home of Annie and Sam Adams in Petrolia, CA, burnt to the ground. Annie’s family was forced to live in the woods under a tree until the Fall cold and rain drove them into an abandoned blacksmith shop. Friends of the family sent out letters to newspapers, women’s groups and colored churches to raise money for the family.
I am still trying to get my head around the fact that a 53 year old mother of 10 and her children lived for a year in the forest and a makeshift shack. It boggles the modern mind.
Below is a newspaper account of the plea for assistance, as well as the transcription of one of the letters Annie received with donations, and a section of a letter Annie wrote to Dr. Ross telling of this misfortune, and her attempt to make something happy out of the tragedy.
I am thankful for all of the people who aided my ancestors.
The Morning Times Washington, District of Columbia
Saturday, January 16, 1897 Page 5
JOHN BROWN’S DAUGHTER
The Sole Survivor of the Raid
Lives in Poverty.
HER DOMICILE AN OLD SHED
She Has Had Very Bad Luck, Her
Farm in California Being Heavily
Encumbered– Recently Her House
Burned Down — An Appeal to the
Colored People for Aid.
There has been considerable effort made of late in Washington through interest of Dr. Thomas Featherstonbaugh, medical referee of the Pension Bureau, to raise funds to send to the relief of Mrs. Annie Brown Adams, a daughter of John Brown, the famous raider of Harper’s Ferry. She is the sole survivor of the raid and is living in dire poverty in Humboldt county, Cal. Mrs. Adams is now about sixty years old. She was sixteen years old at the time of her father’s heroic immolation on the alter of a principle.
The appearance of a newspaper article asking for help for her some weeks ago caused Col. Hinton, who was associated with her father in Kansas before the raid, to come out with a statement that she was not sole survivor of John Brown’s family, and that she was doubtless not in need and the public was being imposed upon, Dr. Featherstonbaugh was seen yesterday by a Times report, and he said that Col. Hinton had acknowledged that he did not know anything about the circumstances of Annie Brown Adams, except that she had living relatives. This is true, but it is also true that she is the only survivor of the raid, as was before published.
They are Very Poor.
All the Browns, Dr. Featherstonbaugh says, are very poor. They have never asked for charity and have avoided public notice with painful sensitiveness all these years since ’59. They have had a deep rooted feeling that all Americans were opposed to them, and no amount of argument has ever been able to root that sentiment from their breasts. Annie Brown Adams made an unfortunate marriage. Her husband was for many years a victim of drink and never made her a fitting support. She got him to go to the northern part of California, where he would be away from bad association, and there she has struggled to pay for a farm.
She has had very bad luck, and while she nominally owns the place, it really is heavily encumbered with the mortgage. Last July her house burned down, and the crops were a complete failure. They have been living in a shed an abject poverty for several months. It will be readily seen that her relatives are unable to help her, since the doctor says that her brother, Jason Brown, a crippled old man seventy-four years of age, is working as a common laborer on the section of a railroad. She has a sister, Mrs. Thompson, living in Pasadena, and old women, who is supported by a daughter, a school teacher.
This sister and Major Horatio Rust of California both wrote to Dr. Featherstonbaugh to interest him in Mrs. Adams. The doctor has for many years been deeply interested in all that related to the John Brown raid. He has studied up the historical event has taken pictures of the relics of the deed on the scene. He has pictures of the old Kennedy farmhouse, where John Brown gathered his forces. It still stands in the same spot, five miles from Harper’s Ferry.
In speaking of Annie Brown Adams’ part in that event, he said that she was at that time a girl of sixteen years old. She went with her father, and was the only woman, except Martha Brown, wife of Oliver Brown, who was killed in the struggle, that was active in the raid. She kept house at the old farmhouse for her father through all those weeks from July to the last of September, while her father was silently gathering his forces. He was off every night to bring in a man or a small party of men, who were recruits. She spent her days on the front veranda as a lookout. It was a perilous time for them all, and she displayed rare courage and womanly fidelity to her father’s cause. At the end of September the two women were sent away under escort, and reached Troy, N.Y. They were not actually on the scene at the time of the seizure of the arsenal.
Dr. Featherstonbaugh says that in his opinion the well-to-do colored people ought to be able to raise $10,000 for the permanent relief of that woman and her children. He says that he had a column account in print for days in the Colored American, and the only result of that plea was $1.25. Mr. Garret, of the Pension Bureau, has interested himself extensively, and had only been able to raise $16. Prof. Cook, of Howard University, has raised $16, and Dr. Childs has been talking after service in several of the churches and may be able to bring in a larger collection.
The Colored People’s Duty.
Prof. Cook was seen yesterday and he said that he thought the colored people were under a moral obligation to the survivors of John Brown, and owed them not a moral, but an actual debt. He declared that if John Brown and invested his money, the money he put into the cause of humanity, in New York real estate all his children would have been millionaires instead of being poverty stricken today.
“John Brown.” said he, “didn’t stop to think when he made the stoke for the freedom of the slave. If he had stopped to think he would have doubtless acted as Hamlet did. He had a holy inspiration that took possession of him, and he became a martyr for his love of rights. I place John Brown with Paul: he was as much an apostle of God. ‘John Brown is always ready,’ he said, when they asked him to give the signal for his death. The colored people ought to be ready to help John Brown’s people as he was to help them.”
Prof. Cook suggested that collections should be taken in the colored churches. Lewis H. and Charles R. Douglass are very much interested and ready to help in any way they can. L.C. Battle, of the Capital Savings Bank, also expressed deep interest in the matter and said he would do all that he could to further the movement. A John Brown fair is one of the thinks talked of, and some decided and concerted movement is hoped for on the part of all who were interviewed.
The Morning Times Washington, District of Columbia
Saturday, January 16, 1897 Page 5
St Paul Jan 22nd/97
Mrs. Anna Brown Adams
I received your letter wherein you acknowledged the receipt of the fifteen Dollars sent by me from St. Paul. I have had your letter published in almost every colored paper in the East, and it is awakening my people to a sense of gratitude that they have long owed to your father an his family. A week or so ago the colored people of Chicago, Illinois, sent to you Eleven Dollars and sixty cents ($11.60) which I hope came safely to hand, and I now send you Ten Dollars ($10.00) sent to me by the Womens Era Club of Boston. I wish you would acknowledge the receipt of it direct to Mrs. Ellen N. Taylor, No 19 Brewery St Cambridgeport Mass. The colored people of Washington are asking all the Churches to raise a collection for you we are making an effort to save your home and it help you in this hour of need. I will send you some papers containing the notice. Will you please send me from time to time a list of the contributions so I can have it published I think it will materially help us in our efforts, I am glad that the fifteen dollars did you some good. Let me hear from you as early as possible. My very best love to you and your dear family may god bless you all
Mrs. T H Lyles
Pres John Brown Memorial association
Except from Annie Brown Adams Letter of April 28 1897 to Dr. Alexander Ross
I have been planting vegetables and flowers and vines where our old house stood, to cover it out of sight. That seems the best disposal to make of losses of all kinds —– if we can dispose of them in some such a way, I think.
We lived in the woods last summer until the early fall rains drove us into an old log blacksmith shop. Then the boys split out lumber to build a sort of a house, but as the timber was on the opposite side of the river and it raised so high, on account of the heavy rains, they could not finish it – so we have lived in it as it is. It is a well ventilated as a slatted chicken coop.
We have all been quite well with the exception of some severe colds, so far, so you see even we have a great deal to be thankful for. The cold weather and storms will soon all be over now for this season, and perhaps before another winter we shall be fixed more comfortable. I am sure that God will right all the wrongs in his own time and way. And as he does not open the way for us to help, perhaps he thinks we have done the part He intends for us, and now wishes for someone else to do theirs. Perhaps our work now is to patiently wait.