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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: July 2015

16 - “The Bravest Negroes”


JOHN BROWN AND SOME OF HIS COMRADES arrived in Cleveland in March 1858, just as the proceedings in the Oberlin trials were set to begin. Brown and his men took rooms at the City Hotel, located only a few blocks from the courthouse, and placed their animals in the adjacent stable. The trek across the Midwest had depleted Brown's always meager funds – he arrived in Cleveland looking as disheveled as “a melancholy brigand” – and he hoped to raise money by selling the remaining Missouri livestock, as well as by charging admission for a public lecture. As he had done throughout his travels from Missouri, Brown made no secret of his presence in Cleveland. He advertised the mule and horses in a local newspaper, promising potential buyers that they were “Southern animals with northern Principles; once pro-slavery Democrats they are now out and out abolitionists.” He was even more brazen about his lecture, announcing that “Old Brown, of Kansas, the terror of Border-Ruffiandom, with a number of his men, will be in Cleveland [to] give a true account of the recent troubles in Kansas, and of the late ‘invasion’ of Missouri and rescue of eleven slaves.”

Marshal Matthew Johnson responded with his usual combination of bluster and inaction. He mounted huge posters around the city announcing that rewards for Brown had been offered by President Buchanan and Missouri Governor Stewart. “In great, black lines of display type,” Johnson emphasized the total of $3250 that “might be gotten … for Brown's arrest and detention.” Johnson himself, however, “never took one step toward arresting Brown,” even though the fugitive boldly walked directly past the marshal's office on a daily basis. Such audacity did not escape notice. Humorist Charles Farrar Browne, then an editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer and writing under the pen name Artemus Ward, observed that Brown was cool enough to “make his jolly fortune by letting himself out as an Ice Cream Freezer.” Brown indeed had little reason to fear the federal marshal.

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The 'Colored Hero' of Harper's Ferry
  • Online ISBN: 9781139872072
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