Friday, December 4, 2009

John Brown and the "Secret Six"

150 years ago this week, the radical abolitionist John Brown was hanged for treason after his raid at Harpers Ferry. His views and subsequent execution made him a martyr for many in the North, and Harpers Ferry was one of the sparks that set the fires of the Civil War burning.

Rauner Library holds an extraordinary letter from Thomas Wentworth Higginson written to Brown in November 1859 while he was awaiting execution.  Higginson was a member of the "Secret Six," a group devoted to assisting Brown by raising money for the Harpers Ferry insurrection and, later, money for Brown's family. This letter reports on a visit Higginson paid to Brown's family and obliquely refers to a plot by the "Secret Six" to break Brown out of prison:
"God bless you, my friend. You know us and we know you. We have not given up the hope of seeing you face to face again. But should we never do it, we will not desert your children."

Higginson was the only member of the "Secret Six" not to flee the country after Brown's capture. A 19th-century man-of-letters, he went on to lead an all-black regiment in the Civil War, become editor of The Atlantic Monthly, and, in later years, edit the first edition of Emily Dickinson's Poems.

Ask for Rauner Manuscript 859608 to see the original in Rauner.

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