1917: Interview With John Brown’s Last Surviving Son

From a 1917 issue of The American Magazine:

John Brown’s Son Talks About His Father

Passers-by frequently pause in front of an old-fashioned frame house in Montavilla, a suburb of Portland, Oregon, to admire the profusion of beautiful roses in the front yard. At the rear of the lot they see a massive old man at work with his hoe in a well-kept garden.

Something vaguely familiar about the old man’s face causes the stranger to go away wondering where he has seen it before. The gardener looks like some patriarch who has stepped out of the pages of the family Bible. His iron-gray hair is brushed back from his forehead; his long, thick beard covers his powerful chest; his eyebrows are heavy, but his eyes twinkle with merriment when he talks.

If you listen to him it suddenly comes to you why his face seems so familiar. He looks like John Brown of Osawatomie. He might almost pose for a painting of that historic character. Nor is this strange; for he is Salmon Brown, the last surviving son of John Brown.

The other afternoon I dropped in on Salmon Brown. I was seeking some reminiscences of his father — the man who moved a nation to song, sorrow and strife by going to the scaffold for the conviction that all men should be free.

“Yes,” said Mr. Brown as I handed back the photograph of his father. “Father looked like one of the old-time patriarchs, and he had a patriarchial family, too. Father’s first wife had seven children. His second wife, who was my mother, had thirteen children. He was a very religious man and a man of strong convictions. Twice a day he held family worship, and a blessing was asked at every meal. Father and Mother each had a personal Bible and each of us children also had a Bible. With twenty children in the family it took a fairly long chapter so that each of us could read a verse at family worship. If the work interfered with the family worship, the work had to go, for the worship was the one thing that never was slighted.

“Much of our life we were away from the vicinity of churches, but each Sunday night the children were required to repeat the shorter catechism and the Ten Commandments, after which Father would read a chapter and then preach a sermon to us.

“Father was fond of blooded horses, and the year I was born he was engaged in raising blooded horses at Franklin, Ohio. When he found his horses were being used on the race track he gave up horse raising, as he abhorred betting as much as he did profanity. If one of his workmen swore, that workman was paid off at once.

“Father was a natural stockman. They say a collie dog can tell every sheep in his master’s flock. Father had that same sixth sense. To most people all sheep look alike, but to Father each sheep had as marked an individuality as the human race. In going to market, if his sheep became mixed with another band he could instantly pick out his own. In 1852 Father took five first prizes on his sheep and cattle at the Ohio state fair at Cleveland. I was sixteen years old, and it was a proud moment for me when I rode down the parade ground on our champion bull while the people cheered enthusiastically as we went by.

“The tannery business, farming, wool buying and the raising of blooded stock were my father’s life occupations, though all of them were subordinated to his one consuming passion — freeing the slaves. Father ran Captain Oviatt’s farm for a year or so, and then went into partnership with Colonel Simon Perkins of Akron, Ohio. Father offered to put in his own work and that of three of his grown sons for a total of $528 a year, or to work for half the increase of the stock. Colonel Perkins decided to take up the latter proposal. Father’s share the first year was more than $1,500.

“In 1847 Father and Colonel Perkins started a commission wool warehouse at Springfield, Massachusetts. They sorted, graded and bought wool. On the anniversary of the West India Emancipation act on August 1st, 1846, Gerritt Smith donated one hundred thousand acres of wild land in the Adirondacks to the freed slaves. He offered forty acres to each negro who would settle on the tract and work it. The plan failed, as the negroes who tried it out were city negroes.

“In the spring of 1848 my father agreed to settle at North Elba and direct the work of colonization and help the free negroes get a start. You know all about that experiment and how later Father went out to help make Kansas a free state. I was with Father all through the border warfare. On May 30th, 1856, at the battle of Black Jack I saw Father, armed only with a revolver, walk fearlessly up to the Missourians commanded by Henry Clay Pate and demand their surrender. There were thirty of them and eight of us. Of our army of eight, five of us were Browns. There was Father, my brother Owen, and Fred, Oliver and myself.

“How old am I? Well, I was born on October 2d, 1836. That makes me eighty, doesn’t it? You see, the fact that my wife and I are about to celebrate our sixtieth wedding anniversary is much more important to me. A man doesn’t have anything to do with being born, but he really deserves credit for picking out the finest woman in the world to marry!”


Original page images (two partial pages combined into one):

Click = big

Previously at Mike Cane’s Blog:

Anniversary Day Of Note: John Brown’s Birthday

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s