A zealous opponent of slavery (1800–1859), Brown was hanged for treason, murder, and conspiracy after an attempt to capture the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry and distribute the weapons to slaves. ALS, one page, Charlestown Va, lightly-lined, 5 x 8, November 30, 1859. Letter to newspaper editor “Mr. Galager” [sic]. In full: “A moments glance at what purports to be my remarks on Beecher’s sermon; discover to me the fact that in some important particulars there is a most gross and intentional missrepresentation [sic] of them & had I the time I would expose them. They have however been treated with as much fairness as I have by the papers I have met with.”
The letter was originally framed and the original wooden backing is included. Taped to the backing is a mostly intact typed letter of provenance, dated February 27, 1898, which reads, “This letter...from the jail in Charlestown, Va., has the following history: The Mr. Gallagher to whom it is addressed was the editor of a newspaper at Charlestown…Among his warm personal friends was a Miss Belle Wilson, of Baltimore, to whom he presented it. She, in turn, gave it to her sister, Mrs. Havener, of Washington, D. C. The latter visited my father, at Wilmington, Del., in 1863–4, and during that time presented it to him.” In good condition, with professional silking to the reverse of the letter done long ago, which repaired several complete separations, small mounting remnants to back corners, intersecting folds, and scattered light toning and soiling. Also accompanied by an original photo of the courthouse in which Brown was sentenced to hang, matted and framed to an overall size of 8 x 10.5, as well as a John Brown video documentary.
Awaiting his execution day in a small jail cell in Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia), John Brown remained vocal in correspondences with countless newspapers, political figures, and fellow anti-slavery advocates. Henry Ward Beecher, the famed abolitionist clergyman, voiced the feelings of many in his laudatory sermon titled ‘The Nation’s Duty to Slavery,’ delivered at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn on October 30. A copy of the sermon was smuggled into the jail shortly after, and Brown added his own responses and comments in the margins. The "Galager" addressed in this letter was doubtlessly W. W. B. Gallaher, a local newspaper publisher and correspondent of the ultra-conservative New York Herald. The Herald published Brown's remarks on November 23, the most memorable of which was in response to Beecher’s statement, ‘Let no man pray that Brown be spared. Let Virginia make him a martyr’—Brown wrote, 'Good.' What likely prompted this letter, however, were a handful of comments attributed to Brown but uncharacteristic of his terse tone and style—evidently added in by biased editors. This unfair "gross and intentional missrepresentation" is what Brown would correct “had [he] the time”—these words offering a chilling self-awareness as he faced the looming specter of his own execution, which took place as scheduled two days after writing this letter. An outstanding piece and one of the last ever to come from the hand of the abolitionist martyr. A further discussion of this item by historian and Brown biographer Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., Ph.D., is available online here. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA and RR Auction COA.
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