Jan. 26, 2021

History matters: heroes or traitors?

History matters: heroes or traitors?

The divisions that have taken hold of the country are playing out not only in our public lives, but also in some of our closest relationships.

What drives the tensions are our very different answers to that perennial question: What do you do when you believe your country is heading in the wrong direction?

In this episode, we look to history — and the story of a man who has been called “one of the most troubling figures in American History”— for insight.

The cover image of John Brown is from a painting called Tragic Prelude, a mural painted in 1937 by John Steuart Curry for the Kansas State Capitol building in Topeka. Portrayals of Brown have changed over time. "From 1890 to about 1970 John Brown was insane. Before 1890 he was perfectly sane, and after 1970 he has slowly been regaining his sanity." —from Lies My Teacher Told Me, Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, by James W. Loewen

John Brown in Kansas, 1856 — around the time of his midnight attack on the pro-slavery settlement of Pottawotomie, Missouri.


John Brown, 1859 — around the time of his raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry. It is said that Brown grew a beard partly in an attempt to disguise himself after becoming wanted for helping eleven African Americans escape slavery in Missouri a couple of years earlier.


John Brown's execution — December 2, 1859


"John Brown's Fort"

This small building — once a fire engine and guard house — is all that remains of Harpers Ferry's 125 acre armory. It is also the building in which John Brown and his men barricaded themselves during the raid in 1859. 


The music at the end of the episode is
Battle Hymn of the Republic Medley by Marisa Anderson
Free Music Archive, CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 US


Kelley Lynch (00:00):

As we record this, it's almost a week after inauguration day. And for some of us, it feels like we can finally breathe again. But I'm well aware that there are many in the country on both the left and the right who feel differently. The divisions that have surfaced in recent years, aren't going away anytime soon.

Kelley Lynch (00:19):

Watching the helicopter carry President Trump away the other morning, I wondered if perhaps the most enduring legacy of his presidency might be the large number of families it has divided over the last four years, including mine. But I take heart from the fact that we've made it through times of even greater division that pitted brother against brother, as the fate of the country hung in the balance.

Kelley Lynch (01:00):

Welcome. I'm Kelly Lynch and I'm Cindy Sealls. And this is A New Normal, a podcast that reimagines a future that starts with each one of us.

Kelley Lynch (01:11):

The bare bones of this episode have been sitting on a hard drive for several months now. We started it after black lives matter. Protests had swept the country and as far left protests took hold of Seattle and Portland. As those were going on, one of my family members, a former hardcore progressive who's turned into a hard right Trump supporter (and yes, hi, to want to know how that happened) was sending me YouTube videos and email missives grounded in an entirely different ecosystem of beliefs.

Kelley Lynch (01:45):

There were videos by the Epoch Times, Tucker Carlson and Glenn Beck. Many of them warning of a communist or socialist takeover, Officer Guns and gear spoke of his refusal to violate the civil rights of Americans by enforcing masking. And Officer Tatum, an African-American, a conservative and former police officer vehemently denied that African-Americans suffered disproportionately at the hands of the police. Other emails and videos warned about the coming civil war plans by militias to lay siege to the cities and the impossible prospect of the left defending against a so-called sleeping giant with hundreds of millions of firearms, a reference to the guns that reside largely in the hands of conservative leaning America. It was suggested that living in Washington DC might not be such a good idea. To say that this didn't exactly jive with my perception of where we were as a country is an understatement. I couldn't understand how someone who had shared my understanding of the world so completely until just a couple of years ago, could suddenly see the world so differently. What did they see? Maybe they knew something I didn't know, but I needed to know I owed it to them, to our relationship and to myself to at least try to see their point of view.

Kelley Lynch (03:13):

Cindy and I read the emails and we watched the videos. We talked about them on our regular afternoon walks and in hours long phone calls. We challenged ourselves with trying to see the world through that lens. And I have to say, Cindy, who has long listened to the diversity of opinions on CSPAN radio every morning was so much better at it than me, but even for her, it was disturbing and unsettling to listen to some of these perspectives. And to know that so many people watched and judging from the comments agreed with what was being presented.

Kelley Lynch (03:51):

My response was surprisingly visceral. It was as if my beliefs were my body and they were being violently attacked the summer past in a blur of cognitive dissonance. Days of mental chatter dissolved into night staring at the ceiling. The constant buzz of my mind was frying my nervous system. What was true? What was false? Had been a disagreement on policy or ideology, that would have been one thing, but it felt like the very nature of what I understood to be reality was being called into question. My mind could not stop trying to figure it out. As soon as one side of me constructed an argument, the other side deconstructed it. It was like having Fox news and MSNBC running in my head 24-7. A steady stream of emails from my family member added fuel to the fire.

Kelley Lynch (04:46):

There were demands. "Where's the evidence that the president has subverted the rule of law or the constitution?" There were complaints. "How can we have an honest conversation when you are just repeating the mainstream media's talking points?" There were questions. "Do you think I would support a president that is openly opposed to the constitution is a racist and a fascist?" There were statements. "The only delusion we are living in is the one where you and your fellow leftist believe that our reality is full of endless oppression. And that somehow radical Marxists are going to fix the problem and lead us to some sort of utopian land of eternal equality where merit and personal accountability are tossed out the window as a sacrifice to the false idol of equality of outcome." There were challenges. "According to you, I'm supposed to sit here and listen to a leftist. Tell me that we are living in some sort of Donald Trump reality, where he's the one turning us against each other. Have you lost your common sense and ability to see reality?" And there were warnings. "The new version, of the red guard or the Brown shirts is forming in front of our eyes and all visible evidence, strongly suggests they are not forming on the political right." I accused my family member of having fallen down a rabbit hole.

Kelley Lynch (06:21):

I felt myself chasing that white rabbit too. And one evening sitting at my kitchen table. I followed it down a hole, not the same hole, but definitely one in proximity. And for a few minutes, I sat in that place and looked out at the world through the looking glass. I could see it, really see it, but unlike Alice that's when I decided it was time to give up the chase. When I tried it to return to the warm feather bed of my so-called liberal bubble, I found it difficult kind of like how once you've lived in and traveled to lots of different places and seen lots of different things home just doesn't feel the same anymore.

Kelley Lynch (07:09):

Over time, I've settled on a news ecosystem that doesn't only consist of NPR, PBS democracy. Now the New York times, the Atlantic and the Washington Post. But I will admit that I gravitate to that ecosystem. It better speaks to my view of the world, but I also have to admit this whole thing has thoroughly shaken the foundations of what I think I know. What's true? How much of what my bubble says is real, which things do I accept? And which do I reject? Another email from my family members showed that they were struggling with some of the exact same questions. "I'm dumbfounded at how polarized we have become," it read "even the facts and the studies and the research projects are polarized. How can we ever agree on public policy when there appears to be no clear foundation of truth that is visible to both sides?"

Kelley Lynch (08:15):

For her part, Cindy continued to listen to the vastly divergent opinions on CSPAN radio every morning, just as she does to this day. And for a long while there, she even tried to deconstruct the arguments of YouTubers, like the aforementioned Officer Tatum. She spent hours pouring over crime statistics, wondering what they actually said about African-Americans. She looked into conservative claims about affirmative action by taking a hard look at the data and thinking deeply about what it meant. It broke my heart to see my brilliant friend staring into the face of that most repugnant question of all, "Are we actually an inferior people?" But I have to hand it to her long after I had retreated to safe mental ground, she just kept going. I admired her objectivity and her fortitude, but sometimes I also wondered if maybe she was just a glutton for punishment.

Kelley Lynch (09:18):

All of this eventually culminated in Cindy and I forming a small conversation group that I've mentioned several times on this podcast made up of people from points along the political spectrum. Our aim is to get better at listening, to discussing and understanding different points of view. So far, we haven't invited my family member to join us. Is it cowardice perhaps, but you have to learn to walk before you can run right?

Kelley Lynch (09:48):

Several days ago, looking back over the emails from this summer, I came across this, "Where the radical right wing conservatives marching in the streets, Kelly, where are the conservative looters and riders? Where are the conservative white lives matter protesters?" In the wake of the eye popping jaw dropping events of January 6th, having given our emotions a week to settle, our group, which one of our youngest members has dubbed The People's Liberation Think tank attempted what I had imagined was sure to be a heated conversation about the storming of the Capitol. The question we arrived at was designed to keep the polarizing flashpoint that is Donald Trump out of it. We asked, "Were those who stormed the Capitol on January 6th, traitors or Patriots?"

Kelley Lynch (10:43):

The conversation didn't go down as I had expected. The youngest among us diehard, Bernie supporters started us out followed by the more middle of the road liberals. Each followed the same thought trajectory. If you've been told for years by people in power and people who should be in the know and the deep recesses of the internet, that the Democrats are actively trying to destroy your country. That their leaders are Satan worshiping pedophiles. And that just weeks ago, the presidency was fraudulently stolen by a highly sophisticated plot that the media and even the courts refuse to acknowledge. Then the actions of January 6th could be said to be correct, particularly in light of our founding stories. We discussed a quote attributed to Ben Franklin, that poses the question, "In 200 years, will people remember us as heroes or traitors?" Another by Thomas Paine States that the duty of a Patriot is to protect his country from its government. Clearly there's no shortage of moral ambiguity here. Nevertheless, every one of us agreed, whatever they believed, what they committed was by some definitions, treason and by others insurrection and they should be charged accordingly.

Kelley Lynch (12:07):

I had expected some pushback from the conservatives in the group, but the issue was surprisingly cut and dry. There was no discussion of moral ambiguity. Whatever you wanted to call it, treason, sedition, insurrection. It was a criminal act each and every person who entered the Capitol on January 6th should be charged and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Our conversation brought me back to this week's story, which echoes so many of the themes of the past year, racial justice, disenfranchisement, partisan division, and civil war. It also asks the question that has come up again and again in our history and is up in a big way on all sides right now. What does a good person do when they believe their government is involved in a great evil?

Kelley Lynch (13:03):

The man we'll be talking about today is both disturbing and inspiring. He was a monster to some, a Saint to others. He worked for the highest ideals, human freedom and equality. But sometimes he used the most ruthless means in his attempt to achieve them. So this week, as part of our quest to understand more about the past, that informs our present and will shape our future. We present the story of a man who has been called one of the most troubling figures in American history.

Kelley Lynch (13:42):

Great. Are you ready to go? Yeah. Okay. All right. Okay. Bye.

Kelley Lynch (13:50):

All right. Mask on.

Kelley Lynch (14:04):

Hey, here's my phone, could you put Harper's Ferry into Google maps?

Cindy Sealls (14:07):

Yep. Harper's Ferry. Got it.

Kelley Lynch (14:11):

Thanks. So tell me about John Brown.

Cindy Sealls (14:17):

You didn't learn about John Brown in school?

Kelley Lynch (14:20):

I don't remember John Brown in school. I mean maybe.

Cindy Sealls (14:24):

Oh, well, I mean, I guess it all depends on where you grew up, but I grew up here, so we learned a lot about the civil war and the important people in the times when African-Americans were slaves. And John Brown is one of the most important people for black people, at least during that time period.

Kelley Lynch (14:47):

So why is that?

Cindy Sealls (14:49):

Because he was one of the, I think only just they trying to think only white people who took up arms to try to free the slaves.

Kelley Lynch (15:03):

But what about all of those union soldiers who took up arms to free the slaves.

Cindy Sealls (15:11):

That was afterwards?

Kelley Lynch (15:13):

Oh, so he was just an early one?

Cindy Sealls (15:17):

No, he was, I mean, remember it's not as if people were thinking there was going to be a SU I mean, maybe some people thought there was going to be a civil war, but, but before him, there was no white person who basically had a slave, was trying to have a slave insurrection. Only the slaves were having slave insurrections. There were no white people having slave insurrections, which was what he was trying to do.

Cindy Sealls (15:53):

I mean, that was the really kind of crazy thing about it. If you think about that, now that I think about it, he was kind of crazy, right? Because, yes abolitionists were upset. Of course they didn't like slavery. They wanted them to do away with slavery. There was never a white person who got weapons and had a plan to free slaves.

Kelley Lynch (16:24):

So he was, um, he was kind of like, what do they call it today? There's the word today? Right?

Cindy Sealls (16:32):

White ally.

Kelley Lynch (16:33):

Yeah. He was the OG white ally.

Cindy Sealls (16:38):

That's right. Yeah. I mean, I'd have to, I'd really have to look through the records, but I can't recall. Maybe somebody out there who's listening to the podcast knows of some other person who did that white person who did that. But I don't think I know of any. And to black people he was a Hero. That's why we go to Harper's Ferry. If there's no John Brown, there's nobody going to Harper's Ferry.

Kelley Lynch (17:10):

Well, it's a nice place. I mean, you can go river rafting and you can go hiking.

Cindy Sealls (17:14):

But I guarantee you there's a lot of places on the East coast where you can go river rafting and hiking. We haven't been, but you go to Harper's ferry because of John Brown.

Cindy Sealls (17:32):

Oh, and he wasn't trying to start some kind of civil war. He was just trying to arm the slaves so they could escape.

Kelley Lynch (17:43):

There's a tour. You want to take it?

Cindy Sealls (17:46):


Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (17:48):

Harper's Ferry came to be in 1747. You could look at that as when Robert Harper came here. He comes through this gap. That's the highway into the Shenandoah Valley. And Robert Harper sees two things, the beauty of the property, and he sees running water. He's a millwright and a builder. And so he bought the land from a guy that was here and, uh, started a ferry service. I mean, we're talking minimal ferry service. He has a boat. And when you call him from the other side, he'll come and get you and bring you over. But this was the highway out West and by 1755 or so the Virginia assembly said, we'll give it a name and we'll call it. Shenandoah Falls at Mr. Harper's Ferry.

Kelley Lynch (18:49):

Today, this historic town situated in the blue Ridge mountains at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers is a destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. Thomas Jefferson, visiting in 1783 said the natural beauty alone was worth a voyage across the Atlantic. George Washington knew it well. He proposed this site as the location for a new United States armory and arsenal. One of only two such facilities at the time in the United States.

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (19:23):

George Washington had convinced the war department to build a federal armory here. Why here? Well, George said it's remote so if we're attacked, they can't get to us. In the hills, there's Walnut trees for the stock of a gun and on the banks of the Potomac there's iron or for the barrel of a gun and water power a plenty. So we're going to build our armory on the Potomac river over there and start manufacturing guns for the federal government.

Kelley Lynch (20:02):

Construction on the 125 acre site on the banks of the Potomac began in 1799 and in 1801, it started turning out muskets rifles and pistols for the U S army. During the civil war, being located so close to the Mason Dixon line, which was the border between the free and the slave holding States, Harpers ferry was the site of great strategic importance, but that also made it vulnerable. The town changed hands from Union to Confederate forces and back again, at least 11 times. In the end, the armory was destroyed and floods carried away the rest. Today, nothing remains of the armory except one small. It stands at the bottom of the town, not far from its original location, where the rivers meet and the Appalachian trail enters the town by the old B&O railroad bridge. It's known as John Brown's Fort.

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (21:04):

That's the John Brown Fort, really the fire engine house for the armory. John Brown, kind of a complicated man to figure out born in 1800 in Connecticut. His father was very religious followed the Calvinist religion. John Brown went to bed every night saying his prayers, every meal saying prayers, but his father was also an abolitionist and John Brown was raised in that environment. When he was eight, they moved to Ohio. John Brown eventually became involved in the sheep industry. He could grade wool and he was in the tanning business. Tried business in Europe. And by the 1840s, he went bankrupt. And, he also lost, four of his children to disease during that 1840 period. He had 20 kids from two wives. And I believe, uh, it was after the 1840s when he took up the abolitionists cause even more. John Brown, will tell you himself that he was tired of the abolitionists because they were all about talking and compromise.

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (22:36):

And most of the abolitionists in that time where the intellectuals from the New England area. John Brown was a man of action. And he really showed that in 1856, when he and his sons ended up in Kansas. Kansas at the time, as it became known as Bleeding, Kansas. Kansas was going to vote to enter the Union as either a slave state or not a slave state and John Brown became involved in all of that. And at one point, the pro-slavery people sacked, the town of Lawrence, burned it down and injured a lot of people in John Brown was incensed at that. And so at night, John Brown and his sons, and some followers went out to a farm houses and ended up pulling out five farmers and or their sons and executing them in front of their family. Pretty violent. John Brown said, I didn't touch anybody, but he gave the order.

Kelley Lynch (23:46):

Wait a minute, I'm going to interrupt him here. I don't think I really understand what was going on in the country at that point. Can you explain it to me?

Cindy Sealls (23:58):

You had a lot that was going on in Congress trying to solve this issue of slavery and freedom in 1820, you had the Missouri compromise. Then in 1850, you had another compromise because the Missouri compromise wasn't working so well, which included the fugitive slave act. In 1854, you had the Kansas Nebraska act. In 1857. You had the Dred Scott decision. Those were all seminal things in American history.

Kelley Lynch (24:36):

And all things that I don't know. Did I even get an education? I mean, I feel so.

Cindy Sealls (24:47):

Yeah. I bet you did you. I think most of us learned it in U S history. Some of these as the country pushed into the Western territories and started to open up States, the people in the North did not want slavery to be in those Western areas. The people in the South did so, surprise, Congress came up with a compromise. We haven't had one of those since 1820 when that happened. Um, but since there were 11 free States and 11 slave States, they said, okay, we'll let Missouri come in as a slave state, but we have to let Maine come in as a free state so that they could keep the balance of power in Congress. And that settled everything down, but ultimately it blew up because there was still slavery. And there were a lot of people who were very adamantly against it, one of which was John Brown.

Cindy Sealls (25:51):

So then what happened was more territory started to beat to come into the union and they had to decide what they were going to do with those. So in 1850, they had another compromise and there, it was a lot of different points of that compromise. But one of the major things that came out of that compromise was that they bolstered the Fugitive Slave Act,.

Kelley Lynch (26:16):

What was that?

Cindy Sealls (26:16):

It was a law that said, if you knew somebody was a runaway slave, it was your responsibility to let somebody know. And so that meant, of course you couldn't house them. You couldn't hide them. You couldn't help them. This new Fugitive Slave Act said, you also were responsible for catching up, like.

Kelley Lynch (26:39):

Who was responsible?

Cindy Sealls (26:40):

Like if you saw this black person and you found out they were a runaway slave, you had to take them to the authorities or you were getting in trouble. What it also did was it, it basically created a business because then they had these bands of people, men who would go up to the Northern cities and kidnap black people, cause they would get money for quote unquote, bringing them back to slavery. But a lot of them weren't even slaves in the first place. Wow. That, that of course made the abolitionists even more angry because they were already angry about slavery. And then people were being kidnapped and put into slavery.

Kelley Lynch (27:30):

So then you, you mentioned the Kansas Nebraska Act.

Cindy Sealls (27:35):

So with the Missouri Compromise, it was like where the state was in the country. So if it was below 36, 30 Latitude, it could be a slave state, but you also had to have a free state to come in. While the Kansas Nebraska act mandated popular sovereignty, allowing the settlers of the territory to determine whether slavery would be allowed. So that basically overturned the whole idea of, okay, we have to have a Free State and we have to have a slave slate. Because now you could have all slave States if the people in the territory decided that was so, so what that cause was people rushing out or, and people being paid and to go out to these Western territories to be there so that they could vote to decide whether it was going to be a slave or free state. And that led to a very violent period in Kansas known as Bleeding Kansas, because pro-slavery people and anti-slavery people were rushing out to settle in the area and be able to choose whether it's going to be slave or free. And there was a lot of violence because of that.

Kelley Lynch (28:52):

And so that's where John Brown came. Right?

Cindy Sealls (28:55):

Right. Well, his sons were living there and they said to him, you know, come out here, this is really bad. People are getting killed because they're coming out here to settle. People know that they're anti-slavery so there's violence and that, or people know that they're pro-slavery and there's violence. Yeah. So it was pretty bad.

Kelley Lynch (29:16):

And then there was one other thing that you mentioned.

Cindy Sealls (29:19):

The Dred Scott decision. It's one of the most important Supreme court decisions in our history. A guy who was enslaved Dred Scott, his former master had lived with him in free state. And so he filed a court case saying that he was free because he had lived in these States that were free States where you couldn't have slaves. And it made it all the way up to the Supreme court. And the Supreme court basically decided the slaves were property. They weren't considered human beings. And as such, they had no rights under the constitution. So of course, Dred Scott did not get his freedom. And basically that said to the abolitionists that the US was never going to get rid of slavery. That was decided in 1857 and two years later in 1859, John Brown comes to Harper's Ferry.

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (30:24):

He rents a house, a farm nearby, and he brings his daughter and daughter-in-law to give it a domestic look. So there weren't 22 guys hanging out in the farm house that never could leave the farmhouse because they wanted to maintain their security. Eventually, right before the raid in October 16, 17, 18, the two females leave and John ground comes to Harper's ferry with his men. They enter at night and they take over the armory. One of the reasons he came. With the money he had, he already bought 200 sharps rifles state-of-the-art rifles at the time, how much more weapons would you need? He had 2000 6 foot tall spears or pikes as they were called. He was going to harm the slaves with the Pikes. Cause he figured they wouldn't slaves with that know how to shoot a gun.

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (31:30):

He also came here for headlines. He wanted to advance his cause what better place to do that than a federal armory? What better place to do that than in the state of Virginia, the largest slave holding state in the union. And he also came here because of the geography. The mountains would allow him to fade into the mountains with his guerrilla band of armed men and slaves, and start going down to the plantations in Virginia, raiding those and freeing the slaves plantation by plantation. The slaves who wanted to could join him, the others, he would send back on the underground railroad, up to Canada. He had a whole plan to do that. Even I believe as far South, as South Carolin. He had a map they later found with all the places he was going. He was going to end slavery with this uprising. And he got the idea.

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (32:36):

I believe that he could do it because after the Kansas affair, he went back a year later to Missouri and raided a farmhouse there, killed the farmer and got 11 slaves back to Canada and freed them. And I think that was the beginning of him thinking, yeah, that's not too hard. That wasn't too hard. I made it. And I could do the same here. But he came here on that night, the 16th, and they quickly took over the armory, the arsenal with the weapons stored there. And he sent men towards Charlestown, uh, about 10 miles West of here to get a hostage who they knew about, Louis Washington, great grand nephew of George Washington. They brought him back here, the fire engine house. Any other people that happened to be roaming around, we're put into a fire engine i house for hostages.

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (33:41):

Things were going okay until 1:30 in the morning, train comes through. John Brown's men stops it. And a baggage handler here for the Baltimore & Ohio railroad sees that's not right. That should keep going. It's an express train. His name was Hayward Sheppard. He goes out to the bridge and John Brown's men tell him to stop. He doesn't and they shoot him in the back and he dies the next day. Hayward Sheppard was a freed man. First person shot by the abolitionists was black. Some irony there. And then things start to break down more in the morning when 400 workers are coming to the armory. Something's not right. We have armed men in the streets. John Brown during his trial claimed his biggest mistake after he cut all the Telegraph wires to cut off communication, biggest mistake, he let the train go. He was, he said he was concerned about the passengers. What's the first thing the train does at the next station. You have a problem in Harper's ferry. Word gets to president Buchanan in Washington, DC. He searches around for an officer who can take control of things and he finds Colonel Robert E. Lee. Robert E. Lee US army gets his good buddy, Jeb Stuart to come with him on the train. And 90 Marines are sent here also with a canon. So by the afternoon of the second day, things are going badly. John Brown's men are telling him that we need to leave. And John Brown's like, no, we're not. Eventually this building becomes his final holdout.

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (35:43):

But in the meantime, the mayor of Harper's Ferry sticks his head around the corner - once, twice - gets shot and killed. Town's person at that corner, right there. Stick to set around the corner, get shot and killed along with a couple other citizens. They're shooting at each other by now because the townspeople have ridden out and gotten the militia to send in Harper's ferry is surround John Brown. The Raiders are picked off one by one. They're chased into the Shenandoah river shot killed. They're chased to the railroad bridge shot and killed. People spend the rest of the day taking potshots at the dead bodies, especially the black people that were part of the raid. Five of the Raiders were black, including Dangerfield Newbie. Dangerfield. Newbie was a freed man, but he had a wife and children who were slaves because slavery, in those days you followed the female side of the family. If she was a slave, you were a slave and Dangerfield Newbie tried to buy their freedom. The owner at first agreed and then went back on his word. So Dangerfield Newbie was a late comer to the John Brown raid and he wanted to free his wife and kids so he could be with them and they were 50 miles away here. And he was going to join John Brown and get that done. He's on the bridge. Things are going badly. He comes back to this street right here and he shot with a railroad spike through the shoulder. You can put anything into a gun and shoot it. His body is left there. And the towns people are incensed at the Raiders, but especially the black Raiders and they mutilate his body cut off his ears. It's left there in the gutter to be nibbled at, by the pigs.

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (37:48):

Eventually, 10 Raiders are killed and what's left and up in the fire engine house, surrounded by militia who have guns and have been to the local saloon and are drinking. So that's kind of a problem to leave. Finally makes it here at night, tell some militia, "we have this under control and tomorrow morning we'll end it."

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (38:19):

And so in the morning he sends Jeb Stuart to the door. By now they're down to 10 hostages. Some have escaped during the afternoon and Jeb Stuart literally knocks on the door. And he's the first one to recognize John Brown because Jeb Stuart had some dealings with him in Kansas. So he knew what he looked like. The townspeople weren't quite sure who this guy was. Jeb Stuart says, John Brown, time's up. You need to come out. Give up. John Brown says, no, let me take my men and my hostage is across the railroad bridge to Maryland. Once we get there, we can have a fair fight and you can start chasing us. And Jeb Stuart's answer was the signal for the Marines to storm the fire engine house with their guns, but using bayonets only, and John Brown is injured seriously in that raid, but he lives and eventually he and the men who are left, are taken to Charlestown. And about a week later, he's put on trial and he's charged with murder, treason and inciting an armed slave rebellion. And four days later he's found guilty. John brand finally made headlines.

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (39:59):

And this was one of the first trials that was covered by the press because of the Telegraph. What were the headlines? Crazy John Brown. Terrorist, John Brown. And that's how people saw him in both the North and the South. The Richmond Enquirer said the Harper's Ferry invasion has advanced the cause of disunion more than any other event. Since the formation of the government. Think about it. White man, arming slaves? Armed slave rebellion is the slave owners worst nightmare and in places like Mississippi they're outnumbered greatly. And that is a big fear. And they wanted to squash that quickly and unmercifully.

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (41:01):

John Brown was sentenced to hang December 2nd. He has a month in jail before his trial. He spoke so well the judge commended him: well, you're guilty as can be, but not the crazy person other people thought you were. During that month he used the power of the press because they interviewed him. He sent letters. And the intellectuals up in new England, including a Henry David Thoreau, took up his cause. And Henry David Thoreau wrote "Some 1800 years ago. Christ was crucified this morning, per chance. Captain Brown was hung. He is not old Brown any longer. He is an angel of the light." Comparing John Brown to Christ being crucified on the cross for his people. Wow. We went from terrorists to martyr.

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (42:09):

Eighteen months later, the civil war breaks out. This was a spark. Because the two sides after this event would not compromise, would not talk. Congressmen were bringing weapons to the floor in Washington, DC. they were so ticked off at each other. John Brown and his way to the gallows hands at jail or a note and a note, it said, I, John Brown, and now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. Pretty prophetic.

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (43:04):

I've got one last thing for you. We're going to bring it to modern day. But have you been down to the point before I have, but let's go. Okay. Cause that's the best view and I wouldn't want you to leave Harper Ferry without seeing that.

Cindy Sealls (43:22):

John Brown was a complicated man, huh?

Harper's Ferry Tour Guide (43:23):

Very much so, but it's always interesting to hear what people have to say and get a lot of people, especially from the South. I don't want to hear about John Brown. John Brown was a terrorist. I mean that's modern day, but I had a guy come from Cuba and he talked to me. He says, ah, John Brown,Castro freeing his people. Everyone looks at him differently. I had a guy come from France, John Brown, French resistance, putting up a fight against the Germans.

Cindy Sealls (44:18):

Do we really have to record this again?

Kelley Lynch (44:23):

Yeah. I mean, we just, I know we've recorded it like five times, but I have been trying put together the end and I am failing again and again. And you know what I mean today? We talked with Tanvir already and then I spent all day trying to put that together into something that made sense.

Cindy Sealls (44:45):

It's good stuff. It's juicy, it's juicy. And it's, you know, and it's, it's not, I mean like everything in life, there's no clear answer. Right. But um yeah. What do you think?

Kelley Lynch (45:03):


Cindy Sealls (45:06):

I mean, to me, you have a very clear sense of what's right and what's wrong.

Kelley Lynch (45:12):

No, no, no. Most definitely not. And that's, that's why I have been struggling with this thing so much is because I see so many shades of gray and I just can't find, I mean, I want to stand on something that sounds reasonable and truthful, not a capital T truth, but like a small teach truth and I'm just struggling to find it. And I think what keeps tripping me up is that people might take away from this, that I see some sort of moral equivalence between what people did in the Capitol and John Brown.

Cindy Sealls (46:02):

This is the comparison. I see that when other people look at John Brown, they might see him as a murderer, a terrorist, a trader and insurgent, just like when people see those people in the capital, they might see them as traders and insurgents and some ICM is Patriots, you know, but, but we're not trying to make what we're trying to do is just say, okay, what happened there? Some of the people in the U S see that as heroism and some of the people see that as traders. And we are just saying in John Brown's time, some of the people saw that as heroism and a lot of people saw it as treason. And of course he was, he was executed. Um, and he, he did murder people or he did tell people to murder people. Um, but as I said before, I look at that like the same way I would, if some German person who saw what was going on with the Jews, got a machine gun, went up to the camp. And I know a lot of the soldiers and their families would the guards and their families would actually live at the camp and just started mowing people down to try to get some of those Jewish people out. I don't know if people would say that person's a trader to Germany, you know, there's no ambiguity in what was going on. I think, remember, we're not comparing these two things. What we're, what we're talking about is that depending on who you talk to, it could be a totally different belief about history and what happened, just like the guy said, we're in 2020. And he saying that people are coming there to Harper's ferry. And they're saying, John Brown is a terrorist is 2020. Now, imagine if we're in 2020, we know what happens. We know how it all came out. We know that there was a war that killed 635,000 people. And people are still with all of the knowledge that we have about what happened about why he did what he did. He was a hero. He was a traitor. Hero,traitor hero you know, terrorist, I mean, think about that. How many years is this? A hundred and 155 years after the war and still in this day and age, there's, there's this discussion about what was this guy? Was he good for the country? Was he bad for the country? And I guarantee you just like John Brown, 155 years from now, people will still be talking about what happened. And there'll be arguing whether those people were heroes or traitors.

Kelley Lynch (49:56):

Thanks for listening. I know our schedule has gotten way off base, but I'm working on putting together some stories that will allow me to do some different kinds of storytelling. And that means it takes longer to put it all together, but I hope you find value in what we're doing and that you'll keep checking back. If you like this episode, please do share it around. And if you would take a minute to write us a review or rate the show, we'd be really grateful. I know I say this every time, and I know it may not seem like anything important—I mean, so many podcasters say the same thing, but it's true. It does help other listeners find us. And that's part of why we're here. Just a reminder that you can always check out back episodes along with transcripts show notes and pictures like those from today's episode at our website, a new normal podcast.com. We'll be back in a few weeks with our next episode until then take care and be well.