John Brown and Hayti

John Brown was not a madman to shed blood when he knew the penalty for so doing was his own life. In the opening he had sense enough to know better than that, but wanted the citizens of Virginia calmly to hold arms and let him usurp the government, manumit our slaves, confiscate the property of slaveholders, and without drawing a trigger or shedding blood, permit him to take possession of the Commonwealth and make it another Hayti. Such an idea is too abhorrent to pursue.

Andrew Hunder, representing the Commonwealth of Virginia, The Trial of John Brown, Charlestown, Virginia, Monday, Oct. 30, 1859.

… [John Brown] had posted himself in relation to the wars of Toussaint L’Overture; he had become thoroughly acquainted with the wars in Hayti and the islands round about; and from all these things he had drawn the conclusion, believing, as he stated there’ he did believe, and as we all (if I may judge from myself) believed, that upon the first intimation of a plan formed for the liberation of the slaves, they would immediately rise all over the Southern States.

Testimony of Richard Realf (Officer with John Brown’s Provisional Government), before the Senate Committee Investigating the Attack at Harpers Ferry, January 21, 1860.

The journals contain the following letter from VICTOR HUGO, which he had written in response to a communication addressed him by three citizens of Hayti, in Paris:


CITIZENS OF THE REPUBLIC: I thank you for the eloquent terms in which you have addressed me. Your words reach my heart. A white and a black Republic are sisters, the same as a white and black man are brothers. There is only one humanity, because there is only one God. The French Republic had negroes among the representatives of its people; and that is the one thing that made it above all glorious.

I have been sadly deceived in that fraternity of races, the Southern States of the American Union. In killing BROWN they have committed a crime which will take place among the calamities of history. The rupture of the Union will fatally follow the assassination of BROWN.

What an event! What a disaster!

I am afflicted at heart in thinking of this crime and this fault.

As to JOHN BROWN, he was an apostle and a hero. The gibbet has only increased his glory and made him a martyr.

Black and white, all brothers, all equal, let us rally more and more around that principle of all principles — Liberty. Your friend, VICTOR HUGO.

I love your Republic. Let your people know it.

In Jacmel, Gonaives, Cape Haytien, Cayes and Port-au-Prince, religious services had been held in commemoration of JOHN BROWN, and Le Progress published appeals calling on the people to subscribe liberally for the benefit of the widow of the executed man.

Le Progress also contains an address to the “Philanthropists of America,” in which special allusion is made to Albany, N.Y., in the following terms:

“Citizens of Albany, the cannon you fired to commemorate the death of JOHN BROWN has reechoed in the hearts of Haytians and of the strangers in our land, and reverberates through our fields and cities. Your energetic protest against an act of barbarity does you the greatest honor, as it evidently proves that there exist in the American Republic courageous men devoted-to the holy cause of the freedom of the blacks. Receive, then, the sincere thanks of the citizens of the Republic of Hayti — a Republic that its enemies on another continent represent as always in ruin. Albanians, the Haytians are without prejudice: they receive without hesitation all who come to join them. It is by our conduct, and by that alone, that you can find arguments capable of refuting the assertions of those enemies of humanity who decry us.”

Letter from Hayti, New York Times (March 3, 1860)

From Le Progres, in Hayti, comes an article calling upon people to go to “the subscription offices opened in every town, to honor the memory of John Brown and glorify our race….From the opposite shores of our harbor our fathers, the brave soldiers of 1804, are contemplating us.  They are touched with joy and delight.” March 16, 1860

“John Brown in Hayti,” The Liberator (March 16, 1860)

Image: Augustus Washington, John Brown with Subterranean Pass-Way Flag, Quarter-plate daguerreotype, circa 1846/1847. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

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