RE-ENACTMENT OF JOHN BROWN’S FUNERAL
Documents prepared July 10, 1997
for a Re-enactment scheduled for July 12, 1997
I undertook the writing of this re-enactment paper for my friends on the Vermont Committee on the Underground Railroad. The pictures were taken on October 2, 2000, by the author.
LOCATIONS ARE GIVEN AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE TO WHERE SPECIFIC EVENTS OCCURRED.
1. Home of Joshua Young at 98 South Willard St., Burlington, Vt.
Rev. Young states that he met young Lucius Bigelow on the streets of Burlington on Wednesday, December 7, 1859. Lucius said, "It is now known that the body of John Brown will cross the lake at Vergennes. I want exceedingly to go to his funeral. Only say you will go with me as my companion and my guest, and we will take the next train." Young replied, "I will meet you at the station at four o’clock." Rev. Young went home and told his wife, "I shall go over to that funeral." "Joshua," she said, "is it wise?" "It may not be wise," he answered, "but I am going anyway."
2. Ferry at Panton, Vt.
(This is not the actual spot where the original ferry operated. The ferry was a few miles south, just outside of Vergennes.) At the train station in Vergennes, Vt., Young and Bigelow learned that the funeral procession had passed through the day before and was now nearing its destination. The two men left hurriedly for the ferry, but by the time they reached the ferry landing, a "nor’easter" had hit Lake Champlain and crossing the lake was impossible. When Young and Bigelow told the ferryman that they intended to go to John Brown’s funeral, the ferryman said he thought John Brown deserved his fate. Lucius asked, "Why, do you know any evil of him?" He replied, "No, but a great deal of good. I knew John Brown well; he has crossed this ferry with me a hundred times, and a more honest, upright, fair man does not exist; we all like him, but he had no business meddling with other people’s niggers." Young and Bigelow argued with the ferryman for hours trying to get him to change his mind. Finally, the storm broke up, the clouds cleared away and the moon lit up the waters of the lake. At this point, Rev. Young said, "The stars in their courses fought against Sisera. See, Mr. Ferryman! God’s full-orbed moon has thrown a bridge of silver across the lake; He bids us go, and who shall hinder?" The ferryman said, "Well, I will call my man and if he will get up and help me we will see what we can do." They were soon on their way to Barber’s Point in New York.
3. Barber’s Point, NY
Just after they landed at Barber’s Point near Westport, Young and Bigelow saw a light at the farmhouse. They went to the farmhouse and knocked on the door. A young man opened the door. "John Brown’s funeral," either Young or Bigelow said in haste. "We want someone to take us to Elizabethtown, if no further." The youth said, "I will if father is willing." Father was, and the three of them were soon off to Elizabethtown by wagon or carriage.
4. Adirondack Center Museum, Elizabethtown, NY
Rest stop and point of considerable interest. Check out the herb gardens in back, and be sure to look at the large contour map to see where you have been and where you are going. I also recommend the exhibits of the museum, especially the 19th century collections of tools, toys, and old vehicles. They also have a gallery which features work by local artists and photographers. In Elizabethtown, Young and Bigelow stopped to change the horses before continuing on the 25 mile journey to North Elba.
5. Home and Farm of John Brown in North Elba, NY
Young and Bigelow arrived in this house cold and shivering on the morning of December 8, 1859. Wendell Phillips greeted them and said to Rev. Young, "Rev. Young, you are a minister; admiration for this dead hero and sympathy with his bereaved family must have brought you here, journeying all night through the cold rain and over the dismal mountains to reach this place. It would give Mrs. Brown and the other widows great satisfaction if you would perform the usual service of a clergyman on this occasion." Young replied that he would.
6. Graves of John Brown and His Sons, North Elba, NY
This is the place where we intended to hold the re-enactment of the funeral which took place mostly in the house. Each section of the funeral appears below in the order used for the original services:
HYMN: BLOW YE THE TRUMPET, BLOW
Words by Charles Wesley
Sung to the tune of LENOX.
Blow ye the trumpet, blow!
The gladly solemn sound
Let all the nations know,
To earth’s remotest bound.
Chorus: The year of jubilee is come! (2x)
Return, ye ransomed sinners, home.
Jesus, our great high priest,
Hath full atonement made;
Ye weary spirits, rest;
Ye mournful souls, be glad. Chorus.
Extol the Lamb of God,
The all atoning Lamb;
Redemption in his blood
Throughout the world proclaim. Chorus.
The gospel trumpet hear,
The news of heavenly grace;
And, saved from earth, appear
Before your Savior’s face. Chorus.
SPONTANEOUS PRAYER OF REV. YOUNG RECORDED IN THE NEW YORK DAILY TRIBUNE FOR DEC. 12, 1859
Almighty and most merciful God! we lift our souls unto thee, and bow our hearts to the unutterable emotions of his impressive hour. O God, Thou alone art our sufficient help. Open Thou our lips and our mouth shall show forth thy praise. Thou art speaking unto us; in those grand and majestic scenes of nature, so in the great and solemn circumstances which have brought us together. Our souls are filled with awe and are subdued to silence, as we think of the great, reverential, heroic soul, whose mortal remains we are now to commit to the earth, "dust to dust," while his spirit dwells with God who gave it, and his memory is enshrined in every pure and holy heart. At his open grave, as standing by the altar of Christ, the divinest friend and Savior of Man, may we consecrate ourselves anew to the work of Truth, Righteousness and Love, forevermore to sympathize with the outcast and the oppressed, with the humble and the least of our suffering fellow-men.
We pray for these afflicted ones—this sadly bereaved and afflicted family. O! God, cause the oppressed to go free; break any yoke and prostrate the pride and prejudice that dare to lift themselves up; and O! hasten on the day when no more wrong or injustice shall be done in the earth; when all men shall love one another with pure hearts, fervently, and love with all their strength; which we ask in the name and as the disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.
FUNERAL ORATION OF WENDELL PHILLIPS
How feeble words seem here! How can I hope to utter what your hearts are full of? I fear to disturb the harmony which his life breathes round this home. One and another of you, his neighbors, say, "I have known him five years," "I have known him ten years." It seems to me as if we had none of us known him. How our admiring, loving wonder has grown, day by day, as he has unfolded trait after trait of earnest, brave, tender, Christian life! We see him walking with radiant, serene face to the scaffold, and think what an iron hear, what devoted faith! We take up his letters, beginning "My dear wife and children, every one,"—see him stoop on his way to the scaffold and kiss that negro child,--and this iron heart seems all tenderness. Marvellous old man! We have hardly said it when the loved forms of his sons, in the bloom of young devotion, encircle him, and we remember he is not alone, only the majestic centre of a group. Your neighbor farmer went, surrounded by his household, to tell the slaves there were still hearts and right arms ready and nerved for their service. From this roof four, from a neighboring roof two, to make up that score of heroes. How resolute each looked into the face of Virginia, how loyally each stood at his forlorn post, meeting death cheerfully, till that master-voice said, "It is enough." And these weeping children and widow seem so lifted up and consecrated by long, single-hearted devotion to his great purpose, that we dare, even at this moment, to remind them how blessed they are in the privilege of thinking that in the last throbs of those brave young hearts, which lie buried on the banks of the Shenandoah, thoughts of them mingled with love to God and hope for the slave.
He has abolished slavery in Virginia. You may say this is too much. Our neighbors are the last men we know. The hours that pass us are the ones we appreciate the least. Men walked Boston streets, when night fell on Bunker’s Hill, and pitied Warren, saying, "Foolish man! Thrown away his life! Why didn’t he measure his means better?" Now we see him standing colossal on the blood-stained sod, and severing that day the tie which bound Boston to Great Britain. That night George III, ceased to rule in New England. History will date Virginia Emancipation from Harper’s Ferry. True, the slave is still there. So, when the tempest uproots a pine on your hills, it looks green for months,—a year or two. Still, it is timber, it only breathes,—it does not live,—hereafter. Men say, "How coolly brave!" But matchless courage seems the least of his merits. How gentleness graced it! When the frightened town wished to bear off the body of the Mayor, a man said, "I will go, Miss Fowke, under their rifles, if you will stand between them and me." He knew he could trust their gentle respect for woman. He was right. He went in the thick of the fight and bore off the body in safety. That same girl flung herself between Virginia rifles and your brave young Thompson. They had no pity. The pitiless bullet reached him, spite of woman’s prayers, though the fight had long been over. How God has blessed him! How truly he may say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course." Truly he has finished, —done his work. God granted him the privilege to look on his work accomplished. He said, "I will show the South that twenty men can take possession of a town, hold it twenty-four hours, and carry away all the slaves who wish to escape." Did he not do it? On Monday night he stood master of Harper’s Ferry,—could have left unchecked with a score or a hundred slaves. The wide sympathy and secret approval are shown by the eager, quivering lips of lovers of slavery, asking, "O, why did he not take his victory and go away?" Who checked him at last? Not startled Virginia. Her he had conquered. The Union crushed,—seemed to crush him. In reality God said, "That work is done; you have proved that a Slave State is only fear in the mask of despotism; come up higher, and baptize by your martyrdom a million hearts into holier life." Surely such a life is no failure. How vast the change in men’s hearts! Insurrection was a harsh, horrid word to million a month ago. John Brown went a whole generation beyond it, claiming the right for white men to help the slave to freedom by arms. And now men run up and down, not disputing his principle, but trying to frame excuses for Virginia’s hanging of so pure, honest, high-hearted, and heroic a man. Virginia stands at the bar of the civilized world on trial. Round her victim crowd the apostles and martyrs, all the brave, high souls who have said, "God is God," and trodden wicked laws under their feet. As I stood looking at his grandfather’s gravestone, brought here from Connecticut, telling, as it does, of his death in the Revolution, I thought I could hear our hero-saint saying, "My fathers gave their swords to the oppressor,—the slave still sinks before the pledged force of this nation. I give my sword to the salve my fathers forgot." If any swords ever reflected the smile of Heaven, surely it was those drawn at Harper’s Ferry. If our God is ever the Lord of Hosts, making one man chase a thousand, surely that little band might claim him for their captain. Harper’s Ferry was no single hour, standing alone,—taken out from a common life,—it was the flowering out of fifty years of single-hearted devotion. He must have lived wholly for one great idea, when these who owe their being to him, and these whom love has joined to the circle, group so harmoniously around him, each accepting serenely his and her part.
I feel honored to stand under such a roof. Hereafter you will tell children standing at your knees, "I saw John Brown buried,—I sat under his roof." Thank God for such a master. Could we have asked a nobler representative of the Christian North putting her foot on the accursed system of slavery? As time passes, and these hours float back into history, men will see against the clear December sky that gallows, and round it thousands of armed men guarding Virginia from her slaves. On the other side, the serene brow of the calm old man, as he stoops to kiss the child of a forlorn race. Thank God for our emblem. May he soon bring Virginia to blot out hers in repentant shame, and cover that hateful gallows and soldiery with thousands of broken fetters.
What lesson shall those lips teach us? Before that still, calm brow let us take a new baptism. How can we stand here without a fresh and utter consecration? These tears! how shall we dare even to offer consolation? Only lips fresh from such a vow have the right to mingle their words with your tears. We envy you your nearer place to these martyred children of God. I do not believe slavery will go down in blood. Ours is the age of thought. Hearts are stronger than swords. That last fortnight! How sublime its lesson! the Christian heart said amen to John Brown. His words,—they are stronger even than his rifles. These crushed a State. Those have changed the thoughts of millions, and will yet crush slavery. Men said, "Would he had died in arms!" God ordered better, and granted to him and the slave those noble prison hours,—that single hour of death; granted him a higher than the solder’s place, that of teacher; the echoes of his rifles have died away in the hills,—a million hearts guard his words. God bless this roof,—make it bless us. We dare not say bless you, children of this home! you stand nearer to one whose lips God touched, and we rather bend for your blessing. God make us all worthier of him whose dust we lay among these hills he loved. Here he girded himself and went forth to battle. Fuller success than his heart ever dreamed God granted him. He sleeps in the blessing of the crushed and the poor, and men believe more firmly in virtue, now that such a man has lived. Standing here, let us thank God for a firmer faith and fuller hope.
AT THIS POINT, ANOTHER HYMN WAS SUNG WHILE THE COFFIN WAS PLACED ON A TABLE OUTSIDE THE HOUSE AND OPENED. AFTERWARD, THE COFFIN WAS SEALED AGAIN AND CARRIED TO THE GRAVE FOR BURIAL.
REV. YOUNG’S QUOTATION FROM PAUL WHILE STANDING BESIDE THE OPEN GRAVE:
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the righteous judge shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
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