John Brown remembered in Chatham, Ontario

I found the following story through And I have to say I was a bit surprised. But, maybe it's not so surprising after all. Read it and see what I mean.

Relatives share stories of former area leaders

By Holly Lake

Shaking hands with history is one of the better ways to remember the time and the people that came before us.

It was a fitting title, therefore, for the seminar and celebration that took place at the W.I.S.H. Centre Saturday.

“Shake Hands with History” was organized by local historian Gwen Robinson and members of the Heritage Room.

The annual John Brown seminar celebrates the life of a man who some say changed the course of history with his actions at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. This year’s event saw participants literally shaking hands and becoming acquainted with three descendants of participants in Brown’s convention held in Chatham in 1858.

The convention was a move to solicit support from blacks and whites alike for the 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. Their goal was to free the slaves and establish a free state.

Chatham was chosen because of its proximity to the American border and for its large, affluent and educated black population.

“It was a wonderful thing that happened in Chatham,” Robinson said.

Of Brown: “He was truly a martyr in the cause of freedom.”

Dennis Howard of Springfield, Virginia came to Chatham to share stories of his ancestor Osborne Perry Anderson.

Anderson was the only surviving member of Brown’s army of liberation in Harpers Ferry. The Pennsylvania-born African American came to Chatham in the early 1850s because of weakening rights for free Africans in the United States. He was one of about 50 influential black community members and leaders Brown rallied for support.

At Harpers Ferry, Anderson helped to capture slaveholding hostages, including Lewis W. Washington, the grand-nephew of President George Washington.

After Brown was surrounded, Anderson escaped. All other members of Brown’s army were killed or captured.

Anderson returned to Chatham where he told his tale to Provincial Freeman editor Mary Ann Shadd. The result was a special publication called ‘A Voice from Harpers Ferry.’

Many believe the 1859 raid helped launch the American Civil War which began less than two years later.

“He’s an enigma,” Howard said of Brown. “He’s race neutral and to me, it’s irrelevant that he was black*. What he did transcended race.”

Renee Cochee of Culver City, California is a descendent of James Monroe “Gunsmith” Jones.

At Brown’s convention, despite being warned against it, Gunsmith decided to provide Brown with guns.

Cochee said Gunsmith lived in Chatham most of his life, but fled to California just before the raid.

“My ancestor was afraid that his small part in the raid would be discovered,” Cochee said.

l of time researching their roots.

Because of this, they know all too well there is more than one way to tell the story of the past.

Howard said he was 44 before he learned that he was related to Anderson because the real story of what happened at Harpers Ferry was never taught to him in school.

“I’m angry about that to a certain extent,” he said.

That’s why opportunities to share are so important.

All three want their ancestor’s contributions remembered and agree that’s best done through folklore and oral tradition.

Without that, the story of the past dies.

“This shows that our lives have meaning,” Howard said.

“These people didn’t live and die for nothing.”

He’s made sure his children are well versed in the story of their ancestors.

“If I can pass this on while there’s life in my body and I’ve run a good race, then I’m happy,” he said.

But not only is the seminar about sharing, it’s about making connections.

“We’re all linked in a common extended family,” Howard said. “It gives you a sense of yourself, who you are and where you come from.”

*I'm sort of at a loss for this comment. I think they meant to say "it's irrelevant that he's white". Otherwise, it makes no sense. Specially considering that John Brown WAS white!! Well, I guess everyone is entitled to make mistakes.

What do you think? Go into my political forum and tell me.

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