Rollin, Frank [Frances] A.
|CHAPTER IX. -- CANADA-CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN.|
IN February, 1856, he removed to Chatham, Kent Country, Canada, where he continued the practice of medicine. While his "Visiting list" gave evidence of a respectable practice, his fees were not in proportion to it. His practice embraced a great portion of those who were refugees from American slavery; income here did not exceed that acquired at Pittsburgh.
Here his activity found wider scope, and new fields of labor were opened to him. It was not likely that one of such marked character would remain unrecognized. He was ever suggesting measures tending to ameliorate the condition of one class or another, which resulted in gaining for him an influence only resulted in gaining for him an influence only surpassed by that wielded by him at his post of duty at the South.
Once, while in Canada, an important suggestion of his being adopted, it resulted in driving both candidates--conservative and reformer--together, compelling them to offer terms for the support of the black constituency.
He took part freely in all political movements in his adopted home. For several years he was one of the
These facts will render it conclusive that his activity was none the less in a country where the progress of his race met no resistance, but only varied in its method. Whatever prominence here, as elsewhere, was attained by him, was cast in the balance as an offering to his people.
Here were matured his plans for an organization for scientific purposes, which afterwards gave him fame in other lands. Here also was he connected with the beginning of a movement in behalf of human liberty, the most sublime in conception, and mysterious in its accomplishment, written of in modern times. The first was in 1858, when had been completed a long contemplated design of his--that of inaugurating a party of scientific men of color, to make explorations in certain portions of Africa.
In the early part of May, 1859, there sailed from New York, in the bark Mendi, owned by three colored African merchants, the first colored explorers from the United States, known as the Niger Valley Exploring Party, at the head of which was its projector, Dr. Delany. His observations he published on his return to this country, so that they need no repetition here, though an important treaty formed with the king and principal chiefs of Abekuta we have noticed in another portion of this work. It was the importance attached to this mission, and the successful.
In April, prior to his departure for Africa, while making final completions for his tour, on returning home from a professional visit in the country, Mrs. Delany informed him that an old gentleman had called to see him during his absence. She described him as having a long, white beard, very gray hair, a sad but placid countenance; in speech he was peculiarly solemn; she added, "He looked like one of the old prophets. He would neither come in nor leave his name, but promised to be back in two weeks' time." Unable to obtain any information concerning his mysterious visitor, the circumstance would have probably been forgotten, had not the visitor returned at the appointed time; and not finding him at home a second time, he left a message to the effect that he would call again "in four days, and must see him then." This time the interest in the visitor was heightened, and his call was eagerly awaited. At the expiration of that time, while on the street, he recognized his visitor, by his wife's description, approaching him, accompanied by another gentleman; on the latter introducing him to the former, he exclaimed, "Not Captain John Brown, of Ossawatomie!" not thinking of the grand old hero as being east of Kansas, especially in Canada, as the papers had been giving such contradictory accounts of him during the winter and spring.
"I am, sir," was the replay; "and I have come to
"The convention, when assembled, consisted of Captain John Brown, his son Owen, eleven or twelve of his Kansas followers, all young white men, enthusiastic and able, and probably sixty or seventy colored men, whom I brought together.
"His plans were made known to them as soon as he was satisfied that the assemblage could be confided in, which conclusion he was not long in finding, for with few exceptions the whole of these were fugitive slaves, refugees in her Britannic majesty's dominion. His scheme was nothing more than this: To make Kansas, instead of Canada, the terminus of the Underground Railroad; instead of passing off the slave to Canada, to send him to Kansas, and there test, on the soil of the United States territory, whether or not the right to freedom would be maintained where no municipal power had authorized.
"He stated that he had originated a fortification so simple, that twenty men, without the aid of teams or ordnance, could build one in a day that would defy all the artillery that could be brought to bear against it. How it was constructed he would not reveal, and none knew it except his great confidential officer, Kagi (the secretary), of war in his contemplated provisional government), a young lawyer of marked talents and singular demeanor."
Major Delany stated that he had proposed, as a cover to the change in the scheme, as Canada had always been known as the terminus of the Underground Railroad, and pursuit of the fugitive was made in that direction, to call it the Subterranean Pass Way, where the initials would stand S.P.W., to note
Had such been intimated, it is doubtful of its being favorably regarded. Kansas, where he had battled so valiantly for freedom, seemed the proper place for his vantage-ground, and the kind and condition of men for whom he had fought, the men with whom to fight. Hence the favor which the scheme met of making Kansas the terminus of the Subterranean Pass Way, and there fortifying with these fugitives against the Border slaveholders, for personal liberty, with which they had no right to interfere. Thus it is clearly explained that it was no design against the Union, as the slaveholders and their straps interpreted the movement, and by this means would anticipate their designs.
This also explains the existence of the constitution for a civil government found in the carpet-bag among the effects of Captain Brown, after his capture in Virginia, so inexplicable to the slaveholders, and which proved such a nightmare to Governor Wise, and caused him, as well as many wiser than himself, to construe it as a contemplated overthrow of the Union. The constitution for a provisional government owes its origin to these facts.
Major Delany says, "The whole matter had been well considered, and at first a state government had been proposed, and in accordance a constitution prepared. This was presented to the convention; and here a difficulty presented itself to the minds of some present, that according to American jurisprudence,
"Therefore it would be mere mockery to set up a claim as a fundamental right, which in itself was null and void.
"To obviate this, and avoid the charge against them as lawless and unorganized, existing without government, it was proposed that an independent community be established within and under the government of the United States, but without the state sovereignty of the compact, similar to the Cherokee nation of Indians, or the Mormons. To these last named, references were made, as parallel cases, at the time. The necessary changes and modification were made in the constitution, and with such it was printed.
"Captain Brown returned after a week's absence, with a printed copy of the corrected instrument, which, perhaps was the copy found by Governor Wise."
During the time this grand old reformer of out time was preparing his plains, he often sought Major Delany, desirous of his personal cooperation in carrying forward his work. This was not possible for him to do, as his attention and time were directed entirely to the African Exploration movement, which was planned prior to his meeting Captain Brown, as before stated. But as Captain Brown desired that he should give encouragement to the plan, he consented, and became president of the permanent organization of the Subterranean Pass way, with Mr. Isaac D. Shadd, editor of the Provincial Freeman, as secretary.
This organization was an extensive body, holding
This, he says, was the plan and purpose of the Canada Convention. Whatever changed them to Harper's Ferry was known only to Captain Brown, and perhaps to Kagi, who had the honor of being deeper in his confidence than any one else. Mr. Osborn Anderson, one of the survivors of that immortal band, and whose statement as one of the principal actors in that historical drama cannot be ignored, states that none of the men knew that Harper's Ferry was the point of attack until the order was given to march. It was Mr. Anderson whom Captain Brown delegated to receive the sword. *
(*) This sword was a relic of the revolutionary war, presented by Frederick the great to General Washington, and was kept in the Washington family until that time. from Colonel Washington, on that night when the Rubicon of slavery was crossed by that band of hero pioneers who confronted the slave power in its stronghold. The first sound of John Brown's rifle, reverberating along the Shenandoah, proclaimed the birth of Freedom. Already he saw the mighty host he invoked in Freedom's name. He heard their coming footfalls echoing over Virginia's hills and plains, and upon every breeze that swept her valleys was borne to him his name entwined in battle anthem. He saw in the gathering strife that either Freedom or her priest must perish, and with a giant's strength he went forward to his high and holy martyrdom, thereby inaugurating victory.