Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Not the Battle Hymn of the Republic

Providence, Rhode Island

John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave
John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave
His soul goes marching on
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
His soul is marching on....



One of my personal heros is the abolitionist, John Brown. John believed that slavery was wrong. John thought that the American pacifist abolitionist movement of his time lacked the conviction of action. He demonstrated the sincerity of his beliefs in 1856 by murdering five pro-slavery men in the Pottawatomie Massacre. His raid on the Harper's Ferry Arsenal in Virginia in 1859 to foment a slave rebellion is often credited with igniting the American Civil War. The Harper's Ferry rebellion was meant to arm the slaves. Robert E. Lee was called upon to quash this rebellion, led, as it was by outside agitators.


So when we saw a chance to visit the John Brown House in Providence today, I became confused about the opulence of the Georgian mansion, but plunked down the admission fee. "Is this THE John Brown, or some other John Brown" I ask the guide. The guide explains that this John Brown is a very fat robber barron Providence Yankee slaver who once owned half of Rhode Island and established the nearby Brown University. My guide doesn't mention it, but this John Brown was the first person convicted under the Federal Slave Trade Act of 1794.

This John Brown got rich on the three-corner trade: sugar and molasses from the West Indies to New England, Rum from Providence to Africa and slaves from Africa to the West Indies. On one especially unprofitable trip over 100 of his cargo perished from disease and starvation and the 30 survivors brought a poor price due to ill health.


John had a piggery to eat the dregs from his rum distillery. Apolitical, he drew "first blood" in the American revolutionary war. In 1792, he hired mercenaries to burn one of King George's revenue cutters. The cutter had the effrontery to attempt to collect taxes on one of his ships that was bringing in molasses.


So, we wandered around Providence and then found a really nice place for lunch. Brown University is a lovely "ivy league" school in Providence.

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