Oct 19 2009
THE NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY PRESENTS JOHN BROWN: THE ABOLITIONIST AND HIS LEGACY
THE NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY PRESENTS
JOHN BROWN: THE ABOLITIONIST AND HIS LEGACY
SEPTEMBER 15, 2009 – MARCH 25, 2010
Exhibition marks the 150th anniversary of the
epoch-making raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia
New York, NY, September 15, 2009 – When John Brown led his now-legendary raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859, hoping to secure weapons for a slave insurrection, he failed in his immediate goal but succeeded in raising tensions to a fever pitch between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces. The conflict he had intensified, and which he had now come to symbolize, would lead by 1861 to secession and civil war.
One hundred and fifty years after John Brown’s raid, the New-York Historical Society in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History presents the exhibition John Brown: The Abolitionist and His Legacy, exploring the beliefs, activities and continuing significance of this critical figure, vilified by some as a murderer and venerated by others as a martyr.
On view from September 15, 2009 through March 25, 2010, this exhibition of rare materials from the Gilder Lehrman Collection and the New-York Historical Society also sets the stage for the culminating presentation of the Historical Society’s Lincoln Year, with the landmark exhibition Lincoln and New York, opening October 9, 2009.
"John Brown’s attack at Harpers Ferry convinced Southerners that their political and economic survival was threatened, while outrage over his execution rallied and unified Northern abolitionists,” according to Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “As we continue our year-long celebration of Abraham Lincoln, we hope these extraordinary and seldom-seen materials will not only shed light on Brown himself but will help illuminate events that led to Lincoln’s election in 1860."
“John Brown: The Abolitionist and His Legacy examines Brown in the context of growing national divisions over slavery in the 1850s,” commented James G. Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. “Most African Americans and abolitionists saw John Brown as a martyr for a noble and humane cause. Others saw him as a terrorist who attacked legal institutions and was willing to kill to achieve his goals. This exhibition invites people to examine the tension between these divergent views at the critical moment in American history, with repercussions down through the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century.”
John Brown expected that his attack on Harpers Ferry, carried out by both white and black raiders, would inspire enslaved people to escape from plantations across the South. According to his plan, the former slaves would join him in safe havens in the mountains, where he would arm and train them for guerrilla warfare. The loss of slaves and the fear of insurrection would destabilize the South and build political support in the North.
On Sunday, October 16, 1859, Brown led twenty-one men (sixteen of them white and five black) to Harpers Ferry, Virginia, where they captured the armory, arsenal and rifle factory. A local mob quickly surrounded the town, preventing the raiders from escaping, while federal troops led by Robert E. Lee rushed to the scene. On Tuesday, October 18, soldiers successfully stormed the stronghold, seriously wounding Brown. He was tried and convicted of inciting slave insurrection, treason against Virginia, and murder. Before being hanged on December 2, 1859, Brown wrote prophetically: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”
Visitors to the exhibition will encounter manuscripts never before exhibited, including dramatic letters by John Brown to his followers; a letter by Frederick Douglass praising Brown but distancing himself from the raid; Brown's parting words on the eve of his execution; a letter from the mother of a Kansas murder victim, damning Brown on the scaffold; and reminiscences by Brown's children and other eyewitnesses.
Lending dramatic context to these materials are powerful images, such as the 1859 sculpture “The Slave Auction” by John Rogers; the heroic 1867 painting by Thomas Satterwhite Noble, "John Brown's Blessing"; photographs of Brown and his family members; photographs of his supporters, the "Secret Six"; and photographs of other key participants. Among the other important objects on view will be a "John Brown Still Lives!" broadside from 1859; a rare printing of the Emancipation Proclamation; a 1926 lynching poster; and other artifacts of the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras.
The majority of the objects in the exhibition are drawn from the Gilder Lehrman Collection, currently on deposit at the New-York Historical Society.
Related programs at the New-York Historical Society
January 23, 2010
LINCOLN & EMANCIPATION: AN ANNIVERSARY SYMPOSIUM
An all-day conference offering fresh analysis from leading historians to mark the 147th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Programs are developed with grant funds from the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program.
About the New-York Historical Society
Established in 1804, the New-York Historical Society (N-YHS) comprises New York's oldest museum and a nationally renowned research library. N-YHS collects, preserves and interprets American history and art; its mission is to make these collections accessible to the broadest public and increase understanding of American history through exhibitions, public programs, and research that reveal the dynamism of history and its impact on the world today. N-YHS holdings cover four centuries of American history and comprise one of the world's greatest collections of historical artifacts, American art, and other materials documenting the history of the United States as seen through the prism of New York City and State.
About the Gilder Lehrman Institute
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History promotes the study and love of American history. The Institute serves teachers, students, scholars, and the general public. It helps create history-centered schools, organizes seminars and programs for educators, produces print and electronic publications and traveling exhibitions, sponsors lectures by eminent historians, and administers a History Teacher of the Year Award in every state through its partnership with Preserve America. The Institute also awards the Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and George Washington Book Prizes, and offers fellowships for scholars to work in the Gilder Lehrman Collection. For more information, please visit www.gilderlehrman.org.
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, N.Y. 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 365
Fax: (212) 873-7473
New York Painting Begins: Eighteenth-Century Portraits
John Brown: The Abolitionist and His Legacy
Lincoln and New York