Veronica Golos

Issue #
February 18, 2013

From the 'Lost Letters': John Brown to Mary Day Brown, 1857

Lawrence, Kansas, Sept. 7, 1857

Sir, we are earnestly engaged in perfecting an organization for protection of the ballot box at the October election. Whitman and Abbot have been East after money and arms for a month past; We want you, you and all the materials you have. I see no objection to you coming into Kansas publicly. I can furnish you with such a force as you may deem necessary for your protection here and after you have arrived.

Now what is wanted is this: Write concisely what transportation you require, how much money, and the number of men needed to escort you into the Territory safely; and if you desire it I will come up with them.

Yours respectfully,
J. H. Lane

September 16, 1857

My dear Sir,

Your favor of the 7th is received. I had previously written you expressive of my strong desire to see you; as to the job of work you inquire about, I suppose three good teams, well covered wagons, 10 real ingenious industrious men, and about $150 in cash could bring it around in the course of 8 to 10 days.

Very respectfully, your friend
John Brown

Actual Documents between J.H. Lane and John Brown


Here is a vote to
matter. Freedom from and
free to go. Here in Kansas
we show
what we are, or not.

* * *

From The Lost Letters: John Brown to Mary Day Brown
September 16, 1857

My Dearest Wife,

I have answered as best I can to our friend in Kansas.
I know this life I’ve given you is hard, very hard.
There are some things a man has the courage
only once to say; the hour must be right and urgency
enough to overcome his natural decorum.

You were young when first we found ourselves
together. I was in need, as you guessed, of a
mother for my brood, and strong helpmate to
the farm. You were all that, it is true. Six-
teen you were, and hardened to work and

toil, and I a man twice your age. I have come of late
to think on that. I never asked, never thought
to inquire what great desire you might have
secreted within yourself, what tender place
you might have hid from others; from myself.

Of the Great Task we set ourselves, (and in this
I ask your steadfast honor to our
just and merciful Cause) I must, as God wills,
place myself at the head—and  again away from you
and the children.  Kansas is the knife-point;

shall we be a Free State, or shall we continue this Sin
of slavery?  There are men yet in Kansas
who are not confirmed against the soul
killers, those who thieve human
flesh. I think of what we have seen—

those bodies you have tended—
men’s backs torn and ripped from the whip,
an ear sliced, tongues cut out; and worse, I fear,
for those women whom you, so gentle, led into
the barn to tend.

Mary: This is the battle. One for which I am called.
There are moments when vision is so clear
as if through time itself; half dream and half sight.
I hesitate to say what I see, so dire it seems: The land
in blight; the people stunned.

What shall I do then, but to fight?  But Mary, I mean
to tell you this: Truly, my heart is split as wood cleaved
by axe. When at night, we spread our blankets before
the  kitchen’s fire,
you in white nightgown,

your hair falling down and down,
and together we make our peace,
and the children who come from it, I am filled
with what I think is joy, at least I believe it so.
I’ve never leaned toward love,

never sought it out.  All has been given to living,
and to this Cause. But there is this inexpressible,
this privacy to you, a place you go when, for a moment,
your labors are done. I have seen you stand as still
as a deer waiting for gunshot. I would tell you Mary,

before I depart
and enter Kansas once more—where all may be called into question—
I have seen you.

Your Husband, John Brown

(Found August 29, 2012)

Note: The first two letters are actual historical correspondence between Gen. J.H. Lane and John Brown. The italic introduction poem, and the Epistolary poem from John Brown to his wife are from a new manuscript, tentatively titled, Root. Work.  The poem was originally commissioned by Patricia Spears Jones for The Black Earth Institute, and subsequently was a finalist in the 2013 Split This Rock poetry contest.

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