19th-Century John Brown Archive

Value (2004) | $25,000 Insurance

This is John Brown the abolitionist, famous for his attempts to free the slaves prior to the Civil War.

And how do you descend from him?

I'm his great-great-great-great-granddaughter. Four "greats."

Okay, well, what we have here is a letter to his business partner, Samuel Perkins, from 1848. And most interesting is the letter here to his son John. Now, he was born in 1800 in Connecticut. He died in 1859. He had 20 children, many of whom didn't survive him, but many of whom did. This is his son John. And he's writing a very personal letter to him. He writes, "One word in regard to the religious belief of yourself and the ideas of several of my children. My affections are too deep rooted "to be alienated from them. But my gray hairs must go down to the grave, in so unless the true God forgive their denial and rejection of him in their eyes." It's incredible revelatory content, very personal, written from a father to his son, but also from a person who is so important to American history. As you mentioned, he was a lifelong abolitionist, but not until he was in his 50s did he become very radical. He was a very mobile person throughout his life. We see that this letter is written in Springfield, Mass. This one was written from Kansas. In Kansas he was involved in killing five pro-slavery men. He then moved back East and was involved in the famous raid on Harpers Ferry, when he was caught by Robert E. Lee and eventually executed. The amazing thing about this photograph is it's inscribed "Your affectionate father, John Brown. 1859"-- the year that he died. Now, I imagine that you would keep these in your family and you want to know how to preserve them.

That's correct, yeah.

Well, the best thing is to keep them flat, unfolded, as you've done, to have them in Mylar sleeves or in acid-free envelopes, well protected. It's a shame about the water damage to that. It would be tough to clean it up and I'm not sure I would want to, if I were you. You kind of want it in the way that it exists...

Right. It's been through a flood, so...

Well, if I were to place an insurance value on the group, I would say, because of John Brown's relative rarity, in terms of letters with important personal content like this, I would place an insurance value of $25,000.


Thanks for bringing them in.

Thank you.

They're fantastic.

Appraisal Details

New York, NY
Riverrun Books & Manuscripts
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY
Appraised value (2004)
$25,000 Insurance
Portland, OR (August 21, 2004)

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