Saturday, November 18, 2023

Lecture on John Brown in Westport, Dec. 6

John Brown by Southworth Hawes 1856

When John Brown Came To Westport: American Abolitionism and American Slavery Before the Civil War
A lecture with American historian, Connor Williams

Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, 5:30 PM


“The past is a foreign country,” the novelist L.P. Hartley once wrote. “They do things differently there.”

Perhaps nothing about American history is more foreign to us today than our history as a slave society. Yet that is our national truth, and our original sin. By the 1861 outbreak of the Civil War, the United States was the world’s greatest slave power. For almost 250 years Americans and their ancestors had created, maintained, and spread systems of enslavement throughout much of our nation. Indeed, it will take another 88 years before the lands of the United States will have known freedom for longer than they have known enslavement.

That was the nation into which abolitionist and part-time Adirondacker John Brown was born, matured, and martyred. And while the arcs of his life and the drama of his death still rightfully raise important discussions on the limits of activism, action, and political violence, we less often discuss the society against which all those actions were set. Today, John Brown is a timeless icon, sometimes revered and sometimes controversial. But when he came to Westport in 1859, he was a man whose beliefs and actions were inextricably linked to his times. John Brown lived and died in a so-called land of the free that had never been stronger in its systems of slavery, bondage, and abuse.

At 5:30 PM on Wednesday Dec. 6, join historian Connor Williams at the Westport Library for a lecture and discussion about America’s slave society during the Antebellum Era, with a particular focus on the events of the 1850s that most immediately precipitated John Brown’s most prominent and controversial actions. Connor will reflect on the laws that ruled our land, the passions that stirred its people, and the politics that charted our nation’s course as a slave society. Concluding his formal remarks, he will welcome questions and encourage conversation about how we might best remember John Brown’s life and the times he lived in.

FREE, $20 suggested donation to benefit the library

Made possible, in part, by the Essex County Arts Council’s Cultural Assistance Program Grant with funding provided by Essex County.

Connor Williams historian, headshot

A scholar, teacher, and advocate of American and African American history, Connor Williams shares the stories of our past to help shape the societies of our future. His historical work jointly focuses in History and African American Studies, and he researches, writes and teaches on more than two hundred years of American history, with a special focus on racial conflicts, racial politics and racial identities. In 2021 and 2022, Connor was honored to serve the United States Congress as the Lead Historian for its Naming Commission, researching the context, cause, and course of Department of Defense assets named after Confederates or the Confederacy and planning for their removal or modification. A year-round resident of the Adirondacks, Connor also serves as historian for Great Camp Sagamore, where he directs the presentation, interpretation, and preservation of a National Historic Landmark, non-profit educational organization, and former Vanderbilt estate. He uses this work to more broadly examine intersections of inequality, industry, and environmentalism in our history and memory. Connor is in the final stages of completing his PhD at Yale University.

Photos: John Brown by Southworth Hawes 1856 – provided
Connor Williams Headshot, provided

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4 Responses

  1. Linda Friedman Ramirez says:

    It wasn’t until I moved to this area that I began to learn more about John Brown and his dedication as an abolitionist. It’s difficult to imagine that the scourge of slavery existed in the US less than 200 years ago.

    • Boreas says:

      Replaced with sharecropping and Jim Crow laws, which were nearly as oppressive – in some ways more so. Reconstruction was a failure.

      • Balian the Cat says:

        No doubt, Boreas – but the fascinating saga of Lincolns assassination, the utterly false narrative built up around US Grant by the Lost Cause baloney- peddlers, and the corrupt nightmare that was Andrew Johnson frames one of the great “What If’s” in our nations history.

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