The Chatham Convention, which took place in Chatham, Canada, over the course of two days in 1858, underscores the deep connections and vital interactions between Black convention activists and Brown, as do letters, newspaper accounts, and published narratives. We must attend to such materials if we want to get a more nuanced, complex picture of how Black thought influenced Brown.

This exhibit aims to dismantle the image of Brown as a great white savior by focusing on his interactions with Henry Highland Garnet, Frances E.W. Harper, Osborne Anderson, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Jermain Loguen, Martin Delany, Mary Brown, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass, among others.

By shifting focus from the singular figure of Brown, the martyr, to the Black convention activists who not only shaped his views, but fought, wrote, and spoke alongside him (both in meetings and on the battlefield during the Harpers Ferry Raid), we can begin to answer questions such as:

  1. Who were some of Brown’s Black allies and how did they influence his thoughts and actions?
  2. What role did these Black allies have at Colored Conventions, specifically the Chatham Convention?
  3. How were Black activists vital to Brown’s planned and attempted raid at Harpers Ferry?
  4. How can knowledge of these allies complicate and provide a more nuanced understanding of Brown not just as an individual, but as a member of an interracial, cross-gender, radical collective who strove for the complete eradication of slavery within the United States?


Written by Jessica Thelen, PhD student in English, for P. Gabrielle Foreman’s ENGL/HIST 677 class, Spring, 2019. Edited by P. Gabrielle Foreman.