02 03 John Brown Kin: Interesting Questions That I Have Been Asked Over the Past 10 Years 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Interesting Questions That I Have Been Asked Over the Past 10 Years


Jean Libby, renowned John Brown Historian and friend, has been giving out my contact information for the past 10 years or so to people interested in talking to a descendent of “the old man”. During this time, I have been asked some interesting questions by historians and lay people alike. (answers follow at end of article, if you are interested)

A Historical Nutritionist asked me:

A Historical Seamstress asked me:

These two questions seem to pop up in all talks about JB and my family:

But one of the most interesting and thought provoking questions was asked of me just last month:

Even though your family did not discuss or embrace the JB connection, do you feel that your family was affected by the connection? In a good way or a bad way?

I had never really giving this any thought before, and I was caught off guard when asked this question. Hmm . . . how had JB affected my life without being a part of my life?

After a little bit of thinking I realized that whether consciously or unconsciously, John Brown’s core values have indeed been passed down through the generations.

John Brown believed that everyone deserved an education – Many of his descendents have taught English As A Second Language. John Brown’s daughters Annie and Sarah taught at colored schools in the North and in Japanese worker schools in California. His great grand daughter Alice Cook Hunt taught ESL for years in her youth, and is currently continuing that trend at the age of 94.

John Brown believed in equal rights for men and women - My siblings and I grew up without gender stereotypes in our home. Both of my parents cooked, cleaned, did laundry, took care of the kids, and shared the many mundane duties of keeping a house. We girls were never discouraged from helping dad fix the car, lay cement, repair small appliances or putter in the yard. My brother learned to cook, shop, clean and sew. Our household was equal opportunity. We were always told that we could be and do anything that we wanted, period. Gender was never an issue in our upbringing.

My husband and I have continued that trend with our boys. When the children were little Fred and I created a list of life skills that we felt all children needed to master before age twenty one. Included on this list were cooking, shopping, basic sewing skills, ordering wine in a restaurant, reading a map, ironing clothes, taking care of a baby, changing the oil in a car, and balancing a checkbook. Again, we made no distinctions about gender roles, my husband and I felt that the boys needed to know all of these skills. We are sure that their future wives will thank us later.

John Brown believed that everyone should be able to live together, help each other and be a true community – Numerous examples of this exist in the John Brown descendents. Bertha and George Cook assisted the local doctor with baby deliveries in the Humboldt County area of California. Bea and Paul Keesey would save the better melons for the unemployed father of five who lived down the road and eat the “hog melons” themselves. I grew up in a multicultural community. My grade school was populated with kids of numerous descents, religions and colors: German, Egyptian, Swedish, Korean, Italian, Portuguese, American Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, Baptist, Atheist, White, Black, Red, and Yellow. My class pictures look like mini United Nations. I was exposed to numerous foods, cultures and religious beliefs: I wasn’t aware of differences; I just accepted that people came in all colors, sizes and types.

My children (great great great great grandsons of JB) have been raised in a truly cooperative community. We have lived in the same house for 18 years, know all of our neighbors on the court, and take care of each other. We borrow tools from each other, we help with harvest of backyard gardens and the canning of veggies, we help children learn to ride bikes, we assist when someone is sick, we celebrate when someone is happy, and we comfort when someone is hurt. We are a community.

So YES, John Brown’s core values have had an impact on my life, and the raising of my children. Thanks JB, your spirit was with us even we when didn’t know it!

Answers to questions:

What types of food were eaten by JB and his family?

They ate what everyone else in that era ate; what was at hand, what could be grown and preserved, what could be bought or bartered. They raised sheep and cows. They grew vegetable gardens, wheat, and corn. They foraged wild fruits and vegetables.

While John Brown was very fond of corn mush and Johnny cakes, there was never a time that they subsided solely on these foods as some historians have incorrectly stated.

How did they cook their food?

Cast iron pots on wood burning stoves or hanging over the large fireplace which seem to dominate one wall of all houses of that era. While traveling he cooked over an open fire.

How was food preserved?

Meats were salted, smoked or dried into “jerky”, wrapped in cloth and stored in the coldest most protected room in the house. Fish was salted or smoked. Some fresh fruits were dried, but most were eaten fresh. Wheat was ground into flour. Vegetables where mostly eaten in season. Root vegetables properly stored could be stretched from one season to the next. Milk was consumed fresh, butter was churned as needed. Cooking lard was rendered, saved and reused.

Do I have any family recipes handed down from JB’s time?

No. Most middle to lower class cooks of the 1800’s did not possess written recipes or cook books. While the printed cook book was increasing in popularity in the big city within the home of the high class, most nineteenth century cooks would be insulted at the thought that they “needed” a cook book.

I do have a few recipes from my Grandmother Bea and my great Grandmother Bertha that were written out by watching Bea and her sisters cook. Measurements are not standard – more a feeling about how much of ingredients to add

What type of clothing was worn by JB and his family?

Simple, plain, sturdy clothing was the norm. Most suits and heavy skirts were of wool. Shirts, blouses and dresses were of cotton, linen or light weight wool. Most woolen items were white, grey, black or brown depending on the color of the roving’s used. Cotton came in a variety of colors in the 1800’s, but the Brown family wore darker colors exclusively.

Did they spin their own yarn, weave their own fabric and sew their own clothes?

Yes, we know that Mary spun wool when John noticed her. Spinning wool, cotton and flax was commonly done by the women and children of households in the 1800s. Weaving of cloth for clothing, tablecloths, sheets, bed ticking, etc was also common. Clothing was often sewn at home for the family.

Why didn’t your family talk about the connection to JB?

There are many reasons why the family kept it secret. Shame about the connection to “Bleeding Kansas” and the stigma attached to the hanging as a traitor. The misunderstanding about Mary and her children “begging for money” when they moved to California. The fact that Annie forbid her children and grandchildren to speak about it at all.

How do you feel being related to an American Historical Figure?

When I first learned about the connection, I was not really impressed – I really did not know much about him, only what I had learned in school. Now that I have researched and studied him and his children in depth, I am proud to stand up and say “I am related to an important American, John Brown”.

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