"THE FIRST PUBLISHED ACCOUNT OF JOHN BROWN'S LIFE AND TRIAL": RARE FIRST EDITION, FIRST PRINTING OF THE LIFE, TRIAL AND CONVICTION OF CAPTAIN JOHN BROWN, 1859, ORIGINAL FRONT WRAPPER WITH WOOD-CUT ENGRAVED PORTRAIT OF JOHN BROWN
BROWN, John. The Life, Trial and Conviction of Captain John Brown, Known as "Old Brown of Ossawatomie," With a Full Account of the Attempted Insurrection at Harper's Ferry. Compiled from Official and Authentic Sources. New York: Robert M. De Witt, (1859). Octavo, original wrappers, original stitching as issued; pp. 100.
First edition, first printing, issued almost immediately after Brown's conviction in the Harpers Ferry raid and published the week before his execution, featuring substantial eye-witness accounts, biographies of Brown and others, and extensive trial transcripts, along with a rear section on “Negro Insurrections” containing a Norfolk newspaper's August 1831 coverage of the 1831 Nat Turner rebellion, in original wrappers with wood-cut engraving of Brown on the highly elusive front wrapper, along with eight full-page woodcut engravings within.
"John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, was the most spectacular event of the 1850s" (Finkelman, Slavery in the Courtroom, 188). The Harpers Ferry raid "was for many a jeremiad against a nation that defied God in tolerating human bondage. It sent tremors of horror throughout the South and gave secessionists a persuasive symbol of northern hostility. It hardened positions over slavery everywhere. It helped to discredit Stephen A. Douglas' compromise policy of popular sovereignty and to divide the Democratic party, thus ensuring the election of Lincoln in 1860" (ANB). W.E.B Du Bois, in his 1909 book, John Brown, simply declared that above all: "John Brown was right" (338). "Du Bois' startling pronouncement thunders through American history… Brown sparked the war to a degree that no other American did… he kept alive the revolutionary spirit that ran from Puritan antinomianism through the founding fathers' resistance to tyranny to the self-reliant nonconformity of the Transcendentalists… Indeed, 'John Brown was right'" (Reynolds, John Brown, ix, 505-6).
Brown "was indicted on October 25, a week after the invasion was put down, and was placed on trial the same day. On October 31 he was found guilty," and was quickly executed on December 2, 1859. He notably left behind a "prophetic and simple summation," of the event, writing: "I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think; vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done' [original emphasis]… This book was the first published account of John Brown's life and trial. The first edition [this copy] appeared a week before Brown's execution… Life, Trial and Conviction was prepared in only a few weeks. It contained engravings of Brown and his associates and sold for twenty-five cents" (emphasis added.) Following biographical sketches of Brown and others in the raid, "the bulk of the book is devoted to the attack on Harpers Ferry and Brown's trial… descriptions of the attack on Harpers Ferry and the trial in this book come from eye-witness accounts, letters, recorded public statements and trial transcripts. What emerges is the clear desire of the Virginia authorities to ensure a speedy execution of Brown… the forms of a fair trial were present in Brown's trial, but little of the substance." The book also "contains a short history of various slave revolts in the South, including that of Nat Turner… and transcripts of interviews with Brown… most importantly, it allows Brown and the participants in the raid and trail to speak for themselves" (Finkelman, 188-195). First edition, first printing: with "Conviction" (instead of "Execution") on front wrapper and title page; woodcut-engraved portrait of Brown on front wrapper; eight full-page woodcut engravings within; publisher's advertisements on front wrapper verso and rear wrapper. A subsequent 108-page edition contained an account of the execution, Brown's will, and Cooke's confession (Finkelman, 192-93). Howes B851. See Sabin 8519; Eberstadt 137:74; Blockson 9666. Small bit of early ink drops to one leaf.
Text and plates fresh with light scattered foxing, marginal expert paper repairs to a few leaves of text; expert restoration to margins of original paper wrappers.