Commemorating Brown And Turner In Northern California
by Jean Libby, Palo Alto


Out here in northern California we have substantial John Brown history through the emigration of Mary Day Brown, her daughters Annie, Sarah, and Ellen, and her son Salmon in 1864. Their wagon train was harassed by Confederates along the way, out for revenge against Brown's making the Kansas-Missouri border unsafe for slavery from 1856 to 1859. At one point the family was protected by Indians who knew who John Brown was and his war on slavery in Virginia; at another, they were protected by African Americans from Indiana who were emigrating to California as well.

The organization Allies for Freedom, a group of teachers, researchers and writers looking for the African center of the John Brown raid, are commemorating John Brown and Nat Turner on May 6 with a ceremony at the gravesite of Mary Day Brown in the Madronia Cemetery in Saratoga, California. This was her last home, as well as that of her daughters Ellen Fablinger (whose property is now the Civic Center of the town of Cupertino) and Sarah Brown, who taught English to Japanese farmworkers in the early 1900s. Both Sarah and her mother had line jobs for the San Francisco Mint (living on Larkin Street in San Francisco) during the early 1880s but were fired on the direct orders of President Grover Cleveland when he was removing Republicans from "patronage jobs." Sarah later also did cannery work in the Santa Clara valley, as her personal orchard did not pay enough to sustain her and her mother.

Sarah and Ellen have a single headstone, "daughters of John Brown." Mary has a prominent monument at her death in 1884 with the words "wife of John Brown of Harper's Ferry." One of the employees of the cemetery is preparing a brochure of the twenty members of the Brown family who are buried there.

While many know of John Brown's daughter Ruth and his sons Owen and Jason, the later life of his widow and younger children are less known. However, Victor Hugo (among other French humanitarians) was able to find her in 1874 to present her with a Gold Medal, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives made his way to her door in 1865.

Invited speakers to the May 6 event include Daniel Rosenberg, author of "Mary Brown: From Harper's Ferry to California" and Dr. Herbert Aptheker, who will present an invocation to John Brown and Nat Turner. California members of Allies for Freedom will be there as well.

Jean Libby is a community college history teacher in northern California and editor of John Brown Mysteries, a nonprofit publication by Allies for Freedom, published in 1999 by Pictorial Histories Publishing Company of Montana.

new abolitionist society
copyright 1999