People Near Here; 103; Ed Cotter: Keeper of the Flame
The thing is you're listening to be able to hear one thing and look at where we stand now. It's really about where this morning with you. With the with the at
the. There used to be a lot of cabins like this one died in the Adirondacks but today the few that which have managed to survive are have been restored. Our vivid testimony to the struggles of the ordinary folk who lived in them pioneers who braved the harsh winters vehicle growing seasons and even disease for a life in the hunting beauty of the wilderness. The
family who lived in this cabin however was far from ordinary. This is the Adirondack home of the legendary abolitionist to John Brown and his family who took up residence here in 1855. The story of John Brown is an exceptional one and so's the story of the man who keeps John Brown's spirit burning bright. One hundred and thirty four years after John Brown met his maker the end of a hangman's rope in Virginia. Here then is the story of John Brown freedom fighter farmer husband and father whose earthly remains by the way rest for ever in Adirondack soil just outside that window. Keeper of the flame for a fascinating part of American history on
the eve of the civil war a war that will determine once and for all to live by the words down in the Declaration of Independence. It will be a long and bitter. But the Civil War with all its horror could only be the culmination of a movement which began in this country long before President Abraham Lincoln dedicated his office to the proposition that all men are created
equal. Beneath the high peaks of the Adirondacks in the town of North Elba more famous for its a limping history than its ties to the civil war lies the grave of a man who's lived in the past believes inequality helped light the fuse which led directly to the Civil War. John Brown's Body lies a moldering in this grave here at the John Brown farm a New York State Historic Site in Lake Placid. His legacy molders too slowly fading into little more than a curiosity of American history. But that John Brown's memory
still flickers at all has been the life's work of a fellow we thought you would like to meet. Every morning as he has done for almost 30 years Ed Carter leaves the house he shares with his wife Alice and goes to work. His commute is an enviable one for Hardly a few hundred yards away is the gravesite and Adirondack home of one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented figures in American history. And Carter is much more than the superintendent here however he is also one of the country's leading authorities on John Brown. What he lived for and what he died for when he was 12 13 14 years all he saw a black boy who he had
become friendly with. Bailey beaten and harshly treated and he swore eternal war on slavery from that time. And really I mean he had to make a living at everything. But that was seems to be throughout his life he always focused on on helping the blacks the slaves of course the jati other abolitionists that would make any difference whether. The slaves were black white red yellow or little green men from Mars and it was it was wrong a sin against God that was always taught had to be destroyed. We say by being the Lord first then John Brown was born in Connecticut in eighteen hundred and soon after his family moved to Ohio where as a youngster John Brown saw a negro boy a friend of his badly
beaten in 1820. John moved to Pennsylvania where he organized a church and built a school and served as the local postmaster. John's wife Diantha died in 1832 leaving him with five growing children. A year later John married Mary and day together John and Mary would have 13 more children. John's unceasing interest in the anti-slavery movement began to take firm hold on his life in eight hundred forty nine when he moved his family to North Elba near what is now known as Lake Placid. John wanted to be of help to a growing farming community of free blacks who had been given land here by a noted abolitionist of considerable wealth. The small settlement known as Timbuktu did not survive. But John Brown cultivated his anti-slavery feelings by traveling to Kansas they're fighting to make it a free state.
Much blood was spilled over the issue of pro slavery versus a free state in Kansas. And John Brown never shrank from the fact that he had directed his men in some of the bloodshed believing that even when it came to killing he was doing God's service. But John Brown's greatest adventure for freedom came on the night of October 16th 1859 at Harpers Ferry Virginia where he and a small band of followers black and white had raided the U.S. arsenal with the express intention of using the captured arms to continue an extensive campaign for liberation of the slaves in the south. It was a foolhardy if not noble cause.
Brown was captured imprisoned at Charlestown tried by the Commonwealth of Virginia and hanged on December 2nd 1859. It was John Brown's wish to be buried on his farm at North Elba. His wife and friends accompanied the body back to the Adirondacks where it was interred six days after his execution. Those are the facts of history. But to bring them to life you must get to know Ed Carter who has spent a huge chunk of his life here at the John Brown farm getting closer and closer to a man he will never meet. But how about 1855 for John Brown by his side while Henry hops up with ready to be lived and probably not complete but ready. In June of 1855.
This was the house they moved into. 1855 it's pretty much what it was when they lived here there were four small downstairs in the kitchen and here we have a dry sink. And they use the yolk here to carry water and the water came from spreading out the side here. One reason why John built the house here was because water was close by where you know all the antiques come from. Most of the state purchased at one time or another. Some were donated and some of them are things that were reproductions that we would purchase three years trying to fill it up. What's over here. Oh this is like kitchen table. Like they would have trout potatoes apples things like that. Jugs for water. Water bowls. People called salad bowls or not they were for making butter of
course in their day. Now I don't think I've ever seen a stove like this before that's that's what it's called a stop store were elevated up and Robins up on top here. Heat goes up around. Very proud like that oil and this bed like this have been this bed over here was probably John and Mary says as close as we can tell. OK have you noticed how small you are back this is of course are filled with straw. You know it's really taken off the fields in a way that we have here what we call a bed ranch beds of course have ropes on them when they got old age sag and you take this you tighten them up your ropes up to make your own flat against the cold bed rich. Yes and have what we have today. Now what's down the hall here and down here unless we have the parlor what we call the parlor door and they're still lives here. Yes it is very
like it. Really this is the parlor here the only room but I don't emerge from the Brown family like this desk even had a desk that was still in the House and this is maybe the room where the kids would you probably remember the slates of course the one schoolhouse down here. What about like the rocker here the rocker is a Lincoln style that sits on the house. Yeah this was here when John Brown lived right on the set of cane chairs in this case and some of the books that belonged to the Brown family. Like this I have been here yes. Patton 1855 it's a period piece and it's with the platform and well it wasn't too cold war here got to about zero but you know 25 30 below here and of course
close course is always not everybody had a fairly called an air day. And all of the materials here from the site. Yes it was over the hill here. It is of course the kids. How many kids. Probably five or six year more partitions off here at one point. Little cubbyholes here I guess now. If nature called in the middle of the night and you were a kid you lived here what were the options. Well you took your life in your hands went out to the outhouse or you used what everybody had on their bed chamber pot like we have here. Oh here we go in from this infamous chamber pot right. And you took him out in the morning and washed him out. I notice there is no insulation in the no no it's nation came quite late really.
So if it were 20 below and you were living here in the wilderness in the John Brown house you had your ticket right in a blanket or two three four breakers four and they were wearing probably all their clothes the bed or flannel like maybe two people two or three pair a wool socks with a very bitter cold. Which would be a three dog night right in the House of course is is well built but you know what the wind howls out here you know 20 30 below zero your house shakes if you ever meet like like any other one. But still I mean in the middle of the wilderness this has had to look like the Hilton Hall probably did but it's interesting you know the John Brown did not spend a lot of time here at the farm. You know he did not he came and went you know from. Well we'll see the end of June or early July or something. 1855 until 50 million toys left to go down to Harpers Ferry right he'd come and spend a week or two weeks maybe a few days here and there.
But there was always of course you know the boys were here you know they were growing better at the time of course to run a farm and take care of it. They had partly hired help to adore during this period. They had to go and farm most of these farms were self-sufficient really had maybe one or two cows mostly for the wrong one of the big crops up here was and still is the only crop here potatoes it was a starch mill down over the hill here and they sold to make starch. Apparently Simon Brown said it was time to get 20 cents a bushel for potatoes. Good money good money very good money to him. I was couple sawmills in town of course things like that some lumbering going on but not too much at that early period. What was the feeling left in this household when John Brown walked out that door over there on his way to Harpers Ferry. The family of course knew what was going on apparently
even younger children do. He did try to recruit here but in fact he tried to recruit demand and bought this house later Lexus Hinckley who had a farm up on the Hill here and he tried to recruit certainly at least one of the blacks that lived there a lemon EPS Absa wouldn't go we could have anybody believe his family that's what he did. He didn't go. Probably most of the people as far as we can tell agreed with him. We probably didn't agree with you that violence to do it but the greed. You know that slavery was wrong. Some of the people here were definitely abolitionists. Some of them said no you're you know you're just causing trouble you know. But most of them I think probably agreed that you know something had to be done and you know and somebody had to do it in other words they didn't seem to be really down on it at all even afterwards. The family fared very
well here really. What's it like finding yourself now being a caretaker to a significant footnote in American history. It's different. It's you get both sides here you get it by brown people and you know you get all pro. It's very very hard for anybody to take the middle course and they deal with really very very hard. Everybody has their own personal opinion of course. If you're down from down south a lot of people you know are anti Brown and still fighting a civil war really and blame him for starting it which is just not true at all. Of course slavery was a thing that started American Civil War. John Brown was just a figurehead. One of the things in there that's all he was he was there but he manifested the reality. No question he was the one that when he was awarded a debt that rated into that sacred cotton
self's there and stepped upon their sacred soil in trying to free their slaves their property that's why nobody else had really ever done that before. He was the first one to do it. A lot of north hollered about it and talked and everything else but nobody did anything. He was a want to write one right down in there. And he would have gone further of course. His plans were of course to the raid further into the cells. But of course he was captured there. The North has forgotten about the South is not Big John wanted to be very right worry is right for a large boulder. I think he wanted it really here because this little open area where the farm was in amount was of course coming up all around the perimeter here. Which game I think a sense of freedom. He was buried of course here. And the following spring directed his grandfather's headstone which he had shipped up here from Connecticut.
So this is his grandfather's head start was Rich's grandfather why why was that important. Well his grandfather had been with George Washington the revolution defending New York City gets a British. He died there in the cause of freedom. And John of course believe that the same thing that's what he wanted. So this is the place that the famous place where John Brown's Body lies a moldering in the grave. You know probably don't know anybody at all but this is it. But this is not the John Brown that the song was originally written about. No no the song was written about a Scotsman with the name of John Brown he was in a volunteer army unit in Boston Harbor in 1861. They had a singing group. He was in it and sooner or later they thought to put words to the soul more or less teasing the Scotsman John Brown. They got a pack upon his back. Schachter exciter the other units in the Army not realizing a thing about the Scotsman John Brown heard
beans song and chorus put it right away to the abolitionist John Brown and became of course associated with him forever really. And the tune to that song John Brown's Body lies a moldering in a grave went on to become the Battle Hymn of the republic. Julia Ward Howe wrote about him was a friend of John Brown her husband had water in one of his financial backers in the great Harpers Ferry. She was in Washington D.C. and heard a song being sung by troops marching. A minister was there said you could write more appropriate words to that. And she said she woke up in the middle of night and wrote down these words which she called her poll but it later became a famous song about a republic. You know me you know. Eat eat eat
eat eat eat low gain was the air was sweet. Eat was the memory of John Brown's life and deeds has faded over the years. The day a springtime visit from a local grade school is the only surviving tradition. But it wasn't always this way. For decades beginning in 1920 two members of the John Brown Memorial Association arrived by the bus load every May 9. John Brown's birthday was to pay their respects and to celebrate John Brown association to taper off over the years.
When I came here one thing first time spring and I think 65 we had I think four like large Greyhound buses full of people. Eight or ten cars. They had a piano out here and we used to bar chairs from the arena 50 or 75 chairs speeches made singing of stuff like this. But throughout the years the older people that had been in it for many years were starting to die off and younger people were just not that interested. And here about 10 years ago it was the last time they ever came who was only six or eight of them at that time. That was basically by the end of the John Breaux War Association. Now just a couple of days ago May 9th was John Brown's birthday. What did you do that bake the cake and nobody came No nobody was here.
Once in a while in recent years you'd see if the if the site is closed was say on a Monday or Tuesday or if it's on a Sunday Sunday morning we're not open when you come out. Sometimes you'll see some flowers hang on a little bouquets of Di's wildflowers hanging on the gate in the grave or this side the grave is open so time somebody will put a few flowers on his grave by years ago we only had large floral reefs and things like this little boy stuff. Did you get this feeling too why did he do it.
Why did he sacrifice certainly to do it for himself. You negate anything short of course. Last two songs or three songs really want to carry to Harpers Ferry. But his family saw a lot of things and he did it really and the whole family did because they really believed in something something very very really very very precious. It's something that our country is really founded upon. We fought for this I mean I was a sort of a soul. So it was something that you just got to believe in a world that I can't just sit back and say you know or forget about everybody else just doesn't work. John Browne has been gone now for over 130 years. Yet the cause he died
for has yet to be fully realized. That's why we wanted to show you this place tucked away in a corner of the Adirondacks and perhaps it's why we all might be grateful for the work of Ed Carter who for almost 30 years has been the keeper of the flame for a fascinating footnote in American history. If that cutter has piqued your interest in learning more about John Brown his life his times and the extraordinary needs you might want to visit the John Brown fireman State Historic Site here in Lake Placid New York it's easy to
find really. Just look for the Olympic ski jumps along Route 73 in Lake Placid and then follow the highway historical markers to the farm. The site is open from late May through late October Wednesday through Saturday is from 10:00 until 5:00 and Sundays from 1 until 5. The grounds are open all year however and sports some nice hiking trails as well as cross country ski trails. There is no admission charge and a historic interpreter is on site during the season. If you'd like to read up on the life and times of John Brown before your visit and highly recommend this book to purge this land with blood. The full scale biography of John Brown by Stephen Oates published in 1970 by Harper and Row. Most good sized libraries have it in their collection. We'd like to thank you for tuning in and we hope that you'll be with us again next time when videographer Paul Frederick and I introduce you to some more
interesting people near here. Me.
- People Near Here
- Episode Number
- Ed Cotter: Keeper of the Flame
- Producing Organization
- Mountain Lake PBS
- Contributing Organization
- Mountain Lake PBS (Plattsburgh, New York)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This episode visits the preserved North Elba, NY, home and burial ground of 19th-century abolitionist John Brown as told by historian Ed Cotter. Cotter tours the home while recounting John Brown's life and legacy. The episode also features educational outreach programs at the home.
- Series Description
- People Near Here is a documentary series that explores Adirondack history and culture.
- Asset type
- Copyright 1993 Northeast New York Public Telecommunication Council, INC
- Media type
- Moving Image
Camera Operator: Muirden, Derek
Editor: Frederick, Paul
Producer: Muirden, Derek
Producing Organization: Mountain Lake PBS
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Mountain Lake PBS (WCFE)
Identifier: 0068A (MLPBS)
Format: Betacam: SP
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “People Near Here; 103; Ed Cotter: Keeper of the Flame,” 1993-00-00, Mountain Lake PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 29, 2024, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-113-8605qt60.
- MLA: “People Near Here; 103; Ed Cotter: Keeper of the Flame.” 1993-00-00. Mountain Lake PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 29, 2024. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-113-8605qt60>.
- APA: People Near Here; 103; Ed Cotter: Keeper of the Flame. Boston, MA: Mountain Lake PBS, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-113-8605qt60