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Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2013, Volume 34

"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864

Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4
Complete Issue: The Anglo-African (16 January 1864)
[Unsigned], "John Brown's Vision of the Future" The Anglo-African (16 January 1864): [2]View Poem Image
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This is being represented on canvas by a lady artist in
When Kansas, still bleeding[3] With wounds that were made, And Freedom, while pleading, On her altars was laid—
One hero immortal Stood forth with the brave, In Liberty's portal Her children to save.
But vain was his arm, Though strengthened of Heaven, In ruthless alarm Her friends were all driven.
Then he sank in distress By night on his pillow, While the deep visions press Like the ocean-moved billow:
"Arise, to thee, hero," said the voice; "It is time Look yonder? our token on high— The scroll that thou seest in future sublime Thy mission to earth shall untie.
He look'd—and a daughter of Africa's race Had received the sealed scroll from the cloud, And the hope of the future illumined her face, Though the tempest grew darker and loud.
Then he sprang to his feet at her bidding to hear The mission the gods might decree, And struck from his eye the fresh starting tear As it glanced on the flag of the free.
But she told him, "that flag wou'd rudely be torn, Dissever'd by parricide hands, Till thousands on thousands beneath it should mourn, For the South would reject its commands.
"The scroll that I give you shall then be unsealed, That moment the slave shall be free, And your mission, now hidden, will then be revealed, By the scroll here presented to thee."
The hero received with a hand on his heart, With the other he grasp'd the bequest; And the symbolic power the scroll could impart Forever was hid in his breast.
Then the blue vault of heaven as morning appeared, Glowed bright as the dark shadows flee, Where the smouldering walls of Sumter[4] upreared The flag of the Land of the Free.
And 'neath the palmetto's broad shadow there rung Wild shouts through the welken of joy From troops of dark maidens who merry songs sung While bonfires their shackles destroy.
Around the red fires were children in play, With bloodhounds who barked with delight, For the rollicking urchins discover'd that day That the dogs no longer could bite.
So the roar of their merriment waken'd the morn, And a prison loom'd grim on the right, Where Africa's hero, chain'd as in scorn, The vision had cheer'd with its light.


  1. Determined to make war on Southern slavery, militant abolitionist John Brown (1800–1859) organized and led a raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia (October 16–18, 1859), with a view to sparking slave uprisings throughout the South. In the years before the attack, Brown played a significant part in the deadly raids and reprisals that made Kansas Territory "bleed" as proslavery and free soil factions fought to define the identity of the state-to-be. (Brown's settler sons called for means to protect themselves from proslavery Missourians; when Brown took weapons west, he found a sense of divine purpose.) In 1858 he developed the Harpers Ferry plan with the covert assistance of a group of Northern abolitionists known as the "Secret Six."
    On October 16, 1859, Brown and his band of twenty-one volunteers succeeded in seizing the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, but the raid was quashed after a brief, intense fight between raiders and the militia. Slaves did not flock to Brown's side as he had hoped. After his capture, he was imprisoned and then tried at Charles Town. Initially he dismissed these legal proceedings as a "mockery" (quoted by David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the American Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights [New York: Knopf, 2005], 348). His words and bearing during his last days made an enormous impact on public opinion in the North and South. In the words of historian David Reynolds, "[t]he raid did not cause the storm. John Brown and the reaction to him did" (309). As a result of Brown's extraordinary performance, Northerners "began to see in Brown a hero" (357). Brown was sentenced to death on November 2; six days later, in a lecture delivered on November 8, 1859, Ralph Waldo Emerson declared that Brown would "make the gallows glorious like the cross" (366). Brown's execution on December 2, 1859, confirmed his martyrdom. Once war broke out in 1861, the song "John Brown's Body" "quickly became a Union favorite" (Franny Nudelman, John Brown's Body: Slavery, Violence, and the Culture of War [Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004], 14).
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  2. The artist was "Miss Hoyt of Brooklyn" (identified in the Anglo-African of February 20, 1864). According to an unidentified Anglo-African correspondent, Hoyt designed the painting for the Ladies' National Union Fair—a fundraising event in aid of freedpeople and soldiers, held at the Academy of Music in Brooklyn, February 8–9, 1864. Although the fair was declared "a decided success," Hoyt's painting was not sold. As a result, "Justice" offered a suggestion in the Anglo-African of February 27:
    "Mr. Editor—In your number for Jan. 16, 1864, you published a poem entitled 'John Brown's Vision of the Future,' which was said to be in the course of representation, on canvass, by a lady artist. If you have seen the painting I need not say to you it is almost a chef d'ouvre—a triumph of American art. Competent judges valued it at $150 to $200. The managers of the Freedmen's Fair . . . did not succeed, for want either of time or energy in making a sale. But since the Fair, they, or one of the managers, has claimed the picture at $30. Now, Mr. Editor, as this lady artist is the only one to my knowledge, who has dared to place the emancipation before the artist world, by representations of the colored race, is it not important that some other reward than the above should be meted out?'" ([1])
    The columns of the Anglo-African give no clue as to whether the suggestion was taken up.
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  3. According to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, territories would be admitted into the Union as slave or free states on the basis of popular sovereignty. The act thus undermined the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and provoked a bloody contest between proslavery and free-soil settlers who rushed to Kansas in an attempt to determine its status.Go back
  4. Fort Sumter dominated the entrance to Charleston Bay, as the centerpiece of the harbor's defenses. War began when Confederates bombarded Sumter's federal garrison (April 12–13, 1861); as a result, the fort acquired special symbolic significance for both sides (E. Milby Burton, The Siege of Charleston, 1861–1865 [Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1970], 184). Union forces attacked Sumter several times during the war, as part of an ongoing attempt to capture Charleston. One enormous bombardment continued from late October until early December 1863.Go back