I have recently started doing some research for an article I want to write on how Kentuckians reacted to John Brown's raid. Being that Kentucky was a Border State, and potentially just as dangerously poised geographically as Harper's Ferry, I though that I might find some very interesting viewpoints; and so far I haven't been disappointed.
Today I was looking through rolls of microfilm of 1859 Kentucky newspapers. In an edition of the Frankfort Commonwealth I ran across an article that was a reprint from a Petersburg, Virginia newspaper. Henry Clay Pate was its author and John Brown was his target. (For information on Pate, see my July 15, 2009 post.) Here it is in its entirety:
FEROCIOUS MANIFESTO FROM HENRY CLAY PATE--His Disgust at Old Brown.-- H. Clay Pate, the Border Ruffian hero of Black jack, has published a card in reply to the charge of having shown the white feather [cowardice] to his old Kansas conqueror, Ossawattomie Brown His letter closes with the following allusion to the imprisoned insurrectionist.
As to Old Brown, he has been an outlaw all his life. Professing to be a zealous Christian, he is a fanatical hypocrite. Living at different times in almost every State in the Union, he has been everything by starts and nothing long, except as mean a man as a horse thief can be, and as treacherous as an heir of hell and a joint heir of the devil.
I said of Brown in the St. Louis Republican, in 1856: " He told me he would take the life of a man as quick as he would that of a dog, if he thought it necessary. He said if a man stood between him and what he considered right, and he considered Abolitionism right, he would take his life more coolly as he would eat his breakfast. His notions show what he is. Always restless, he seems never to sleep. With an eye like a snake, he looks like a demon. Apparently a miserable outlaw, he prefers war to peace, that pillage and plunder may the more safely be carried on. And this is a leader of the Free State party in Kansas."
There is no reason why I should change any opinion of John Brown in 1859.
If what I have said is not enough, the public need expect from me nothing more of defense with the pen. Three years ago I thrashed one coward who said I surrendered, and when he was called on for satisfaction, would not accept a challenge. I am just as able to do the same thing in 1859 as i was in 1856, and possibly a little abler. H. CLAY PATE
Petersburg, Va., Oct. 1, 1859
This article is interesting in that, if the date is correct, it was published before the Harper's Ferry raid, which occurred on October 16, 1859. It was common practice for newspapers to recycle articles from other newspapers. This is just speculation, but possibly the Commonwealth editor had remembered reading this article and thought he would make use of it in the wake of the Harpers Ferry raid while this event was the biggest story in the following weeks.
Another significant point that this article bring out is the sense of honor that Southerners seemingly put above almost all else. The article clearly states that Pate "published a card in reply to the charge of having shown the white feather." A man's honor was not to be trifled with in the 19th century South. Being labeled a coward was seen as unmanly and therefore a heinous insult. At the end of the article Pate himself confirmed the allegation, but attempted to express his willingness to disprove the charge when he said that, "I thrashed a coward who said I surrendered," and that he called "for satisfaction," but that the accuser "would not accept a challenge."
Pate went to Charlestown, Virginia to visit Brown in jail. Apparently, as one would expect, the visit did not go well. Pate was all to happy to see his old nemesis incarcerated and gloated over his capture. Brown told Pate that he had met many people braver than the young Border Ruffian, to which Pate responded by calling Brown a villain.