The Freeman Institute
Black History Collection

Discover the Powerful Images of Black History from the Ancient to the Modern












J o h n   B r o w n


No images on this page may be used without permission.  © 2005-NOW Joel A. Freeman, Ph.D.

Courtesy of The Freeman Institute

A John Brown painting recently acquired by The Freeman Institute.

[ giclee' reproductions of this John Brown painting on canvas are available ]


"Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say, let it be done."

                                                      --John Brown, statement at his sentencing on Nov. 2, 1859

"[John Brown is] that new saint, than whom none purer or more brave was ever led by love of men into conflict and death,--the new saint awaiting his martyrdom, and who, if he shall suffer, will make the gallows glorious like the cross."

                        --Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his lecture "Courage," delivered in Boston on Nov. 8, 1859


H I S T O R I C A L    B A C K G R O U N D

   John Brown was born on May 9, 1800 in Torrington, Connecticut. When he was about five years old, his father moved the family to Hudson, Ohio. There, John was filled with the heavy anti-slavery sentiment that was present in that area. This, combined with personal observations of the maltreatment of blacks and the influence of Calvinism, started John Brown on his crusade to abolish slavery.

   From a young age, Brown opposed slavery. On a trip when he was 12, he befriended a slave boy his age and became enraged to see how the boy’s owner treated him, and later said it was the spark that caused him to declare “Eternal war” on slavery.

  While still living in Hudson he married Dianthe Lusk and began to raise a family. To support his family he worked as a farmer, tanner, and surveyor.

   In 1849, John Brown moved with his second wife, Mary Ann Day, and their seven children to North Elba. He planned to aid the free blacks living in colony, dubbed "Timbucto", adjust to the hardships of farming in the Adirondacks. John Brown soon realized the impossibility of his task and abandoned "Timbucto" to follow the abolitionist movement in Kansas where five of his sons were already stationed.

   Although John Brown did not maintain permanent residence at his North Elba farm thereafter due to his anti-slavery campaigns, he returned intermittently to check on his family. The family struggled on valiantly without complaint, willing to make any sacrifices necessary to further the abolitionist cause. Mary Brown sustained the family by planting rye, carrots, turnips, and other hardy crops suited to the brutally short Adirondack growing season and by raising cattle and other livestock. This domestic produce was supplemented by various plants the family gathered from the surrounding countryside.

   After such bloody encounters as Pottawamie Creek in Kansas, John Brown began to amass arms and make battle plans in earnest for a full-fledged invasion of the South. This plan was to culminate in the raid on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, but once John Brown and his followers had captured the arsenal, they found themselves trapped. They were then captured and turned over to state authorities. John Brown was found guilty and sentenced to death. After John Brown was hung in Charleston on Dec.2, 1859, his body was returned to the Adirondacks to be interred on the Brown farm according to his wishes. Later the bodies of his sons and the bodies of ten of his associates who were killed at Harper's Ferry were also brought to the farm for burial.


[ giclee' reproductions of this John Brown painting (below) on canvas are available ]

19th Century Painting Acquired by The Freeman Institute Black History Collection

J O H N   B R O W N,  T H E   A B O L I T I O N E R

 Museum quality portrait of John Brown, the famous abolitionist who fought to end slavery prior to the outbreak of the civil war. The reverse of the painting has the information "The Abolitioner, John Brown, born 1800 died 1859". The garland  branch motif, at the bottom of the painting, was often used in artwork of the mid 1800s. We are still researching the identity of the painter.

  Here's what a John Brown author/researcher, Dr. John DeCaro, wrote about this painting: "As a biographer and scholar of Brown I can assure you that there is no possibility that Brown sat for this painting. Brown was a very progressive man and in the 1840s and 1850s, he periodically sat for daguerreotype portraits -- the early photograph.  He never sat for a painted portrait. Numerous paintings have been made of Brown, some of them very well done based on daguerreotype portraits, others inspired by those images. This painting was apparently a rendering by someone who never saw Brown...the hair and beard are stylized. It may have been done in tribute to him by an admirer (perhaps a black artist?)...." This painting is oil on wood board, measures 12" x 10" unframed and 16" x 13" in its period frame. This is unusual, rare subject matter.


We have fine art canvas/varnished giclee' reproductions
of the John Brown image above (unframed, in stock) in 3 sizes:
Click on sizes below to make your order
11" x 14" ($39)       16" x 20" ($59)       18" x 24" ($79)
Email us with your interest in quantities.

John Brown's Connection with Harriet Tubman

In addition to her nickname "Moses," for her bravery Harriet was dubbed "General" Tubman by the militant abolitionist John Brown, with whom she worked in Canada.  In 1858, Tubman met with the legendary freedom fighter, John Brown, in her North Street home in St. Catharines, Ontario (Canada) as he plotted a raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia. His plan was to raid the armory there, distribute weapons among slaves and instigate a rebellion.    When John Brown was organizing for a rebellion that he believed would end slavery, he consulted with Harriet. She supported his plans at Harper's Ferry, helped raise funds in Canada, helped recruit soldiers and she intended to be there to help him take the armory to supply guns to slaves who they believed would rise up in rebellion against their enslavement. But she became ill and was not at Harper's Ferry when John Brown's raid failed and his supporters were killed or arrested. She mourned the death of her friends in the raid, and continued to hold John Brown as a hero. Even in one of her last interviews, in 1912, she referred to John Brown as "my dearest friend."

   On the morning of October 17, 1859, Harriet Tubman was in New York having breakfast when she felt her heart beating wildly. "Something's wrong," she told her friends. "Something dreadful has happened, or is about to happen." Her friends insisted that nothing could be wrong, but she could not shake the dreadful feeling. "It's Captain Brown," she said, shivering. "Something is happening to him. Something dreadful has happened to him." Later that same day, they learned that Brown's men had seized the armory and arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. The news later in the week confirmed Harriet's worst fears. Brown and his men had been captured and would soon go on trial for murder and treason. She followed John Brown's trial with great interest, and had her friends read to her over and over again Brown's final statement to Judge Parker until she could recite sections of it from memory. After his execution, Harriet swore that she would perform some great work in honor of Captain Brown.

   She got her chance in May, 1862. Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew arranged passage for her on board the Atlantic going to Beaufort, one of the sea islands off South Carolina. There she served as a nurse in an army hospital. In February, 1863, she was attached to Colonel James Montgomery's Second South Carolina Volunteers as a scout. Although Montgomery came from a slave state, he had moved to Kansas in the mid 1850s to fight for the Free Soil party. The colonel met John Brown while fighting border ruffians and pro-slavery men in that territory. On June 2, 1863, Montgomery led his regiment on a daring raid down the Combahee River in an attempt to clear the river of torpedoes and to run off slaves in large numbers. With Harriet's help, Montgomery carried 750 slaves to freedom inside Union lines.

"Harriet Tubman's dreams and visions, misgivings and forewarnings, ought not to be omitted in any life of her, particularly those relating to John Brown. She was in his confidence in 1858-59, and he had a great regard for her, which he often expressed to me. She aided him in his plans, and expected to do so still further, when his career was closed by that wonderful campaign in Virginia. The first time she came to my house, in Concord, after that tragedy, she was shown into a room in the evening, where Brackett’s bust of John Brown was standing. The sight of it, which was new to her, threw her into a sort of ecstasy of sorrow and admiration, and she went on in her rhapsodical way to pronounce his apotheosis."   -- Extracts from a Letter written by Mr. Sanborn, Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of State

_________________________________H A R R I E T    T U B M A N__________________________________


~~~~~ A N   I N T R I G U I N G   M Y S T E R Y   P I E C E ~~~~~
Y O U   B E   T H E   J U D G E

 Is this a long lost painting of the conductor of the
Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman?

Harriet Tubman?

 the body structure


Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman?

the facial features



Harriet Tubman?

the lips and chin


Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman?

the nose and cheeks


19th Century painting of a corn-cob-pipe-smoking African American woman who bears a
remarkable resemblance to the five-foot-tall "Moses" of the Underground Railroad -- Harriet Tubman.
( more comparative photos of the real Harriet Tubman below )

  A large (18" wide x 24" tall), unsigned 19th century oil painting of an American Slave woman, most likely painted during her life. Though we are not experts on paintings we feel this is realism. Realists render everyday characters, situations, dilemmas, and objects, all in a "true-to-life" manner. Realists tend to discard theatrical drama, lofty subjects and classical forms of art in favor of commonplace themes. We are not sure who painted this woman, but we can see for certain this portrait was meant to be very realistic.

  In person, this artwork is compelling, a viewer cannot help but feel the meaning in this work. As you can see below, we are intrigued by the similarities between this oil painting and the famous Harriet Tubman. We researched artwork and famous women slaves of that era in America and found many characteristics are shared between the woman in the painting and Harriet herself.

  Did Harriet Tubman smoke a pipe? This is an important question.

  We do know that at one point Harriet was able to purchase a pair of oxen for $40 and she hired herself out in the 1840s to plow fields and also to cut and haul logs. She was one of the few women working in the forests on a timber gang, if not the only one.  Harriet worked right along side men in these efforts. Her abilities and strength were so incredible that often her white master would exhibit her feats of strength to his friends. It appears that Tubman was proud of her physical strength and prowess. Look at the arms of the woman in this painting. She is powerful!

  It is well known that Harriet carried a pistol (sometimes a rifle) when going on her rescue missions, leading people North to freedom.

  We also know that Harriet 's mother, Rit, smoked a pipe. In her book, Bound For the Promised Land, Kate Clifford Larson chronicles Harriet's attempt to rescue her family members in December 1854. She writes, " Harriet had not seen her mother for over five years, but she could not risk letting Rit know that her children were hiding but a few yards from the cabin door, lest she cause such an uproar in her efforts to detain them with her, that the whole plantation would have been alarmed...Through the little window of the cabin, they saw the old woman sitting by her fire with a pipe in her mouth, her head on her hand, rocking back and forth as she did when she was in trouble, and wondering what new evil had come to her children."

  It is not a far stretch of one's imagination that a pistol-packing, log-hauling Harriet smoked a pipe every once in a while...just like her mother.

[ giclee' reproductions of this painting on canvas are available ]

Large 19th Century painting (18" x 24") that experienced some water damage on the middle right-hand side. The painting bears
a remarkable resemblance to Harriet Tubman.
Judge for yourself >>>>

Harriet Tubman

"a woman of no pretensions, indeed, a more ordinary specimen of humanity could hardly be found among the most unfortunate-looking farm hands of the South. Yet, in point of courage, shrewdness and disinterested exertions to rescue her fellow-men -- she was without her equal." -- William Still


We have fine art canvas/varnished giclee' reproductions
of this image (unframed, in stock) in three sizes
Click on sizes below to make your order
11" x 14" ($39)       16" x 20" ($59)       18" x 24" ($79)
Email us with your interest in quantities.


  QUICK BIO: Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross; c. 1820 – March 10, 1913) was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War.
   After escaping from slavery, into which she was born, she made 19 missions to Maryland to rescue over 300 people using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. If anyone ever wanted to change his or her mind during the journey to freedom and return, Tubman pulled out her revolver and said, "You'll be free or you'll die a slave!"
   The petite Tubman knew that if anyone turned back, it would put her and the other escaping slaves in danger of discovery, capture or even death. She became so well known for leading slaves to freedom that Tubman became known as the "Moses of Her People." Many slaves dreaming of freedom sang the spiritual "Go Down Moses."
   Slaves hoped a savior would deliver them from slavery just as Moses had delivered the Israelites from slavery.  During these dangerous journeys she helped rescue members of her own family, including her 70-year-old parents. At one point, rewards for Tubman's capture was a combined total of $40,000. Yet, she was never captured and never failed to deliver her "passengers" to safety. As Tubman herself said, "On my Underground Railroad I [never] run my train off [the] track [and] I never [lost] a passenger."

   One day, when she was an adolescent, Tubman was sent to a dry-goods store for some supplies. There, she encountered a slave owned by a different family, who had left the fields without permission. His overseer, furious, demanded that Tubman help restrain the young man. She refused, and as the slave ran away, the overseer threw a two-pound weight from the store's counter. It missed and struck Tubman instead, which she said "broke my skull." She later explained her belief that her hair – which "had never been combed and … stood out like a bushel basket" – might have saved her life. Bleeding and unconscious, Tubman was returned to her owner's house and laid on the seat of a loom, where she remained without medical care for two days. She was immediately sent back into the fields, "with blood and sweat rolling down my face until I couldn't see." Her boss said she was "not worth a sixpence" and returned her to Brodess, who tried unsuccessfully to sell her. She began having seizures and would seemingly fall unconscious, although she claimed to be aware of her surroundings even though she appeared to be asleep.
   These episodes were alarming to her family who were unable to wake her when she fell asleep suddenly and without warning. This condition remained with Tubman for the rest of her life; Larson suggests she may have suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy as a result of the injury. This severe head wound occurred at a time in her life when Tubman was becoming deeply religious. As an illiterate child, she had been told Bible stories by her mother. The particular variety of her early Christian belief remains unclear, but Tubman acquired a passionate faith in God. She rejected white interpretations of scripture urging slaves to be obedient, finding guidance in the Old Testament tales of deliverance. After her brain trauma, Tubman began experiencing visions and potent dreams, which she considered signs from the divine. This religious perspective instructed her throughout her life.
  She later helped John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry, and in the post-war era she retired to the family home in Auburn, NY (sold to her by the abolitionist and US Senator, William H. Seward for $1,200) and worked for women's suffrage.
  (Read more about her connection with John Brown below)


Notice the length of her fingers in the photo (above)
compared to the fingers in the painting.
Compare the bone structures of the two faces above.

   Notice the petite size of her body & short stature (5' tall) in the photo compared to the size/stature in the painting.


Could this be a lost, genuine painting of the real Harriet Tubman?
We're not positive either way...
Even though there seems to be no historical record (that we can find) of Harriet smoking a pipe,
omehow in our minds, a "gun-toting Harriet" and a "corn-cob-pipe-smoking Harriet" might go hand in hand.

We have fine art canvas/varnished giclee' reproductions
of this image (unframed, in stock) in three sizes:
Click on sizes below to make your order
11" x 14" ($39)       16" x 20" ($59)       18" x 24" ($79)
Email us with your interest in quantities.


V A R I A B L E S   T O   C O N S I D E R   A S   Y O U   C O M P A R E
1. The photograph is a frontal shot and the painting is more of a 3/4 side view.
2. The photograph head shot is slightly larger than the other.
3. The person in one of the images might be older/younger than the other.
4. The artistic skills of the painter might not have captured the exact features a photograph can capture.

[ Any ideas? If you can offer expert advice, we will send you a number of other close-up photos of this painting. ]
Dr. Joel Freeman's contact info is at the bottom of this page.


 One Portrait Painter's Perspective: Although I'm not qualified professionally to appraise or attest to the authenticity of a piece of art, my opinion as an artist is that this is, in fact, a painting of Harriet Tubman. From my many years as a portrait artist I'd say that there are many similarities between the painting and the photograph.    These include: 
            1. The headscarf is tied over the ears in both images.   
            2. The distance from the bottom of the scarf to the top of the eyebrows is the same.  
            3. The eyelids and the "look" in the eyes are the same.  
            4. The nose is similar but the cheekbones are the same. 
            5. The slack mouth and the "pouty" look are the same.
            6. The lips and the chin the same. 
            7. The short neck and compact shoulders. 
            8. The look of defiance is the same on both. This lady isn't afraid of anybody...!!!!

  My professional, though humble, opinion as a portrait artist is that this is one and the same person, one Harriet Tubman...    
Leonard Freeman, artist

  The painting itself is about 24" high x 18" wide. The large size of the painting alone causes us to think that this was the portrayal of an important or at least a compelling/intriguing person. This painting was acquired from Arizona. The bronze colored frame is about 23 inches wide by 29 inches high. There is some writing on the back of the frame which looks like F.E.D. Deutschbein...but quite hard to make out. On the front of the painting there is a marking that has been painted over or rubbed out for some reason that states "Annual..." and some other words but they are now covered over. It also has a very old store sticker on the back of the frame which states "Gimbel Brothers, 33rd St. and Broadway, New York, N.Y. with Picture Department and the numbers 36025" which you can clearly see in the photos above. Gimbels was the flagship of all Department stores at one time and started out in 1887 but closed its doors not long ago in 1987 after 100 years of service. The painting is done on canvas board (cardboard material covered with canvas). Our research indicates that canvas boards were first manufactured and commercially available in the 1870s.

-- O B S E R V A T I O N S:
   As to the identity of the painter, we can not be sure. Someone may be able to recognize this work, however we are not experts in this field. The painting has no visible signature that we can see. We are not sure whether this was painted by a German man or woman or perhaps even a slave. The German word or name on the back would help us if we knew what it meant or where it was from at one time. But we believe it has some connection with Germany. The painting does look by all accounts to be much older than the framing. Could the previous owner have brought the painting from Germany to the United States to secure it just before World War II broke out? Or did he/she bring it from the U.S. to Germany at that time? These are questions that we would love to know the answers to and maybe someone reading this can help. Was it in a Museum in Germany? We just don't know.

   The framing is expensive by the standards of those days and not done for just any typical oil painting and especially of an American Slave. The  nails and frame have some age to them also but we still believe they are not as old as the painting and we do not believe this was the original frame. Looking at the painting itself prompts us to believe that it was re-framed at some time. The painting seems much older than the frame but then again we just don't know for sure.  We believe it is very possible that the painting may have been re-framed at Gimbels a long time ago. Also note that the antique sticker on the front of the frame says "annual..."  Why? Could it mean that this painting was in an annual show (Museum or gallery?) long ago. So many questions but to us this just makes it a more interesting piece.

In the oil painting, the colors have faded from time, through the many years. A 19th century oil painting of a female slave in portrait style and of this size is rare in itself.  However if we are correct that this woman is/may be the famous Harriet Tubman it would be a very valuable piece of History. This is not a perfectly precise painting done by a modern artist. The painter did not sign his/her name, which causes us to wonder if the painter was another slave.

   Also, the piece seems to have been done more from the heart than for photographic perfection. This is truly what makes this painting special. In the photos of the Painting, we have included authentic photographs of Miss Tubman. There are some very interesting similarities to the photos of the real Harriet Tubman and the slave Woman in the painting, so please take a close look at them all. Facial features seem to be very similar, her hair covering, her expression, and more.  She is also sitting in a different position than in any other photograph we have seen of Ms Tubman. She is very much seated for a Portrait. As you know, painters paint what they see and if they are not masters, or paint in a different method or style, the painting will not always be photographically exact in every detail.  This is a fascinating painting of a slave woman, even if it is not Harriet Tubman it is still a rare and special piece. We find her body shape to be very realistic and a great type of Realism in itself. The muscular arms and fitness of the woman is very realistic & not covered up by romanticism. 

Dr. Freeman discussing the painting at a
US Department of Justice Black History Month event

   Obviously the painter wanted us to see this woman for who she was and also what her life was like in her past. The painter was trying to show her strength. This leads one back to Harriet Tubman who was indeed a very strong and influential women. What is also interesting is that the slave woman is smoking an old hand made corn cob or wood pipe and this was commonly done by African American women of the era. She is also wearing typical clothes of an American Slave in rosy tones with a head wrap (common to Tubman) and also an apron with ruffled blouse which was all common slave wear back then. The painting was most likely brighter in the 1800's, but time has given it a unique beauty that only age can produce.

  The realism is striking in this painting. Strong arms from working in fields we suspect and weathering on her face from years of hard work. This woman had to be a tough and the painting portrays that. If this is a portrait of Ms Harriet Tubman, she had to be not only strong and fit but very courageous to take slaves from masters in the mid 19th century. Tubman knew the consequences if she were ever caught but (some say by the blessing of God) it is true that of the hundreds of slaves she freed not one was caught. Harriet worked as a union cook, scout and spy during the Civil War and was commended for her bravery.

  Of Harriet Tubman, the famed heroine, who became known as "Moses," Frederick Douglass said, "Excepting John Brown -- of sacred memory -- I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than [Harriet Tubman]." And John Brown once said that Harriet Tubman was "one of the bravest persons on this continent."

Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman 
ROCHESTER, August 29, 1868

DEAR HARRIET: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful life has been written by  a kind lady, and that the same is soon to be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a word of commendation.  I need such words from you far more than you can need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way. You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day—you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt “God bless you” has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism. Excepting John Brown—of sacred memory—I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to, those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony to your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy.  




We have fine art canvas/varnished giclee' reproductions
of these images shown above (unframed, in stock) in three sizes
Click on sizes below to make your order
11" x 14" ($39)       16" x 20" ($59)       18" x 24" ($79)
Email us with your interest in quantities.

Dr. Joel A. Freeman is the keynote speaker at many Black History presentations and cross-cultural competency
training events around the world. At the Black History Month event (pictured above) in the Washington, DC region, many
participants stayed afterwards to review documents and artifacts from The Freeman Institute® Black History collection.


  Documents and artifacts from The Freeman Institute Black History collection have been exhibited in a number of venues around North America, including the White House Communications, US Department of Justice, Frostburg State University and also at the United Nations commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade. 


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