In the early 1850s the African American abolitionist William Wells Brown wrote _St. Domingo: Its Revolutions and its Patriots_, much of it while in England on a speaking tour. There are excerpts from _St. Domingo_ here and here.

The first includes this quote from Toussaint L’Ouverture: “You are now to meet and fight enemies who have neither faith, law, nor religion. Let us resolve that these French troops shall never leave our shores alive.” The second, about Jean-Jacques Dessalines, says “Nearly all historians have set him down as a bloodthirsty monster, who delighted in the sufferings of his fellow-creatures. They do not rightly consider the circumstances that surrounded him, and the foe that he had to deal with.” Those seem to me like pretty daring statements for a freed black writer to quote in the early 1850s. What I find particularly interesting in this is the combination of three elements – the publicly voiced approval of violence, the invocation of history,
and the internationalism/transnationalism. Wells Brown’s remarks came very shortly before Bleeding Kansas and just a few years before John Brown’s raid. It strikes me that Wells Brown’s description of Dessalines is quite similar to his description of the maroon character Picquilo who Wells Brown depicts joining up with Nat Turner in a passage in _Clotel_ (177), a quick google search turns up some articles suggesting Wells Brown was deliberately invoking Haiti in that passage. Interesting.

On a second look, the stuff on Dessalines may be from a later work. I’ll have to read the St. Domingo book and find out.

Edit again:

Turns out Wells Brown published a book in 1866 called _The Negro in the American Rebellion_which has a chapter on John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. That book’s online at google books, if you want to read it. Wells Brown probably worked on this book while the Civil War was going on; John Brown’s raid and the violence of the Civil War were both very much within immediate living memory at the time.

Wells Brown drew attention to the African Americans who fought alongside John Brown in the raid on Harper’s Ferry. He quoted a letter that John A. Copeland wrote while in jail after the raid. Copeland, who Wells Brown called “a genuine lover of liberty and justice,” wrote to his brother referring to “the gallows which I see staring me in the face, and upon which I am so soon to stand and suffer death for doing what George Washington, the so-called father of this great but slavery-cursed country, was made a hero for doing while he lived.” Copeland compared Washington to John Brown. He said that George Washington “when dead his name was immortalized, and his great and noble deeds in behalf of freedom taught by parents to their children. And now, brother, for having lent my aid to a general no less honorable and glorious, I am to suffer death.” Copeland added “black men did an equal share of the fighting for American independence” during the American revolution, but did not get freedom from doing so.

Like Copeland who he quoted, Wells Brown also praised John Brown. Wells Brown drew a comparison to the American Revolution, saying “let no one who glories in the revolutionary struggles of our fathers for their freedom deny the right of the American bondsman to imitate their high example.” He said about John Brown that Americans “cannot refuse equal merit to this strong, free, heroic man, who freely consecrated all his powers, and the labors of his whole life, to the help of the most needy, friendless, and unfortunate of mankind.” Wells Brown compared John Brown to the biblical story of the Good Samaritan and said John Brown was even better.

Wells Brown referred to John Brown’s raid as an attempt “to burst the bolted door of the Southern house of bondage, and lead out the captives by a more effectual way than they had yet known.” He called John Brown a “noble old man” and referred to John Brown’s “heroism.” Wells Brown said the raid on Harper’s Ferry “shook the prison-walls from summit to foundation, and shot wild alarm into every tyrant-heart in all the slave-land.” The raid “struck a blow that rang on the fetters of the enslaved in every Southern State, and caused the oppressor to tremble for his own safety, as well as for that of the accursed institution.”

Edit again:

An 1860 report from an abolitionist society in the US. On p163 there starts a discussion of Haitian responses to the raid on Harper’s Ferry and John Brown’s execution. Intersting stuff.