The Westport Library
When John Brown Came To Westport: American Abolitionism and American Slavery Before the Civil War
A lecture with American historian, Connor Williams
Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, 5:30 PM
“The past is a foreign country,” the novelist L.P. Hartley once wrote. “They do things differently there.”
Perhaps nothing about American history is more foreign to us today than our history as a slave society. Yet that is our national truth, and our original sin. By the 1861 outbreak of the Civil War, the United States was the world’s greatest slave power. For almost 250 years Americans and their ancestors had created, maintained, and spread systems of enslavement throughout much of our nation. Indeed, it will take another 88 years before the lands of the United States will have known freedom for longer than they have known enslavement.
That was the nation into which abolitionist and part-time Adirondacker John Brown was born, matured, and martyred. And while the arcs of his life and the drama of his death still rightfully raise important discussions on the limits of activism, action, and political violence, we less often discuss the society against which all those actions were set. Today, John Brown is a timeless icon, sometimes revered and sometimes controversial. But when he came to Westport in 1859, he was a man whose beliefs and actions were inextricably linked to his times. John Brown lived and died in a so-called land of the free that had never been stronger in its systems of slavery, bondage, and abuse.
At 5:30 PM on Wednesday Dec. 6, join historian Connor Williams at the Westport Library for a lecture and discussion about America’s slave society during the Antebellum Era, with a particular focus on the events of the 1850s that most immediately precipitated John Brown’s most prominent and controversial actions. Connor will reflect on the laws that ruled our land, the passions that stirred its people, and the politics that charted our nation’s course as a slave society. Concluding his formal remarks, he will welcome questions and encourage conversation about how we might best remember John Brown’s life and the times he lived in.
FREE, $20 suggested donation to benefit the library
Made possible, in part, by the Essex County Arts Council’s Cultural Assistance Program Grant with funding provided by Essex County.
ABOUT CONNOR WILLIAMS, AMERICAN HISTORIAN
A scholar, teacher, and advocate of American and African American history, Connor Williams shares the stories of our past to help shape the societies of our future. His historical work jointly focuses in History and African American Studies, and he researches, writes and teaches on more than two hundred years of American history, with a special focus on racial conflicts, racial politics and racial identities. In 2021 and 2022, Connor was honored to serve the United States Congress as the Lead Historian for its Naming Commission, researching the context, cause, and course of Department of Defense assets named after Confederates or the Confederacy and planning for their removal or modification. A year-round resident of the Adirondacks, Connor also serves as historian for Great Camp Sagamore, where he directs the presentation, interpretation, and preservation of a National Historic Landmark, non-profit educational organization, and former Vanderbilt estate. He uses this work to more broadly examine intersections of inequality, industry, and environmentalism in our history and memory. Connor is in the final stages of completing his PhD at Yale University.
ABOUT THE WESTPORT LIBRARY ASSOCIATION
The Westport Library Association was founded in 1884 and has been serving the Town of Westport and surrounding communities continuously since then. The library provides traditional library services as well as access to e-Books, Audio-Books, Free Wi-Fi (indoors and outdoors), copying, scanning and printing. The Westport Library is governed by an all-volunteer board of trustees and is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Tax revenue covers less than 20% of the library’s operating budget. The Westport Library is a member of the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System.