John Brown discussed at presentation

PARKERSBURG – Was John Brown a sinner or a saint?

A living history presentation in Parkersburg Monday evening noted the American abolitionist had tendencies some would find admirable and others would find despicable, but people should look at the whole man to gain an insight, a guest speaker said.

The Wood County Historical and Preservation Society met Monday at the Parkersburg and Wood County Public Library where Gerry Kohler, a member of the society and retired history teacher in Wood County, discussed Brown in the first-person. She detailed Brown’s life through the massacre at Pottawatomie Creek, Kan., where Brown participated in the murder of pro-slavery individuals, to when he and a small band of followers raided the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1859, to his hanging in Charles Town on Dec. 2, 1859.

Kohler said living history presentations can be used as a teaching strategy. She has given her presentation for groups, teachers and college professors.

”My John Brown has grown,” she said. ”I love to research. Every time I do him, I find out more about him.”

Brown polarized the nation on the issue of slavery after the raid on Harpers Ferry. Kohler talked about the notable people who visited him in prison.

Kohler said she used to assign her students to compare and contrast the good things Brown did with the bad things.

”I feel like you have to know the whole man,” she said of having an informed opinion of someone.

Some accounts are starting to leave out Brown’s participation in the massacre at Pottawatomie Creek. There is no mention of it in the room dedicated to Brown in the Underground Railroad Museum in Columbus, Ohio, Kohler said.

”He was a cold-blooded murderer,” she said. ”Yes, he did wonderful things .. .but I don’t think we should forget the whole man.”

Brown was one of the few abolitionists who was calling for equality between black and white people when others wanted to end slavery and send the former slaves back to Africa and elsewhere.

”He believed in equality in that he let black men sit at the same table as him and that was unheard of at the time,” Kohler said. ”The thing that was really unheard of was letting them sit on his pew in church and he was excommunicated from his church.

”He was truly ahead of his time and there were not a lot of people who believed what he believed,” she said.

After Pottawatomie Creek, Brown was in Missouri and led 11 slaves to freedom without killing anyone.

Brown failed at several businesses and owed money to a lot of people, she said.

”He kept on the move a lot to fight slavery, but to fight the bill collectors, too,” Kohler said with a laugh.

Every time Kohler reads something on Brown, she learns something new, which leads her to more reading.

”The man is fascinating,” she said.