The band Kansas released their first, self- titled album in 1974 and you should listen Carry On My Wayward Son now. Really, do it. Behold.
Here is the cover:
And this is the 1940 mural Tragic Prelude by regionalist (my favorite kind!) painter John Steuart Curry on a wall in the Kansas statehouse:
You can read a scholarly article, “Kansas and the Prophetic Tone” by Mitchell Morris, if you’d like: (I found it on Jstor.) It is about the band more generally but refers to the mural’s “ambivalent ferocity.”
Some claim the song, Carry On My Wayward Son is about John Brown. I don’t think we know if that was the intention of the writer, but like the fella says, it’s all about the beholder.
In 1842 Ann Lynch Coppoc of Ohio suddenly became a young Quaker widow with six children (Levi, Maria, Edwin, Lydia, Barclay and Joseph). Left without much means she had to accept help and split the children up to to live with various friends and relatives. Eight years later, about 1850, she inherited $100 and used it to reunite her family. Many Quakers were moving west and settling in Iowa where the government was selling land for $1.25 an acre so she got her children together and moved to the area that would become Springdale, in Cedar County. The oldest boys, Levi (18) and Edwin (15) built the house and started a farm.
Within a few years Ann married Joseph Raley, a widower with four children (Eliza, Jordan, Absalom and Asenath) and he came to live on her farm. Like many Quakers, Ann opposed slavery and her farm became a “station” on the Underground Railroad where many freedom seekers stopped on their journey north. Even though Iowa was a free state, the Fugitive Slave Law meant no one with brownish skin was safe anywhere in the country.* Ann was an outspoken, rabble rousing kind of Quaker and her sons learned from her. However not as she intended, Levi, Edwin and Barclay all got in trouble with the Quaker meeting for dancing and fighting and being unrepentant about it. Levi became Springdale’s first constable. At some point Ann also ran a store in town. Over the next several years Maria, Lydia and Levi all died of tuberculosis.
When little Ann Lynch was about five, Thomas Jenkins was born in Virginia where he worked as a slave. Later he was taken to Tennessee, then Missouri.
Meanwhile, John Brown (1800-1859) like Ann, grew up in northeastern Ohio and by the 1850’s completely dedicated his life to the abolition of slavery. He was not a Quaker, but he was on a mission from God and he believed that violence was required as morality and politics had failed. The cause of abolition brought John Brown to Springdale, a town of Quakers who hated both slavery and violence.
After participating in bloody guerilla warfare in Kansas (and here I am glossing over a great deal of mass killing) the eleven men of Brown’s militia spent the winter of 1857/58 in Springdale. They boarded with a family on a local farm while Brown himself went back east to raise money and support. The men studied military books, read poetry, and did drills out in the yard with guns and wooden swords. They dated the Quaker girls. For entertainment on long winter nights they held mock legislatures and debates that the community attended. That winter is when Edwin and Barclay Coppoc got involved.* Jeanette Mather Lord reports how fondly the elders spoke of that winter with the interesting and passionate young abolitionists in residence.
Despite striking contradictions, the radically pacifist Quakers loved John Brown. Did they not understand his position on violence? Did they somehow mentally separate his aims and his means? Or did they secretly support his use of violence? Lord discussed this with her mother. Basically, John Brown inspired confidence:
The meeting “were united in their testimony for peace…in their efforts to free the slaves and in their disapproval of the use of force by Brown. They spoke their minds frankly and forcefully at every opportunity without fear. Yet, Mother would continue, when John Brown stated that he felt he was called by the almighty God to deliver the nation from Slavery and that his mission was “divinely appointed,” the Friends could not doubt him. With their belief in the “Inner Light” and “that of God in Everyman” the Quakers expect one’s conduct to be in agreement with the inner revelation. The individual must assume full responsibility for his spiritual decisions. Hence they responded to John Brown with an unwillingness to judge him or to set themselves up against him As Brown walked among them, they shared the burden of his soul, the great weight of the shackles of the thousands of men in bondage.”
Early in 1859 John Brown and his men came through Springdale again, this time with a group of twelve enslaved people they’d forcibly liberated from farms in Missouri. Federal marshals and vigilantes were in hot pursuit but never caught them. The freedom seekers were secretly transported in a boxcar from West Liberty to Chicago and John Brown personally saw them cross the border to Chatham, Ontario. A baby was born during the trip and named John Brown. Another young couple from the group were married by a local magistrate while in Springdale. Here they are in a studio portrait many years later:
In October of 1859 John Brown and his small militia, (including Edwin and Barclay Coppoc – their friend Elza Maxson, from Springdale, arrived too late) carried out their raid on the United States Arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. The grand plan was to seize the arsenal and use the weapons to arm a huge slave insurrection and despite their wholehearted intent, they failed. Barclay was among those that escaped. Edwin was among those caught.
Perhaps just before the raid in the fall of 1859 Thomas Jenkins had “some kind of trouble” with his master and escaped on foot even though it meant leaving his wife and child behind in Missouri. He said that he walked at night, following the North Star, and slept hidden in cornfields during the day. He ate raw field corn to survive. He finally arrived in Springdale in November and Lord wrote that his feet were so frozen his boots had to be cut off. As soon as he could he continued on to Canada. He certainly must of gotten an earful regarding the Springdellian’s (just made that up) old friend, “the Old Man,” John Brown. He a could easily have still been recuperating in the Springdale area on December 2, when Brown and Edwin Coppoc were executed by hanging.
On the day of Edwin’s execution a friend came to be with Ann who let her in and said, “I’m glad thou art come. Edwin was hanged at one o’clock today.” On December 3, Barclay Coppoc came home. He had been in hiding and was still being pursued by authorities so from then on he was always armed and under the protection of his also-armed friends. He was read out of the meeting for carrying a weapon. In 1861 Barclay joined the Union army and was killed when Confederates burned the train trestle he was traveling across. I don’t know if you are keeping count, but this left Ann Raley with one child, Joseph, who was also put out of meeting for bearing arms. Two of her husband Joseph’s children were long grown and married and the third, Jordan, classified as “idiotic” on the census, remained at home.
Good old Springdale, Iowa, now only a wide spot in the road, where Thomas Jenkins arrived in 1859 and chose to return to a decade or more later, was not any old Springdale. It was a real hot spot and kind of bonkers, with religious people going all out as best they could and not always getting it right. Or maybe they did.
Another story, kind of related but not perfectly: George and Maria Tyler and eight of their children were one of the other Black families that returned to settle in Springdale after the war. They had been sold away from each other and managed to find each other and most of their children after they were free. George was at Pikes Peak (you know, the Gold Rush) with his master when they got word of John Brown’s execution. Apparently the master, Colonel Johnson, turned and handed George his papers right there. George, Maria and some of the children are buried at North Liberty Cemetery, also near Springdale and literally around the corner from the house Brown’s men stayed in during the winter of 1957/58.
* The Fugitive Slave law was basically a bounty system, not unlike the new abortion law in Texas. Under it Black people could be detained if suspected of being runaways and had to be returned to their owners. If an owner was not found and the person could not prove somehow that they were free they were auctioned off on the courthouse steps. So making it to Iowa was good, but they were still being pursued.
*in other times and circumstances we would say they were “radicalized.”
There are a few brief accounts of Tom’s life based on his own telling; Jeanette Mather Lord’s and a couple of short pieces that ran in local newspapers. The article I put in the link above includes the only known photograph of him
Here is the basic outline of his life: Thomas was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, where he recalls sitting in his mother’s lap after seeing his father being whipped by their master. He told her that when he was grown he would be free. She told him to be careful to never say that to anyone else.
He was taken to Missouri (but perhaps first to Tennessee) and enslaved there as well. In about 1859 he had some sort of trouble with his master in which “Tom got the better of him.” The Muscatine Journal obituary continues, “He decided then and there to make a break for liberty.” Thomas left behind his wife and child and travelled north on foot at night and slept in cornfields during the day. He ate field corn to survive for three months.
When he reached Springdale in November (his goal since hearing of it through the grapevine in Missouri) his feet were frozen and his boots had to be cut off. He recuperated there long enough to continue on his way to Canada. At the end of the war Thomas returned to the U.S. and found his wife, but she had remarried so he settled alone in Springdale.
Lord recalls that Tom bought the house just east of the school and lived “alone with his cow, sometimes a calf, his chickens, ducks,” and his black and tan terrier, Dinah. “The house was used in common by all. I cannot say I ever saw the cow in the house, but I have seen the calf in the kitchen drinking from a dish placed on a chair. In the summer the door stood open and the fowls and animals crossed the threshold at will.” Thomas also brought Dinah into Quaker Meeting with him.
When he was about eighty Thomas went to live at the Cedar County Farm because he couldn’t manage at home any longer and that is where he died in 1902.
Everything else I have learned about Thomas Jenkins just hangs on this framework of information. And because I am the one asking the questions, the information I’ve put together just serves them – maybe there is a way to avoid that kind of bias but I didn’t.
Lord, Jeanette Mather, “Thomas W. Jenkins,” Iowa History Illustrated, Summer 2009, pp 87-88, an excerpt from “John Brown: They Had a Concern” West Virginia History, 20:3, April 1959, pp.163-83.
“Death of Uncle Tom” The Muscatine Journal, 12 December 1902, Fri. p.3. newspapers.com
“Thirty Years Ago” Clarence Sun, Cedar County, Iowa Thursday December 8, 1932. advantage-preservation.com
West Branch Times, Thursday July 12, 1900
“A Visit to Springdale” DesMoines Daily News, December 12, 1896, p.2. newspaperarchives.com
Springdale Friends Cemetery, Springdale Township, Cedar County, Iowa
Thomas W. Jenkins
Called As A SlaveRichard Lewis
Died Dec. 9 1902
Aged 83 Years
Seriously, Uncle Tom? You can’t just call someone Uncle Tom.
What was his name, really?
If he changed his name, why put put both on his gravestone?
Why was he buried in Springdale?*
This probably has something to do with Quakers.
I first saw this gravestone in 1979 – and have returned many times to find it just as puzzling as ever. Several yards away is another that reads:
Ann L. Raley
The Mother Of The Coppoc Boys
The Coppoc/Raley family was famous for a while because two of Ann’s sons were part of John Brown’s militia that raided the Harper’s Ferry arsenal in 1859, one of the sparks of the Civil War. One of them was hung beside John Brown, for treason.
These clearly aren’t just memorials, they’re captions for people who had remarkable lives.
The pandemic provided me with ample time to develop a deep obsession with tracking down information about Thomas. I know that he was a conservative Quaker, and a former slave who self-emancipated in about 1859. He was born enslaved in Culpeper County, Virginia and later taken to Missouri. He had a daughter, Emily, who lived and raised her family nearby in West Liberty, Iowa until her husband died in 1913. Tom was about forty when he freed himself and spent another forty in Springdale enjoying “untramelled freedom and the esteem of his friends,” according to one of his obituaries. For the last few years of his life he was cared for at the county poor farm, where he died.
I am determined to figure out who enslaved Thomas – not because that person deserves attention, but because that is the key to understanding the first years of Tom’s life, and it is a very interesting, illuminating life. It will place him in a particular location and community. He carried his slave name, Richard Lewis, throughout his life because it was a connection to his life before the war. My obsessive hunt has included time in archives (during the 2021 summer COVID hiatus), field trips to cemeteries, to the beautiful Missouri countryside that used to be full of plantations and now many ghosts. I also went out to the old county poor farm, and spent lots and lots and lots of time making spreadsheets and pondering and poring over records that are available online. So stay tuned. And please contact me with any questions, comments or collaborations.
*Springdale is an unincorporated town in eastern Iowa with a Methodist church, and that’s about it besides a clump of houses. In the mid-1800s it was a major Quaker settlement and a nest of abolitionists. The Springdale Friends Cemetery is half a mile up a gravel from the spot my family lived in the 1980’s.
Both of my grandmothers were called Dorothy. My father’s mother was Florence Dorothy – she used her middle name, and this Dorothy, my mother’s mother, had no middle name. She was just Dorothy, pronounced with three full syllables. She was mild-mannered, earned a masters degree late in life, and worked as a reference librarian. This grandmother, who I called Grandmother, was from Wichita.
I finished her portrait a couple of years ago and then finished it again recently. I like to just keep adding layers and in this case the final layer was uncolored encaustic wax on just her face and neck. Even more so in person it has a nice built up, flesh-like semi-matte texture that clouds her a little. I thought the likeness was pretty accurate when I was done painting, but she looked too crisp. Not that she had no crispness in life, just that she had many, many layers of self-possession in effect at all times.
She had an adorable way of wrinkling up her nose impishly when something was funny. (I hesitate to bring that up because then when I look at the way I painted her nose I think it looks too straight and skinny. But I’m not fixing it again.) She said, “I eat my peas with honey, I’ve done it all my life. It makes the peas taste funny but it keeps them on the knife.”
This one usually followed: “There was a fox in the hen house one night. The farmer heard a commotion and ran out to save the chickens. He knocked on the door and yelled, “Who’s in there?!” The fox answered, “No one but us chickens.”
Inez Dell Auld was the twin of Ina Bell and like her sister she never married. Bell and Dell had an older sister, Carrie, who died of pnuemonia when they were two. When the twins were four their mother gave birth again and this time it was triplets, but that is another story.
Dell was a talented pianist and moved from Kirkville, Iowa to Boulder in the 1920s to major in musical performance at the University of Colorado. But before she finished her studies she was called home to care for her aging parents as had been their plan all along. Maybe she didn’t mind, but I don’t believe it. She became the town piano teacher. She liked the Bible. She liked the color blue.
My memories of Aunt Dell are all at the retirement home she moved to when she was about sixty, around the time I was born. After a fairly effusive greeting we’d sit in a circle of chairs and take turns giving stilted monologues about our lives while she nodded affectionately. When I was still in junior high she began asking about what major course of study I had chosen in school and I struggled for years, until I actually had a major in college, to explain that the school I went to just didn’t work that way. That always made it seem like she didn’t have a very firm grip of what the outside world was like. She had a small bulletin board in her room that she would take down to pass around so each of us could admire cards she’d received and snapshots of our distant cousins.
I made this painting with encaustic – colored wax. It did not even begin as a portrait of her, but as an abstract floor plan. I find encaustic very satisfying, at least the way I’m figuring out to use it. As with many things, I may or may not be a fraud encaustically because I have submitted to no instruction. I constructed this in many, many, many layers of paper, colored wax, clear wax, oil paint and ink. In between layers I used my nifty little butane torch to melt the layers together and then sharp blades to scrape the surface flat or make grooves to inlay the next color into. It’s tedious! Stream of consciousness! Organic! Belabored, and patinated nearly to death. I do love a belabored surface.
This is one of my grandfather’s sisters, Dr. Ina Bell Auld. She was born undegreed though, in 1896, and earned her Phd from the University of Iowa until 1938. The title of her dissertation is “Women in the Renassaince: The Attitudes of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries.” Her Masters thesis, from 1922, is about the early reading habits of George Eliot. She was a flaming fleminist.
I knew her little brother Lawrence, and her twin, Miss Inez Dell Auld, and it sounds like Bell was what I like to call a difficult person, which also means I would have liked her. I think a little farm girl from southern Iowa born in 1896 who aspired to academia rather than marriage and conventionality had to be a difficult person to make it work. And she did – she was an English professor, travelled abroad, and caused anguish to her parents and siblings back home. She died in 1960.
I started this painting a couple of years ago and finished it earlier this year. I never met Bell so this image was composed in my head from photos of her and from her reputation. Yes, she’s smirking hard, and holding a book/bird/angelic being with the Congregational Church on Clinton Street in Iowa City behind her. I know from old city directories that she lived just a few blocks from there on Iowa Avenue, but I’d bet you nearly anything she was not much of a church-goer as a graduate student.
Cedar Rapids (or Peter Rapids as one sign declared) was the center of the Democratic world there for a minute while 19 candidates attended the Democratic Hall of Fame Celebration on Sunday. The day before a whole lot of them were in Des Moines for Pride Fest, and most made a weekend of it with multiple events all over the place.
yrmama’s Friday night was all about Bernie and hunger, Saturday was for Jay and Cory, Sunday was Pete, more Cory, and sightings of Bernie again and Kamala and certain hearing loss from the yelling TYT Army. Why were they angry at us? Were they angry at us or just…yelling? In between all those events yrmama held focus groups.
My dental hygienist got all worked up Friday afternoon with her hands in my mouth. It was hard to hold my own. She said, “well…I like Pete,” and a lot of other political things. She does not like Donald but knows a lot of folks who do. I do not know anybody who likes him. Another member of the Friday focus group told yrmama all about vanloads of diverted ballots, the hackers who vote remotely from nursing homes and, for some reason, the Whale Cycle. It’s kind of like the water cycle, but whales.
The large Saturday noon group determined that it is time to prohibit baby boomers from running for office. That means anyone older than yrmama because 1964 can count as a transitional year, right? The cusp. yrmama swings both ways. Donald, W and Bill were all born the same summer in 1946, Joe is four years older than them and Bernie is six years older than them. Kamala is 55, so in by a hair, and Cory is only 50. According to this metric, Elizabeth, a peppy 70, needs to step away from the microphone as well.
Towards the end of this session it got really real. “so, yrmama,” he said with sneaky menace, “which of the candidates has the best plan for completely disenfranchising all Trumpers? We’ve got all the evidence we need that representative democracy is a failure, so if someone is going to be in charge it better be us.”
To which yrmama calmly replied, “I love you, dude. I raised you to be this passionate and I’m proud of you. Who indeed?” Well, that didn’t get us anywhere, but the bile pressure was thereby reduced a bit. It brought the righteous anger of the good that is ominously burbling under the crust of society into focus and that’s valuable.
Sunday morning was, as usual, a confab of sweet middle aged ladies who think Pete is adorable, waiting for him to appear like a sprite from the mist. They said things like, “This is the first time I’ve been to any kind of political thing in years.” And “Well…I like Pete, but Elizabeth is good too. And I hope this doesn’t offend you, yrmama, but Joe is just too damn old.” At which point yrmama mentions Bernie and they go off. “Bernie’s even older! Oh no. I hope he’s not the one you like. I don’t want to hurt your feelings.” Look, if yrmama’s feelings were gunna be hurt by sweet Iowan ladies cautiously stating their opinions there’d be nothing left in here but scar tissue.
yrmama is starting to get upset about the ridiculous constant downpour from the heavens. Her AccuWeather arthritis forecast keeps saying she is at Extreme Risk of pain and she seriously wants to move to New Mexico. It feels out of control. It always rains. No corn gets planted. It’s just gross. Last night 53 tornadoes touched down in the midwest and in Dayton they were using snowplows to remove debris from the highways.
Remember early on yrmama said that climate change is the central issue? Well, it is, from human society and human species points of view. Mother Nature, however you conceive of her is going to continue to be just fine. Nature and quantum physics have no morality attached to them and I think that may be what makes them scary to humans. They are this big (ahem, understatement) amoral force that we exist within. Sure, when a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Mozambique a celery stalk wilts in the crisper in Toronto and when we burn fossil fuels like they’re the best thing since sliced bread, shit gets crazy for meteorologists, but that’s all WITHIN this balanced system. Balance is dynamic, like having wagon legs, it shifts around, it’s not rigid sameness.
Mother Nature insists on balance and balance she will. Not wrathfully, but with the flinty-eyed dedication of my late doggo Lupine who was compelled to Kill All Raccoons. It has to be done and it will be done. All us hoomans as a species can do, if we want to, is try to behave in a way that takes our own best interest into account. Mother Nature will take care of herself.
The next scheduled campaign event in Iowa City is on June 9, location still TBD, but others may pop up between now and then.
This is Rosalind Greene. Have you heard of her? I hadn’t. Here’s her campaign website: https://www.rosalindgreene.com/home She’s an RN, and a veteran, born in Hopkinsville, KY and a grandmother. I am unable to give you many more details because the flickering flames on the screen started to make me feel seasick. It might be fine for you – but if you wear a shirt with black and white stripes I won’t be able to look at you either for the same weird optical reason.
I’m glad Rosalind is running and if nothing else she can have a very worthwhile impact on the primary process. For example, on her list of hot issues for 2020 she lists ADOS and tangibles. Do you know what #ADOS means? I had an inkling but then had to look it up. It means reparations for American Descendents of Slaves. (It’s about lineage, not melanin levels.) And “tangibles,” refers to the actual agenda and commitments a candidate makes to the black community. 21st Century Afropolitan on Youtube explained some things to me pretty well. Maybe you’re on black Twitter and already know everything. Good for you!
Reparations is not a crazy idea and the US has paid them a number of times; from the Japanese Americans held in American concentration camps during WWII, to survivors of police torture in Chicago in 2015 . (more reading for your free time at this link) A lot of smart people believe that for a candidate to truly take hold in black communities they will have to be able to discuss their plan for addressing these issues.
How does the legacy of slavery affect black Americans who are not DOS? Saturday night when there were seven police cars camped on my driveway I had to walk my privileged white butt out and talk to the officers. yrmama said, “My teenage son could come home anytime. He’s black, so don’t be surprised,” by which I meant, “don’t freak the fuck out and shoot the boy in the BMW.”* Mothers shouldn’t have to say things like that but we do. (Then I conferred with him and he decided to just stay at his friend’s house. It could have been the concentration of cops or it could have been me being embarrassing.)
*They were camped out here because someone else’s son was missing and his cell phone indicated he was at my house. They pinged his phone until it’s battery died. He’s not here and never was. I can’t explain it and neither can they. I hope he’s okay. I hope his parents are okay.