The Last Moments Of John Brown Analysis Essay

Born in Connecticut in 1800 and raised in Ohio, John Brown came from a staunchly Calvinist and anti-slavery family. He spent much of his life failing at a variety of businesses–he declared bankruptcy in his early 40s and had more than 20 lawsuits filed against him. In 1837, his life changed irrevocably when he attended an abolition meeting in Cleveland, during which he was so moved that he publicly announced his dedication to destroying the institution of slavery. As early as 1848 he was formulating a plan to incite an insurrection.

Did You Know?

Author Henry David Thoreau was among those who spoke out in defense of John Brown after his arrest following the Harpers Ferry raid. Thoreau penned an essay, “A Plea for Captain John Brown,” in support of his fellow abolitionist.

In the 1850s, Brown traveled to Kansas with five of his sons to fight against the pro-slavery forces in the contest over that territory. After pro-slavery men raided the abolitionist town of Lawrence on May 21, 1856, Brown personally sought revenge. Several days later, he and his sons attacked a group of cabins along Pottawatomie Creek. They killed five men with broad swords and triggered a summer of guerilla warfare in the troubled territory. One of Brown’s sons was killed in the fighting.

By 1857, Brown returned to the East and began raising money to carry out his vision of a mass uprising of slaves. He secured the backing of six prominent abolitionists, known as the “Secret Six,” andassembled an invasion force. His “army” grew to include more than 20 men, including several black men and three of Brown’s sons. The group rented a Maryland farm near Harpers Ferry and prepared for the assault.

Thomas Hovenden (December 28, 1840 – August 14, 1895), was an Irishartist and teacher. He painted realistic quiet family scenes, narrative subjects and often depicted African Americans.


Hovenden was born in Dunmanway, Co. Cork, Ireland. His parents died at the time of the potato famine and he was placed in an orphanage at the age of six. Apprenticed to a carver and gilder, he studied at the Cork School of Design.

In 1863, he immigrated to the United States. He studied at the National Academy of Design in New York City. He moved to Baltimore in 1868 and then left for Paris in 1874. He studied at the École des Beaux Arts under Cabanel, but spent most of his time with the American art colony at Pont-Aven in Brittany led by Robert Wylie, where he painted many pictures of the peasantry.

Returning to America in 1880, he became a member of the Society of American Artists and an Associate member of the National Academy of Design (elected Academician in 1882). He married Helen Corson in 1881, an artist he had met in Pont-Aven, and settled at her father's homestead in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. She came from a family of abolitionists and her home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Their barn, later used as Hovenden's studio, was known as "Abolition Hall" due to its use for anti-slavery meetings.[1]

He was commissioned by Mr. Robbins Battell[2] to paint a historical picture of the abolitionist leader John Brown. He finished The Last Moments of John Brown (now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) in 1884.[3] Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stoeckel in 1897. Accession Number 97.5 Mrs. Stoeckel was Mr. Battell's daughter. His Breaking Home Ties, a picture of American farm life, was engraved with considerable popular success.

In 1886, he was appointed Professor of Painting and Drawing at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, replacing Thomas Eakins who was dismissed due to his use of nude models. Among Hovenden's students were the sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder and the leader of the Ashcan School, Robert Henri.

Hovenden was killed at the age of 54, along with a ten-year-old girl, by a railroad locomotive at a crossing near his home in Plymouth Meeting. Newspaper accounts reported that his death was the result of a heroic effort to save the girl, while a coroner's inquest determined his death was an accident.[1]

A Pennsylvania state historical marker in Plymouth Meeting interprets Abolition Hall and Hovenden.[4]Hovenden House, Barn and Abolition Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.[5] He is buried across the street in the cemetery of the Plymouth Friends Meetinghouse.[6]

Selected works[edit]

  • Self-Portrait of the Artist in His Studio, 1875, Yale University Art Gallery
  • Image Seller, 1876, Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • News from the Conscript, 1877
  • Loyalist Peasant Soldier of La Vendée, 1877
  • A Breton Interior, 1793, 1878, Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • In Hoc Signo Vinces, 1880, Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan
  • The Old Version, 1881, San Francisco Museum of Fine Art
  • Sunday Morning, 1881, San Francisco Museum of Fine Art
  • Chloe and Sam, 1882, Amon Carter Museum
  • The Last Moments of John Brown, 1882-4, Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Taking His Ease, 1885, San Francisco Museum of Fine Art
  • Breaking Home Ties, 1890, Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • Bringing Home the Bride, 1893, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Jerusalem the Golden, 1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Hovenden, Thomas". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links[edit]

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