Mary Brown’s hands were worn and calloused.
Mary Brown’s hands had buried her sons Watson and Oliver, who were killed carrying a white flag at Harper’s Ferry.
Mary Brown’s hands buried her husband John, after he had been hanged for treason on December 2nd of 1859.
Mary Brown’s hands were tarnished, the skin had clotted like cream with the chilblains of bitter Pennsylvania winters.
Mary Brown’s hands had harvested winter crops and washed the afterbirth off of seven stillborn children.
Mary Brown’s hands had lit the lamps that allowed John Brown to hold “The Liberator” up to the light.
Mary Brown’s hands wrote to her husband’s benefactor in San Francisco, saying: “Does it seem as freedom were to gain or lose this? I have had thirteen children, and only 4 are left; but if I am to see the ruin of my house, I cannot but hope that Providence may bring out of it some benefit to the poor slaves.” Money was sent and the Browns made the wagon journey to California.
Mary Brown’s hands grasped Mary Ellen Pleasant’s after the Civil War was well under way, seeking refuge for her fatherless family, and refuge was given.
John Browns’ hands had tilled the soil, tanned hides,
John Brown’s hands had penned moving arguments against slavery.
John Brown’s hands held the axe and exacted justice against the murderers Mr. Sherman Senior and Junior in Pottawatamoie, Kansas.
John Brown’s hands had thumbed through his well-used Bible, and marked the verse from the ninth chapter of Hebrews: “Moreover he sprinkled with blood the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without the shedding of blood is no remission.”
John Brown’s hands had written a note before he rode atop his own coffin to the gallows: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”
In 1866, on the anniversary of that ill-fated raid, fully seven years since the date of 21 men had taken over the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Mary Ellen Pleasant sued San Francisco’s North Beach and Mission Railway for refusing to pick her up earlier that month. Her friend and employer Lisette Woodworth, a respectable white woman of means, was already on board, as they had planned to meet there, and demanded that the conductor stop for her friend. “We don’t allow colored people on this car”, he said. Later, at trial, Lisette would testify that she was one of three people on the car, and none of them objected. It was a cold rainy late afternoon, and Mary Ellen trudged home, determined to see justice done.