the Concord MagazineNovember '98

The Approaching War: Concord After the 'Kidnapping' of Frank Sanborn

By Tom Foran Clark, from a work in progress, The Significance of Being Frank: The Life and Times of Franklin Benjamin Sanborn. Tom is the owner of Ameribilia Books and Collectibles. Two parts preceding this one have been published here: Part One and Part Two.

frank sanborn-- The people defended me and will again, Sanborn wrote of his Concord neighbors' having kept him from being taken to Virginia to be tried as an accomplice of John Brown. -- I will remain in Concord, and pursue my duties, feeling very little apprehension for the future. I will be suing for damages the four ruffians who are being held to bail for my kidnapping. I will build my new schoolhouse out of their money.

Sanborn ended his suit against his would-be captors early in 1861.

-- I saw them indicted in the Middlesex County Courtroom for the criminal offense of kidnapping, Sanborn reported. -- But I halted any further litigation, as the Civil War was coming on and some of these men, along with their legal counsel, were going to the front.

Walt Whitman had been in Boston not only to attend Sanborn's trial, but to correct proofs for a new edition of Leaves of Grass. In mid-March he'd strolled under the giant Elms on Tremont and Beacon Streets with Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson tried to persuade Whitman not to publish his Children of Adam poems.

-- I told him I only felt more settled than ever to adhere to my own theory, Whitman wrote, -- and to exemplify it.

Whitman found Boston striking for its seeming so progressive while being so straitlaced. -- Everybody here is so like everybody else, he wrote. -- But I am Walt Whitman!

-- I remember that Alcott, Emerson, and Thoreau all wished to invite Whitman to Concord, Sanborn wrote, -- but Mrs. Alcott, Mrs. Emerson, and Sophia Thoreau were not willing to have him. So the invitation wasn't given.

Soon Emerson found himself shunned too, Concord's Selectmen rejecting his request to proclaim in public his provocative antislavery, pro-John Brown views. To their dismay, a spring festival sprang spontaneously to life in March, in Frank Sanborn's school.

-- Emerson spoke, Louisa May Alcott reported, -- and my song was sung. My song had a verse in it about John Brown, Wendell Philips, and company, and some of the old fogies thought it better left out. But Mr. Emerson said, No, no, that is the best. It must be sung, and not only sung but read. He then read it right out loud, to my great surprise and pride. The narrow-minded of Concord will never dare say a word against it now. It was a lovely occasion, and has stirred up the stupid town immensely.

-- I am sick of Politicians! Henry Thoreau declared on March 4th, the day of Abraham Lincoln's inauguration. -- And I am sick of the state of the country, the State itself, and with statesmen generally.

-- War has been declared with the South, Louisa wrote in April. -- Our Concord company has gone to Washington. A busy time getting them ready, and a sad day seeing them off. At the station the scene was very dramatic, as the brave boys went away perhaps never to come back again. I've often longed to see a war, and now I have my wish.

-- Everyone is boiling over with excitement, Louisa reported. -- When quiet Concord does get stirred up, it is a sight to behold. All the young men and boys drill with all their might, the women and girls sew and prepare to become nurses, the old folks settle the fate of the Nation in groves of newspapers, and the children make the streets hideous with distracted drums and fifes.

In February, 1862, Henry Thoreau requested that James T. Fields of Ticknor & Fields take possession of his 146 bound copies of A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers, and 450 in sheets, also asking if he cared to re-issue his book, Walden.

-- The too short life of our Concord Poet-Naturalist was gliding to its close, Sanborn recalled, -- under my daily observation and appreciation.

-- Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, Louisa May Alcott reported to a friend on April 6th, -- having lately published his Emancipation in the West Indies, is now engaged to one of his teachers, Miss Louisa Leavitt, his cousin. Concord is in a state of intense excitement. She looks enough like him to be his twin sister, and is as cool and sharp as he. A pair of lemons they will be. Sugar will be needed to sweeten the compound. They are to be married in July, then it's on with the school, which is very easy as she is now his only teacher and won't need any salary when she is Mrs. Sanborn.

The bloody Battle of Shiloh came that April, 1862. The campaign to take Richmond was underway.

Henry David Thoreau died on May 6th.

-- He was one of the most original men of his time, Sanborn proclaimed without hesitation.

Louisa and Frank Sanborn were married in Boston by the Boston abolitionist minister, James Freeman Clarke, in his Church of the Disciples. In Concord, word of the Sanborn wedding and their whereabouts buzzed through the town. The only other news was of the raging war.

-- Sanborn's war, Henry James Senior called it.

See Part One and Part Two of this story.

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The Setting for this Story

Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, born and raised in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, moved to Concord, Massachusetts in 1855. He had just graduated from Harvard University and, upon receiving an invitation from Ralph Waldo Emerson, moved to Concord to start a school there.

Sanborn became immersed in abolitionism, eventually becoming one of "The Secret Six" New England intimates of John Brown. After the capture and hanging of Brown following his raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia officials came north to locate Sanborn, to take him south to answer questions about his apparent complicity in Brown's activities. When Virginia deputies arrived to "kidnap" Sanborn, just about the whole town turned out, to see to it he stayed right where he was in Concord.

Try here for sites about Frank Sanborn.


Text: ©1998 Tom Foran Clark
Art: Background from a multi-media collage and pencil drawing of Sanborn both ©1998 Andrea Menna Taylor

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