Transcending Conspiracy

During a trip to Boston to oversee the publication of the third edition of Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman attended the 1860 trial of Frank Benjamin Sanborn, an abolitionist and friend to John Brown. In the raid on Harper's Ferry in 1859, Sanborn was one of the six prominent men, later deemed the Secret Six, who supplied support to Brown. 

After Brown's capture and execution, Sanborn fled twice to Canada and ignored a summons to testify before the Senate regarding his relation to John Brown. Federal officials eventually caught up with Sanborn on the eve of April 3, 1860 at his home in Concord, Massachusetts, with a warrant for his arrest, and an unwieldy debacle ensued.

A struggling and stubborn Sanborn was unwillingly carried by officials to their awaiting carriage. When his family's screams of murder caught the attention of their Concord neighbors, church bells were rung and a protective crowd gathered as the Whiting family and other townsmen did their best to rile the horses. Ellen Emerson, daughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, recalled in a letter to her sister that "Anne Whiting got into the carriage and held the door and put herself in the way, and fought with a cane, and so prevented them from getting Mr. Sanborn in, and gave the people time to collect..." After the federal officials ignored a prepared writ of habeas corpus, Middlesex County deputy sheriff overpowered the officials with the aid of the crowd, and rescued Sanborn by force. The federal officials were hastily chased out of Concord by livid locals. 

The next day in Boston court the towns-people, including Whitman, flooded the courtroom in support of his defense.


Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Author's Edition signed and inscribed, Camden, 1882. 
Estimate $5,000 to $7,500. At auction June 17, 2015.

Swann's June 17 auction of 19th & 20th Century Literature includes this interesting association copy of Leaves of Grass. An Author's Edition which appeared after the suppression of the Boston edition and before the next successive edition published in Philadelphia, it was most likely issued by Whitman for friends while waiting for the first Philadelphia edition.

 The inscription reads in full: 

"To / FB Sanborn / from the author / with thanks and love / June 11 1882."




Whitman reportedly described F.B. Sanborn as "a fighter, up in arms, a devotee, a revolutionary crusader, hot in the collar, quick on the trigger, noble, optimistic." 



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