America in the 1850s

The Emergence of John Brown

Why did John Brown have so many nicknames and titles?

To look at him, one would think that one or two nicknames would be sufficient. Five feet ten inches tall, Brown looked taller because of his ramrod-straight posture. He did not yet possess the full gray beard that later made him so recognizable, but his features were so stern and plain that one can imagine the men calling him “Old” John Brown as well as “Captain.” These were but the beginning of a slew of titles and nicknames that would be bestowed upon him.

The “why” can only be answered by saying that Brown was a complex person who presented different aspects of himself to different people. He liked to present the no-nonsense Yankee appearance, but there was the feel of a Romantic-era hero about him as well. And though he quoted the Bible more than Shakespeare, Brown was clearly a literate person in the powerful sense of the word: he could use words to great effect.


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