This print, published by the New York lithography firm of Currier and Ives in 1863, was based on a painting by Louis Ransom depicting John Brown pausing on the steps of the Charlestown, Virginia, jail, surrounded by armed soldiers, and leaning down to kiss the small child proffered to him by an African-American woman. The legend of Brown kissing a slave child on the way to his execution originated with an account of the execution in the New York Tribune on December 6, 1859. This account was reprinted in other newspapers and in early Brown biographies. In fact, Brown encountered only soldiers and jail personnel on the way to his execution. Fearing that the painting would draw angry crowds during the July 1863 New York City draft riots, Barnum removed Ransom’s painting from the American Museum.
Louis Ransom subsequently tried to sell his painting to Oberlin College. Oberlin, founded in 1833, was the nation’s first co-educational college and one of the first to admit African-American students. Because Oberlin was known as an abolitionist stronghold, Ransom hoped that the college or residents of the town of Oberlin, Ohio, would be interested in buying his painting honoring the abolitionist martyr. Oberlin eventually did take possession of the seven by ten foot large painting, and later loaned it to Paul Laurence Dunbar high school in Washington, D.C. The painting is lost to history, but this Currier and Ives lithograph of the painting was widely distributed and helped to cement the myth that Brown had actually kissed a slave mother and her child en route to his execution.
Source: Lithograph after a painting by Louis Ransom, Currier & Ives (New York), 1863, 13 7/8 x 9 1/8 inches - Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.