Franklin Benjamin Sanborn
Resident of Concord Massachusetts
Phillips Exeter Academy Graduate
Harvard College Graduate in 1855
Member of The Secret Six[i]
December 15, 1831-February 24, 1917
Interred, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord Ma.
Franklin Sanborn, was a renowned educator of the 19th century. Ralph Waldo Emerson encouraged Sanborn to establish a private school in Concord, Massachusetts. The initial list of students included Emerson’s, Hawthorne’s, Horace Mann’s[ii] and Jon Brown’s children. Yes, the John Brown of “Bloody Kansas” and Harpers Ferry.
It could have been the first spark of a progressive if not radical career. At the age of two he held up a stick in a thunderstorm and was struck by lightning. At the age of nine he was reading abolitionist newspapers and the New York Tribune, concluding that slavery was wrong and the United States Constitution needed amendment.
He joined the Free Soil Party, and one year after graduating Harvard became the secretary of the Massachusetts Kansas Commission, bringing him into close contact with John Brown.
Sanborn is most known for his radical abolitionist positions. In contrast, he worked to reform, or initiate improvements to prisons, a school for the death, our nation’s first asylum for abandoned infants, founded the American Social Science Association and somewhere in-between served as the secretary to the Massachusetts State Board of Charities.
After John Brown’s failure and capture at Harpers Ferry, two New York newspapers associated the names of the Secret Six to John Brown. Over the two prior years the Secret Six often met with John Brown, at the Parker House Hotel on School Street, in downtown Boston. Additionally, the flow of cash to finance procurement of arms and their sudden exile[iii] to lands not governed by the Federal Government incriminated The Secret Six.
On April 3, 1861 upon his return to Concord five United States Marshalls attempted to arrest and bring him to the United States Senate chambers for questioning. The commotion initiated by the Marshalls ambush woke up the town and over 150 people came to Franklin’s assistance. A bit of luck restored order. Ebenezer Hoar, a Concord resident and one of the Justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, immediately issued a writ of replevin requiring the surrender of the prisoner. The writ made the matter legal but there was no possibility the Marshals would ever leave Concord with Franklin Sanborn.
Subsequently, Franklin and the five other members of The Secret Six contributed significantly to the Union’s war effort and society at large. Look for subsequent articles on each of the five remaining members as well as blogs on Horace Mann and Ebenezer Hoar.
[i] See six names below in endnote iii
[ii] Horace Mann was an educational reformer that believed public education was a key to a strong democracy.
His writings on education and his short time in the United States Senate (opposing Daniel Webster’s compromises) make him one of the most universally studied educators in the American education system.