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William W. Patton

Rev. William Weston Patton (19 October 1821, New York City - 1889), was president of Howard University, a fierce abolitionist and one of the contributors to the words of John Brown's Body. He was the son of Rev. William Patton and the grandson of Anglo-Irish Congregationalist immigrant and Revolutionary War Major Robert Patton.


Patton took an earnest part in the anti-slavery movement, and was chairman of the committee that presented to President Lincoln, 13 September, 1862, the memorial from Chicago asking him to issue a proclamation of emancipation. He was vice-president of the Northwestern sanitary commission during the American Civil War, and as such repeatedly visited the eastern and western armies, publishing several pamphlet, reports. In 1886 he went, on behalf of the freedmen, to Europe, where, and in the Orient, he remained nearly a year.

John Brown's Body[]

In October 1861 Patton wrote new lyrics to the battle song John Brown's Body. These were published in the Chicago Tribune on December 16, 1861. Even more than the previous words the new words glorify the violent acts of the abolitionist John Brown and his followers. The third verse directly refers to the attack on the armory in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Verse four compares John Brown to John the Baptist.

He captured Harper’s Ferry, with his nineteen men so few,
And frightened "Old Virginny" till she trembled thru and thru;
They hung him for a traitor, themselves the traitor crew,
But his soul is marching on.

John Brown was John the Baptist of the Christ we are to see,
Christ who of the bondmen shall the Liberator be,
And soon thruout the Sunny South the slaves shall all be free,
For his soul is marching on.

These themes were further refined two months later by Julia Ward Howe; her version came to be known as The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Where Patton only wrote "of the Christ we are to see", Howe testified that her eyes had already "seen the glory of the coming of the Lord".

Academic career[]

Patton graduated at the New York University in 1839 and at the Union theological seminary in 1842. After taking charge of a Congregational church in Boston, Massachusetts, for three years, he became pastor of one in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1846, and in Chicago, Illinois, in 1857. He received the degree of D.D. from DePauw University, Indiana, in 1864, and that of LL.D. from the New York University in 1882. From 1867 till 1872 he was editor of The Advance in that city, and during 1874 he was lecturer on modern skepticism at Oberlin, Ohio, and Chicago theological seminaries. From 1877 to 1889 he was president of Howard University, Washington, D.C., filling the chair of natural theology and evidences of Christianity in its theological department.


Patton is the author of The Young Man (Hartford, 1847; republished as The Young Man's Friend, Auburn, New York, 1850) ; Conscience and Law (New York, 1850); Slavery and Infidelity (Cincinnati, 1856); Spiritual Victory (Boston, 1874); and Prayer and its Remarkable Answers (Chicago, 1875).


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