Branding

This daguerreotype is one of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen, for a reason that may not be readily apparent. And therein lies a tale…

This hand belongs to a man named Jonathan Walker who in 1844 attempted to rescue seven slaves from Pensacola, Florida. For this crime of wanting all men to be free, the U.S. Marshall of the District of Florida branded his hand with the letters SS so that everyone would know him to be a “Slave Stealer.”

Years later, John Greenleaf Whittier’s memorialized this brand in his poem “The Branded Hand” which says in part:

Why, that brand is highest honor! than its traces never yet
Upon old armorial hatchments was a prouder blazon set;
And thy unborn generations, as they tread our rocky strand,
Shall tell with pride the story of their father’s branded hand!

As I read about the bravery of Jonathan Walker, I cannot help but think of the parallels to how those who defy the masters of fundamentalism and strive to make souls free are often branded as well. It may be only a brand of flaming hateful words instead of heated iron, but the mark those words can leave deep scars upon the soul. Traitor. Apostate. Bitter. Unrighteous. Soul Stealer.

But when those who would bind men in the chains of legalist slavery shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, rejoice and be exceeding glad. For that brand you wear is no mere scar but stands as a badge of honor that you have been counted among those happy few who could no longer be content to stand by and do nothing when faced with evil men and spiritual seducers. Do no hide the marks you bear, but let them rather shine forth with a holy light. Faithful. Just. Loving. Righteous. Soul Saver.

Can a Christless church withstand, In the van of Freedom’s onset, the coming of that band?

51 thoughts on “Branding”

  1. At first I thought the “S” was a sign of infinity, and the post was about not marking yourself with piercings and tattoos. The post I read was much better than that could ever be. Consider yourself branded, Darrell.

  2. I knew it was a crime and often punished fairly severely to help slaves escape. I did not know that you would be physically branded like that. Definitely is a physical representation of righteousness on behalf of the branded.

    1. Branding was apparently quite unusual, at least for white offenders (I’ve heard of slaves being branded). The account of Walker’s punishment says they had to get a blacksmith to make the branding iron, as such branding had not been done before in that part of Florida. The first blacksmith who was asked refused, saying branding was only for animals. Another was found to do the job.
      The Marshall who did the branding was a man from Maine– a fellow Northerner.

  3. BTW, Where’d you learn this specific story? Obv seems to be fairly famous if there’s known art & poem about it. I’ve never heard of that guy (I don’t think).

    1. First, this reminds me of a song by Nickel Creek The Hand Song.

      Second, this is a beautiful story and *would* be a beautiful illustration. It shows compassion, love, willingness to sacrifice, etc. I wonder why I have never heard it either. Humm …

  4. Great post. I love how you contrast the labels with which others brand us with who we are in Christ, that description which we pray truly describes us despite their denigration.

    I’ve read several of Whittier’s anti-slavery poems but hadn’t read that one before. Very cool.

  5. The following questions were recently asked over on the Magic posting from 6/21:

    Seriously, what does this prove or solve? What is your ultimate purpose in having this website? Is it just to cause controversy or is there some redeeming and eternal purpose behind it?

    I think this post answers those questions very well. Very well indeed.

    I’ll amend the answer I gave as well:
    The redeeming eternal purpose behind all this is that maybe by our exposing this non-denomination denomination for what it is, others eyes will be opened and they might escape the IFB slavery* as well.

    *my original post said “prison”

    1. I reject the premise. Not only is it an either-or fallacy, but it presumes that having an “eternal blah blah” purpose is necessary, or even good. I had coffee with breakfast this morning. Eternal purpose? Nah, I just like coffee. Deal with it.

      1. Perhaps the eternal purpose of you drinking coffee is to get your nerves all fidgety so you will post something ridiculous and show yourself how little you know about Theology, the word of God or God’s eternal purpose in redeeming sinners to Himself

        -or-

        God wants your teeth to be stained yellow and for you to have bad breath thus causing sinners to run away from you because you aren’t following the J.R. Rice handbook on Soul Winning.

        As a recovering fundy, you really need to stop commenting, you look like a fool (notice I am using a simile, i am not calling you a fool, but only saying you look like one, it’s a grammar thing) 😯

        1. prchbill,
          I’m going to defend Fundystan’s point. One of the things that keeps our minds enslaved is this notion that every effort, every day must be of epic purpose. That’s the fundyism talking. It can take on a secular flavor as well (see: Oprah Book Club selections). I reject it outright. I do not feel the need to justify my likes, dislikes because I am trying to stop playing defense. Its a trap. Now just give me the ball.

        2. And I’ll agree that not everything has to have the eternal justification for being, or for doing. It just so happens that in this instance I believe that it does. Namely that SFL is a Rescue and Aid station on the escape route from Fundietraz.

        3. Was that George?
          Anywhooooo.

          MaybeGary,
          I don’t think you are defending Fundystan’s point. I think he is denying the Purpose Driven Life (sending Warren $.25).
          But if he is, my point still stands.
          😛

  6. You can read Jonathan Walker’s memoir online for free:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=mVsSAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

    It’s a curious, but compelling, document.

    The daguerreotype reproduced above must have been reversed somehow. The records (and Whittier’s poem) say that Walker’s right hand was branded, but in this version of the photo it looks like a left hand. Also, the letters “S S” appear backward here.

    1. Yes, those pictures appear in mirror image.

      The blog I link above comments that this is why many people mistakenly think that Billy the Kid was left handed.

  7. If I’m not mistaken, all daguerreotypes were backward – I believe they projected off a mirror. Dang it, now I’ll have to google it. Curiosity…

    1. I just Googled it, and you’re right:

      “Why are daguerreotypes backwards?
      “Daguerreotypes are normally a reversed (or, correctly stated, a laterally-reversed) image. The only way to get a correct orientation was to copy the image with a second daguerreotype, or to make the original daguerreotype using a reversing prism or mirror. Besides the complexity, a problem with a reversing mirror was, if taken outdoors, it may be subject to movement by a breeze causing a blurred image. So typically people just lived with a reversed image.”

      http://www.daguerre.org/dagfaq.php

      1. The reversal is because daguerreotyping was a positive process. Negatives in a film camera are laterally reversed, too, but when you print a positive onto photo paper it’s reversed a second time, so it comes out the right way round.

  8. To my way of thinking you’ve jumped the shark with this post. Sure, there are things that should be criticized in current fundamentalism. But your self righteous claim to be a freer of slaves is a bit over the top.

    1. You’re a little late with that proclamation. Someone already beat you to it last November.

      http://www.stufffundieslike.com/2010/11/the-cla/comment-page-1/#comment-27550

      I’ll try to struggle onward somehow. 🙂

      (also if you actually read what I wrote you’ll see I never claimed to be freeing anybody myself. I was speaking to others who are trying with love and compassion and reasoned arguments to free people from the spiritual bondage of fundamentalism and have been branded as apostates and such. But don’t let that stop you.)

        1. Since they don’t read the Bible well, why would they be able to read anything else well?

    2. I suppose that Jesus “jumped the shark” too, yes?

      “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you–but not what they do. For they preach but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others.

      […]

      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, but have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These ye ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides! Straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel!

      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate so that the outside also may be clean.

      “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

      (Matthew 23:1-5, 23-28)

      I guess Jesus just needed to take a chill pill. 😎

  9. A brand – meant for scorn, meant to identify a criminal, but in this case a badge of honor, of someone sacrificing himself for other’s freedom and bearing in his body the price of his efforts.

    The cross – meant for scorn, meant to execute a criminal, but in Christ’s case a sign of honor, of God sacrificing His Son for our eternal freedom from sin. Even in His resurrected body, Jesus still wears the scars, the sign of the world’s rejection and cruel treatment of Him and yet to us who believe beautiful.

    1. While reading the wikipedia article, I realized that Walker was also pilloried and publically jeered, even pelted with rotten eggs. It’s sad that they treated him like a thief and criminal for trying to help men find freedom.

  10. I appreciate the comfort this story gives to those who need comfort. What I don’t understand is the couple people who found it necessary to stomp all over something that comforts others. Like stomping on a child’s stuffed animal that comforts them in the night. Seriously? If you can’t relate, can’t you leave it alone? 🙄

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