Patriot, Political Activist & Progressive – Emma Webster (Brown) Harlan – A 19th Century Woman

September 17, 2016 0 Comments

Patriotism is one of the noblest and loftiest emotions of the heart, it should be along with our religion and our homes the first best thought.  Where would be today our happy homes, if it was not for this strong government, whose beneficent laws, like the all pervading sunlight, are above and around us everywhere?  Go where we will, all over this land, the same flag protects us.  Laws not made by tyrant hands, “but by the people, of the people, and for the people.”  Laws that if they ever perish, woe be to us in that day and hour…  We are not yet out of the breakers.  The astute leaders.. and the people they control; love the memory of their fallen institutions.  They believe they were born to rule, they care nothing for the semblance of a ruler, so they in reality rale, and will never rest until they have gained by the ballot what they have lost by the sword.

Emma Webster (Brown) Harlan, July 2, 1886

Emma Webster Brown

Emma Webster (Brown) Harlan - (ca. 1900) (Chester County Historical Society - Photo Archives)
Emma Webster (Brown) Harlan – (ca. 1900) (Chester County Historical Society – Photo Archives)

Emma Webster Brown was the first child and only daughter born to Elwood and Hannah (Webster) Brown, in Cecil County, Maryland, on April 8, 1832.  Emma’s mother, Hannah Webster, was a descendant of some of the earliest settlers in America, arriving in the 1600s.  There are documents indicating Emma’s mother was a direct descendant of William Webster, who came to America, from Scotland in 1685 and settled in Woodbridge, New Jersey.

The Webster family left New Jersey, due to the religious persecution of Quakers and first settled in Abington, Montgomery County, PA  prior to them eventually settling in Chester and Lancaster Counties, Pennsylvania.

Shortly after Emma’s birth, Elwood and Hannah returned to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where Emma’s seven brothers were born.  The family would remain in Pennsylvania until the late 1850s.


On April 26, 1849, Emma married George Washington Harlan.  George was the 2nd child and son born to Jonathan and Elizabeth (Thompson) Harlan.  George was a 3x great-grandson of Michael Harland, one of Harland brothers who arrived at William Penn’s Colony at New Castle, Delaware in 1687.  The brothers, were Quakers who emigrated from England and Ireland to seek freedom from persecution for their religious beliefs.

George, along with his parents relocated to Wayne County, Indiana, in 1835 but were not there for any period of time.  George’s father died, of typhus, in Wayne County, Indiana, on September 13, 1835, within 5 months of their arrival there.  Upon the death of Jonathan, George’s mother returned to Lancaster County, where she remained the rest of her life:

1289. Jonathan Harlan7 (James,6 Isaac 5), farmer, a Friend, b. 8, 16, 1794, in Chester, Co., Pa.; removed with his parents when but a child into Lancaster Co., and from there to Wayne Co., Ind., in 1835.  He m. 8, 24, 1820, in Lancaster Co., Elizabeth Thompson (A Presbyterian), b. 7, 7, 1796, in Chester Co.; d. 9, 9, 1872, in Lancaster Co.; bur. there, in Friends’ Burying Grounds at Eastland Meeting House; a dau. of William Thompson (physician) and Elizabeth ——, both natives of Chester Co.  At the time of their marriage Jonathan was residing in Little Britian Twp., Lancaster Co., and Elizabeth in East Nottingham Twp., Chester Co.  Jonathan Harlan d. 9, 13, 1835, Wayne Co., Ind., and was bur. there, in Friends’ “Old” Burying Grounds at Richmond.  He d. within five months after reaching Indiana; the cause of his death was typhus fever.  Soon after his death Elizabeth and her children returned (like Naomi of old) to her home in Lancaster Co.–(Source) History And Genealogy of the Harlan Family And Particularly of The Descendants of George and Michael Harlan, Who Settled in Chester County, Pa., 1687 — Alpheus Harlan (pub. 1914)

It is an interesting side note that there are several documents which mention George’s mother being of the Presbyterian faith, including Emma’s writings.

G. W. Harlan was born and raised in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. The writer was born in Cecil county, Maryland, but was brought up in the former county; am of Quaker extraction and my husband partially Presbyterian.–(Source) History of Guthrie and Adair counties, Iowa — By Mrs. G. W. Harlan (pub. 1884)

Fifteen months after their marriage, George and Emma welcomed their first child, Florence Nightingale Harlan, on July 16, 1850.  They would have two more children, a daughter Evangeline St. Claire and a son, Walter Scott, before leaving for Iowa.

Migration West to Iowa

In the Spring of 1857, George, Emma, their three children, along with Emma’s parents moved West to Iowa.  A fourth child, daughter Mary Milner Harlan, was born on July 18th of that year.

Mr. Harlan’s occupation from that time until we moved West was a dry-goods merchant and a dealer in live stock. Losing heavily in the latter, we concluded to try our fortune in Iowa. We moved into Guthrie county in the spring of 1857, along with my parents. We joined farms and located on the raw prairie; Elwood Brown, my father, along Brush Fork, and Mr. Harlan along the Coon, down past where the two streams meet. Here for twenty-two years we spent our life and brought up our large family, some of whom are still residents of the county. The principal part of my father’s family were grown up before he left Pennsylvania.–(Source) History of Guthrie and Adair counties, Iowa — By Mrs. G. W. Harlan (pub. 1884)

Both the Harlan and Brown families were active in civic affairs, in their new home.  Emma’s father,

Founding of The Guthrian - April 23, 1896
Founding of The Guthrian – April 23, 1896

Elwood Brown was very active politically, throughout his life and held several positions in the local government, after they arrived in Guthrie County.  Emma’s parents were actively involved in the Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad, while living in Lancaster County.  According to at least one account, they continued their involvement after they arrived in Iowa.

George was among the early settlers who helped with the founding of the first newspaper, The Guthrian, in Guthrie Center.  Emma was also very involved with the community, a published author and sought after orator,  known for her skills and accomplishments:

Most prominent among the women who have labored for the recognition of the importance of woman’s work is Mrs. Emma W. Harlan.  Mrs. Harlan was married at the age of sixteen; came to the county when it was wild and new; is the mother of a large family of children, (eight or nine) and yet she has found time for reflection, and action upon all the important topics of the times.  During the war she had the courage to make patriotic speeches – a thing but few women had the courage to do.  She was agent for our county for the Soldier’s Orphan’s Home.  She has, upon several occasions, read the Declaration of Independence for Fourth of July Celebrations, and has found time to prepare and deliver several temperance lectures.  Besides all this, she has been a frequent contributor to the newspapers.  What man would or could have accomplished more?  A man may accomplish more in one line of business, or one kind of work, than a woman, but I defy men to look after and keep track of as many different things as women do.–(Source) Centennial History of Guthrie County, Iowa, by Mrs. S. B. Maxwell (pub. 1876)

In the midst of homesteading and civic duties, George and Emma’s family continued to grow.  On July 16,  1860, their fourth child and second son, Elwood Brown Harlan, was born.

In 1861 the unrest in the country resulted in the Confederacy firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, of that year.  The call to arms, by the Union, was answered by Emma’s husband George and five of her brothers.

The Browns belonged to the society of Hicksite-Quakers, and from the very first had taken a firm stand against slavery.  Therefore the news of the firing on Sumter no sooner reached their little Pennsylvania village than five of the boys, of whom there were seven, immediately enlisted as volunteers.  The oldest was unable, from ill-health, to enter the army, but Albert, the second, came to California, where he organized a company, of which he became Captain.  Through the entire war he remained on the Coast, his principal engagements being with the Indians, who harassed the settlers and immigrants on every possible occasion.  He alone of the five survives.–(Source) The San Francisco Call – February 12, 1891

George mustered in as a Sergeant and was promoted to Lieutenant, within four months.  Emma’s brothers included two commissions, brother Albert in command of a Company, Howard a Captain and three NCO’s.  Unfortunately two of Emma’s brothers 1SG Webster and PVT Francis Fell Brown, did not survive the war.  Her brothers CAPT Howard, COMSGT Wilmer Brown would survive the war but die young due to injuries, or illnesses, related to their service.

Twenty-five years after the start of the war, Emma returned to Iowa to address the reunion of Col. Redfeld Association, G.A.R., at Panora on July 2, 1886:

Twenty-five years ago the fourth of July was celebrated at Panora, and the first company of soldiers from this county, were invited to partake of the generous hospitality of the good ladies of this vicinity, and never can those who were here that day forget the solemn, anxious time.  Those years of common interest and common feelings, hopes and sympathies; that did more to knit the loyal citizens of this county together and make them acquainted with each other than twenty years of ordinary circumstances would have done.  Lovely, devoted women we had as well as noble men in those stirring times…

The people must spring to arms or see their blessed government perish forever.  The hand of the Lord was upon them.  He commanded and they must obey.  From hamlet to hamlet the fife and drum was sounding.  From godly lips prayers and hymns were ascending to heaven.  The sacrifice must be laid upon the alter and the greatest national crime of modern times was to be explated by blood and tears.  Here, in this frontier county of Iowa, we had our little band of husbands, sons and brothers to offer up.  With our hearts in our hands we dedicated them to tread the path their fathers trod.  We gave them as our first offering in this great sacrifice.  The next day after the fourth of July they bid us adieu at the town of Guthrie Center, and started for the scene of action, and when the last summit was reached that commands the view of the town, they waved their flag back to us and disappeared–many never to return.  Hugh Campbell, a young, beardless boy, was the first sacrifice, at Rolla, Missouri, 1861, and Webster Brown was the last at Bentonville, North Carolina, 1865.–(Source) The Guthrian, July 15, 1886

Emma’s husband, George, now Lieutenant Harlan, mustered out of the military on June 17, 1862 and returned home to Iowa.  On August 21, 1863, daughter Frances Josephine was born and on February 9, 1866, a son, John Paxon, joined the family.  Emma’s husband George was elected in 1867 to serve as County Treasurer of Guthrie County.  On April 11, 1868 their eighth child, a daughter, Ona, was born.

During their time in Iowa, George and Emma would add two more children to their family, a son Oscar was born on February 9, 1873 and daughter Lulu was born on February 16, 1878.  Oscar died on September 7, 1879, in Guthrie County, Iowa.  There is some conflicting information on this date and the location but he apparently died in Iowa, just prior to the family’s move to Colorado.  I have not been able to find a burial record for Oscar, the cause of death listed in the Census Mortality Schedule of 1880 is congestion of the brain.

While still in Iowa three of George and Emma’s daughters married, Florence to Michel Dunkin on March 8, 1869 and Eva to George W. France on February 21, 1871 and Mary wed Ernest R. Willey .

West to Colorado

In late 1879 the family was on the move again, this time to the newly founded town of Leadville, Colorado.  Leadville is a former mining town, founded by Horace Tabor and August Meyer, at the beginning of Colorado’s silver boom, in 1877.

Violence and prosperity co-existed in 1879 in Leadville.  The local newspaper observed at the time: “Leadville never sleeps.  The theaters close at three in the morning. The dance houses and liquoring shops are never shut.  The highwayman patrols the street in quest of drunken prey. The policeman treads his beat to and fro. The music at the beer halls in grinding low. A mail coach has just arrived. There is a merry party opposite the public school. A sick man is groaning in the agonies of death. Carbonate Hill with her scores of briefly blazing fires is Argus-eyed. Three shots are heard down below the old courthouse. There is a fight in a State Street casino. A woman screams. The sky is cloudless. Amman stands dreaming in front of the Windsor looking at the stars – he is away from home.”

The journal continued, “A barouche holding two men and two women comes rushing up Chestnut Street. Another shot is heard down near the city jail. A big forest fire lights up the mountains at the head of Iowa Gulch. ‘Give you the price of a bed, did you say?’ ‘Yes, I’ve not seen a bed for a week. Believe me, kind sir, I’m sick and in need of a friend. Help me, stranger, and as true as I live I’ll repay your kindness.’ The clock on the Grand Hotel points to one. Shots are heard from Carbonate Hill. The roar of revelry is on the increase. The streets are full of drunken carousers taking in the town”…

Leadville, Colorado, often called “The Two Mile High City” and “Cloud City,” was the highest incorporated city in the United States at 10,430 feet. However, that title has now been replaced by Alma, Colorado (highest incorporated municipality). Located at the foot of two of Colorado’s highest peaks – Mt. Elbert and Mt. Massive, Leadville is one of America’s last remaining authentic mining towns. –(Source) Legends of America – Colorado Legends

Emma and George quickly settled in and soon were active in Leadville society.  George was elected

G. W. Harlan, The Only Chance Mine The Guthrian - June 7, 1883
G. W. Harlan, The Only Chance Mine – The Guthrian – June 7, 1883

Justice of the Peace, in 1880 and would remain in that capacity until his retirement, in 1886.  George also enjoyed success in Colorado’s mining industry.  During this time Emma traveled throughout the country, to visit family and friends.  She chronicled one such trip from San Francisco back to Guthrie Center and it was published in the Guthrian:

But is needless to dwell longer on this great sea girt city and needless to speak of the journey back over the same route to Ogden.  From here on the Union Pacific train, we were soon in Weber and Echo canyons, saw the thousand mile tree, the Devils Slide, Kimballs Fortifications, that Elder Kimball had planted upon the towering heights to resist Gen. Johnson and his United States troops.  These heights were shown us by Kimball’s son, a bright genteel looking young man, who was on the train and was himself quite a curiosity to us gentiles.  Writers have so often described these places–the cliffs, witch rocks and steamboat rocks, of Echo canyon, and the tunnel, devil’s gate etc., of Weber cany–all picturesque and attractive but diminutive in comparison with the great mountains and canyons of Col.  There is a charm about nature in this state that cannot be excelled by any other state in the Union.

Iowa at this time is lovely to behold, her rolling fields of living green, the fertility of her soil, her cozy homes and rural shades, with a school house on every hill.  It is only in travel that any one can realize the grandeur, the beauty and the marvelous prosperity of our fatherland.  Every variety of scenery to suit every taste and equally as many facilities to accumulate wealth and honor.  Iowa, dear noble state true and steadfast, how endeared to the writer–by blessed memories that crowd upon the heart–are thy hills and thy valleys and the kind friends that dwell within thy borders.  –E. W. Harlan  —(Source) The Guthrian, June 6, 1886

In 1886, George and Emma moved from Leadville to nearby Twin Lakes, where their son Elwood Brown Harlan lived after his marriage to Alice Ann Rice.

Emma, would experience two great tragedies in 1888.  On February 2nd, of that year daughter Mary would die, leaving four young children and husband Ernest R. Willey.  Then on June 23rd, George would succumb to heart disease, leaving Emma a widow, after 39 years of marriage.

Emma remained in Colorado, for several years but continued to travel to visit family and friends, throughout the country.  In 1891, she traveled to the Bay Area of California to be with her mother, during her final illness and passing on February 9, 1891.

Emma was still in Colorado in 1898, when her son Walter Scott Harlan, went missing.  A massive search effort ensued.


Brother-in-Law of E. R. Willey Probably Buried In a Snow Slide.

Walter Harlan, a Leadville miner, who is a brother-in-law of E. R. Willey of this city, has been missing since November 30 and grave fears are entertained by his relatives and friends that he has perished in some of the blizzards which have been of frequent occurrence at Leadville and vicinity of late.  Searching parties have been scouring the hills and gulches surrounding the Cloud City ever since Mr. Harlan disappeared, but up to 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon they had got no trace of of the missing man.

Mrs. E. W. Harlan, mother of the missing man, who has been visiting her son-in-law in Aspen for several weeks, last night received the following telegram from George W. Trimble, president of the Carbonate bank at Leadville:

“Saw Elwood, one of the searching party, at 4 o’clock.  Walter had not been found then.”

Mrs. Harlan is greatly worried over the disappearance of her son and left last night for Leadville to encourage, if possible, those who are engaged in the search.

The Harlans are among the oldest settlers of Leadville, and the boys, one of whom is now a soldier in the Philippines, and their father was well known to the writer in the early days of the Carbonate camp.  Walter Harlan is perhaps one of the best-known miners in Lake county and has always borne an exemplary reputation.  He is about 40 years of age.

The Leadville Herald of yesterday says of his disappearance:

“Walter Harlan, a well known miner, has disappeared and his friends are anxious to know his present whereabouts.  For some time Mr. Harlan had been at work on some claims in South Evans gulch for A. V. Hunter and others, and left the mine on the 30th ult. for the Ibex.  He never arrived there nor has he been seen since and his friends fear that he was lost in the blizzard which made its advent about that time.  A searching party is being made up and a hunt will be made for Harlan.  It is supposed that he had some of his limbs frozen, and taking refuge in some deserted cabin, has not been able to get to the point he started for.–(Source) Aspen Tribune, December 17, 1898

Over five months of uncertainty and fear ended when Walter’s body was found on May 6, 1899 in a 35 foot mine shaft on the Ocean claim, near his brother Elwood’s cabin.  His death was ruled an accident but family lore is Walter’s death was no accident and that he was killed because of a lucrative mine claim, he owned.  Walter was survived by his wife Catherine (Tennant) Harlan and 11 month old daughter, Helen.  Emma buried her fourth child on May 7, 1899.

Emma’s children and their families began to move farther west, in the late 1890s. Emma traveled and divided her time between her children’s homes in Twin Lakes, Washington State and California.  She continued to write for various organizations and causes.


Near Little Britain, Lancaster county, Pa.

Emma Brown Harlan, of Hoquiam, Washington, whose young life was spent here, sent a paper descriptive of the meeting of 60 years ago, with some nicely drawn character sketches of the member, old and young, of that time.  A few of her associates thus mentioned were seated on the platform during the reading, which was finely done by Walter Wood. —(Source) Friends’ Intelligencer, September 26, 1903

In January of 1907, Emma was visiting her daughter Ona Harlan Condron, in Los Angeles and fell down a flight of stairs.  According to her obituary the fall was the result of a stroke.  Several family members traveled to Los Angeles and were with her at the end.

Another Pioneer Passes Away.

Mrs. Emma W. Harlan, a Grand Old Woman and Mother of a Sturdy Progeny, Passes into the Great Beyond in Los Angeles, California.

Mrs. Emma W. Harlan passed away on the evening of January 12th, at Los Angeles, surrounded by several of her sorrowing children, at the home of her daughter, Mrs. I. E. Condron.  Internal injuries sustained in falling down stairs during, what is surmised, a paralytic stroke, was the immediate cause of her death.

Deceased was born 75 years ago, in Maryland, and passed her youth in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, where she was married to George W. Harlan.  Afterwards they moved to Guthrie county, Iowa, and imbued with the true pioneer spirit they moved to Leadville during the excitement of 1879.  Still later they moved permanently to Twin Lakes, where Mr. Harlan’s death occurred during the year 1888.

She leaves behind to mourn her demise the following children; E. B. Harlan of Twin Lakes, John P. Harlan of Pierce, Idaho, Mesdames M. Dunkin and Eva H. France of Hoquiam, Wash., Mrs. I. F. Trumbull of Seattle, Wash., and Mrs. I. E. Condron of Los Angeles, California.

For the last few years Mrs. Harlan has spent much of her time in Twin Lakes with her son Elwood.  She was universally beloved in this community by young and old, and much respected for her truly Christian spirit and lovable character.  Her demise has secured for her a place in the heavenly Canaan, where sorrows and misfortunes are unknown, and joy and happiness forever reign.–(Source) Twin Lakes Miner, January 19, 1907

In Emma’s 75 years, she bucked the system and carved out a place in history not usually afforded women, of her time.  She used the name Mrs. E. W. Harlan, instead of submitting to the tradition of being referred Mrs., followed by her husband’s name.  She followed in her parent’s footsteps and continued the fight against slavery by speaking out and writing about it.  She raised her children to be free thinking and accomplished individuals.

Following is another excerpt from Emma’s address of the Col. Redfeld Association, G.A.R., at Panora, on July 2, 1886:

As our avenging heroes marched down the streets of Washington, there was an aching void in their hearts, for the comrades fallen strewed along in their southern graves.  For that tall form they looked in vain, for that well known voice, for his cheering words and eloquent benediction, as they carried their tattered and bloodstained banners, and placed them in the archives of the restored nation.  They had redeemed their pledges, and made good their promises.  The listening world had hardly realized their achievements, until they had sought their peaceful homes among the best citizens of our land.  They are our husbands, brothers and friends, endeared by every tender tie, their dark locks are turning to gray, but every loyal heart honors those “gray beards.”  Let us keep on honoring them until the last gun is fired over the last soldiers grave.  Every year they are passing away.  One by one they are boating down the silent stream of death.  Almost a year ago we were mourning for the greatest veteran that has fallen.  Cold is that heart that could not throb with emotion at the deathbed of Grant.  Compare that last final hour to that of Napoleon on the barren island of St. Helena, far from his friends and family and native land, fretting away his last moment.  That greatest conqueror of those times, had deluged Europe in blood, and made thousands of widows and orphans, not to save his country or lift up the poor or downtrodden, but to build up his own personal fame and to perpetuate his own dynasty.  To do this he broke his pledges, laid his unhallowed hand upon the tenderest and most sacred relations of life, tore away from his heart the only woman he ever loved to gratify his own selfish ambition.  Compare him with Grant–the leal and true–his peer and more than peer in military strategy.  He went conquering and to conquer, not for himself, but to save the best nation vouchsafed to man,  whose danger and whose honors he shared, and when the last summons came he met it as a brave man should…

It is good for the soul to dwell upon these lofty themes they lift us up out of the mire of corruption and schemes and intrigues that are now sapping at our institutions.  This is the great natal day for the revival of our better natures as a people, to look our dangers in the face and prepare to meet them. (To read the entire speech Click HERE)Emma Webster (Brown) Harlan, July 2, 1886

Emma’s descendants continued to follow her example including her granddaughter, Olive France Dunning, the first female Deputy State Treasurer of Washington.  Several other women descended from George and Emma have pursued careers outside the boundaries of jobs classified as traditional, including the timber industry, construction and technology.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *