| JOHN FRANCIS BRAY|
by Jamie Bronstein
This is the first book-length biography of John Francis Bray, radical, Chartist, writer, farmer and democrat: a man hailed in later life as the 'Benjamin Franklin' of American labour.
Bronstein surveys Bray's experiences and ideas, and the impact he had in England and in the USA from the 1830's to 1897. The book draws on original research through primary sources, including Bray's diaries, letters to and from his family, manuscripts and newspapers.
Bray grew up in America's theatrical world. A turn of fortune stranded him in England, and propelled him into work as an apprentice printer, a writer and activists for the Chartist cause in Yorkshire, and the author of Labour's Wrongs and Labour's Remedy and A Voyage from Utopia to Several Unknown Regions of the World.
From the 1840s on he lived in the American West, farming and starting a family in Michigan. He was briefly a newspaper editor sympathetic to the Democrats, and responded to issues of Spiritualism, the Civil War, slavery, and secession of the South.
In the 1870s Bray engaged with the American labour movement. He wrote God and Man a Unity, supported the Socialistic Labor Party and joined the Knights of Labor. As a grand old man-the Benjamin Franklin of American labour-Bray was a constant correspondent with the labour press. He helped to shape the new Populist Party of the 1890s.
At the end of his life he wrote of: 'not doing half that he wished, but making a track for others to follow. There are so many interruptions of all kinds in the life of a working man, just above poverty, that it is not surprising there is so little progress.'
This is a path-breaking human story that gives insight into both working-class radicalism and transatlantic history. It is written both for the academic and, because it does not assume prior knowledge, for the general reader.
The book includes an appendix with substantial excerpts from Bray's major work of 1839, Labour's Wrongs and Labour's Remedy.
Jamie Bronstein is Associate Professor of History New Mexico State University.
She is the author of Land Reform and Working-class Experience in Britain and the US and Caught in the Machinery: Workplace: Accidents and Injured Workers in 19th Century Britain, both Stanford University Press
Published September 2009