|John Brown Birthplace, Torrington, Connecticut|
John's mother died in childbirth three years after they settled in Hudson; John was eight years old. Owen Brown married Sally Root, the following year, in 1809, and had eight more children.
"The negro boy (who was fully if not more than [my] equal) was badly clothed, poorly fed; and lodged in cold weather: & beaten before [my] eyes with Iron Shovels or any other thing that came first to hand. This brought [me] to reflect on the wretched, hopeless condition, of Fatherless & Motherless slave children."
In the first two decades after coming to Hudson, Owen Brown prospered, becoming one of the wealthier residents of the community. Despite a speech impediment, in addition to serving as a Justice of the Peace and county commissioner, Owen Brown was a trustee of Western Reserve College for several years after its founding in Hudson in 1826. However, in an internal dispute over the question of colonization versus immediate emancipation, Owen Brown resigned as trustee in the 1830s. He later was a trustee of Oberlin College from 1835 to 1844.
“Dianthe, my sister, . . . was plain, but attracted John Brown by her quiet, amiable disposition. She was my guiding-star, my guardian angel;
she sung beautifully, most always sacred hymns and tunes; and she had a place in the woods, not far from the house, where she used to go
alone to pray. She took me there sometimes to pray with me. She was a pleasant, cheerful person, but not funny; she never said anything
but what she meant.” ~ Milton Lusk
“Before father moved from Hudson to Pa., and while living on the old tannery place, he harbored two runaway slaves. These were the first blacks I ever saw. When I, a small boy appeared in the morning the woman caught me up and gave me a kiss. I well remember trying to rub off the black from my face which I supposed had been transferred to me. Father in later years gave me a full account of the concealing of those slaves and of their finally successful escape to Canada.” ~ John Brown Jr., letter to Frank Sanborn
In 1831, one of his sons died. Brown fell ill, and his businesses began to suffer, which left him in debt. Dianthe showed signs of mental instability and suffered increasing ill health. Three days after the birth and death of her seventh child on August 7 1832, Dianthe Brown died. She and her infant son were buried in New Richmond.
|Elijah P. Lovejoy|
"Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery! "
The 1839 slave insurrection aboard the Spanish ship, La Amistad, off the coast of Cuba, provides an example of John Brown’s support and appeal towards slave revolts. Joseph Cinque and approximately 50 other slaves captured the ship in July 1839, and attempted to return to Africa. However, through trickery, the ship ended up in the United States, where Cinque and his men stood trial. Ultimately, the courts acquitted the men because at the time the international slave trade was illegal in the United States. According to Brown’s daughter, “Cinque stood first in esteem” among Brown’s black heroes. Furthermore, she noted Brown’s “admiration of Cinques’ character and management in carrying his points with so little bloodshed!” Brown would refer to the revolt, saying “Nothing so charms the American people as personal bravery. Witness the case of Cinques, of everlasting memory, on board the ‘Amistad.’” The slave revolts of the Caribbean had a clear and important impact on Brown’s views toward slavery and his staunch support of the most severe forms of abolitionism. By studying the slave revolts of the Caribbean region, Brown learned a great deal about how to conduct guerrilla warfare. Richard Realf, a cohort of Brown in Kansas, noted that Brown studied the slave revolts in the Caribbean, and focused on Haiti’s liberation. Brown’s friend Richard Hinton similarly noted that Brown knew “by heart,” the occurrences in Jamaica and Haiti.
"Through all the dreary night of death
In peaceful slumbers may you rest,
And when eternal day shall dawn
And shades and death have past and gone,
O may you then with glad surprise
In God's own image wake and rise."
|Brown Home on Perkins Hill|
From the mid-1840s, Brown built a reputation as an expert in fine sheep and wool, and entered into a partnership with Colonel Simon Perkins of Akron, Ohio, whose flocks and farms were managed by Brown and his sons. Brown eventually moved into a home with his family across the street from the Perkins Stone Mansion located on Perkins Hill. (The John Brown House still stands and is owned and operated by the Summit County Historical Society of Akron, Ohio). As Brown's associations grew among sheep farmers of the region, his expertise was often discussed in agricultural journals even as he widened the scope of his travels in conjunction with sheep and wool concerns.
|Brown in 1846|
|Brown Home in Springfield|
“. . . the partner of my own choice, & the sharer of my poverty, trials, discredit, & sore afflictions; as well as of what of comfort, & seeming prosperity has fallen to my lot; for quite a number of years. . . . I do not forget the firm attachment of her who has remained my fast, & faithful affectionate friend,
when others said of me (now that he lieth he shall rise up no more.) . . . I really admire at your constancy; & really feel notwithstanding I sometimes
chide you severely that you ar[e] really my better half.”
~ John Brown, letter to his wife, ca. 1847
In Springfield, Brown found a community whose white leadership was involved and invested in the anti-slavery movement. From 1846 until he left Springfield, Brown was a parishioner at the Sanford Street Free Church, where he heard abolitionist lectures by Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. During Brown's time in Springfield, he became involved in transforming the city into a major center of abolitionism, and one of the safest and most significant stops on the Underground Railroad.
I was not long in company with the master of this house before I discovered that he was indeed the master of it, and was likely to become mine too if I stayed long enough with him . . . His wife believed in him, and his children observed him with reverence. Whenever he spoke his words commanded earnest attention. His arguments . . . seemed to convince all; his appeals touched all, and his will impressed all. Certainly I never felt myself in the presence of a stronger religious influence than while in this man’s house. In person he was lean, strong, sinewy . . . built for times of trouble and fitted to grapple with the flintiest hardships . . . a figure straight and symmetrical as a mountain pine . . . His hair was coarse, strong, slightly gray and closely trimmed, and grew low on his forehead . . . His eyes were bluish-grey, and in conversation they were full of light and fire.
~ Frederick Douglass, in The Life and Times of Frederick DouglassIn 1850, the United States passed the Fugitive Slave Act, a law which mandated that authorities in free states aid in the return of escaped slaves and imposed penalties on those who aided in their escape. In response, Brown founded a militant group to prevent slaves' capture: The League of Gileadites in Springfield. From Brown's founding of the League onward, not one person was ever taken back into slavery from Springfield, Massachusetts.
|Lake Placid, New York|
|Mary Ann Brown with daughters Annie and Sarah, 1851|
|Brown Farm House at North Elba|
|Samuel and Florella Brown Adair|
|Brown in 1856|
|Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow|
|The Sacking of Lawrence, Kansas|
"I found my father and one brother, William, lying dead in the road . . . I saw my other brother lying dead on the ground, . . . his fingers were cut off, and his arms were cut off; his head was cut open; there was a hole in his breast. William’s head was cut open, and a hole was in his jaw, as though it was made by a knife, and a hole was also in his side. My father was shot in the forehead and stabbed in the breast.” ~ John Doyle's affidavit, 1856, Special Congressional Investigative Committee
Emma Adair, the daughter of Reverend Samuel Adair and Florella Brown Adair (John Brown's half-sister), witnessed the Battle of Osawatomie on August 30. She was a child at the time, but the memory of the battle was burned into her mind for the rest of her life.
She reported that Brown’s son Frederick had returned to Osawatomie from Lawrence on Aug. 29, with messages from Jim Lane, a free-state leader. That night, Frederick Brown visited with the Reverend Adair, saying he would come back in the morning to get any letters the pastor wanted him to take to Lawrence for the mail.
Frederick Brown’s body lay where he was killed until the evening of Aug. 30. “All that day,” Emma Adair wrote, “the body of Fred Brown had lain in the burning sun by the roadside. Settlers living south of the Pottawatomie had watched the burning of the town from the high hills, and when they saw that the enemy had departed, they hastened in to help gather up the wounded and the dead. Fred Brown’s body was brought into the north part of our cabin.”
On September 7, Brown entered Lawrence to meet with Free State leaders and help fortify against a feared assault. At least 2,700 pro-slavery Missourians were invading Kansas. On September 14 they skirmished near Lawrence. Brown prepared for battle, but serious violence was averted when the new governor of Kansas, John W. Geary, ordered the warring parties to disarm and disband, and offered clemency to former fighters on both sides.
|Franklin Benjamin Sanborn|
|Samuel Gridley Howe|
|George Luther Stearns|
|Tombstone of Captain John Brown, |
John Brown, and Oliver Brown
“I have only to say as regards the resolution of the boys to "learn & practice war no more"; that it was not at my solicitation that they engaged in it at the first: & that while I may perhaps feel no more love of the business than they do; still I think there may be possibly in their day that which is more to be dreaded: if such things do not now exist.”
~John Brown, Letter to Mary Ann Brown, March 31, 1857
|Page from Brown's 1858 Record Book|
Brown was so disappointed in the results of his fund-raising efforts that shortly before leaving Massachusetts in late April he penned “Old Browns Farewell to the Plymouth Rocks; Bunker Hill, Monuments; Charter Oaks; and Uncle Toms Cabbins.” He also was disappointed by news from his wife that his sons did not want to continue fighting. In addition, the "U. S. Hounds" had been looking for him, and he went into hiding for a short period before travelling to North Elba. After two weeks with his family, he headed west with his son Owen. Using the alias Nelson Hawkins, Brown traveled through the Northeast and on August 7, he arrived in Tabor, Iowa. Forbes arrived two days later. Over several weeks, the two men put together a "Well-Matured Plan" for fighting slavery in the South. The men quarreled over many of the details. In November, their troops left for Kansas. Forbes had not received his salary and was still feuding with Brown, so he returned to the East instead of venturing into Kansas. He would soon threaten to expose the plot to the government.
Because the October elections saw a free-state victory, Kansas was quiet. Brown had his men return to Iowa. Brown left his men in Iowa and set off to visit Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York. He discussed his plans with Douglass, and reconsidered Forbes' criticisms. Brown wrote a Provisional Constitution that would create a government for a new state in the region of his invasion. Brown then traveled to New York and and Boston to discuss matters with the Secret Six. In letters to them, he indicated that, along with recruits, he would go into the South equipped with weapons to do "Kansas work".
Brown and twelve of his followers, including his son Owen, traveled to Chatham, Ontario, where on May 8 he convened a Constitutional Convention, put together with the help of Dr. Martin Delany. One-third of Chatham's 6,000 residents were fugitive slaves, and it was here that Brown was introduced to Harriet Tubman. The convention assembled 34 blacks and 12 whites to adopt Brown's Provisional Constitution.
|Thomas W. Higginson|
Brown’s most memorable activity came at the end of December, when he crossed into Missouri to liberate some slaves. In response to a plea from a Missouri slave whose family soon would be sold in an estate sale, Brown and his men split into two groups, one led by himself and the other by Aaron Stevens, and entered Missouri. They freed eleven slaves at three plantations, with Stevens killing a slaveholder in the process. Missouri’s governor demanded action, President James Buchanan offered a $250 reward for Brown’s capture, and the Kansas countryside was in a state of alarm, anticipating an invasion from Missouri. Brown guided the eleven liberated blacks, and a baby born along the way, more than 1,000 miles from Kansas to Detroit, where the fugitives crossed the Detroit River into Canada in March. While passing through Chicago, Brown met with Allan Pinkerton, who arranged and raised the fare for the passage to Detroit.
|Henry David Thoreau|
|Oliver and Martha Brown|
His daughter Annie and daughter-in-law Martha, the wife of Oliver, arrived in the latter part of July. They remained until September 30, cooking and cleaning for the growing number of men at the Kennedy Farm.
|Harpers Ferry Armory|
They met no resistance entering the town. They cut the telegraph wires and easily captured the armory, which was being defended by a single watchman. They next rounded up hostages from nearby farms, including Lewis Washington, a great-grandnephew of George Washington. They also spread the news to the local slaves that their liberation was at hand.
Monocacy, 7.05 A. M., October 17, 1859.Express train bound east, under my charge, was stopped this morning at Harper's Ferry by armed abolitionists. They have possession of the bridge and the arms and armory of the United States. Myself and Baggage Master have been fired at, and Hayward, the colored porter, is wounded very severely, being shot through the body, the ball entering the body below the left shoulder blade and coming out under the left side.
|Robert E. Lee|
Brown refused, saying, "No, I prefer to die here." Stuart then gave a signal. The Marines used sledge hammers and a makeshift battering-ram to break down the engine room door. Lieutenant Israel Greene cornered Brown and struck him several times, wounding his head. In three minutes Brown and the survivors were captives. John Brown’s raid was over a day and a half after it began.
"You had better — all you people at the South — prepare yourselves for a settlement of this question, that must come up for settlement sooner than you are prepared for it. The sooner you are prepared the better. You may dispose of me very easily, — I am nearly disposed by now; but this question is still to be settled, — this negro question I mean; the end of that is not yet."
~ John Brown during an interview on October 19, 1859
On November 2, after a week-long trial and 45 minutes of deliberation, the Charles Town jury found Brown guilty on all three counts.
This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to "remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them." I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!" ”
~ Excerpt from a speech given by John Brown in court after his conviction, November 2, 1859
Brown refused to be rescued by Silas Soule, a friend from Kansas who had somehow infiltrated the Jefferson County Jail offering to break him out during the night and flee northward. Brown supposedly told Silas that, at the age of 59, he was too old to live a life on the run from the federal authorities and was ready to die as a martyr.
“I do not feel myself in the least degraded by my imprisonment, my chains, or the near prospect of the gallows. Men cannot imprison, or chain, or hang the soul. I go joyfully in behalf of millions that 'have no rights' that this great and glorious, this Christian Republic 'is bound to respect'."~ John Brown in a letter to T. B. Musgrave, November 17, 1859,
On December 1, his wife arrived by train in Charles Town where she joined him at the county jail for his last meal. She was denied permission to stay for the night, prompting Brown to lose his composure for the only time through the ordeal.
"I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.He read his Bible and wrote a final letter to his wife, which included his will.
At 11:00 a.m. he was escorted from the county jail through a crowd of 2,000 soldiers a few blocks away to the Hunter Farm, on the outskirts of Charlestown. where the gallows had been erected. Since Brown's arrest, local residents and Virginia authorities feared that an attempt would be made to rescue him, and that fear had grown as the date of his execution approached, fueled by rumors that conspirators in surrounding states were planning such a mission. Charles Town was under martial law for weeks, and the governor increased the number of militia. Virginia authorities also had banned the public from the field of execution.
“He was swung off at fifteen minutes after eleven o'clock. There was a slight grasping of the hands and twitching of the muscles, and then all was quiet. The body was several times examined, and the pulse did not cease beating until thirty-five minutes. It was then cut down and placed in the coffin, and conveyed under the military escort to the depot, put in a car to be carried to the Ferry by special train at four o'clock. The whole arrangements were carried out with precision and military strictness."
~ United States Police Gazette, December 10, 1859Among the soldiers in the crowd were future Confederate general Jackson, and John Wilkes Booth, who borrowed a militia uniform to gain admission to the execution.
His body was placed in a wooden coffin with the noose still around his neck. His coffin was then put on a train to take it away from Virgina to his family homestead in New York for burial. On December 8, John Brown was buried at his North Elba farm following services that included speeches by abolitionists J. Miller McKim and Wendell Phillips. Also buried near Brown were his sons Oliver and Watson.
The tombstone of Captain John Brown (1728–1776) is on the grave of his grandson John Brown.
In the North, large memorial meetings took place, church bells rang, minute guns were fired, and many Northerners praised Brown.
|Brown was buried at his North Elba farm|
On December 14, 1859, the U.S. Senate appointed a bipartisan committee to investigate the Harpers Ferry raid and to determine whether any citizens contributed arms, ammunition or money to John Brown's men. The Democrats attempted to implicate the Republicans in the raid; the Republicans tried to disassociate themselves from Brown and his acts.
The Senate committee heard testimony from 32 witnesses, including Liam Dodson, one of the surviving abolitionists. The report, authored by chairman James Mason, a pro-slavery politician, was published in June, 1860. It found no direct evidence of a conspiracy, but implied that the raid was a result of Republican doctrines. The two committee Republicans published a minority report, but were apparently more concerned about denying Northern culpability than clarifying the nature of Brown's efforts. Abraham Lincoln called Brown "insane".
The investigation was performed in a tense environment in both houses of Congress. One senator wrote to his wife that "The members on both sides are mostly armed with deadly weapons and it is said that the friends of each are armed in the galleries." After a heated exchange of insults, a Mississippian attacked Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania with a Bowie knife in the House of Representatives. Stevens' friends prevented a fight.
The Senate committee was very cautious in its questions of two of Brown's backers, Samuel Howe and George Stearns, out of fear of stoking violence. Howe and Stearns later said that the questions were asked in a manner that permitted them to give honest answers without implicating themselves.
Two weeks after Brown’s execution, the four other convicted prisoners were hanged on the same field. African Americans John Copeland and Shields Green were executed in the morning, while their white cohorts Edwin Coppic and John Cook were hanged in the afternoon. Coppic’s body was sent to Ohio; Cook’s body was shipped to his brother-in-law for burial in New York. Although a group of African Americans in Philadelphia requested the bodies of Copeland and Green, their remains, like those of Jeremiah Anderson and Watson Brown (they died during the raid) before them, were taken to the Winchester Medical College for dissection by students. A month after their convictions, Albert Hazlett and Aaron Stevens were executed by hanging on March 16, 1860. Their bodies were sent to New Jersey for burial.
|Albert Hazlett and Aaron Stevens|
were executed by hanging on March 16, 1860
|John Brown Jr.|
Brown's son, Owen, later served as a Union officer in the Civil War.
|Mary Ann Brown in 1870|
Southern Democrats charged that Brown's raid was an inevitable consequence of the Republican Party's political platform, which they associated with Abolitionism. In light of the upcoming elections in November 1860, the Republican political and editorial response to John Brown tried to distance themselves as much as possible from Brown, condemning the raid and dismissing Brown as an insane fanatic.
Many abolitionists in the North viewed John Brown as a martyr who had been sacrificed for the sins of the nation. Immediately after the raid, William Lloyd Garrison published a column in The Liberator, judging Brown's raid as "well-intended but sadly misguided". However, he defended Brown's character from detractors in the Northern and Southern press, and argued that those who supported the principles of the American Revolution could not consistently oppose Brown's raid. Garrison reiterated the point, adding that "whenever commenced, I cannot but wish success to all slave insurrections", in a speech in Boston on the day Brown was hanged.
|William Lloyd Garrison|
The remains of Albert Hazlett and Aaron Stevens were exhumed from their New Jersey graves and also sent to North Elba. On August 30, 1899, the ten men were interred next to John Brown. The whereabouts of the bodies of Anderson, Copeland, and Green remain unknown.
On August 30, 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt visited Osawatomie to dedicate a memorial at the John Brown Memorial Park.