Tuesday, May 14, 2013

John Brown, born May 9, 1800

John Brown was born May 9, 1800, in Torrington, Connecticut.  He was the fourth of eight children of Owen Brown (February 16, 1771 – May 8, 1856) and Ruth Mills (January 25, 1772 – December 9, 1808). 

John Brown Birthplace, Torrington, Connecticut
When John was born in 1800, nearly every northern state had taken action to abolish slavery, but because of gradual emancipation laws, slavery had ended in only two states—Vermont and Massachusetts. In Connecticut, for example, a provision for gradual emancipation passed in 1784, but slavery did not completely end there until 1848.  His father reportedly liberated slaves from a Virginian traveling through Connecticut.  

Owen Brown
In 1805, the family moved to Hudson, Ohio, where Owen Brown opened a tannery. He had as an apprentice Jesse R. Grant, father of future general and U.S. President Ulysses Grant.  

Hudson, Ohio
The State of Ohio, carved out of the old Northwest Territory in 1803, was free from territorial days. Owen Brown became an ardent abolitionist, participating in Underground Railroad activities in Hudson. 

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. 

During the War of 1812,  Owen Brown provided beef and horses for General William Hull's army in Michigan. John drove his father’s cattle to the American forces many miles away. On one trip, twelve-year-old John stayed with a man who owned a slave boy. While the man treated John nicely and praised him for being so independent, his reaction to the black boy he owned was entirely different:
"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."
John and his father Owen were fairly conventional evangelicals for the period with its focus on the pursuit of personal righteousness. 

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. 

At the age of 16, John left his family and went to Plainfield, Massachusetts, where he enrolled in a preparatory program. Shortly afterward, he transferred to the Morris Academy in Litchfield, Connecticut: he hoped to become a Congregationalist minister.  His money ran out and he suffered from eye inflammations, which forced him to give up the academy and return to Ohio. 

In Hudson, he worked briefly at his father's tannery before opening a successful tannery of his own with his adopted brother, Levi Blakeslee.  John engaged a housekeeper, the widow Mary Lusk, whose husband had died during the War of 1812. Her daughter Dianthe, a pious, gentle, and plain 19-year-old, attracted John's attention.  They married  on June 21, 1820.  Their first child, son John Jr., was born a year later.  The couple would have seven children, five of whom (John Jr., Jason, Owen, Ruth, and Frederick) would reach adulthood.
“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
Self-described as belligerent and deceitful in his youth, John grew into a deeply religious character who insisted on constant prayer in his home, although he was too nonconformist to fit well into any church group.
“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
He died more than a year before the Civil War began, at the age of 59.

John Brown's Tannery in New Richmond, Pennsylvania
In 1825, Brown and his family moved to New Richmond, Pennsylvania, where he bought 200 acres of land. He cleared part of it and built a cabin, a barn, and a tannery. Within a year the tannery employed 15 men. 

Brown also made money raising cattle and surveying. He helped to establish a post office and a school. During this period, Brown operated an interstate business involving cattle and leather production along with a kinsman, Seth Thompson, from eastern Ohio.

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.

Dianthe's Grave
On June 14, 1833, the Brown married 16-year-old Mary Ann Day (April 15, 1817 – May 1, 1884), of Meadville, Pennsylvania. In addition to the seven children from his previous marriage, Mary Ann Brown gave birth to thirteen children over a period of two decades, with six (Watson, Salmon, Oliver, Anne, Sarah, and Ellen) reaching adulthood. She outlived all but four of them.

In 1836, Brown moved his family to Franklin Mills, Ohio (now known as Kent). There he borrowed money to buy land in the area, building and operating a tannery in partnership with Zenas Kent. 
Elijah P. Lovejoy
In 1837, Brown declared his hatred of slavery publicly. It happened after the murder of abolitionist editor Elijah P. Lovejoy. After being harassed for over ten years from Missouri to Illinois, Lovejoy was attacked by a large pro-slavery mob who threatened to destroy his printing press for the fourth time. In the ensuing gunfire, Lovejoy was killed with a shotgun. His death sent a shockwave among the abolitionists throughout the country. After a prayer meeting at the local church concluded, John Brown, who sat silently in the back, rose and lifted his right hand saying:
"Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery! "
He suffered great financial losses in the economic crisis of 1839, which struck the western states more severely than had the Panic of 1837.  Following the heavy borrowing trends of Ohio, many businessmen like Brown trusted too heavily in credit and state bonds.  In one episode of property loss, Brown was even jailed when he attempted to retain ownership of a farm by occupying it against the claims of the new owner. Like other determined men of his time and background, he tried many different business efforts in an attempt to get out of debt. Along with tanning hides and cattle trading, he also undertook horse and sheep breeding.

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.  

Richard Realf
Brown was declared bankrupt by a federal court on September 28, 1842. In 1843, the family became ill with dysentery, and four of his children (Sarah, Charles, Peter, and Austin) died. 
The four children were buried in the cemetery in Richfield, with by a inscribed marker purportedly written by their father:

"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
In 1846, Brown and his business partner Simon Perkins moved to the ideologically progressive city of Springfield, Massachusetts.  Brown and Perkins' intent was to represent the interests of the Connecticut River Valley's wool growers against the interests of the region's wool manufacturers.  Brown and Perkins set-up a wool commission operation. Springfield's mercantile elite reacted with hesitation to change their highly profitable formula of low-quality wool sold for low prices. Initially, Brown naively trusted Springfield's manufacturers, but soon came to realize that they were determined to maintain their control of price-setting. The Connecticut River Valley's sheep farmers were largely unorganized and hesitant to change their methods of production to meet higher standards. In The Ohio Cultivator, Brown and other wool growers complained that the Connecticut River Valley   farmers' tendencies were lowering all U.S. wool prices abroad. 

Brown made a last-ditch effort to overcome the wool mercantile elite by seeking an alliance with European-based manufacturers. Ultimately, Brown was disappointed to learn that Europe wanted to buy wool at the cheap prices they'd been getting.  Brown traveled to England to seek a higher price for Springfield's wool. The trip was a disaster, as the firm incurred a loss of $40,000 (over $980,000 in today's dollars), of which Colonel Perkins bore the larger share. With this misfortune, the Perkins and Brown wool commission operation closed in Springfield in late 1849. Subsequent lawsuits tied up the partners for several more years.  The men remained friends after ending their partnership amicably. Brown was a man of great talent and judgment in farming and sheep raising; however, he was not a good business administrator. 

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

John Brown, ca. 1846 or 1847
This portrait was made by the African American daguerreotypist Augustus Washington in his Hartford, Connecticut studio
Brown has raised his right hand as if taking an oath while he grasps a standard in his right hand. This is the flag of the S.P.W., the “Subterranean Pass Way,” Brown’s militant counterpart to the Underground Railroad
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.  

Frederick Douglass
In 1847, after speaking at the Free Church, Frederick Douglass spent a night talking with Brown, after which he wrote, "from this night spent with John Brown in Springfield, Mass. in 1847 while I continued to write and speak against slavery, I became all the same less hopeful for its peaceful abolition. My utterances became more and more tinged by the color of this man’s strong impressions.”
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 Douglass
In 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.

On leaving Springfield in 1850, Brown gave his rocking chair to the mother of his black porter, Thomas, as a gesture of affection.  Brown's time in Springfield sowed the seeds for the future financial support that he would receive from New England's merchants, introduced him to nationally famous abolitionists like Douglass and Truth, and included the foundation of his first militant anti-slavery group The League of Gileadites.  Brown's personal attitudes evolved in Springfield, as he observed the success of the city's Underground Railroad and made his first ventures into militant, anti-slavery community organizing.  Brown's Springfield years were a transformative period of his life, which catalyzed many of his later actions.

Gerrit Smith
Gerrit Smith, who had inherited from his father estates in more than half the counties of New York, offered to give away his thousands of acres in the Adirondack wilderness for farms to such colored men as would accept them and live upon them. There were many difficulties in the way of its acceptance by the Southern fugitives and the free people of color in the Northern cities. It was a backwoods region, with few roads, schools, or churches, and very few good farms. The life of a settler there was rough pioneer work, the forest was to be cut down and the land burnt over. Such a region was less attractive to the colored people than Canada, for it was as cold, less secure from the slave-hunter, and gave little choice of  employments, available in towns.  There were no openings for cooks, barbers, coachmen or washerwomen.  Still a small colony braved the hardships of the place, and established themselves on Smith's property. 

Lake Placid, New York
Hearing of this, Brown presented himself at Smith's country-house in Peterboro, New York, and made this proposal to him: "I am something of a pioneer, and accustomed to the climate and the way of life that your colony at North Elba have so little experience in. I will take a farm there myself, if you do not object, clear it up and plant it, and show the colored people how such work should be done. I will employ some of them, as I have occasion, look after them in all ways that are needful, and try to be a kind of father to them." 

Mary Ann Brown with daughters Annie and Sarah, 1851
Smith sold him 244 for $1 an acre.  Brown lived at North Elba himself for a year or more; his family continued to live and work there during the next 15 years.  

Brown Farm House at North Elba
In the mid-1850s, many Northern newspapers urged people to move to Kansas, a new land of opportunity. The pioneer family could cultivate fertile land and protect the territory from the spread of slavery. This was the dream of Samuel Adair and Florella Brown Adair , John Brown's younger half-sister, both graduates of Oberlin, a progressive coeducational and biracial college in Ohio. Samuel finished his theology program while he courted Florella. Then they married and moved westward.

Samuel and Florella Brown Adair
In the summer of 1854, five of John Brown's sons (John Jr., Jason, Owen, Frederick, and Salmon) followed the Adairs to Kansas, bringing with them their families and expectations for a better life in the new territory. 

Salmon Brown
After settling in the Osawatomie area, severe illness and the "clouds of war" closed in on the pioneers. In 1855, Brown learned from his sons in the Kansas territory that pro-slavery forces there were militant. John Brown came to Kansas to help his sons, although he did not plan to stay permanently in the new territory. Determined to protect his family and oppose the pro-slavery supporters, Brown left for Kansas, making several stops to collect funds and weapons. Brown stopped en route to participate in an anti-slavery convention that took place in June 1855 in Albany, New York. Despite the controversy that ensued on the convention floor regarding the support of violent efforts on behalf of the free state cause, several individuals provided Brown some financial support. As he traveled westward, Brown found more militant support in his home state of Ohio, particularly in the strongly anti-slavery Western Reserve section where he had been raised.

Brown in 1856
In late 1855 and early 1856 it was increasingly clear to Brown that pro-slavery forces were willing to violate the rule of law in order to force Kansas to become a slave state. Brown believed that terrorism, fraud, and deadly attacks were the agenda of the pro-slavery supporters, then known as "Border Ruffians".  Preston Brooks' caning of anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner also fueled Brown's anger. When Brown received word of the caning in Washington, according to his son Jason, "it seemed to be the finishing, decisive touch." Brown told his supporters, "I am entirely tired of hearing that word 'caution.' It is nothing but the word of cowardice."

These violent acts were accompanied by celebrations in the pro-slavery press, with writers such as Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow proclaiming that pro-slavery forces "are determined to repel this Northern invasion, and make Kansas a Slave State; though our rivers should be covered with the blood of their victims, and the carcasses of the Abolitionists should be so numerous in the territory as to breed disease and sickness, we will not be deterred from our purpose." 

Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow
Brown's beloved father, Owen, died on May 8, 1856.  The emotional darkness of the time was intensified by the real concerns that Brown had for the welfare of his sons and the free state settlers in their vicinity. Brown conducted surveillance on encamped "ruffians" in his vicinity and learned that his family was marked for attack, and furthermore was given supposedly reliable information as to pro-slavery neighbors who had aligned and supported these forces. Missourians led by Captain Henry Pate captured John Brown, Jr. and Jason Brown, and destroyed the Brown family homestead. They also participated in the the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas on May 21, 1856, in which a sheriff's posse destroyed newspaper offices and a hotel. 

The Sacking of Lawrence, Kansas
The pro-slavery men did not necessarily own any slaves, although James Doyle and his two sons were slave hunters prior to settling in Kansas.  Sometime after 10:00 pm May 24, 1856,  James Doyle, William Doyle, Drury Doyle, Allen Wilkinson, and William Sherman were taken from their cabins on Pottawatomie Creek and hacked to death with broadswords. 
"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
Brown later claimed he did not participate in the killings, however, he did say he approved of them.

In the two years prior to the Pottawatomie Massacre, there had been eight killings in Kansas Territory attributable to slavery politics. The massacre was the match in the powder keg that precipitated the bloodiest period in “Bleeding Kansas” history, a three-month period of retaliatory raids and battles in which 29 people died. 

On June 2, John Brown, nine of his followers, and twenty local men successfully defended a Free State settlement at Palmyra, Kansas against an attack by Pate.  Pate and twenty-two of his men were taken prisoner to Brown's camp.  Brown forced Pate to sign a treaty, exchanging the freedom of Pate and his men for the promised release of Brown's two captured sons. Brown released Pate to Colonel Edwin Sumner, but was furious to discover that the release of his sons was delayed until September.

Edwin Sumner
In August, a company of over three hundred Missourians under the command of Major General John W. Reid crossed into Kansas and headed towards Osawatomie, Kansas, intending to destroy the Free State settlements there, and then march on Topeka and Lawrence.  On the morning of August 30, 1856, they shot and killed Brown's son Frederick and his neighbor David Garrison on the outskirts of Osawatomie. 

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. 

Adair Cabin
“We were awakened the next morning by firing and the sounds of horses’ feet moving rapidly past our cabin,” she wrote. “My father hastened out with his cousin, David Garrison, who had been sleeping in the north part of our cabin. They soon discovered the body of Fred Brown lying in the rode to the southeast of our house. He had been shot by one of a number of scouts sent in before daybreak to reconnoiter and to find if the town was unprotected, as they had been informed by a Mr. Hughes who lived there."

“As he came into to the road, the men riding from the direction of the town came up. Fred, thinking that they were friends, said, ‘Good morning boys. Are you going to Lawrence today? It seems I ought to know you.’ One of those scouts, called Martin White or old preacher White, replied, ‘I know you,’ and fired a shot into his heart.”

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.”

When Samuel Adair found that White had shot Frederick Brown, he sent his 13-year-old son, Charles, to ride to town and warn John Brown.  Brown, outnumbered more than seven to one, arranged his 38 men behind natural defenses along the road. Firing from cover, they managed to kill at least 20 of Reid's men and wounded 40 more. Reid regrouped, ordering his men to dismount and charge into the woods. Brown's small group scattered and fled.  One of Brown's men was killed during the retreat; four other  were captured. While Brown and his surviving men hid in the woods nearby, the Missourians plundered and burned Osawatomie. Despite being defeated, Brown's bravery and military shrewdness in the face of overwhelming odds brought him national attention and made him a hero to many Northern abolitionists, who gave him the nickname "Osawatomie Brown". 

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.

Brown, taking advantage of the fragile peace, left Kansas with three of his sons to raise money from supporters in the north.

Franklin Benjamin Sanborn
By November 1856, Brown had returned to the East, and spent the next two years in New England raising funds. Six wealthy abolitionists, Franklin Benjamin SanbornThomas Wentworth HigginsonTheodore Parker, George Luther StearnsSamuel Gridley Howe, and Gerrit Smith, agreed to offer Brown financial support for his antislavery activities. 

Samuel Gridley Howe
 They would eventually provide most of the financial backing for the raid on Harpers Ferry,  and would come to be known as the Secret Six.  Brown often requested help from them with "no questions asked." 
George Luther Stearns
In March 1857, Brown visited his family in North Elba, and carried home the old tombstone of his grandfather, Captain John Brown, the Revolutionary soldier, from the burial-place of his family in Connecticut. Brown placed the stone where he desired his own grave to be, beside a huge rock on the hillside where his house stood. 

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
In January 1858, the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee pledged to provide 200 Sharps Rifles and ammunition. In March, Brown contracted Charles Blair Connecticut for 1,000 pikes.  In the following months, Brown continued to raise funds.  While in New York City, he was introduced to Hugh Forbes, an English mercenary; Brown hired him to be the drillmaster for his men and to write their tactical handbook. 

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. 

Martin Delany
According to Delany, during the convention, Brown explained his plans to make Kansas rather than Canada the end of the Underground Railroad; he never mentioned the idea of Harpers Ferry.  Other testimony from the Chatham meeting suggests Brown did speak of going South. Brown was elected commander-in-chief and he named John Kagi as his "Secretary of War".   Richard Realf  was named "Secretary of State", and Elder Monroe, a black minister, was to act as president. Although nearly all of the delegates signed the constitution, very few delegates volunteered to join Brown's forces.

John Kagi
A crisis occurred when Hugh Forbes, Brown's mercenary, tried to expose the plans to Massachusetts Senator Henry Wilson and others. The Secret Six feared their names would be made public. 
Thomas W. Higginson
Howe and Higginson wanted no delays in Brown's progress, while Parker, Stearns, Smith and Sanborn insisted on postponement. Stearns and Smith were the major sources of funds, and their words carried more weight.

To throw Forbes off the trail and to invalidate his assertions, Brown returned to Kansas in June, and he remained in that vicinity for six months. There he joined forces with James Montgomery, who was leading raids into Missouri.  On December 20, Brown led his own raid, in which he liberated eleven slaves, took captive two white men, and looted horses and wagons. 
James Montgomery
Going by the name Shubel Morgan, over the summer Brown established himself in Kansas near the Missouri border, where he built a small stone and wood fortification. In July, he drew up Articles of Agreement for his company of men. Brown also teamed up with free-state guerilla leader James Montgomery, but he was largely inactive until late in the year, during which time he suffered an extended bout of malarial fever. 

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.

Allan Pinkerton
Over the course of the next few months he traveled again through Ohio, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts to draw up more support for the cause. On May 9, he delivered a lecture in Concord, Massachusetts;  in attendance were Bronson Alcott, Emerson and Thoreau.  Brown also reconnoitered with the Secret Six.

Henry David Thoreau
In June 1859 he paid his last visit to his family in North Elba, before he departed for Harpers Ferry. He stayed one night en route in Hagerstown, Maryland at the Washington House, on West Washington Street. On June 30, 1859 the hotel had at least 25 guests, including I. Smith and Sons, Oliver Smith and Owen Smith and Jeremiah Anderson, all from New York. From papers found in the Kennedy Farmhouse after the raid, it is known that Brown wrote to Kagi that he would sign into a hotel as I. Smith and Sons.

Harpers Ferry
Brown arrived in Harpers Ferry on July 3, 1859. A few days later, under the name Isaac Smith, he rented a farmhouse nearby in Maryland. In order to avoid suspicion in the neighborhood, Brown requested help from some female members of his family.
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.

Annie Brown
Life at the Kennedy Farm was very restrictive for the men. John Brown typically read from the Bible each morning, though many of the house’s inhabitants were not religious. The men spent most of the daylight hours in the attic, where they studied Hugh Forbes’s military manual and sometimes underwent in "a quiet, though rigid drill" under Aaron Stevens, the only raider with any regular military experience. They wrote letters, and, at times, they engaged in debate on different subjects. To avoid their discovery by neighbors, only at night could the men go outside. Some of the men found the confinement especially difficult; Albert Hazlett and William Leeman became so restless that they would go out in the woods and even visited John Cook in Harpers Ferry.

Kennedy Farmhouse
Brown awaited the arrival of his recruits, but they never materialized in the numbers he expected. He had assigned John Jr., who was still suffering from his experiences in Kansas and was not fit to join his father at Harpers Ferry, to travel through the East and Canada to recruit men, but these efforts were unproductive. The older Brown tried without success to persuade Frederick Douglass to join him when they met in Chambersburg in August.  Douglass expressed severe reservations, rebuffing Brown's pleas to join the mission. Douglass had known about Brown's plans from early in 1859, and had made a number of efforts to discourage blacks from enlisting.  He returned from that trip, however, with Shields Green, a fugitive slave.

In late September, the 950 pikes arrived from Charles Blair. Kagi's draft plan called for a brigade of 4,500 men, but Brown had only 21 men (16 white and 5 black: three free blacks, one freed slave, and a fugitive slave). They ranged in age from 21 to 49. Twelve of them had been with Brown in Kansas raids.

Harpers Ferry Armory
On October 16, 1859, Brown (leaving three men behind as a rear guard) led 18 men in an attack on the Harpers Ferry Armory.  He had received 200 Sharps rifles, and pikes from northern abolitionist societies in preparation for the raid. The armory was a large complex of buildings that contained 100,000 muskets and rifles, which Brown planned to seize and use to arm local slaves. They would then head south, drawing off more and more slaves from plantations. As Frederick Douglass and Brown's family testified, his strategy was essentially to deplete Virginia of its slaves, causing the institution to collapse in one county after another, until the movement spread into the South, essentially wreaking havoc on the economic viability of the pro-slavery states. 

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. 

Lewis Washington
Things started to go wrong when an eastbound Baltimore & Ohio train approached the town: the train's baggage master tried to warn the passengers. Brown's men yelled for him to halt and then opened fire. The baggage master, Hayward Shepherd, became the first casualty of John Brown's war against slavery. Ironically, Shepherd was a free black man. Two of the hostages' slaves also died in the raid.

A. J. Phelps, the train conductor, sent a telegram to W. P. Smith, Master of Transportation of the B. & O. R. R., Baltimore:
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.
News of the raid reached Baltimore early that morning and then on to Washington by late morning.

In Harpers Ferry, local farmers, shopkeepers, and militia pinned down the raiders in the armory by firing from the heights behind the town. Some of the local men were shot by Brown's men. At noon, a company of militia seized the bridge, blocking the only escape route. Brown then moved his prisoners and remaining raiders into the engine house, a small brick building at the entrance to the armory. He had the doors and windows barred and loopholes were cut through the brick walls. The surrounding forces barraged the engine house, and the men inside fired back with occasional fury. Brown sent his son Watson and another supporter out under a white flag, but the angry crowd shot them. Intermittent shooting then broke out, and Brown's son Oliver was wounded. His son begged his father to kill him and end his suffering, but Brown said "If you must die, die like a man." A few minutes later he was dead. The exchanges lasted throughout the day.

Robert E. Lee
By the morning of October 18, the engine house, later known as John Brown's Fort, was surrounded by a company of  U.S. Marines under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee  of the United States Army. A young Army lieutenant, J.E.B. Stuart, approached under a white flag and told the raiders that their lives would be spared if they surrendered.

J.E.B. Stuart

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.

Altogether Brown's men killed four people, and wounded nine. Ten of Brown's men were killed (including his sons Watson and Oliver). Among the killed raiders were John Kagi, Lewis Sheridan Leary and Dangerfield Newby.  Five of Brown's men escaped (including his son Owen), and seven were captured along with Brown. 

Henry Wise
On October 18, Virginia Governor Henry Wise, Virginia Senator James Mason, and Representative Clement Vallandigham of Ohio arrived in Harpers Ferry.  Mason led the three-hour questioning session of Brown.  Although the attack had taken place on Federal property, Wise ordered that Brown and his men should be tried in Virginia in Charles Town,  the nearby county seat capital of Jefferson County just seven miles west of Harpers Ferry.

James Mason

"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
The trial began October 27, after a doctor pronounced the still-wounded Brown fit for trial. Brown was charged with murdering four whites and a black, with conspiring with slaves to rebel, and with treason against Virginia. 

A series of lawyers were assigned to Brown, but it was Hiram Griswold, a lawyer from Cleveland, Ohio who concluded the defense on October 31. In his closing statement, Griswold argued that Brown could not be found guilty of treason against a state to which he owed no loyalty and was not a resident of, and that Brown had not personally killed anyone himself, and also that the failure of the raid indicated that Brown had not conspired with slaves.

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 was sentenced to be hanged in public on December 2. 

In response to the sentence, Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked that "[John Brown] will make the gallows glorious like the Cross." 

Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute under the leadership of Major Thomas Jackson  (who would earn the nickname "Stonewall" less than two years later) were called into service as a security detail in the event Brown's supporters attempted a rescue.

Thomas Jackson
During his month in jail, Brown was allowed to send and receive correspondence. One of the letters was from Mahala Doyle, wife and mother of the three Doyle victims of the Pottawatomie Massacre. She wrote "Altho' vengeance is not mine, I confess that I do feel gratified to hear that you were stopped in your fiendish career at Harper's Ferry ..." In a postscript she added "My son John Doyle whose life I beg[g]ed of you is now grown up and is very desirous to be in Charlestown on the day of your execution."

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.  

Silas Soule
Many of Brown's letters exuded high tones of spirituality and conviction and, when picked up by the northern press, won increasing numbers of supporters in the North as they simultaneously infuriated many white people in the South. 
“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.

On the morning of December 2, Brown wrote:
"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.

Brown was accompanied by the sheriff and his assistants, but no minister since he had consistently rejected the ministrations of pro-slavery clergy. Since the region was in the grips of virtual hysteria, most northerners, including journalists, were run out of town, and it is unlikely any anti-slavery clergyman would have been safe, even if one were to have sought to visit Brown. He elected to receive no religious services in the jail or at the scaffold. 

He was hanged at 11:15 am and pronounced dead at 11:50 am. 
“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, 1859
Among 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.  
Walt Whitman
The poet Walt Whitman  described viewing 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. 

Watson Brown

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 
In the aftermath of John Brown’s raid, many of his closest supporters sought to evade possible arrest. Frederick Douglass fled to Canada before sailing for England, and Samuel G. Howe and George L. Stearns stayed in Canada for several weeks. Frank Sanborn also went to Canada for a few days before returning to his home in Concord, Massachusetts. Gerrit Smith, suffering an apparently legitimate mental breakdown, was hospitalized in a mental institution. Of the “Secret Six,” only Thomas W. Higginson stayed in Massachusetts throughout the months that followed. He even gave assistance to raiders Frances Merriam and Charles Tidd on their way to Canada and plotted rescues of Brown and other raiders. Theodore Parker, dying in Europe, was far removed from the panic that afflicted other supporters.

Theodore Parker
One of the congressman who spoke on the subject was Alexander Boteler, who represented the district that included Harpers Ferry: “in my opinion, the leaders of the Abolition party, who are seeking to control the organization of this House, and to obtain possession of the Government, are as much the murderers of my friends at Harper’s Ferry as were old John Brown and his deluded followers; and I think that the committee engaged in the investigation in my State, and the investigation on the part of the Senate, will prove that the agitation of the slavery question by the great leaders of the Republican party has been the direct cause of the Harper’s Ferry invasion.”

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
During the Civil War, the cadaver of Watson Brown was removed from Winchester Medical College by a Union doctor and taken to Indiana, where it remained until 1882. That year, John Brown Jr. retrieved Watson’s remains and had them sent to North Elba for burial beside his father.

John Brown Jr.

Brown's son, Owen, later served as a Union officer in the Civil War.

Owen Brown
In 1864, Brown's widow, Mary Ann, and some of their remaining children moved to Red Bluff, California.
Mary Ann Brown in 1870
The raid on Harpers Ferry is generally thought to have done much to set the nation on a course toward civil war. Southern slave owners, hearing initial reports that hundreds of abolitionists were involved, were relieved the effort was so small. Yet they feared other abolitionists would emulate Brown and attempt to lead slave rebellions. Therefore the South reorganized the state militia systems. These militias, well-established by 1861, became a ready-made Confederate army, making the South better prepared for war.

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
In July 1899, Dr. Thomas Featherstonhaugh (a John Brown collector), Captain E. P. Hall, and Professor Orin G. Libby had the bodies of the eight raiders killed and buried at Harpers Ferry (Oliver Brown, John Kagi, Lewis Leary, William Leeman, Dangerfield Newby, Stewart Taylor, and William and Dauphin Thompson) exhumed and sent to North Elba. 

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.

Although Oswald Garrison Villard's 1910 biography of Brown was thought to be friendly, as Villard was the grandson of William Lloyd Garrison, he also added fuel to the anti-Brown fire by criticizing him as a muddled, pugnacious, bumbling, and homicidal madman.  Villard himself was a pacifist and admired Brown in many respects, but his interpretation of the facts provided a paradigm for later anti-Brown writers. By the mid-20th century, some scholars were fairly convinced that John Brown was a fanatic and killer, while some African Americans sustained a positive view of the man.

On August 30, 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt visited Osawatomie to dedicate a memorial at the John Brown Memorial Park.

The John Brown Farm and Gravesite is now a National Historic Landmark.  Since 1895, the farm has been owned by New York State, and is maintained and staffed by the Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. It is a popular tourist stop on the edge of Lake Placid, and recently celebrated 100 years as a State Historic Site.
Tombstone on John Brown's Grave

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