Brown - Crusading Against Slavery
(1800-1859) - Frequently referred to as "Osawatomie Brown," the famed
abolitionist was born at Torrington, Connecticut on May 9, 1800, a son of Owen
and Ruth (Mills) Brown. His earliest American ancestor was Peter Brown, who came
over in the Mayflower in 1620, and his grandfather, John Brown, was a captain in
the Connecticut Militia during the American Revolution. His maternal
grandfather, Gideon Mills, was also a Revolutionary soldier.
In 1805 Owen Brown
moved with his family to Ohio, where John grew to manhood, working on the farm
and as a currier in his father's tannery, part of the time as foreman. When he
was about 20 he took up the study of surveying and followed that occupation for
a few years. He then went to Crawford County,
Pennsylvania, where he lived until
1835, before moving to Portage County, Ohio.
he went to Springfield, Massachusetts and engaged in the business of buying and
selling wool on commission. No sooner had he established himself in this
business than he tried to force up the price of wool, but, the New England
manufacturers combined against him and he was compelled to ship some 200,000
pounds to Europe, where he sold it at a loss, bankrupting him.
John Brown, 1850's.
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Gerrit Smith then gave him a
piece of land near North Elba, New York in the bleak, desolate region of the
Adirondacks, and here Brown lived until 1851. He then returned to Ohio and again
engaged in the wool business, this time with better success.
John's father Owen was one of the early school of abolitionists, a
disciple of Hopkins and Edwards, and from his earliest childhood John
breathed an atmosphere antagonistic to the institution of
slavery. He was twice
married -- first to Dianthe Lusk, a widow, who bore him seven children; and
second to Mary Ann Day, by whom he had thirteen children. Eight of the twenty
children died young, and of those who grew to maturity all were abolitionists.
Five of his sons moved from Ohio to
Kansas in 1854 and selected claims some 8 to
10 miles from Osawatomie, where they were joined by their father on October 5,
Father and sons were mustered in as militia by the free-state party and
turned out to aid in the defense of
Lawrence. Two of Brown's sons were captured
by the United States Cavalry, which was used to aid in enforcing the territorial
laws passed by a pro-slavery legislature, and John Brown, Jr., with his hands
fastened behind his back, was driven by a cavalry company nine miles on a trot
to Osawatomie. Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography says: "This
state of things must be fully remembered in connection with the so-called
'Pottawatomie Massacre,' which furnishes, in the opinion of both friends and
foes, the most questionable incident in Brown's career."
In January, 1859, Brown left Kansas with a number of slaves taken
from Missouri owners and went to Canada, where he arranged the details for his
raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia. Through the National Kansas Committee he
secured 200 rifles, and on June 3, 1859, he left Boston with $500 in gold and
permission to keep the rifles. Late in that month Brown and his associates
rented a small farm near Harper's Ferry, where they were to complete the
preparations for their raid. Brown's daughter, Anne, and a daughter-in-law, were installed as housekeepers. Here, Brown was visited in August
by Frederick Douglass, to whom he imparted his plan for the seizure of the
United States arsenal at Harper's Ferry, and, if necessary to carry out his
purpose, the capture of the town itself.
Douglass did not look with favor on the scheme, but
Brown, having consecrated his life to the abolition of slavery, was not to be
dissuaded. Accordingly, on Sunday evening, October 16, 1859, Brown mustered 18
of his men and moved on the arsenal. At half-past ten the gates were broken in
with a crow-bar, the small guard was overpowered without difficulty, and by
midnight the town was patrolled by the raiders. Six men were sent to bring in
some planters living in the vicinity, with their slaves, it being Brown's idea
to free and arm the negroes to aid in bringing about a general uprising.
Unhappily for the scheme, a train got through Harper's Ferry and carried the
news to Washington.
Marines storming the Harper's Ferry Engine House,
Weekly, November, 1859.
Lee who afterwards won
distinction as a
Confederate general, hurried from Washington with a company of
Marines, and the citizens armed themselves to aid the troops in capturing the
raiders. Brown and six of his men barricaded themselves in the engine room and
held out against great odds until two of his sons were killed and he was
wounded. He was tried before a Virginia court, convicted of treason and
sentenced to be hanged. His execution took place on December 2, 1859, and it is
said that no man ever met his fate with greater fortitude. His body was buried
at North Elba, Essex County, New York, near the farm given him by Gerrit Smith.
Brown has been called a fanatic, and some have even gone so far as to adjudge
him insane, though there is no positive evidence to show that he was mentally
unbalanced. From boyhood, the doctrines of abolition had been drilled into him,
until the idea that all men ought to be free became with him a sort of
His methods were not always of the
best character, but he had the courage of his convictions and was willing to lay
down his life for a principle. His battles of Black Jack and
insignificant when compared with Gettysburg or Chickamauga, but they began the
conflict that ended in the annihilation of
chattel slavery in the United States.
On August 30, 1877, a monument was unveiled
Osawatomie "In memory of the heroes who fell in defense of freedom." The
monument was erected by the John Brown Memorial association. Some years later
the Women's Relief Corps of Kansas
started a movement to have the battlefield of
Osawatomie set apart as a public park. The field was purchased on May 13, 1909,
and on Aug. 31, 1910, the park was dedicated with imposing ceremonies,
ex-President Roosevelt being the orator of the occasion. Besides these
recognitions of Brown's valor, the
Kansas legislature of 1895 passed a
resolution requesting the authorities in charge of the United States statuary
hall at Washington to permit the Lincoln Soldiers' and Sailors' National
Monument association to place a statue of John Brown in the hall, but nothing
farther came of the movement.
of America, updated June, 2017.
the Article: This above text is based on information in the book Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History,
Volume I; edited by Frank W. Blackmar, A.M. Ph. D.; Standard Publishing
Company, Chicago, IL 1912. The text is not verbatim as we have
edited for readability, errors, and updates.
John Brown ascending the scaffold to be hanged, Frank
Illustrated Newspaper, 1859