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John Brown

John Brown

John Brown (1800-1859) has been revered for generations as a martyr to the American antislavery cause. His attack on Harpers Ferry, Va., just before the Civil War freed no slaves and resulted in his own trial and death.

John Brown was born at Torrington, Conn., on May 4, 1800, to Owen Brown, a tanner, and Ruth Mills Brown, whose family had a history of mental instability. He spent his childhood there and on the family farm at Hudson, Ohio. A devoutly religious youth, Brown studied briefly for the ministry but quit to learn the tanner's trade. He married Dianthe Lusk in 1820, who bore him 7 children (two mentally deficient) before her death in 1832; a year later he married Mary Ann Day, who bore 13 children in the next 21 years. Of Brown's 20 children, 12 survived.

He said later that he had realized the sin of slavery, "the sum of all villainies," at 12, and that seeing an African American boy mistreated had "led him to declare, or swear: eternal war with slavery." He also developed a great interest in military history, especially in the guerrilla warfare of the Napoleonic Wars and in the Haitian slave rebellion. According to family testimony, he finally concluded that slavery could be destroyed only by atonement in blood, deciding in 1839 that the South, "Africa itself," should be invaded and the slaves freed at gunpoint. If he actually made such a plan, he kept it to himself for another decade, meanwhile trying and failing at a number of business ventures, always in debt. He moved his family 10 times until in 1849 he settled on a farm at North Elba, N.Y., that was part of a project financed by philanthropist Gerrit Smith for the training of free African Americans.

Kansas Controversy

After the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 the territory hung in the balance between slave-and free-state status while pro-and antislavery settlers contested for control. Five of Brown's sons went to Kansas, joined the free-staters, and appealed to their father for help. Brown traveled through the East, speaking on the Kansas question and gathering money for arms, for "without the shedding of blood," he said, there could be "no remission of sin" in Kansas. In September he went to Kansas, settling near Osawatomie. "I am here," he said grimly, "to promote the killing of slavery." In spring of 1856 he led a retaliatory raid on a proslavery settlement at Pottawatomie, killing five men in cold blood. John Junior spent 3 months in jail as an accomplice, but Brown himself escaped. The Pottawatomie affair made him nationally known, and while some antislavery sympathizers disowned him, to others he seemed a hero.

First Raid: Osawatomie

Brown spent the summer of 1856 collecting money for Kansas in New England, where prominent public figures, some not wholly aware of the details of his Kansas activities, were impressed by his dedication to the abolitionist cause. The Massachusetts Kansas Committee, whose directors included such civic leaders as Theodore Parker, Samuel Gridley Howe, and Thomas W. Higginson, helped him to gather recruits, guns, and money. In August he led a skirmish at Osawatomie in which his son Frederick was killed. "I will die fighting for this cause," Brown wrote. "There will be no peace in this land until slavery is done for."

He went East in early 1857 with plans for a Southern invasion apparently in hand, ordered a thousand 6-foot pikes from a Connecticut firm, and in late summer gathered a band of recruits at Tabor, lowa, for training. He held frequent conferences with Eastern abolitionists and in early 1858 sent John Junior to survey the country around Harpers Ferry, Va., the site of a Federal arsenal. In April he held a curious 10-day meeting of sympathizers in Chatham, Ontario, Canada, during which he explained his plan to invade the South, arm the slaves, and set up a free state under a new constitution; the meeting adopted his plan and then voted him commander in chief. He returned to Kansas under the name of Shubel Morgan to lead a raid into Missouri, killing one man and taking some slaves back to Canada.

Brown was now considered a criminal in the eyes of Missouri and the U.S. government, and both offered rewards for his capture; still he was hailed in parts of the North as a liberator, and donations poured in. In early 1859 he again toured the East to raise money, and in July he rented a farm 5 miles north of Harpers Ferry, where he recruited 21 men (16 white and 5 black) for final training. He intended to seize the arsenal, distribute arms to the slaves he thought would rally to him, and set up a free state for african Americans within the South. Though Harpers Ferry was an isolated mountain town, with few slaves in the vicinity, the irrationality of his plan seemed to occur to no one.

Raid on Harpers Ferry

On the night of Oct. 16, 1859, Brown set out for Harpers Ferry with 18 men and a wagonload of supplies, leaving 3 men behind to guard the farm. After cutting the telegraph wires, Brown's party slipped into the town and easily captured the armory watchmen. Inexplicably, Brown allowed the midnight train to go through; the conductor telegraphed an alarm the next morning. Shooting broke out early on the 17th between Brown's men and local residents, while militia soon arrived from Charles Town. By nightfall Brown's band lay trapped in the armory enginehouse, all but 5 wounded, Brown's sons Oliver and Watson fatally. That night Col. Robert E. Lee and Lt. J. E. B. Stuart, commanding 90 marines, arrived from Washington. The next morning the marines stormed the enginehouse, bayoneting 2 men and slashing Brown severely with sabers. Of Brown's original party 10 died and 7 were captured; on the other side the toll was a marine and 4 civilians, one of them, ironically, a free African American killed by mistake.

Brown was jailed at Charles Town and tried a week later, lying wounded on a stretcher, in a fair trial which some, however, felt to be unduly hasty. He put up no defense. "I believe that to have interfered as I have done," he said, "in behalf of His despised poor, I did no wrong, but right…. I am ready for my fate." The jury indicted him on three counts—treason against Virginia, conspiracy with african Americans, and first-degree murder. The court imposed the death sentence on November 2, to be executed a month later.

Beginning of a Legend

News of Brown's deed—"so surprising, so mixed, so confounding," Bronson Alcott called it—shocked the nation. Was he martyr or murderer? Many praised him (Ralph Waldo Emerson called him "that new saint who will make the gallows like a cross"), and many condemned him. Seventeen of Brown's acquaintances sent affidavits to Governor Wise of Virginia raising, on good evidence, the issue of Brown's sanity, but Wise did not act on them. Brown was hanged at Charles Town on Dec. 2, 1859, with four of his men, after handing a prophetic note to his jailer on his way to the gallows: "I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land: will never be purged away; but with Blood." Mass meetings of mourning were held throughout the North, and church bells tolled at the hour of his execution. He was buried at North Elba, N.Y., and the cause of abolition had its martyr. When a penny ballad about him, set to the music of an old revival hymn and named "John Brown's Body," appeared on the streets of Boston in early 1861, he was already a legend.

Further Reading

The best book on Brown, well written and soundly researched, is Joseph C. Furnas, The Road to Harper's Ferry (1959). James C. Malin, John Brown and the Legend of Fifty-Six (1942), is a study of the Kansas years. David Karsner, John Brown: Terrible Saint (1934), and Oswald Garrison Villard, John Brown (1943), are good biographies. Allan Keller, Thunder at Harper's Ferry (1958), is an hour-by-hour account of the raid. One of the Massachusetts Kansas Committee leaders, Franklin B. Sanborn, published The Life and Letters of John Brown (1885; 4th ed. 1910), which is still interesting reading. □

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Brown, John

John Brown

Born: May 4, 1800
Torrington, Connecticut
Died: December 2, 1859
Charles Town, Virginia

American abolitionist

John Brown was one of the most famous abolitionists, or opponents of slavery, in history. He traveled widely to gather support and money for his cause. Many people who helped him were either unaware or did not care that he often used violence to achieve his goals. His attack on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859, freed no slaves and resulted in his own trial and death.

Declares "eternal war with slavery"

John Brown was born at Torrington, Connecticut, on May 4, 1800, to Owen Brown and Ruth Mills Brown. His father worked as a tanner, changing animal skins into leather. A religious youth, Brown studied briefly for the ministry but quit to learn the tanner's trade. He married Dianthe Lusk in 1820, and the couple had seven children before her death in 1832. In 1833 he married Mary Ann Day, with whom he had thirteen children in the next twenty-one years. Of Brown's twenty children, twelve survived.

When Brown was twelve years old, he saw an African American boy mistreated; this incident, he said, led him to declare "eternal war with slavery." He felt that slavery could be destroyed only with bloodshed, deciding in 1839 that the South should be invaded and the slaves freed at gunpoint. For the next decade, he attempted a number of business ventures, none successfully. He moved his family ten times, until settling in 1849 on a farm at North Elba, New York.

Kansas struggle

After the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the territory hung in the balance while supporters and opponents of slavery tried to gain control. According to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the people living in the territory would decide whether or not slavery would be allowed in Kansas and Nebraska. Brown traveled through the East, urging an end to slavery in Kansas and gathering money for weapons to help achieve that end. "Without the shedding of blood," he said, there could be "no remission of sin." In other words, he believed that the people who supported slavery and the slave system would not be freed from the guilt of what he saw as a sin until slavery was ended. He thought that the only way to end slavery was through fighting, even if it would result in the death of some people. In September he settled near Osawatomie, Kansas. "I am here," he said, "to promote the killing of slavery." In 1856 he led a raid on a proslavery settlement at Pottawatomie, Kansas, killing five men before escaping. This incident made him nationally known, and while some people criticized him, to others he was a hero.

Brown spent the summer of 1856 in New England collecting money for his fight against slavery. Important public figures, some unaware of the details of his activities, were impressed by his dedication and helped him gather recruits, guns, and money. In August he and his supporters fought with settlers at Osawatomie, and his son Frederick was killed. "I will die fighting for this cause," Brown wrote, "There will be no peace in this land until slavery is done for."

Brown went east in early 1857 with plans to invade the South; he gathered supporters at Tabor, Iowa, for training. He held meetings with eastern abolitionists, and in early 1858 sent his son John Jr. to survey the country around Harpers Ferry, the site of a Federal arsenal (a place where items used by the military, such as equipment and weapons are made or stored). In April he held a meeting of his men in Chatham, Ontario, Canada. He explained to them that he planned to invade the South, arm the slaves, and set up a free state under a new constitution. He returned to Kansas using a different name and led a raid into Missouri, killing one man and taking some slaves back to Canada.

Brown was now considered a criminal in the eyes of the state of Missouri and the U.S. government, and both offered rewards for his capture. However, in parts of the North he was seen as a hero, and donations poured in. In early 1859 he toured the East again to raise money, and in July he rented a farm five miles north of Harpers Ferry, where he recruited twenty-one men for final training. He intended to seize the arsenal, distribute arms to the slaves he thought would support him, and set up a free state for African Americans within the South. However, Harpers Ferry was an isolated mountain town, with few slaves nearby.

Raid on Harpers Ferry

On the night of October 16, 1859, Brown set out for Harpers Ferry with eighteen men and a wagon full of supplies, leaving three men behind to guard the farm. Brown's party slipped into town and easily captured the armory (a storage place for weapons) watchmen. For some reason, Brown allowed the midnight train to go through; the train's conductor sounded an alarm the next morning.

Shooting broke out early on October 17, 1859, between Brown's men and local residents. Soldiers soon arrived from Charles Town, West Virginia. By nightfall Brown's group was trapped in the armory's engine house; all but five were wounded. That night ninety marines arrived from Washington, D.C., to join the fight against Brown and his men. The next morning the marines stormed the engine house, slashing Brown with their swords. Of Brown's original party, ten died and seven were captured; on the other side the victims included a marine and four other men, one of them a free African American killed by mistake.

Brown was jailed at Charles Town. His trial took place a week later as he lay wounded on a stretcher. "I believe that to have interfered as I have done," he said, "in behalf of His despised poor, I did no wrong, but right. I am ready for my fate." He was convicted of treason (a crime against the government) against Virginia, conspiracy (plotting) with African Americans, and first-degree murder. The court sentenced Brown to death on November 2. He was to be executed a month later.

Beginning of a legend

News of Brown's deed shocked the nation. Many praised him, including Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882), who called him "that new saint who will make the gallows like a cross." However, many believed that his crime had been terribly evil. Seventeen of Brown's acquaintances sent letters on his behalf to Governor Wise of Virginia, but Wise ignored them.

Brown was hanged at Charles Town on December 2, 1859, with four of his men, after handing a note to his jailer on his way to the gallows: "I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land: will never be purged away; but with Blood." The note predicted what was to come in the near future. In fact, the end to slavery in the United States came with the end of the Civil War (186165). The Civil War was fought to decide whether or not slavery would be allowed in new territories and in an effort to prevent the southern states from leaving the Union and forming an independent nation. Many people throughout the North gathered to mourn Brown, and church bells tolled at the hour of his execution. He was buried in North Elba, a hero among abolitionists. By the time a song about him, set to the music of an old hymn and named "John Brown's Body," became popular in 1861, he was already a legend.

For More Information

Cox, Clinton. Fiery Vision: The Life and Death of John Brown. New York: Scholastic, 1997.

Dubois, W. E. B. John Brown: A Biography. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1997.

Oates, Stephen B. To Purge This Land with Blood: A Biography of John Brown. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984.

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Brown, John

BROWN, JOHN

John Brown was a charismatic, stubborn abolitionist who failed at numerous business and commercial enterprises, yet succeeded in convincing men to join him in a cause for which they were willing to die. His abolitionist beliefs translated into violent actions in Kansas and Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Convicted of murder and treason for his raid on military facilities at Harpers Ferry, Brown was hanged for his crimes. Nevertheless, he galvanized the abolitionist cause, becoming a martyr in the fight against slavery.

Brown was born in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800, to Owen and Ruth Brown. His father, a strict Calvinist, despised slavery. When Brown was five years old, the family moved to Hudson, Ohio, a locale that was steeped in anti-slavery sentiment. Brown's fervor for the anti-slavery movement never waned and grew more vehement as he got older.

In 1820, Brown married Dianthe Lusk and six years later, they moved to Pennsylvania where he started a tannery. Lusk died in 1832, leaving Brown with five children. In 1833, he married 16-year-old Mary Ann Day who bore him seven more children. Brown and his growing family moved around the country while he tried his hand at a number of occupations, including tanner, farmer, cattle broker, and wool merchant.

In 1835, Brown's attempts to support his family and to repay money he had borrowed led to a disastrous "get rich quick" scheme. He convinced family members and friends to loan him money that he used to buy property where a canal was to be built. His timing proved unfortunate. In the wake of the Panic of 1837, plans for the proposed canal were changed and the properties bought up by Brown and his associates were rendered nearly worthless. Brown made numerous other attempts to reach financial solvency, but ultimately was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1842.

Throughout his life Brown remained committed to the anti-slavery cause. Brown met the great abolitionist leader frederick douglass in 1847 and impressed Douglass with his sympathy for African Americans—both slaves and freemen. In 1849, Brown moved his family to the black community of North Elba, New York. Brown proposed to show the residents of North Elba how to farm and to act as a mentor to them.

Brown was a participant in the Underground Railroad, an informal network of exslaves and sympathetic whites that helped slaves escape their masters and travel north to freedom. In 1851, he proposed the establishment of the League of Gileadites, an organization that would be used to protect escaped slaves.

In 1854, Congress passed the kansas-nebraska act, which called for the residents of the new territories to decide the issue of slavery by popular vote. The area became known as "bloody Kansas" as competing groups fought violent skirmishes aimed at securing the territories for their side. Many pro-slavery residents of Missouri moved across the border in hopes of securing a victory at the election.

"I believe to have interfered as I have done … in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it be deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice … I submit: so let it be done"
—John Brown

Five of Brown's sons had moved to Kansas and they entreated their father to join them. In 1855, Brown moved to Kansas and began to plan for the armed conflict he felt was inevitable. In 1856, in response to escalating incidents including the sacking of the anti-slavery town of Lawrence, Kansas, and the near-fatal beating of U.S. Senator charles sumner who was attacked on the Senate floor by a pro-slavery congressman, Brown led a small band of men to Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas, where they killed five pro-slavery settlers. This violent action by Brown was hailed by a number of anti-slavery groups and universally reviled by pro-slavery forces.

In December 1858, Brown and a small group of followers staged a raid on two pro-slavery homesteads in Missouri where they succeeded in confiscating property and freeing 11 slaves. Brown and his group then traveled more than a thousand miles to deliver the former slaves to a boat that would carry them to freedom in Canada.

Although many abolitionists were opposed to violence, others had begun to adopt Brown's view that armed conflict was necessary in order to achieve the abolition of slavery. Between 1857 and 1859, Brown crisscrossed New England, giving rousing speeches to anti-slavery groups and raising money for the abolitionist cause. Among those who gave money were the Secret Six, a group of wealthy benefactors from Boston who helped Brown by funding the army he sought to lead in order to further conduct his war against slavery.

On October 16, 1859, the 59-year-old Brown led his Provisional Army, consisting of five black men and 21 whites (three of them his sons) in a nighttime raid on the town of Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown and his men cut telephone wires, took several hostages and gained control of the federal armory and arsenal. Brown's plan was to arm slaves with weapons from the arsenal, thus enabling them to fight for their freedom. However, he and his group found themselves pinned down by a group of local citizens and nearby militia groups who killed a number of his men including two of his sons.

On the morning of October 18, a contingent of U.S. marines led by Colonel Robert E. Lee joined the battle. Brown refused a chance to surrender and 36 hours after the raid had started, Brown and his remaining companions were captured. Brown was taken to Charles Town, Virginia, (now West Virginia) to be tried. In a trial that lasted for nearly a month, Brown was charged with murder, conspiracy, and treason against the state. He was found guilty of all three charges. Before hearing his sentence, Brown gave a brief but passionate statement to the court:

… I believe to have interfered as I have done … in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it be deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life to 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.

Brown was hanged in Charles Town on December 2, 1859. On the day of his execution, guns were fired and bells tolled in many northern cities. Brown was hailed as a martyr of the abolitionist movement, which concluded that a peaceful solution could not be found. In April 1861, Confederate forces fired on Fort Sumter, an action that marked the beginning of the Civil War. In 1865, Congress passed the thirteenth amendment, which abolished slavery throughout the United States.

further readings

DeVillers, David. 2000. The John Brown Slavery Revolt Trial: A Headline Court Case. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow Publishers.

"John Brown's Holy War." PBS: The American Experience. Available online at <www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/brown> (accessed June 18, 2003).

Lubet, Steven. 2001. "John Brown's Trial." Alabama Law Review 52 (winter): 425–466.

Oates, Stephen B. 1984. To Purge This Land With Blood. Amherst: Univ. of Massachusetts Press.

Peterson, Merrill D. 2002. John Brown: The Legend Revisited. Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press.

cross-references

Abolition.

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Brown, John

Brown, John

The abolitionist crusader John Brown died on December 2, 1859, executed by the state of Virginia for charges relating to treason, murder, and promoting a slave insurrection. Although Brown's public execution took place before the start of the U.S. Civil War, his life and death anticipated the impending battle between the North and the South over the moral legitimacy of slavery in America, and served as a source of righteous inspiration for both sides immediately before and during the course of the war. Beyond that, Brown's death serves as a case study in the construction and power of martyrdom. Proslavery supporters reviled Brown, whose often bloody actions against the social institution fueled southern fears about northern aggression. Many supporters and fervent abolitionists, on the other hand, glorified Brown, whose sacrifice for a higher good transformed the unsuccessful businessman into a national martyr.

Born in Connecticut on May 9, 1800, Brown became involved in the abolitionist movement early in life. His father was a strict Calvinist who abhorred slavery as a particularly destructive sin against God. Brown himself witnessed the brutality of slavery when, as a twelve-year-old boy, he saw a young slave ferociously beaten with a shovel by his owner, an image that remained with Brown for the rest of his life. After the Illinois abolitionist publisher Elijah Lovejoy was murdered by a proslavery mob in 1837, Brown publicly declared his intention to find a way to end slavery in the United States.

In the midst of extreme economic hardships and failed business ventures, Brown moved with some of his sons to Kansas following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This act, heavily supported by southern slave-holding states, allowed people in new territories to vote on the question of slavery. During the 1850s, Kansas was the scene of a number of horrific acts of violence from groups on both sides of the issue. Brown placed himself in the thick of these bloody conflicts and, with a group of other like-minded zealots, hacked five proslavery men to death with broadswords, an event that came to be known as the Pottawatomie Massacre.

In the summer of 1859, Brown led a small army of men, including his own sons, to Harper's Ferry, Virginia, with a plan to invade the South and incite a slave rebellion. The group successfully raided the armory at Harper's Ferry but, after the arrival of Colonel Robert E. Lee and his troops, Brown's plans fell apart, and his men either escaped, died, or were captured by Lee's men in the ensuing battle. Brown himself was captured and stood trial in Virginia, where his fate was determined by an unsympathetic jury.

Brown, however, did not understand his failed invasion and impending death as a defeat for the abolitionist cause. Instead, he believed these events had crucial historical and religious significance, and that rather than signaling an end would be the beginning of the eventual elimination of slavery in America. Brown greatly admired stories about the prophets in the Bible, and came to believe that God, rather than a Virginia jury, had determined his fate. Convinced that his martyrdom could have more of an impact than any of his earlier schemes, Brown faced death with calm assurance and optimism that an abolitionist victory was secured with his imminent execution.

Brown was not the only one who understood the significant political implications of his execution in religious terms. Indeed, major northern abolitionists who would not countenance Brown's violent strategies to end slavery while alive, embraced the language of martyrdom after his death on the gallows. New England cultural figures like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Lydia Maria Child, to name a few, identified Brown as the first true abolitionist martyr, serving as an iconic symbol of righteousness, redemption, and regeneration. Although others perished with him on the gallows, for many northerners John Brown was transformed into a hero who deserved to be included in the pantheon of great Americans and who died for the good of the United States.

Not everyone agreed with this assessment though. Immediately after his death, southern citizens and many in the North turned him into a demon rather than a hero, and wanted his corpse to suffer indignities reserved for the lowest criminals, including the suggestion that it be turned over to a medical school for dissection. The governor of Virginia decided to release the body of the deceased to Brown's wife, Mary, and allow it to be transported to the family farm in North Elba, New York. During the journey north, Brown's dead body aroused a great deal of interest. In Philadelphia, a large crowd of people from African-American abolitionist and proslavery communities turned out to meet the body upon its arrival in the city. The mayor, along with Mary Brown and her supporters, feared a riot might ensue, and decided to send an empty coffin to the local undertaker as a decoy so the container with Brown's body could make it to the wharf and continue its journey by boat to New York City.

Reaching its final destination, people came to see the coffin containing Brown's body, with some towns finding various ways to commemorate the martyr while the corpse passed through. On December 7, 1859, Brown's body arrived in North Elba, and was laid out in the front room of the house for visiting relatives, friends, and supporters to see before it vanished for good after the funeral the next day. After the corpse of John Brown had been placed in the ground at his home, the memory of his violent campaign to end slavery and the symbolism of his death in the state of Virginia continued to materialize in American imaginative and social landscapes. During the U.S. Civil War, for example, one of the most popular songs among Union forces urged soldiers to remember his body "a-mouldering in the grave"in time, a song that would be transformed with new lyrics by Julia Ward Howe into "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The cultural memory of John Brown's life after the war and into the twentieth century assumed a variety of forms, including Stephen Vincent Benét's famous Pulitzer Prizewinning poem, "John Brown's Body," and the establishment of schools bearing his name.

See also: Civil War, U.S.; Lincoln in the National Memory; Martyrs

Bibliography

Abels, Jules. Man on Fire: John Brown and the Cause of Liberty. New York: Macmillan, 1971.

Finkelman, Paul, ed. His Soul Goes Marching On: Responses to John Brown and the Harper's Ferry Raid. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995.

Laderman, Gary. The Sacred Remains: American Attitudes toward Death, 17991883. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

Oates, Stephen B. To Purge This Land with Blood: A Biography of John Brown. New York: Harper and Row, 1970.

GARY M. LADERMAN

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Brown, John (American abolitionist)

John Brown, 1800–1859, American abolitionist, b. Torrington, Conn. He spent his boyhood in Ohio. Before he became prominent in the 1850s, his life had been a succession of business failures in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York. An ardent abolitionist (he once kept a station on the Underground Railroad at Richmond, Pa.) and a believer in the equality of the races, he consecrated (1837) his life to the destruction of slavery. Brown settled (1855) with five of his sons in Kansas to help secure the territory's entry as a free state. He became "captain" of the colony on the Osawatomie River. The success of the proslavery forces in violent attacks on antislavery leaders, and particularly in their sack of Lawrence, aroused Brown, and in order "to cause a restraining fear" in 1856 he, with four of his sons, a son-in-law, and two other men, savagely murdered five proslavery men living on the banks of the Pottawatomie Creek. In this he asserted he was an instrument in the hand of God. His exploits as a leader of an antislavery band received wide publicity, especially in abolitionist journals, and as "Old Brown of Osawatomie" he became nationally known.

Late in 1857 he began to enlist men for a project that he apparently had considered for some time and that took definite form at a convention of his followers held at Chatham, Ont., the next spring. He planned to liberate the slaves through armed intervention by establishing a stronghold in the Southern mountains to which the slaves and free blacks could flee and from which further insurrections could be stirred up. Early in 1859, Brown rented a farm near Harpers Ferry, Va. (now W.Va.), and there collected his followers and a cache of arms.

On the night of Oct. 16 he, two of his sons, and 19 other followers crossed the Potomac and without much resistance captured the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, made the inhabitants prisoners, and took general possession of the town. Strangely enough, he then merely settled down, while the aroused local militia blocked his escape. That night a company of U.S. marines, commanded by Col. Robert E. Lee, arrived, and in the morning they assaulted the engine house of the armory into which Brown's force had retired. In the resulting battle, 10 of Brown's men were killed, and Brown himself was wounded. News of the raid aroused wild fears in the South and came as a great shock to the North. On Dec. 2, 1859, Brown was hanged at Charles Town. His dignified conduct and the sincerity of his calm defense during the trial won him sympathy in the North and led him to be widely regarded as a hero and a martyr. The Civil War broke out just over a year after the raid.

The standard contemporary account is contained in The Life, Trial and Execution of Captain John Brown (1859, repr. 1969). See also biographies by O. G. Villard (rev. ed. 1965), S. B. Oakes (1970), J. Abels (1971), and D. S. Reynolds (2005); A. Keller, Thunder at Harper's Ferry (1958); J. C. Malin, John Brown and the Legend of Fifty-Six (1942, repr. 1970); R. O. Boyer, The Legend of John Brown (1973); J. Stauffer, The Black Hearts of Men (2002); F. Nudelman, John Brown's Body (2004); B. McGinty, John Brown's Trial (2009); R. E. McGlone, John Brown's War against Slavery (2009); T. Horwitz, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War (2011); J. Stauffer and Z. Trodd, ed., The Tribunal: Responses to John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid (2012).

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Brown, John (1826-1883)

Brown, John (1826-1883)

The personal servant of Queen Victoria, (1819-1901) from December 1865 until his death. A rough-mannered Highland gillie (attendant on a Scottish chieftain), he became fascinated with the queen of England during her visits to Balmoral Castle, Scotland, and later at Osborne House, Isle of Wight. Their unusually close association gave rise to many rumors and spiteful gossip.

Brown was born at Crathie, near Balmoral, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, December 8, 1826. He first came to the notice of Queen Victoria during her visits to the Scottish Highlands, when Brown served as her outdoor personal attendant. After the death of her beloved Prince Albert, the widowed queen came to rely heavily on the companionship of Brown, after he had been summoned by her to Osborne House in 1864. He had brought the queen's favorite Highland pony "Lochnagar," and soon afterward, the kilted, red-whiskered Highlander became a privileged associate of the queen, and enjoyed powerful influence. Rumor had it that he was even her secret lover or that he took part in Spiritualist séances with her.

It was an open secret that the queen had a special interest in Spiritualism, particularly after the death of Prince Albert. She certainly held a number of séances and is said to have used the services of medium Robert James Lees.

Brown died March 27, 1883, at Windsor Castle and was buried at Crathie cemetery. He was praised by the queen in the Court Circular as her "best and truest friend," and she had a statue erected to him at Balmoral.

Sources:

Underwood, Peter. Queen Victoria's Other World. London: Harrap, 1868.

Victoria, Queen. Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands. Smith, Elder, 1868.

Williams, Henry L. Life of John Brown. for 30 Years Person al Attendant of The Queen. London: E. Smith, 1883.

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Brown, John

Brown, John (1800–59) US anti-slavery crusader, hero of the song “John Brown's Body”. Hoping to start a slave revolt, he led 21 men in the capture of the US arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. They were driven out the next day by troops under General Robert E. Lee. Brown was captured, charged with treason and hanged. The trial aggravated North-South tensions on the eve of the American Civil War.

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"Brown, John." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. 26 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Brown, John (Scottish essayist)

John Brown, 1810–82, Scottish essayist. He was a physician. His writing was collected in Horae Subsecivae (3 vol., 1858–82), which included his unique picture of a dog, Rab and His Friends (1859), and a memoir of that gifted child known to Walter Scott's circle as "Pet Marjorie," Marjorie Fleming (1863).

See his letters (ed. by his son and D. W. Forrest, 1907).

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