John Henry Kagi

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John Henry Kagi (Kagey)

Birthplace: Bristolville, Trumbull, OH, USA
Death: Died in Harpers Ferry, Jefferson, VA, USA
Cause of death: killed in the raid on Harper's Ferry
Immediate Family:

Son of Abraham Neff Kagey and Anna Kagey
Brother of Barbara Ann Mayhew (Kagey)

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About John Henry Kagi

John Henry Kagi, also spelled John Henrie Kagi (March 15, 1835 – October 17, 1859), was an American attorney, abolitionist and second in command to John Brown in Brown's failed raid on Harper's Ferry. He bore the title of "Secretary of War" in Brown's "provisional government." At age 24, Kagi was killed during the raid. He had also been active in fighting on the abolitionist side in 1856 in "Bleeding Kansas".

Early life

John Henry Kagi was born in Bristolville, Ohio, in 1835, the second child of blacksmith Abraham Neff Kagy (as spelled on his gravestone) and Anna Fansler, who were of Swiss descent. John Henry Kagi adopted the Swiss spelling of the family name.

Though largely self-taught, he was the best educated of Brown's raiders. Several of his letters to national newspapers survive, including those to the New York Tribune, the New York Evening Post, and the National Era. He was an able businessman, totally abstained from alcohol, and was agnostic.

In 1854-55 he taught school in Hawkinstown, Shenandoah County, Virginia near his father's birthplace, but he was compelled to leave due to his anti-slavery views. A relative, the Virginia historian Dr. John W. Wayland, wrote the most complete monograph on Kagi and his activities.

Abolitionist activities

In 1855, Kagi traveled west and stayed at the cabin of his sister Barbara Kagy Mayhew and her husband Allen in Nebraska City. He helped them create a cave under their cabin to be used by fugitive slaves as a station of the Underground Railroad. Today the Mayhew Cabin is the only site in Nebraska recognized by the National Park Service as part of that escape system.

Kagi was admitted to the Nebraska bar that year, but he soon went south to join the fighting in Bleeding Kansas on the abolitionist side with General James H. Lane. New settlers were coming in on both sides of the slavery issue before the state voted for admission to the Union. Later Kagi enlisted in Aaron Stevens's ("Captain Whipple's") Second Kansas Militia, and met the abolitionist John Brown in Lawrence. Deeply influenced by the man, Stevens and Kagi became two of Brown's closest advisers.

In 1856 Kagi was captured by United States Army troops sent to put down the fighting in Kansas. He was imprisoned in Lecompton, then at Tecumseh, both in Kansas. Kagi was severely injured in a gun fight with a pro-slavery judge named Elmore on January 31, 1857, but shot Elmore in the groin. Later that year Kagi tried to help Brown organize a military school in Tabor, Iowa. He undertook military training in the Quaker community of Pedee, in Cedar County, Iowa.

Brown and his group went to Upper Canada to organize their effort. On May 8, 1858 in a black church in Chatham, Ontario, they adopted Brown's "Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the people of the United States", and Kagi was named Secretary of War.

Kagi and Brown returned with their men to Kansas, where they lived in a reinforced cabin on Little Sugar Creek, near Mound City. In November 1858, Kagi and others defended the cabin from an armed posse while Brown was away. On December 20, 1858 Brown led twelve men, and Kagi led another party of eight men, into Missouri to free slaves. Brown's party freed ten slaves, but Kagi's freed only one and killed the slave's owner

While they planned the raid on Harper's Ferry, Kagi acted as the business agent of the Brown's group, buying and storing weapons in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. At Chambersburg he lived with Brown at the Mary Ritner house, which still stands at 225 East King Street. On August 19, Brown (using the name Isaac Smith) and Kagi met with Frederick Douglass and Shields Green at an abandoned quarry outside of Chambersburg to discuss the raid. According to Douglass's later account, Brown described the planned raid in detail and Douglass advised him against it.

Kagi was killed by militia forces during the Harper's Ferry raid as he tried to escape across the Shenandoah River from Hall's Rifle Works. In 1899 the remains of Kagi and nine other raiders were reinterred in a common grave near John Brown's grave at North Elba, New York.

In popular culture

Included as a character in Bruce Olds' novel Raising Holy Hell (1995)
Included as a character in the novel Flashman and the Angel of the Lord (1996)
Included as a character in the novel Cloudsplitter (1998)
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John Henry Kagi's Timeline

March 15, 1835
Bristolville, Trumbull, OH, USA
October 17, 1859
Age 24
Harpers Ferry, Jefferson, VA, USA