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John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry

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  • Brig. Gen John McCausland (CSA) (1836 - 1927)
    John McCausland, Jr. (September 13, 1836 – January 22, 1927) was a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army, famous for the ransom of Hagerstown, Maryland, and the razing of Chambersbu...
  • Stewart Taylor (1836 - 1859)
    Stewart Taylor, the only one of the raiders not of American birth, was but twenty-three when killed, having been born October 29, 1836, at Uxbridge, Canada. Of American descent, and a wagonmaker by tra...
  • Shields Green (c.1836 - 1859)
    Shields Green,Fugitive slave from Charleston, S. C. Joined Brown at Chambersburg, having come there with Frederick Douglass, August 19th; was known as the "Emperor," but how he obtained this name is no...
  • William Pillsbury Leeman (1839 - 1859)
    The youngest of John Brown’s raiders by about two weeks (he was born on March 20; Oliver Brown on March 6), William Henry Leeman was born in 1839 in Maine. He went to Kansas in 1856 and joined J...
  • Anne "Annie" Brown Adams (1843 - 1926)
    Anne "Annie" Brown Adams was the daughter of abolitionist John Brown and his second wife Mary Ann Day Brown. Annie was well known for her role as a lookout at the Kennedy Farm in Maryland where her f...

in this project we honor these men and their families


John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry was an attempt by white abolitionist John Brown to start an armed slave revolt by seizing a United States Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in Virginia in 1859.

Twenty-one individuals joined him; of different backgrounds and occupations, rich, poor, black, white, some born free and others born into bondage; men with many differences joined in one common goal - - to end slavery. Knowing the risks, they joined Brown’s Provisional Army and sixteen gave their lives with the hope that four million slaves would one day be free.

“I am dying for freedom. I could not die for a better cause. I had rather die than be a slave.”

Just after sundown on the evening of Sunday October 16, 1859 John Brown led a group of 21 men (16 white and 5 black) across the Potomac River from Maryland to Virginia. Their immediate objective was the capture of the cache of weapons stored at the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Brown's ultimate goal was to destroy the slave system of the South. The arms captured by the raid would allow Brown and his followers to establish a stronghold in the near-by mountains from which they could attack slaveholders and draw liberated slaves into their ranks.

Brown's raid attained initial success. Slashing the telegraph wires to cut off the town from the outside world, the raiders captured the local armory, arsenal and rifle manufacturing plant. They then rounded up 60 townspeople as hostages. Unfortunately, the raiders were unsuccessful in their attempt to isolate the town. A B&O Railroad train was detained as it passed through, but allowed to continue on its journey to Baltimore. Once it reached its destination, the alarm was raised and federal troops sent to the rescue. In the meantime, the local militia surrounded the town preventing the raiders' escape. Realizing his predicament, John Brown led his men, along with nine hostages, to the small fire engine house adjacent to the armory.

Federal forces arrived on Monday evening and successfully stormed the stronghold the following day, seriously wounding Brown. He was tried and convicted of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia. Just before his hanging on December 2, 1859, Brown uttered a prophetic forewarning of the coming Civil War:

"I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood."

John Brown's raid and subsequent trial inflamed the dispute between the country's abolitionist and pro-slavery factions hardening the lines that separated the North and the South.

1 Titles assigned to the men by John Brown

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