John Brown (Abolitionist)

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John Torrington Brown

Birthdate: (59)
Birthplace: Torrington Litchfield Co CT
Death: December 02, 1859 (59)
Charlestown, Jefferson, West Virginia (Hanged for abolitionist raid at Harpers Ferry)
Place of Burial: North Elba, Essex, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Owen Brown and Ruth Brown
Husband of Dianthe Brown and Mary Ann Brown
Father of John Brown, Jr.; Ruth Thompson; Frederick Brown; Jason Brown; Owen Brown and 15 others
Brother of Salmon Brown; Austin Brown; Levi (Blakeslee) Brown; Frederick Brown; Oliver Brown and 6 others
Half brother of Sally Marian Hand; Florella Adair; Martha Brown; Jeremiah Brown and Lucian Brown

Occupation: the abolitionist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About John Brown (Abolitionist)

John Brown (May 9, 1800 – December 2, 1859) was an American abolitionist who advocated and practiced armed insurrection as a means to end all slavery. He led the Pottawatomie Massacre in 1856 in Bleeding Kansas and made his name in the unsuccessful raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859.

President Abraham Lincoln said he was a "misguided fanatic" and Brown has been called "the most controversial of all 19th-century Americans." His attempt in 1859 to start a liberation movement among enslaved African Americans in Harpers Ferry, Virginia electrified the nation. He was tried for treason against the state of Virginia, the murder of five proslavery Southerners, and inciting a slave insurrection and was subsequently hanged. Southerners alleged that his rebellion was the tip of the abolitionist iceberg and represented the wishes of the Republican Party. Historians agree that the Harpers Ferry raid in 1859 escalated tensions that a year later led to secession and the American Civil War.

Brown first gained attention when he led small groups of volunteers during the Bleeding Kansas crisis. Unlike most other Northerners, who still advocated peaceful resistance to the pro-slavery faction, Brown demanded violent action in response to Southern aggression. Dissatisfied with the pacifism encouraged by the organized abolitionist movement, he reportedly said "These men are all talk. What we need is action - action!" During the Kansas campaign he and his supporters killed five pro-slavery southerners in what became known as the Pottawatomie Massacre in May 1856, in response to the raid of the "free soil" city of Lawrence. In 1859 he led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (in modern-day West Virginia). During the raid, he seized the armory; seven people (including a free black) were killed, and ten or more were injured. He intended to arm slaves with weapons from the arsenal, but the attack failed. Within 36 hours, Brown's men had fled or been killed or captured by local farmers, militiamen, and U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee. Brown's subsequent capture by federal forces, his trial for treason to the state of Virginia, and his execution by hanging in Charles Town, Virginia were an important part of the origins of the American Civil War, which followed sixteen months later.

When Brown was hanged after his attempt to start a slave rebellion in 1859, church bells rang, minute guns were fired, large memorial meetings took place throughout the North, and famous writers such as Emerson and Thoreau joined many Northerners in praising Brown.

Historians agree John Brown played a major role in starting the Civil War. His role and actions prior to the Civil War, as an abolitionist, and the tactics he chose still make him a controversial figure today. He is sometimes memorialized as a heroic martyr and a visionary and sometimes vilified as a madman and a terrorist. While some writers, such as Bruce Olds, describe him as a monomaniacal zealot, others, such as Stephen B. Oates, regard him as "one of the most perceptive human beings of his generation." David S. Reynolds hails the man who "killed slavery, sparked the civil war, and seeded civil rights" and Richard Owen Boyer emphasizes that Brown was "an American who gave his life that millions of other Americans might be free." For Ken Chowder he is "at certain times, a great man", but also "the father of American terrorism."

On November 2, after a week-long trial and 45 minutes of deliberation, the Charles Town jury found Brown guilty on all three counts. 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 General Francis H. Smith and Major Thomas J. 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. Lysander Spooner conspired with John Brown to promote a servile insurrection in the South", and participated in an aborted plot to free Brown after his capture following the failed raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia.

Lysander Spooner

Brown's nicknames were Osawatomie Brown, Old Man Brown, Captain Brown and Old Brown of Kansas. His aliases were Nelson Hawkins, Shubel Morgan, and Isaac Smith. Later the song "John Brown's Body" (the original title of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic") became a Union marching song during the Civil War.

This is the John Brown of Harper's Ferry fame. Sometimes called "Potowatami" Brown during his raids into Kansas preceding the event at Harpers Ferry.

Hanged in Charles Town, West Virginia for his "crimes" at Harper's Ferry.

The Harper's Ferry event is often thought of as the start of the civil war.

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John Brown (Abolitionist)'s Timeline

May 9, 1800
Torrington Litchfield Co CT
July 25, 1821
Age 21
Hudson, Ohio
January 19, 1823
Age 22
Hudson, Ohio
November 4, 1824
Age 24
Hudson, Ohio
January 9, 1827
Age 26
Richmond, Pennsylvania
February 18, 1829
Age 28
Richmond, Pennsylvania, United States
December 31, 1830
Age 30
Richmond, Pennsylvania
August 7, 1832
Age 32
Richmond, Pennsylvania