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The Abolitionist - John Brown

Updated on February 20, 2013

John Brown, His Life And Passions

John Brown was born May 9, 1800 in Torrington, Connecticut. His New England values would inflame his passion for a single cause: to end slavery. In 1856, Brown was a commander of the forces in the Battles of Black Jack and Osawatomie in Kansas. At Pottawatomie, Brown amassed followers who killed five pro-slavery rebels. Brown's status grew in prominence where he led small groups in the Bleeding Kansas crisis. Brown soon realized that peaceful resistance to slavery was not effective. He began to press his belief in insurrection and violence to achieve his goals.

Brown was a deeply religious man of faith emanating from his New England roots. His premise regarding slavery was that he was performing the work of God by punishing slaver owners for their sins against humanity.

When he led a raid on a federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859, seven people were killed and approximately a dozen were injured. He attempted to arm slaves with weapons captured from the arsenal inside the armory. However, this militant campaign failed. His men fled. Some were captured by the local militia, slave-owning farmers and the US Marine under Robert E. Lee.

This action caused southern slave owners to believe Brown's attack was the beginning of rebellions by northerners to provoke slaves into violence against their owners. Though John Brown's anti-slavery campaigns played a major part in the festering of the Civil War, his idealisms and visions are part of his New England birthright of promoting freedom and equality since the early days prior to the Revolutionary War.

Documents show John Brown to be a well educated man of his era. He attended the prestigious Morris Academy in Litchfield, Connecticut. His desire to become a minister of the Congregationalist religion was curtailed due to lack of funds and illness. He returned to his father's home in Hudson, Ohio and helped with the family's tannery business. He showed entrepreneurism bent when he later opened a tannery in another town with the assistance of his adopted brother.

Brown married Dianthe Lusk in 1820 and bought land in New Richmond, Pennsylvania. He combined his residence here with the establishment of John Brown's Tannery on several acres of his land. His business was quite successful and employed fifteen. He used part of his land to raise cattle and learned land surveying for additional income.

When one of Brown's sons died, Brown was inconsolable. As a result, his business suffered and left he and his family in debt. His wife died in 1832 and Brown remarried again in June 1833. He had seven children with his first wife and thirteen children with his second wife.

When the Economic Crisis of 1839 struck, John Brown suffered enormous financial loss. He realized his trust in credit and bonds issued by the state of Ohio cost him his financial stability. He eventually regain his entrepreneural self-confidence and became an astute, if less trustful, business man.

Never a man to remain silent, Brown was moved to destroy slavery when Elijah P. Lovejoy was murdered in 1837. Brown would later meet with an African-American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, who proclaimed Brown's passionate anti-slavery goals to be a great influence in the forward movement of abolition. However, Brown's achievements of his goals came with incidences of violence.


Captain Henry Pate of the Missouri militia, captured two of Brown's sons and destroyed the Brown homestead. In retaliation for Pate's attack, John Brown were successful in their defense of the Palmyra, Kansas Free State Settlement.

Brown's end would come as a result of the attack on federal property in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His war against slavery pitted Brown and his followers against the US Marines, whereupon Brown was wounded, captured and brought to trial for treason. He was hanged on December 2, 1859. A few years later, John Brown would be remembered in music by Alexander Glazunov, the famed Russian composer in "Triumph March," which incorporates the melody of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," immortalized by the battle at Pottawatomie.

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