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John Brown

passionionate, murderous, and treasonous abolitionist

John Brown

John Brown was born into a deeply religious family in Torrington, Connecticut. During his first fifty years, he moved around the country, living at various times in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, and Kansas, working as a farmer, wool merchant, tanner, and land speculator. Despite numerous financial setbacks, he always found a way to support the abolitionist cause. His ultimate act was an attempt to seize the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Arrested and convicted of treason, he became a martyr for the cause when he was hanged in 1859.

A Chronology of His Life and "Career"

May 9, 1800 Born in Torrington, Connecticut.
November 7, 1837 Abolitionist newspaperman Elijah Lovejoy is murdered by a proslavery mob in Illinois. Brown vows to "consecrate his life to the destruction of slavery."
1849 Moves to the black community of North Elba, New York.
1851 Helps establish the League of Gileadites, an organization that works to protect escaped slaves from slave catchers.
Spring 1855 Five of Brown's sons -- John Jr., Jason, Owen, Frederick and Salmon -- move to Kansas Territory and settle near Osawatomie.
October 6-7, 1855 Brown arrives at Osawatomie.
December 7, 1855 Brown and four of his sons help defend the Free-State stronghold of Lawrence, Kansas, during the Wakarusa War.
May 21, 1856 Lawrence is sacked by pro-slavery forces from Missouri. Brown sets out to assist the residents but the Missourians left before he could reach Lawrence.
May 24, 1856 In retaliation for the attack on Lawrence, and for the beating of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner on the Senate floor by Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina, Brown, four of his sons, and two other settlers massacre five pro-slavery settlers at Pottawatomie, Kansas (the Pottawatomie Massacre).
June-September 1856 Despite having had no role in the Pottawatomie Massacre and being personally abhored by his father's actions, John Brown, Jr., is imprisoned at Camp Sackett.
June 2, 1856 The Battle of Black Jack takes place in southeastern Douglas County, Kansas. The battle between John Brown's men and those of Henry Clay Pate is considered the first regular battle between Free State and Pro-Slavery forces. Brown's men capture Pate and most of his men.
June 5, 1856 Colonel Edwin V. Summer and Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart disband Brown's camp and release Pate and his men.
August 30, 1856 General John W. Reid and 250 men attempt to destroy the abolitionist stronghold of Osawatomie, Kansas, in the Battle of Osawatomie. Brown's son Frederick is the first man killed. The abolitionists are forced to retreat, and the town of Osawatomie is burned by Reid's forces.
September 7, 1856 Brown arrives back in Lawrence to lend support to abolitionist forces being beseiged by 2,700 pro-slavers from Missouri. Armed conflict is averted when Territorial Governor John W. Geary is able to negotiate a cease fire and convince the Missourians to withdraw.
October 5, 1856 Brown heads east to conduct fund-raising for his anti-slavery campaign.
January 23, 1857 Brown attends a meeting of the National Kansas Committee in New York.
November 5, 1857 Brown returns to Kansas Territory to recruit men for a planned raid on a federal arsenal in Virginia.
May 19, 1858 Five Free State men are massacred on the Marais des Cygnes River in Linn County, Kansas.
June 1858 Brown acquires the property around the site of the Marais des Cygnes Massacre and erects a fort.
August 15-September 15, 1858 Brown stays at the cabin of his half-sister Florella Adair and her husband, near Osawatomie, Kansas.
December 16, 1858 Brown helps defend Free State stronghold Fort Scott from Missouri raiders.
December 20, 1858 Brown leads a daring raid into Missouri to free eleven slaves. He then spends more than a month escorting them along the Underground Railroad and into Canada. A child born during the escape was named Captain John Brown Daniels.
January 31, 1859 Brown's party encounters a force sent out to recapture the slaves, near Holton, Kansas. The two parties are separated by a swollen river, however, and by the time the slavers are able to cross Brown and his party are gone. The encounter becomes known as the Battle of the Spurs because the only weapons brandished were the spurs used on the horses.
October 16-18, 1859 Brown leads a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Two of Brown's sons, Oliver and Watson, are killed during the raid. The raid and occupation are ended by Colonel Robert E. Lee.
October 25-November 2, 1859 Brown is tried, and ultimately convicted, for treason in Charlestown, Virginia.
December 2, 1859 Brown is hanged for "crimes of murder, treason and slave insurrection against the State of Virginia" in Charlestown.

See Also

New York
Harpers Ferry
Elijah Lovejoy
Charles Sumner
Battle of Black Jack
John W. Geary
Robert E. Lee

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The Robinson Library >> Slavery in the United States

This page was last updated on August 28, 2018.