John Brown

On October 16th in 1859, an ardent abolitionist, John Brown led an interracial group of 21 men to the arsenal at Harpers Ferry Virginia. Brown's objective was to seize the arsenal and spark a slave revolt across the South. Brown's virulent anti-slavery sentiments led him to dedicate his life to ending the peculiar institution. John Brown was willing to commit violence and give up his life for the freedom of others. Brown's actions have caused many to debate his morality and means of justice. Some have called John Brown a martyr and champion of the oppressed, while others have referred to him as a traitor and an early American terrorist.

John Brown's mission at Harpers Ferry did not immediately achieve his goals, but the legacy of the raid rang throughout the country. John Brown's quest to end slavery in America did not begin, nor end with the raid on Harpers Ferry. To understand the complicated crusader, one must begin by looking at the events that defined John Brown's life. This website takes you on a journey through the life and pivotal events of John Brown, and then asks you to assess the historical figure. Start his journey...

Connecticut Times


Birth: John Brown was born in 1800 in Torrington Connecticut. His family opposed the system of slavery based on their staunch religious beliefs. Brown was shaped early on by his father and religion. Brown was taught that slavery was evil and sinful.

The cruelty of slavery...

Michigan Times


A twelve year old John Brown witnesses a young slave brutally beaten with a shovel at the hands of his owner. Brown carried to gruesome images of the incident for the duration of his life.

Pro-Abolitionist Newspaper Publisher Murdered...

Illinois Times

November 7, 1837

Angry Pro-Slavery Mob kills Lovejoy and Silences his Press

The Alton Observer's editor and abolitionist, Elijah P. Lovejoy was finally silenced by his opposition in Alton Illinois. Lovejoy, a firm defender of the first amendment and outspoken critic of slavery was shot to death outside of his newspaper's office. The mob also set fire to the office and destroyed the printing press. John Brown attended Lovejoy's memorial service and declared to end slavery.

To read more about Elijah Lovejoy's life and work, click on the following link:

Congress passes Kansas-Nebraska Act

Kansas Times


Congress passes the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act

Illinois Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas worked out a deal to essentially repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820 by potentially allowing slavery to exist north of the 36 30' latitude line. The Kansas-Nebraska Act divided the Nebraska Territory into two (Kansas and Nebraska), and will allow the settlers to vote on whether or not to allow slavery. Douglas's doctrine of popular sovereignty will lead to a rash of violent clashes between pro and anti-slavery supporters in Kansas. The Act reinvigorates the debate about the spread of slavery throughout the country.

Bleeding Kansas...

Kansas Times


"Bleeding Kansas" and Pottawatomie Creek Incident

Amidst the uproar caused by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, droves of pro and anti-slavery supporters raced into the Kansas territory to cast their votes. Anti-slavery settlers flooded into Kansas financially supported by the New England Emigrant Aid Company clashed with pro-slavery advocates from the surrounding slave states. John Brown and a few of his followers reportedly entered Kansas territory in 1855. The pro-slavery contingent was aided by Missouri senator David Rice Atchison. Atchison reportedly stated, "There are eleven hundred coming over from Platte County to vote, and if that ain't enough we can sen five thousand-enough to kill every God-damned abolitionist in the Territory." Thousands of votes were cast, most of them fraudulent, and the pro-slavery supporters were victorious. The anti-slavery advocates refused to accept the results, and established Lawrence Kansas as a free-settlement. In response to the Lawrence settlement, a mob of pro-slavery supporters attacked and burned the town. John Brown and his followers sought retribution for the violence, and kill five pro-slavery supporters along the Pottawatomie Creek. Brown and his posse were able to escape, and the country was further divided along sectional lines.

John Brown's Holy War - A Documentary covering the influence of religion on John Brown's actions.

Secret Meeting...

Massachusetts Times


John Brown meets with a group of wealthy and powerful anti-slavery advocates in Boston. The men, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Theodore Parker, Franklin Sanborn, Gerrit Smith, and George Luther Stearns are later known as the "Secret Six". The group allegedly helps Brown bankroll his anti-slavery activities. They are later accused of aiding in the raid on Harpers Ferry. Click on the link to read more about each member of the "Secret Six" and testimony from Dr. Howe.

Freedom for eleven slaves...

Missouri Times


John Brown successfully liberates eleven slaves from a pro-slavery settlement in Missouri. He leads the slaves to freedom in Canada.

Attack on Harpers Ferry takes shape...

Pennsylvania Times


John Brown begins to put his plans to take Harpers Ferry in Virginia and lead a slave revolt across the South.

Brown met with abolitionist, author, and former slave Frederick Douglass in Chambersburg Pennsylvania to discuss the plan and talk about raising funds to help Brown carry out the attack. Douglass agrees to help with the financing for Brown's plan, but expresses doubts about the raid. Interestingly, Douglass had a warrant issued for his arrest as an accomplice to Brown, but he denied any involvement, and fled to Canada to avoid arrest.

Douglass Letter on John Brown-NYT 1881

Raid on Harpers Ferry...

Virginia Times

October 16, 1859

Raid on Harpers Ferry

John Brown and his interracial, including three of his sons set out to capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry and provoke a slave revolt. The plan did not unfold as intended, and the U.S. Marines led by Colonel Robert E. Lee was able to subdue Brown and his men. In the process, Brown was seriously wounded. Click here to view a short video about the Raid on Harpers Ferry.

The End?

Virginia Times

November, 1859

Of Brown's original twenty-two men, John H. Kagi, Jeremiah G. Anderson, William Thompson, Dauphin Thompson, Brown's sons Oliver and Watson, Stewart Taylor, Leeman, and free African Americans Lewis S. Leary and Dangerfield Newby had been killed during the raid. John E. Cook and Albert Hazlett escaped into Pennsylvania, but were captured and brought back to Charles Town. Brown, Aaron D. Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, and free African Americans John A. Copeland and Shields Green were all captured and imprisoned. Five raiders escaped and were never captured: Brown's son Owen, Charles P. Tidd, Barclay Coppoc, Francis J. Merriam, and free African American Osborne P. Anderson. One Marine, Luke Quinn, was killed during the storming the engine house. Two slaves, belonging to Brown's prisoners Colonel Lewis Washington and John Allstadt, also lost their lives. It is unknown whether or not they voluntarily took up arms with Brown. One drowned while trying to escape and the other died in the Charles Town prison following the raid. Local residents at the time believed the two took part in the raid. To discredit Brown, residents later claimed that these two slaves had been taken prisoner and that no slaves actually participated in the raid

John Brown is executed...

Virginia Times

December 2, 1859

John Brown, having been found guilty "guilty of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia" was hanged in Charles Town Virginia. Before being led onto the scaffold, John Brown commented, "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." (Source: To read John Brown's letters to his wife written from prison, click on the following link: