John Brown and Timbuctoo
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Timbuctoo Background Information

Nineteenth century philanthropist Gerrit Smith gave away one hundred twenty thousand acres of land in the State of New York between 1846 and 1853 to three thousand Blacks in lots of forty acres.  Most of the land Smith gave away was in Franklin and Essex Counties, New York.  Smith embarked upon this philanthropic endeavor for a variety of reasons.  Chief among them, he was an Agrarian.  Additionally, the State of New York ratified a new State Constitution in 1846 that reaffirmed the State’s prohibition against black males’ franchisement, unless they held $250 worth of property.  Smith charged his land grantees with a number of tasks, and placed strict requirements on the character of the Black men who could receive land grants, including the abstinence from all intoxicating liquors.

After learning of Smith’s land grants, and the development of Timbuctoo, in 1848, John Brown negotiated the purchase of 200 acres of land from Gerrit Smith.  Brown wanted to move to North Elba to serve as a father to the blacks living there, and teach them how to survive on the land.  Though Brown moved his family to North Elba in 1849, he himself did not spend much time on the family farm.  From 1849 until his death in 1859, Brown spent a great deal of time on the road engaged in various business ventures, or fighting slavery and the Fugitive Slave Law.  Brown was hanged for his role in the failed raid on Harper’s Ferry.  Afterward, Brown’s body returned to his family’s farm in North Elba for burial.

Text Source: Andrew Krakat

John Brown circa 1859Image Source: Library of Congress,
Map of North Elba and Keene, NY
Above is a map of North Elba and Keene, NY.
Map Source: SUNY Plattsburgh Photo Galleries,