John Brown was a radical abolitionist who believed in the violent overthrow of the slavery system. During the Bleeding Kansas conflicts, Brown and his sons led attacks on pro-slavery residents. Justifying his actions as the will of God, Brown soon became a hero in the eyes of Northern extremists and was quick to capitalize on his growing reputation. By early 1858, he had succeeded in enlisting a small “army” of insurrectionists whose mission was to foment rebellion among the slaves. In 1859, Brown and 21 of his followers attacked and occupied the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry. Their goal was to capture supplies and use them to arm a slave rebellion. Brown was captured during the raid and later hanged, but not before becoming an anti-slavery icon.
Abolitionist and insurrectionist. Born in Torrington, Connecticut, Brown spent his boyhood in Ohio, where he mingled from the first with dedicated opponents of slavery. While his professional life featured a series of business failures, his family responsibilities grew even as his abolitionist principles deepened.
Did You Know?
John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42 and had more than 20 lawsuits filed against him.
In 1855, after assisting the escape of several slaves, Brown and his five sons moved to Kansas just after that territory had been opened for the possible expansion of slavery by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Joining the struggle there between proslavery and Free-Soil settlers, Brown appointed himself “captain” of the antislavery forces on Osawatomie Creek. (The struggle arose out of a long-standing disagreement between North and South over slavery’s expansion that had its roots in the framing of the Constitution.) When proslavery forces sacked the “free state” town of Lawrence, guerrilla warfare ensued. The success of the proslavery guerrillas inspired Brown, with four of his sons and two other accomplices, to murder five reputedly proslavery settlers who lived along Pottawottamie Creek. Justifying his...