Born on May 9th, 1800, John Brown was an abolitionist hardliner, who championed armed resistance against slavery in the United States. At some time during the Bleeding Kansas crisis of 1856, Brown delivered an emotional speech, in which he stated: “These men are all talk. What we need is action—action!”
And the man stood by his words. His group of armed abolitionists from Kansas known as the Pottawatomie Rifles killed five anti-abolitionist settlers on the night of May 24th, 1856 during the Pottawatomie massacre. This was yet another horrific episode from the notorious series of events known as Bleeding Kansas.
John Brown Facts
1. John Brown won the Battle of Black Jack
On June 2nd, 1856, John brown led 29 men against the positions of Henry C. Pate, not far away from Baldwin City, Kansas. While for Pate the battle was just business, for John Brown it was a personal matter. His two sons had been captured and held hostages by proslavery forces.
The battle lasted for five excruciating hours and, finally, Brown’s men took a crucial advantage. They captured Pate and his twenty-two soldiers. Brown agreed to trade their lives for the ones of his sons. The Battle of Black Jack is the high point of Brown’s paramilitary career. Very few of his men were professional soldiers, but what the rest lacked in tactical skills, they made up in berserk-like bravery.
2. John Brown’s father offered refuge to escaped slaves
In 1805, John Brown’s father, Owen, moved with his family to Hudson, Ohio. In a year or two, he opened a tiny tannery near the town’s market. His tannery soon became a center of anti-slavery talks and abolitionist activities. Owen even used to offer shelter to slaves who’d escaped from their masters, an interesting fact about John Brown.
3. John Brown left home at 16 to prepare for Congregational minister
At the age of 16, John Brown was a responsible young man with a clear vision of his future. He left the family home and went off to Plainfield, Massachusetts to enroll in a program that would prepare him for the Morris Academy in Litchfield, Connecticut.
Unfortunately, he had to abandon his dream of becoming a Congregational minister, because his father’s tannery business could not make enough money to support his studies. To make matters worse, his eyes would constantly get inflamed, especially in spring. Faced with the harsh reality, John Brown returned to Hudson, Ohio, and opened a small tannery of is own in the outskirts.
4. Marriage and financial prosperity
The period from 1820 to 1831 was a prosperous one for John Brown. In 1820, he married an amiable lady by the name of Dianthe Lusk and their first child, John Jr, was born about a year later. Five years later, John Brown, his wife Dianthe, and their son moved to New Richmond, Pennsylvania. Their homestead spread on 200 acres.
On his land, John Brown again built a tannery, but it had a secret room to hide fugitive slaves. an interesting fact about John Brown. The tannery thus became an important stop on the Underground Railroad, which was a network of safe houses and secret routes that fugitive slaves used to reach the Free States.
In its first year in business, the tannery had 15 full-time workers. Brown also employed cowboys to take care of his cattle. He was a generous benefactor of the New Richmond community, helping them obtain a brand-new post office.
5. Second marriage and financial decline
From 1831 to 1837, John Brown faced numerous financial woes and personal tragedies. In 1831, one of John Brown’s sons died. He himself fell ill and did not have the energy to run his business so efficiently. The next year, his wife, Dianthe, died leaving him to take care of their four children alone.
This was a situation that john could not handle on his own. In the spring of 1833, Brown married 16-year-old Mary Ann Day and made good use of her fertile womb. The two had a total of thirteen children, but only four of them survived their father. Over the next few years, John Brown’s financial situation went from bad to worse. Eventually, in 1842, he was officially declared bankrupt.
6. In Springfield, Brown turned from a pious businessman into a determined rebel
Seeking a place to rebuild his life, John Brown and his family went to the mostly abolitionist city of Springfield, Massachusetts. There, his views of how the resistance against slavery should be led hardened, especially after the passing on the Fugitive Slave Act in 1859. In response, he found his first guerilla group, League of Gileadites. Their primary mission was to protect the Underground Railroad and keep it operational.
7. John Brown’s nemesis at Harpers Ferry
In October 1859, Brown and a group of well-armed and well-trained abolitionist fighters raided the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Their intention was to start a slave liberation movement that would spread like a wildfire through the states of Virginia and North Carolina.
Brown’s men were both battle-ready and battle-hardened and seized the armory without much effort. Still, he lost seven of his comrades in the battle, and about a dozen of his men were injured. A John Brown fact is that his initial intention was to arm slaves with weapons from the captured armory.
Unfortunately, only a handful of freed slaves joined Brown’s cause. Within a day and a half, Brown’s forces were totally defeated by the U.S. Marines led by fierce field commander Robert E. Lee. John Brown was promptly brought to court and charged with treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia and the murder of five men. He was quickly declared guilty and hanged.
John Brown was a revolutionary hero, whose armed resistance against slavery ignited the American Civil War. The path of his life ended at the gallows in 1859, but his cause has not been covered by the dust of oblivion to this very day. After Brown’s hanging, great French novelist Victor Hugo wrote that “this was a sad day for the American democracy”. And he was probably right.
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