John Brown's Raid


John Brown was an extreme abolitionist who wanted to free all slaves from their masters in the South. Brown was 55 years old, been married twice. He had twenty children with his first wife and thirteen children with his second wife. He intended to provide arms to slaves in order to retaliate. The North found this raid as a sign that the Civil War had begun. Yet the South found themselves fearful, reinforcing their hold against all slaves. John Brown will live on, whether as the first step towards the Civil War, or the murderer who was irrational in his thinking.

Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry 1865
Harper Ferry before the Civil War was not the usual Southern town. It was a town closer to the North, causing lack of growing area. Because of there was hardly any place to grow cotton, most slaves were house slaves. Slaves were treated with more respect and kindness, without as much work during the day. Since there was less brutal and harsh the slaves tended to not riot against their masters. This was one of the biggest flaws of John Brown's plan to give slaves weapons to attack their masters with.

The Preparation and Thinking Before the Attack

In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed, repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Because Kansas was a territory there was a struggle between pro slavers and free staters. When the territory became a state, it needed to decide whether it would be a free state or a slave state. Families from both sides, both Noth and South, were sent to Kansas to fight for their side. Two of Brown's son traveled a bit before he left New York for Kansas. Even though it was hard for him to leave most of his family in New York, Brown was more interested in his determination to rid the U.S. of slavery. Brown left New York to fight for Kansas temporarily and intended to come back to New York later.
Brown grew a beard to mask himself.
Shortly after settling in with his family in Kansas, there was news that five abolitionists had been killed in Lawrence. Being the abolitionist Brown was, he dedicated his next action to killing five pro slavery men. On midnight of May 24, Mr. Doyleand and his two sons were taken out to their yard and brutally killed. After that Mr. Wilkinson was taken away from his sick wife only to be sliced many times until death. Lastly William Sherman otherwise known as "Dutch Bill" was also taken from his home and cut to shreds. That sufficed with revenge for Brown, and he stopped his rampage. Although in letters back to his wife and kids there was no mention of the truth of his murders, only regarded as rumors. Once the mention of these brutal murders, most pro slavers moved to Missouri, a slave state, to feel more secure and safe. Many free staters believed in what Brown did, saying it was the right thing to do. After this Brown was both praised and feared throughout Kansas. This all occured three years before the raid, fueling Brown's need to free slaves. Brown left Kansas shortly after all the press about him died down. He came to Boston, MA and formed a secret committee to provide Brown with money and support for his upcoming raid. It was then that Brown decided to take down Harpers Ferry, VA (now West Virginia) because he thought it was a small town and would cause a giant uproar. Now by 1859 the price for Brown went from $250 to $3250. He left for Virginia but went without his son in law and two of his sons for they refused to come with him.

What Went on During the Raid

Brown rented put the Kenedy Farm lying only a couple miles away from Harpers Ferry. It was October 16, 1859 that Brown left the farm with his troops towards Harpers Ferry. One of the problems that resolved with Brown's plan was that there was no retreat plan, no way of escaping if something goes wrong. As they approached, the bridge guard anThe_Kenedy_Farm.jpgd an arsenal guard were taken as prisoners. They made no attempt of retaliating for they were too stunned to realize what was happening. At midnight, a new arsenal guard arrived only to be met with one of Brown's men and told to surrender, but he ran and was shot at. The first to fall was Shephard Hayward, a free slave that went to investigate the incoming train. He was shot and slowly died some hours later. Ironic that the raid to free slaves ended up first killing a free slave. A little later Brown sent a smaller band of men to the house of Lewis W. Washington (the great-grandnephew of George Washington). He demanded that a certain sword aparently given from Frederick the Great (King of Persia) in his possesion be given to one of the free slaves as a ceremonial gesture. While all this was going on Dr. Starry spent his night riding out and gathering guns and various weapons to fight back against Brown and his men. Guards from neighboring cities cam by boat and train to the arsenal. By doing this all sides and exits were sealed off and not allowing Brown and escape route to the farm. A nearby train came rushing into the station and Brown let it run past, allowing the public to learn of his attack on the arsenal. Conducter Phelps, after leaving with his train, informed others in B&O transportation.
The militia attacking Brown.
This interested the president, John W. Garrett, sending a message to Frederick, Maryland who sent their militia to the arsenal. Brown's group now only consisted of eighteen men dwindling down each moment. Troops and civilions were outraged when news of Fontaine Beckham, the mayor, of being shot unarmed. As the evening progressed, more and more troops filed in as Brown's troops were at a mere seven men. Soon enought Robert E. Lee came down to take matters into his hands. He sent a letter to Brown, demanding they surrender because Lee couldn't attack for fear of of killing the prisoners in Brown's possesion. After Brown refused to surrender Lieutenant Green charged Brown and produced multiple cuts to his face and had his men charge the others. Brown's quick attempt at his raid died as fast as it began.

The Consequences of their Raid

After the raid had died down most of the "freed" slaves ended up going back to be with their masters. On October 19, 1859, three days after the raid, Brown and the other survivors were sent to prison to decide their punishment. Brown's trial started on October 25, more than a week after the raid. He was charged on three accounts. First, for treason against Virginia, since Harpers Ferry is located in Virginia. Secondly murder charges were put upon him for killing many innocent, unarmed men. And lastly for plotting with slaves to commit treason.
A national monument for Harpers Ferry raid.
His jury decided he was guilty on account of all charges. He was hung a month later with all other surviving men on December 2. After being publicly hung, Brown's sanity was unsure. His sanity was almost going to be tested but was taken back before being put to use. HIs raid was thought to be the preamble to war that was yet to come. Of all of Brown's men the only ones that survived were the men left and the Kenedy Farm and the ones who ran during the raid. All others were either killed during the raid or later hung with Brown.

How it Effected the Abolitionist Movement

Once Brown's death hit the public it was then did it hit the North that this could only end up with a war. Abolitionists called Brown's death a murder, for they believed what he did was right in his raid. Because Brown was only there to help abolish slavery. With the government choosing to execute Brown, abolitionists believed the government to be for slavery. But he was put in jail and executed because he trespassed a government facility, not because of why he entered it. Most abolitionist believed he not only started the Civil War but he started the war that ended slavery. As Frederick Douglass said, "If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did at least begin the war that ended slavery... Until this blow was struck, the prospect for freedom was dim, shadowy and uncertain. The irrepressible conflict was one of words, votes and compromises." He was looked upon like a hero and a mentor. Some abolitionist wanted to be like him, be courageous and determined to fix a problem. Yet some still couldn't look past his violent actions, but still found his reasons behind his actions honorable.



Webb, Robert N. The Raid on Harpers Ferry, October 16, 1859; a Brutal Skirmish Widens the Rift between North and South,. New York: F. Watts, 1971. Print.

"John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid." West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Web. 17 May 2011.

1860, March. Investigating US History. Web. 17 May 2011.

Brown with beard.
Harpers Ferry 1865.
Brown monument.
Firehouse attack.

Notes for all subjects.