John Brown.

John Brown, liberator of Kansas and martyr of Virginia : life and letters online

. (page 1 of 66)
Online LibraryJohn BrownJohn Brown, liberator of Kansas and martyr of Virginia : life and letters → online text (page 1 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



>>' itW l w * !


.' " !s ' -

sgaiii^Biu.'wwii <w*j?lTOiii;r

...' - ',

...:-.- ......

., sagas - - :




- - v ^ i
..,... .1
. >' ''


' *T1 . . .

f / ~ '

I^MMHt* *

i> fi iili ? i U i |. 'l T T l ' ' H P<*g-;

I I ' '' ' " ' '


- '"-.'-: - i"'.' -


' ''' '
.- <":' - K 1 M>*j

'.. 1 i>i> * t ^* ?ri" ' li lil


** l ' "'*'

pjtiliiMrmn niii MiHUrrZ i


- ' "

,:' 5 - g i ro
i ' ' ' - S2


i't|#F*"* '


* '

lTjBJiUiWIww Vimta 5*5

r" i ' . "- ;' 'V-r- : :'- -

.- ;^: : -
- -:













Life and Letters of John Brown, of Kansas and Virginia.

pp. viii, 645. Cedar Rapids, Iowa : The Torch Press,

Recollections of Seventy Years. Vols. I and II, pp. 650.
Boston: R. G. Badger. 1909.

Bronson Alcott at Alcott House, England, and Fruitlands,
New England (1842-1844). Cedar Rapids, Iowa: The
Torch Press. 1908.

Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Friends. Cedar Rapids,
Iowa: The Torch Press. 1908.

Familiar Letters of Henry David Thoreau. Edited, with an
Introduction and Notes, by F. B. Sanborn. (A New Bio-
graphy), pp. xii, 483. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.
1906. "

History of New Hampshire. Boston : Houghton, Mifflin &
Co. 1904.

President Langdon. A Biographical Tribute. Boston : C. E.
Goodspeed. 1904.

The Personality of Emerson. Boston : C. E. Goodspeed.

The Personality of Thoreau. Boston : C. E. Goodspeed.

Emerson. Cambridge: Small, Maynard & Co. 1900.

Memoirs of Pliny Earle, M. D. With Selections from his
Diaries, Letters, and Professional Writings, pp. xvi, 409.
Boston: Damrell & Upham. 1898.

Poems of Nature. Selected and Edited by Henry S. Salt and
F. B. Sanborn, pp. xix, 122. London : John Lane. Bos-
ton : Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1895.

A. Bronson Alcott, his Life and Philosophy. By F. B. San-
born and W. T. Harris, pp. vii, 679 (up to p. 543 by F.
B. Sanborn). Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1893.

Life of Dr. S. G. Howe. In the Series of "American Re-
formers." pp. viii, 370. New York : Funk & Wagnalls.

New Connecticut. An Autobiographical Poem by A. Bronson
Alcott. Edited by F. B. Sanborn, pp. xxvi, 247. Bos-
ton : Little, Brown & Co. 1887.

The Life and Genius of Goethe. Lectures at the Concord
School of Philosophy, pp. xxv, 454. Boston: Houghton,
Mifflin & Co. 1886. (Out of print).

The Genius and Character of Emerson. Lectures at the
Concord School of Philosophy, pp. xxii, 447. Boston :
Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1885.

Henry David Thoreau. In the Series of "American Men
of Letters." pp. viii, 317. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin &
Co. 1882.

In addition to the above works Mr. Sanborn has edited :

Sonnets and Canzonets. By A. Bronson Alcott. With an
Introduction by F. B. Sanborn, pp. iv, 151. Boston:
Little, Brown & Co. 1882.

Anti-Slavery Speeches and Letters of Theodore Parker.
Boston, 1910 (shortly).

Thoreau, the Poet-Naturalist. By W. E. Channing. Bos-
ton : C. E. Goodspeed. 1903.

The Service. Bv H. D. Thoreau. Boston : C. E. Goodspeed.

Poems of Sixty-five Years. By Ellery Channing. Boston :
C. E. Goodspeed. 1902.

Prayers by Theodore Parker. A New Edition, with a Pre-
face by Louisa M. Alcott and a Memoir bv F. B. Sanborn,
pp. xxi, 200. Boston: Little, Brown &*Co. 1882.


[May, 1850.]


Liberator of Kansas and Martyr

of Virginia




Fourth Edition





A man there came, whence none could tell,
Bearing a touchstone in his hand,
And tested all things in the land

By its unerring spell.

A thousand transformations rose

From fair to foul, from foul to fair;
The golden crown he did not spare,

Xor scorn the beggar's clothes.

Of heirloom jewels prized so much,

Were many changed to chips and clods;
And even statues of the gods

Crumbled beneath its touch.

Then angrily the people cried,

" The loss outweighs the profit far,
Our goods suffice us as they are,

We will not have them tried. '

But since they could not so avail
To check his unrelenting quest,
They seized him. saying, " Let him test

How real is our jail! "

But though they slew him with the sword,

And in the fire the touchstone burned.

Its doings could not be o'erturned,
Its undoings restored.

And when to stop all future harm,
They strewed its ashes to the breeze,
They little guessed each grain of these

Oonveved the perfect charm.

William Allingham.


r N that ''History of Napoleon I." which he never lived
to complete, Lanfrey says: " Do not misconstrue
events ; history is not a school of fatalism, but one long
plea for the freedom of man. ' ' In this pleading chron-
icle there are few chapters more pathetic than the career
of my old friend John Brown, which I long since under-
took to set forth, though strangely delayed in completing
my task. It was begun in those dismal years when the
Southern oligarchy and their humble followers at the
North still controlled our degraded politics; and it has
been continued through all the vicissitudes, the anxieties,
and the assured repose of subsequent years. More than
once in those earlier days recurred to me that gloomy
magniloquence of the Roman annalist, where Tacitus
complains that the tyranny of Domitian had suppressed
the unheralded renown of Agricola : ' ' Patient sufferance
we showed, no doubt. Our ancestors saw the extreme
of license, but we of servility; for our inquisitors would
permit us neither to hear nor to tell, and we might
have lost the use of memory along with free speech, if to
forget had been no harder than to forego praise. Now at
last the occasion has returned, and we speak out ; . . . but
few of us are left, survivors of others, and even of our old
selves, so many years have passed over us in silence,


brinsine the voung to old age. and the old to the verv
sunset of life. ' ' *

Since the printing of these pages began, four months
ago. two of those who stood with us in the contest against
slavery have died. Dr. Cabot, of Boston, and the fam-
ous Victor Hugo: and every year removes the actors and
the witnesses of memorable deeds. I have therefore sought
to preserve the record of one hero's life, in his own words
(when I could), and in the contemporary evidence of
those who saw and bore witness to what he did.
minffline mvself with the account as little as possible.
except for attestation and comment, when doubt might
else arise. The plan was at first to print all the extant
letters of Brown, which I fancied would easily find
place in a volume of four hundred pages ; but I have in
mv hands letters enoueh to rill another book, and have
not been able to use them. Those selected, however, ex-
hibit his life sufficiently; it was straightforward and all
of a piece, so that even the details which c j re here given
mav seem tedious to some readers. In the second vol-
ume, should I live to publish it. on " The Companions
of John Brown.' I may carry the story further, and
complete the record of a remarkable episode in Amer-
ican history. I have aimed at accuracv. but of course
have not always succeeded; and have necessarily omit-
ted much that other writers will supply. My intention
has been to put the reader in possession of evidence
which either verifies itself or can readily be verified bv

1 Dedimus profectc grande pa - documentum : et sicut veins etas

vidit quid ultimum in libertate esset, ita nos quid in servitude. ademr 4
per inquisitiones etiam loquendi audiendique eommereio. Memoriam quoque
ipsam cum voce perdidissemus, si tam in nostra p - easel oblivisci

quam tacere. Nunc demun redit animus, . . . pauci. ut ita dixerim.
non mode aliorum, sed etiam nostri superstates sumus, exemptis : dm 11 .
vita tot annis, quibus juvenes ad - tnftem, senea pro] - - a tafia

terminos per silentiam venimus. Tacitus. Agricoln. i:.


a little research. Holding the key to much that has
heretofore been obscure or ill related, I have furnished
the true connection between events and persons where,
in some cases, this had escaped notice. I shall gladly
receive any ccrrection of mistakes, but shall not pay
much regard to inferential and distorted statements
which traverse my own clear recollections, supported,
as these often are, by written evidence which I have not
here printed, but hold in reserve.

I could not have completed this task of nearly thirty
years but for the constant and friendly aid of the family
of John Brown, who have placed without reserve their
papers in my hands. I have had also the co-operation
of Colonel Higginson, Edwin Morton. Mrs. Stearns,
Lewis Hayden, Thomas Thomas, and other friends
among the living; and of the late Dr. Howe, Wendell
Phillips, George L. Stearns, F. J. Merriam, Osborn An-
derson, and many more, who are now dead. To all these,
named and unnamed, I would here return my acknow-
ledgments. Particularly, I must thank those gentlemen
of Kansas, my college friend and brother journalist Mr.
D. W. Wilder, and Mr. F. G. Adams of the Kansas His-
torical Society, who by their accurate knowledge of
Kansas history and topography, and the free access
they have given me to important papers, have made it
possible for me to write the chapters that eoncern their
State. I am also indebted to Mr. James Redpath. Mr.
Richard Hinton, Mr. Frederick Douglass, Mr. W. S.
Kennedy, and to many correspondents and admirers of
John Brown whose names are mentioned in the pages
that follow. I might include in this acknowledgment a
few malicious slanderers and misjudging censors of
Brown, who by their publications have caused the whole
truth to be more carefullv searched out.


I cannot hope that all my readers will take the same
view of Brown that I do ; but I assure them, from long
acquaintance with his character, that the more they know
it the more they will honor it. As for the conspiracy in
which he lost his life, should any imagined regard for
the reputation of persons living or dead tempt kinsmen
or friends to disown the share of any man in this affair,
let them remember what Sir Kenelm Digby says of his
father. " All men know," pleads the fair Stelliana,
" that it was no malitious intent or ambitious desires
that brought Sir Everard Digby into that conspiracy,
but his too inviolable faith to his friend that had trusted
him with so dangerous a secret, and his zeal to his coun-
try's antient liberties."

r . B. S.

Concord, June 2, 1885.


Since the above was written, Owen Brown has died
in California (1888), Lewis Hayden in Boston (1889),
and James Redpath in New York (1891). There is now
no survivor, so far as I know, of John Brown's Com-
pany at Harper's Ferry; and few of those now living
can testify of their own knowledge to the early-formed
plans of Brown for attacking slavery by force. A con-
troversial writer in the " Andover Review " has lately
questioned the exactness of my statement on this point ;
but he has since confessed himself satisfied, by the em-
phatic testimony of John Brown, Jr. Many interesting
facts have come to light since 1885, but none requiring

any material correction of this book.

F. B. S.
Concord, March 2, 1891.



In this edition, published in Iowa, that young State
in 1856, which aided so gallantly through its governor,
James Wilson Grimes (a New Hampshire law-student
with my father-in-law, James Walker), its Iowa City
committee-man, W. P. Clarke, and many less known
men, in the preservation of Kansas to free institutions,
I owe it to that now powerful Commonwealth to record
Brown's indebtedness to her good people. Among the
Calvinists of Grinnell, and the Quakers of Springdale
he and his f reedmen, emancipated by force, a business
in which Uncle Sam engaged on a grand scale three
years later, were received with noble hospitality. Two
Iowans in 1859, brothers named Gue, one of whom was
afterwards lieutenant-governor of the State, having
learned of Brown's desperate plan for invading Vir-
ginia, gave notice of it to the Virginian war-secretary
of Buchanan, from a mistaken sense of duty to their
friends the Coppocs, in a letter whose authorship was in
doubt until one of the brothers avowed it, long after-
ward. This is the letter mentioned on pages 543-44, and
there tentatively ascribed to a Hungarian refugee in
Kansas, through a Cincinnati reporter, which is now
known not to be true. Providence took care that this
well-meant betrayal from Iowa should not take effect.
So confident were the slave-masters in their assured con-
trol of the country in 1859, that they took no account of
this warning letter, and in Carolina went on with their
revival of the slave-trade.

The conduct of Brown in Kansas, aided from Iowa
both in 1856 and the years following, has been much
investigated since this book was first published in 1885.
Slanders and suspicions, grossly unfounded and actu-
ally impossible of verification, have been printed in
Kansas, in New York, in Boston and elsewhere. One of


these villifications alleged that Brown was not concerned
in the defence of Lawrence, against its third attack by
the Missourian invaders in September, 1856, and did
not make the speech reported on page 335. The re-
searches of that precise historian, Mr. William Elsey
Connelley of Topeka, have brought to light the evidence
of several men still living who heard and vouch for this
speech; and I give below in fac-simile Brown's own
written account of his participation in this affair. It is
always safe to say that any fight which Brown saw, he
took part in.

A- J M? k*si~^UsL fc*. 2>>-*-o^-, jQi^h-n^s< -fa+^flUJ^ V" JIl. h*~4U
+J J^^^^^o^: + J fi**^ rf ^ ^*fl uS^5^ fcy A^eC sn*4 *fc<&-
i.**** $**+*. $U. *//*-*- e~l *- Cf$r : fir4***' 4-%*- y-^^s J<^fc*~L*+

Other slanders upon Brown's conduct and motives
have been refuted, by me and many others, in the pub-
lished Proceedings of the Kansas Historical Society and
the Massachusetts Historical Society, in recent years.
My Recollections of Seventy Years, published last year
in Boston by R. G. Badger, contains in its first volume
other refutations, and much elucidation of the enter-
prises of Brown, whether in Kansas, Missouri, Mary-
land or Virginia. New lives of Brown, containing much
fact and some fiction, have been printed and will be
printed hereafter. It does not become an author to say
much in praise of his own book ; but this ought to be


said of mine : It contains as least 200 pages, of its 650,
which were never printed before I made them public,
copyrighted them, and thus made every future biog-
rapher dependent on my book for indispensable facts
about Brown. I am now one of the few living witnesses
to the career and character of John Brown; whom I
knew intimately, and of whom my high opinion was
formed fifty-three years ago, and has only been height-
ened by all I have seen and learned of him since.

F. B. S.
Concord, February 22, 1910.


Marble nor brass, nor granite from the shore

Which thy grave fathers trod with pilgrim feet,
Thy fame shall never need; the hollow roar

Of Time 's vast ocean will thy name repeat,
When we and all our works are buried low

Under the whelming of his restless tide.
In generous hearts thy praise shall ever glow

With theirs that earlier for sweet Freedom died.
Leonidas claims kindred with thy line,

Eome's firmest rooted courage thou hast shared;
Not Sempach saw a nobler deed than thine,

When Winkelried his high achievement dared!
Nay, who sad Afric 's kneeling race shall blame,

Blending with thine Judea's holiest name?


Yet must we give what thou so well couldst spare,

Thine earnest features carved in whitest stone,
Best symbol of a life as firm and fair,

Shall grace this house, to thee so friendly known.
Here didst thou turn aside, a pilgrim gray;

Here didst thou lay that heavy burden down;
Here slept in peace, and with the breaking day

Departed hence to win thy noblest crown.
Now, while the opening year leads Freedom in,

And war 's wild earthquake bursts the prison gate,
Our hearts, atoning for a nation's sin,

Give earnest of the honors that await.
And thou, blest Spirit! from thy calm retreat,

Give us Godspeed, and New Year's welcome sweet.

F. B. Sanborn.
Concord, Jan. 1, 1863.

i These sonnets were read by "Wendell Phillips at the house of Mr.
Stearns, in Medford, when the marble bust of Brown was unveiled, Eman-
cipation Day, Jan. 1, 1863.



I. Ancestry and Childhood 1

II. Youth and Early Manhood 31

III. John Brown as a Business Man ... 54

IV. Pioneer Life in the Adirondack .... 90
V. Preparations for the Conflict . . . .116

VI. Family Counsels and Home Life . . . 139

VII. Kansas, the Skirmish-Ground of the

Civil War 160

VIII. The Brown Family in Kansas 187

IX. The Pottawatomie Executions .... 247

X. The Kansas Struggle Continued . . . 283

XL John Brown and the Kansas Committees . 344

XII. The Plans Disclosed 418

XIII. From Canada, through Kansas, to Canada 469

XIV. John Brown and his Friends .... 495

XV. The Foray in Virginia 519

XVI. John Brown in Prison 576

XVII. The Death and Character of John Brown 621

Index 633




\X/"HEN a man of mark is to appear in the world and
give a new turn to the affairs of men, there has
always been preparation made for him. Even the weeds
and vermin of the field have their heredity and evolu-
tion, much more a predestined hero like John Brown,
of Kansas and Virginia. His valor, his religion, his
Saxon sense, his Calvinistic fanatacism, his tender and
generous heart were inherited from a long line of Eng-
lish, Dutch, and American ancestors, men and women
neither famous nor powerful, nor rich, but devout, aus-
tere, and faithful ; above all free, and resolved that others
should be free like themselves.

No genealogist has yet traced the English forefathers
of Peter Brown the carpenter, who came over in the
' Mayflower," and landed at Plymouth with the other
Pilgrims in December, 1620 ; but his presence in that
famous band is evidence enough of his character, even if
the deeds of his descendants had not borne witness to it.
He drew his house-lot on Leyden Street in the little
town, with Bradford, Standish, and Winslow, and like
them soon migrated to Duxbury, at the head of Plymouth
Bay, where his family dwelt after his early death, in 1633,
not far from Standish 's abode at the foot of "Captain's
Hill. ' A brother of Peter, John Brown, a weaver (some-
times confounded with a more distinguished John, who
became a magistrate), also lived at Duxbury, and took



some care of his deceased brother's four children, two
sons and two daughters, who survived him. Peter
Brown was unmarried when he landed at Plymouth, but
within the next thirteen years he was twice married, and
died, as we learn from unquestionable authority, the
" History of Plymouth Plantation," left in manuscript
by William Bradford, who succeeded Carver in 1621 as
governor of the colony, and died in 1657. Writing about
1650, Bradford says: " Peter Brown married twice. By
his first wife he had two children, who are living, and
both of them married, and one of them hath two child-
ren; by his second wife he had two more. He died
about sixteen years since." It is supposed that his first
wife was named Martha, and that Mary and Priscilla
Brown were her daughters, the two who are mentioned
by Bradford as married in 1650. In 1644 they were
placed with their uncle John, and in due time received
each 15, which their father had left them by will. The
rest of Peter's small estate went to his second wife and
her two sons, of whom the younger, born in 1632, at
Duxbury, was the ancestor of the Kansas captain. 1 He
was named Peter for his father, removed from Duxbury
to Windsor in Connecticut between 1650 and 1658, and
there married Mary, daughter of Jonathan Gillett, by
whom he had thirteen children. He died at Windsor,
March 9, 1692, leaving to his family an estate of 409.
One of his children, John Brown, born at Windsor, Jan.
8, 1668, married Elizabeth Loomis in 1691, and had
eleven children. Among these was John Brown (born in
1700, and died in 1790), who was the father and the sur-
vivor of the Revolutionary Captain John Brown, of West
Simsbury. He lived and died in Windsor, there married
Mary Eggleston, and Captain John Brown just men-
tioned, the grandfather of our hero, was his oldest son,

l It would be curious to trace the English ancestry of Captain Brown,
which, some suppose, goes back to that stout-hearted John Brown of Henry
VIII.'s time, who was one of the victims of Popish persecution in the early
years of that king. Fox, in his " Book of Martyrs," tells the story of his
martyrdom at the stake, in the early summer of 1511, at Ashford, where
he dwelt; and adds that his son, Richard Brown, was imprisoned for his
faith in the latter days of Queen Mary, and would bave been burned but
for the proclaiming of Queen Elizabeth, in 1558.



born Nov. 4, 1728. He married Hannah Owen, of Welsh
descent, in 1758, whose father was Elijah Owen, of
Windsor, and her first ancestor in this country John
Owen, a Welshman, who married in Windsor in 1650,
just before young Peter Brown went thither from Dux-
bury. A few years afterward an Amsterdam tailor,
Peter Miles or Mills, came to Connecticut from Holland,
settled in Bloomfield near Windsor, and became the an-
cestor of John Brown's grandmother, Ruth Mills, of
West Simsbury. Thus three streams of nationality
English, Welsh, and Dutch united in New England to
form the parentage of John Brown. His forefathers were
mostly farmers, and among them was the proper New
England proportion of ministers, deacons, squires, and
captains. Both his grandfathers were officers in the Con-
necticut contingent to Washington's army, and one of
them, Captain John Brown, died in the service. It is his
gravestone which the pilgrim to his grandson's grave, in
the Adirondac woods, sees standing by the great rock
that marks the spot ; and among the other inscriptions 1
which there preserve the memory of his slaughtered de-
scendants, that of the Revolutionary captain stands first.
Owen Brown, ' ' Squire Owen, ' ' son of this cap-
tain, and father of the Kansas captain, was named for

l These remarkable epitaphs, several of which were written by John

Brown, of Kansas, are as follows:


Memory of

Capt. John Brown,

who Died at

New York, Sept. ye

3, 1775, in the 48

year of his age.

John Brown

Born May 9, 1800

Was executed at Charleston

Va., Dec. 2, 1859.

Born Dec. 31, 1830, and

Murdered at Osawatomie,

Kansas, Aug. 30, 1856,

For his adherence to
the cause of freedom.

Watson Brown

Born Oct. 7, 1835, was wounded

at Harper's Ferry,

Oct. 17, and Died

Oct. 19, 1859.

In memory of


Son of John and Dianthe


Oliver Brown
Born May 9, 1839, was
Killed at Harper's Ferry

Oct. 17, 1859.


his mother's family, and was the earliest of these Browns
who seems to have left any written memoirs. He migrated
from Connecticut to Ohio, among the first of those who
settled on the Western Reserve, early in the century, and
when nearly eighty years old, while living at Hudson,
Ohio, wrote an autobiography for his children's perusal,
which gives some characteristic details of the state of so-
ciety where he lived, and where his renowned son was


" My life has been of little worth, mostly filled up with van-
ity. I was born at West Simsbury (now Canton), Connecticut,
Feb. 16, 1771. I have but little recollection of what took place
until the years '75 and '76. I remember the beginning of war,
and some things that took place in 1775 ; but only a little until
'76, when my father went into the army. 1 . He was captain in
the militia of Connecticut, and died in New York, with the dysen-

Online LibraryJohn BrownJohn Brown, liberator of Kansas and martyr of Virginia : life and letters → online text (page 1 of 66)