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John Brown 225

In 1838 he traveled about the country making a trip to
New York and Connecticut. For a time he was inter-
ested in the breeding of race horses; he drove cattle to
Connecticut ; he arranged to act as agent of a New York
firm in the selling of steel scythes ; he purchased Saxony
sheep at West Hartford, Connecticut, on the 18th of
January, 1838; subsequently made other purchases,
shipped the sheep to Albany and thence drove them
overland to Ohio. In June, 1839, his interest shifted to
cattle; on the 15th of June, 1839, he received from the
New England Woolen Company at Rockville, Connec-
ticut, the sum of $2800 for the purchase of wool. This
money he appears to have used to relieve financial dis-
tress. He sincerely regretted his inability to meet his
obligations as evidenced in letters written at the time
and in others written when he was in prison in Charles-
town in 1859.

In 1840 he and his father arranged to invest in Vir-
ginia (now West Virginia) lands. These belonged to
Oberlin College and were located partly in the present
counties of Dodridge and Tyler, West Virginia. John
Brown on April first of that year entered into an agree-
ment with the Trustees of Oberlin College to purchase
some of these lands. He was to make a survey of the
same, report to the Board of Trustees and receive one
dollar a day and necessary expenses for his work. At
this time he contemplated not only making a purchase of
a portion of the lands but also moving his family
to them. His surveys and reports were made in
accordance with the agreement and he proposed to pur-
chase 1,000 acres. Negotiations were delayed, however,
and the Trustees seem to have concluded the agreement
at an end. In a letter written from Hudson, February

Vol. XXX — 15.



226 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

5, 1841, John Brown seemed to regret that he could not
go to Virginia as he had planned, but credited the cir-
cumstances that prevented his going, as usual, to the
intervention of Providence.

In 1841 he turned his attention wholly to the raising
of sheep, taking charge "of the flocks of Captain Oviatt
at Richfield, Ohio." In this occupation he was success-
ful for a time and developed great skill as a shepherd
and judge of wool. While in Richfield four of his chil-
dred died and three of them were buried at one time.
In 1842 he received his discharge from bankruptcy re-
sulting from the speculations at Franklin Mills, but
practically all of his possessions were taken from him.
He was permitted to keep "a few articles which the
court had decided September 28, 1842, were absolutely
necessary to the maintenance of the family, — among
them eleven bibles and testaments, one volume entitled
Beauties of tJie Bible, one CliurcJi Members' Guide, be-
sides two mares, two cows, two hogs, three lambs, nine-
teen hens, seven sheep and * * * three pocket knives
valued at .?>7V'

He succeeded so well in raising sheep and cattle
that he became well known in Summit County. On
April 10, 1844, he moved from Richfield to Akron
where he established a tannery which was prosperous
from the beginning. His disposition, however, to be
dissatisfied with a modest degree of prosperity at his
regular trade led him to form a co-partnership with
Simon Perkins, Jr., a successful business man of Akron.
The firm of Perkins and Brown continued for a period
of ten years. The family resided in a cottage on what
is known as Perkins Hill. A portion of the building is
still standing.



John Broivn 227

Many writers have detailed at length the home life
of John Brown. His disposition to seek new fields and
experiment with new enterprises took him frequently
from his home but he was at all times deeply interested
in his family as his letters and the uniform testimony
of his neighbors clearly show. He was a strict discipli-
narian and required unquestioning obedience from his
numerous children. He at first used the rod somewhat
freely but according to the testimony of his sons always
justly, never in wrath. He had a habit of frequently
inflicting punishment upon himself at the same time, on
the ground that the child's ofifense had probably been
due in a measure to his own neglect of duty as a father.
After punishing the boy he would bare his own shoul-
ders and require the boy to use the lash on him. With
the residence at Akron came better educational advan-
tages for his children, especially John Brown, Jr., and
his sister Ruth.

John Brown's financial failures and lack of judg-
ment in business matters brought him frequently into
the courts of Portage and Summit Counties, a detailed
account of which is set forth by Villard (pages 36-41).

In 1846 Brown had ventured upon the enterprise of
wool merchant in Springfield, Massachusetts, for the
firm of Perkins and Brown. Hither he moved his
family. Here he met Frederick Douglass who has given
an interesting picture of Brown and his family as he
saw them there. The object of the venture of Perkins
and Brown at Springfield was the establishment of an
office to classify wools for wool growers in order that
they might be able to command a fair price for their
product. The purpose was somewhat akin to the co-
operative market projects of the present day. Brown



228 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

and Perkins probably hoped to do for the infant wool
industry of this country what associations have accom-
plished so successfully for the fruit growers of Cali-
fornia and other states. The letter-book covering many
pages, the greater portion of it in the handwriting of
John Brown, and the remainder written by his son John
Brown, Jr., who had a good education, is now in the
museum of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical
Society and gives a very satisfactory insight of the work
of the representatives of this firm through many busy
months. An export trade to England was inaugurated
and for a time the prospect was very bright for the
building up of a flourishing business. It appears that
the firm received by consignment large quantities of
wool which they sometimes had difficulty in marketing.
To one of their patrons who complained of the delay in
remitting for his wool John Brown sent the following
explanation which is here reproduced because of its Ohio
connection:

"We have at last found out that some of the principal manu-
facturers are leagued together to break us down, as we have
offered them wool at their own price & they refuse to buy. . .
We hope every wool-grower in the country will be at Steu-
benville (Ohio) 2d Wednesday of Feb'y next, to hear statements
about the wool trade of a most interesting character. There is
no difficulty in the matter as we shall be abundantly able to show,
if the farmers will only be true to themselves. . . Matters of
more importance to farmers will then be laid open, than what
kind of Tariff' we are to have. No sacrifise kneed be made, the
only thing wanted is to get the broad shouldered, & hard handed
farmers to understand how they have been imposed upon, & the
whole matter will be cured eff'ectually." *

This proposed meeting was held and Brown appeared
according to agreement and made an address that satis-

* Copied literally.



John Brown 229

fied the Ohio wool growers. The manufacturers in the
East, however, continued to make trouble for him and
he found it difficult to dispose of the wool. He con-
ceived the idea that by making a trip to Europe he could
find market for his product. Accordingly he sailed
August 15, 1849, in the steamer Cambria and arrived
in London on the 27th of that month. He failed, how-
ever, to find sale for the wool in either London or Paris.
He had shipped wool to London and was forced to
accept a much lower price than he could have gotten in
America. This meant disaster for his venture as a wool
merchant. While abroad he visited not only London
and Paris but Calais, Hamburg and Brussels. From
the last named city he made a side trip to the battle field
of Waterloo. Evidence is not lacking that even at this
time battle fields had an attraction for him and he was
interested in the plans of the great combats of history.
The final winding up of the wool business extended over
a number of years and led to much litigation. It ap-
pears, however, that in spite of the losses sustained
Colonel Perkins continued to entertain a friendly feeling
for Brown. In a letter to Oswald Garrison Villard of
December 26, 1908, Mr. George T. Perkins of Akron
wrote :

"My father, Simon Perkins, was associated with Mr. Brown
in business for a number of years, and always regarded him as
thoroughly honest and honorable in all his relations with him.
Mr. Brown was, however, so thoroughly impractical in his busi-
ness management as he was in almost everything else, that the
business was not a success and was discontinued. Their relations
were afterwards friendly."

The senior member of the firm did not sympathize
with Brown's extreme anti-slavery views. In 1878



230 Oliio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

Colonel Perkins said to Mr. F. E. Sanborn, "Do you
mean to connect me with that Virginia affair? I con-
sider him and the men that helped him in that the big-
gest set of fools in the world."

Many interesting stories have been recorded of his
residence in Springfield, among others, the account of
his experience with LaRoy Sunderland, a famous hyp-
notist, in 1848 or 1849. Brown was very skeptical in
regard to the claims of Sunderland and insisted upon
putting them to the test. While in Springfield he was
identified with Zion Methodist Church, made up largely
of those who had withdrawn from other congregations
because of their pronounced anti-slavery views. He
became deeply interested in the plan of Gerrit Smith,
the famous anti-slavery leader, who had offered to give
120,000 acres of land in northern New York to worthy
colored people. Early in 1848 Brown decided to move
his family and establish his home among the negro col-
onists. He visited Smith on April 8, 1848, and entered
into an agreement to move his family to North Elba
and aid in directing the negroes, who settled on the land
offered by Smith, in clearing away the forest and estab-
lishing homes of their own. He moved to North Elba
in the spring of 1849. Here he engaged again in stock
raising. The original white settlers in the North Elba
region were not pleased by the coming of the blacks and
the success of the experiment of Brown and Smith was
not especially encouraging.

That the experiment of establishing a colony of free
blacks in the rugged and somewhat inhospitable climate
of northern New York should prove a disappointing and
visionary enterprise was not surprising. No wonder
that Brown in actual experience with the colored freed-



John Brown 231

men became a little impatient at times and realized the
importance of teaching these people lessons of thrift and
industry. To meet the needs of the situation he wrote in
1848 or 1849 for the Rams Horn, an abolition paper,
a contribution entitled "Sambo's Mistakes." It purports
to be from the pen of a colored man by the name of
Sambo and is divided into three chapters. A sample of
this contribution to which reference is often made is
here given:

"Another error into which I fell in early life was the notion
that chewing and smoking tobacco would make a man of me
but little inferior to some of the whites. The money I spent in
this way would with the interest of it have enabled me to have
relieved a great many sufiferers. supplied me with a well selected
interesting library and paid for a good farm for the support and
comfort of my old age ; whereas I have now neither books, cloth-
ing, the satisfaction of having benefited others nor where to
lav my hoary head. But I can see in a moment where I missed
it."

In the year 1851 he organized in the city of Spring-
field a branch of the "United States League of Gilead-
ites." This was an organization of colored people for
the purpose of defending themselves and advancing
their interests. The principles of the League were em-
braced in the "Words of Advice" written by Brown.
They counseled self defense and resistance of arrest by
force of arms. "Let the first blow be the signal for all
to engage," so runs the advice, "and when engaged do
not do your work by halves ; but make clean work with
your enemies and be sure you meddle not with any
others. Your enemies will be slow to attack you if you
have done up the work nicely."

It will be remembered that a little earlier the Com-
promise of 1850 was enacted, including the famous Fu-
gitive Slave Law. It is needless to say that Brown, like



232 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

Other abolitionists, was very hostile to this law and that
he began about this time to meditate an armed attack
upon the institution of slavery. Late in the year 1854
or early in 1855 he is reported to have had in mind an
attack on Harper's Ferry: "First, to frighten Virginia
and detach it from the slave interest ; second, to capture
the rifles to arm the slaves; and third, to destroy the
arsenal machinery so that it could not be used to turn
out more arms for the perhaps long guerrilla war that
might follow." In the meantime Brown continued in the
partnership of Perkins and Brown. In 1851 he moved
his family again to Akron where he took up once more
sheep raising and pursued it with success to his satis-
faction and that of his partner, Mr. Perkins.

After the removal of his family to North Elba, New
York, in 1854, and his withdrawal from the firm of Per-
kins and Brown, he found himself comparatively free to
venture upon some new enterprise. His sons had grown
up; some of them remained in Ohio; he could leave his
family in New York with his son Watson who was then
a young man and choose his field of action. About this
time five of his sons decided to leave Ohio and seek a
new home in Kansas, then the western frontier of Amer-
ican civilization. The impelling motive is set forth
pretty clearly in the statement of one of the sons. In
the years 1853 and 1854 many Ohio newspapers con-
tained glowing accounts of the extraordinary climate,
healthfulness and fertility of the Territory of Kansas.
The efforts of northern men to make this a free state
also had its appeal for the Browns. In the month of
October, 1854, three of the sons of John Brown, —
Owen, Frederick and Salmon, left their homes in Ohio
and "started on the western journey. They took with



John Brown 233

them eleven head of cattle, three horses, two small tents,
a plow and other farm tools. They proceeded by way
of the lakes to Chicago and thence to Meridosa, Illinois,
where they remained for the winter. Early the next
spring they proceeded with their cattle and horses to
Kansas and settled about eight miles from Osawatomie.
As soon as the rivers were navigable, John, Jr. and
Jason proceeded by way of the Ohio, Mississippi and
Missouri rivers to join the three brothers who had pre-
ceded them. At St. Louis when they took passage on a
steamboat up the Missouri they found themselves in
company with a large number of men, mostly from the
South on their way to help make Kansas a slave state.
It is needless to say that the Brown boys found little
sympathy w^ith their fellow passengers whose "drinking,
profanity and display of revolvers and bowie-knives, —
openly worn as an essential part of their make-up —
clearly showed the class to which they belonged."

"A box of fruit trees and grape vines," said John
Brown, Jr., "which my brother Jason had brought from
Ohio, our plow and the few agricultural implements we
had on the deck of that steamer looked lonesome; for
these were all we could see which were adapted to the
occupations of peace."

Jason Brown's little son, aged four years, fell a vic-
tim to the scourge of cholera on this trip and was buried
at night near Waverly, Missouri, where the boat had
stopped for repair. As the two brothers took him to his
last resting place, their way "illumined only by lightning
and a furious thunder storm, the captain of the steamer
without warning embarked again on the river leaving
them as best they could to find their way to Kansas City."
The unpleasant journey, however, was at last completed



234 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

and the brothers arrived in Kansas, whose "lovely prai-
ries and wooded streams seemed * * * indeed like
a haven of rest." The five brothers were finally re-
united and entered with enthusiasm upon the building
of new homes on these fertile prairies of the West.

There were, however, drawbacks to this seeming
paradise. Settlements were made usually along the
flowing streams, the lurking places of malaria, and the
new settlers were soon shaking with the ague. Contro-
versies sprang up among them on the question of slavery
and divided them into hostile camps.

On October 1, 1855, occurred the Pro-Slavery elec-
tion for territorial delegate to Congress. At this elec-
tion 2721 votes out of 2738 were cast for General J. W.
Whitfield, the Pro-Slavery candidate. The Free State
electors did not go to the polls. Eight days later they
had their election in which they cast 2849 votes for their
candidate, former Governor Reeder. The Pro-Slavery
governor of Kansas, Wilson Shannon, recognized the
election of Whitfield and the United States House of
Representatives gave him his seat in that body Feb-
ruary 4, 1856. Upon the report of an investigating
committee, however, he was afterwards unanimously
ousted, but Reeder was not given the place.

It was not John Brown's Intention originally to go to
Kansas. This is clearly indicated in a letter that he
wrote to his son John August 21, 1854. In this he said:

"If you or any of my family are disposed to go to Kansas
or Nebraska, with a view to help defeat Satan and his legions
in that direction, I have not a word to say; but I feci committed
to operate in •another part of the field. If I were not so com-
mitted, I would be on my way this fall."



John Brown 235

In May of the following year, however, he received
a letter from this same son describing terrible conditions
that had developed in Kansas as a result of the efifort
to make it a slave state. The appeal in this letter was so
strong that Brown decided he would join his sons and
lend every possible aid to those who were struggling to
make Kansas free. He began at once to plan for col-
lecting arms, ammunition and other supplies that might
be helpful in his latest enterprise. Money was raised
for this purpose in the anti-slavery convention at Syra-
cuse on the 28th of June and later in Akron, Ohio,
where his appeal met a generous response. On August
15, 1855, he reported his success in obtaining "guns,
revolvers, sw^ords, powder, caps and money." He pro-
ceeded by way of Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago and
after a number of interesting experiences in his over-
land journey, reached the family settlement near Osa-
watomie October 7, 1855. • •

Life in Kansas wrought a pronounced change in
John Brown. This western border offered the oppor-
tunity for the warfare that he desired to w^age against
slavery. "The staid, somber merchant and patriarchal
family head was ready to become Captain John Brown
of Osawatomie, at the mention of whom Border Ruffians
and swashbuckling adherents of slavery trembled and
often fled."*

While he was pleased with Kansas, he did not go
there to make it his permanent home. He went to fight
slavery, to aid his sons and others of their faith to make
Kansas a free state. The contest had begun long before
he went west. Letters from his sons and newspaper
accounts carried to him information of Border Ruffian

" *Villard, p. 77.



236 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

invasions and outrages months before he decided to
answer the call to this new field of action.

The Free State men of the Territory had called a
convention which met at Topeka, October 23, 1855,
framed a constitution that prohibited slavery and sub-
mitted it for popular approval. It provided for the elec-
tion of state officers and members of the legislature and
fixed the place and date of the meeting of that body at
Topeka, March 4, 1856.

The Free State men had been outvoted a number of
times by invaders from Missouri and the South with
whom the election officers and the national administra-
tion were in sympathy. They were thus forced to hold
elections of their own as a safeguard against fraud.
This finally resulted in dual legislatures, dual constitu-
tions, dual officers and dual laws — an ideal condition
for the strife and bloodshed that attracted the attention
of the whole country.

The opposition of the Pierce administration to the
free state movement, the excesses of the Pro-Slavery
party at Leavenworth, the threats of raiders from Mis-
souri and the invasion of a large armed force from that
state for the avowed purpose of destroying Lawrence
aroused the Free State men to armed resistance and
"minute men" were hastily organized and hurried to the
defense of that town. Among these was a company
known as the "Liberty Guards," commanded by John
Brown with the rank of captain, a title that followed
him for the remainder of his life. His company be-
longed to the Fifth Regiment of Kansas Volunteers,
under the command of Colonel George Smith, in the
army of General James H. Lane, "called into the service
of the people of Kansas to defend the city of Lawrence



John Brown 237

* * * from threatened demolition by foreign
invaders."

This army at once threw up defenses about the
threatened town. In this work Captain Brown became
conspicuous for his energy and resourcefulness. "His
presence," said an eye witness, "lightened up the gloom
of the besieged in their darkest hour."

In the operations about Lawrence one Free State
man, Thomas W. Barber of Ohio, was killed. His body,
which was brought to a building occupied by Brown's
company, was viewed by the wife and friends of the
murdered man. Of this sad affair Brown wrote:

"I will only say of this scene that it was heart-rending and
calculated to exasperate the men exceedingly ; and one of the sure
results of civil war."

The pitched battle that seemed imminent did not
occur. Governor Wilson Shannon effected a compro-
mise between the contending parties by the terms of
which the invaders were to leave Kansas Territory.
The Free State men were encouraged to believe that in
armed resistance they had an effective defense. Brown
wrote hopefully: "Free State men have only hereafter
to retain the footing they have gained, and Kansas is
free." This defense, which is known as the "Wakarusa
War," ended with the signing of the terms of compro-
mise, December 8, 1855.

The truce, however, was of short duration. John
Brown, Jr., w^ho had been active in the preliminary meet-
ings that resulted in the "Topeka movement" to make
Kansas a free state, was elected a member of the legis-
lature. The radical anti-slavery views of the Browns,
which had perhaps been i:atensified by the coming of the



238 Ohio Arch, and Hist. Society Publications.

father, made them increasingly obnoxious to the Pro-
Slavery party.

The Topeka Legislature met March 4, 1856, and was
continuously in session until March 15, when it recessed
to July 4 of that year. On that national anniversary
it was dissolved by military authority of the United
States government. John Brown, Jr., was an active and
fearless member and was one of the fifteen legislators
who signed the memorial to Congress asking for the
admission of Kansas as a free state under the Topeka
constitution. For his political activity he was after-
wards made to suffer an awful penalty.

In May Kansas was again invaded. Lawrence sur-
rendered to the Border Ruffians and on the morning of
the 21st of that month was sacked and burned. The
Free State Hotel, a substantial structure of stone, was
battered down by cannon shots and fierce flames swept
the ruins.

Three days later, on the night of May 24, occurred
the Pottawatomie afifair in which five Pro-Slavery men
were slain by a detachment of John Brown's men re-
turning from their unsuccessful expedition to save the
doomed town of Lawrence. One of the participants in
this raid declares that it was Brown's purpose by this
stern act to strike terror to the hearts of the invaders
— that he insisted it was better "that a score of bad men
should die than that one man who came here to make
Kansas free should be driven out."

The killings on the Pottawatomie startled the inhabi-



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