John Brown - Hero or Not?


On the next pages are presented two articles written about John Brown, one in 1888 and the other in 1903. After you read them, you decide whether he is a hero and martyr, as the North felt, or a criminal and deserved his fate, as the South felt.

John Brown John Brown

John Brown, according to the World Book Encyclopedia (1974) was "a radical abolitionist whose attempt to free the slaves cost a number of lives and helped indirectly to bring on the Civil War."

John Brown was born in Torrington, Connecticut in 1800, and lived as a child in Ohio. His two marriages resulted in 20 children. He was not a successful businessman, though he had several business ventures. He did various types of work, and his family lived insecurely.

Brown, hated slavery and from his youth on he helped fugitive slaves to escape to Canada, referred to as "the land of the North Star", in other narratives. From 1846 to 1849, he lived in Springfield, MA; there he organized a league among Negroes for their protection against slave-catchers. Brown moved to North Elba, NY, an area that was settled by Negroes, in 1849. He was later buried there.

In 1855, he went to Kansas, following five of his sons, and settled in Osawatomie. There he worked to keep Kansas from becoming a slave state. In May, 1856, proslavery men attacked and burned the nearby town of Lawrence. Two days, after this, Brown led an expedition to Pottawatomie Creek, where his men brutally murdered five proslavery settlers. Small, but bloody, battles broke out between Free State men and those who wanted slavery. Brown became known as "Old Osawatomie Brown," after his defense of Osawatomie from attack by pro-slavery men in 1856.

Harpers Ferry

In 1857, Brown began to collect arms and men to carry out his plans to invade the South. Though he was labeled an outlaw, he received sympathy and aid. His ideas seemed to have been to raid the United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry in western Virginia (now West Virginia) and then, protected by the mountains, encourage the slaves to rebel.

His plan was carried out on Oct. 16, 1859, and he and 18 of his followers captured the arsenal, but failed to escape. On Oct. 17, the local militia bottled up Brown with his dead, wounded and a few prisoners in the arsenal. On Oct. 18, Colonel Robert E. Lee, forced the fort open and delivered Brown up to the state for trial.

During his trial and subsequent death, Brown conducted himself bravely and intelligently. Despite some Northern attempts to have him declared insane, he was convicted on charges of treason, and hanged on Dec. 2, 1859.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, was inspired by the event to say that Brown would make the gallows "as glorious as a cross." And Union troops, when the Civil War began, sang:
      "John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, His soul goes marching on."

From World Book Encyclopedia, page 534, Vol B, 1974, by Louis Filler

The articles are from these two books:
Iowa in War Times, Des Moines, Iowa, W. D. Condit & Co., 1888, Byers, S.H.M.
History of Iowa from the Earliest Times to the Beginnin of the 20th Century, author: Gue, Benjamin F.; Chicago, Century History, 1903
You may visit these pages by clicking on the next or back images below.

Back-1888 Next-1903

Index of names mentioned in the 1903 chapter.

Here are a couple of great sites to visit if you are interested in History:

Memorial Library Online
This site is owned by Pam Rietsch. Please visit and see many wonderful historical books, plus many links to others.

Jacques Genealogy World
Jacque's focus is on Native American history in Oklahoma, there are many interesting items here.

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