Page images



John Brown Brings Fugitive Slaves to Canada and There Organizes a Band to Make War on Slaveholders and Their Sympathizers-The Band Seizes the Federal Armory at Harper's Ferry, Va.-It Is Captured by Virginia Militia-John Brown Is Sentenced to Death-His Defence of His Act-His Letter to His Wife-His Execution-Meetings of Sympathy in the North-"Union Meetings" in the North Denunciatory of Him and His Act-Speech of Charles O'Conor in New York: "Slavery Is Right!"-James M. Mason [Va.] Introduces in the Senate a Resolution to Investigate the Attack on Harper's Ferry-Lyman Trumbull [Ill.] Moves as an Amendment to Investigate Also the Robbery in 1855 of the Federal Arsenal in Liberty, Mo., by Pro-Slavery Men-Debate on the Motion and Amendment: Democratic Speakers, Senator Mason, Robert M. T. Hunter [Va.], Jefferson Davis [Miss.], John J. Crittenden [Ky.], Albert G. Brown [Miss.], Alfred Iverson [Ga.]; Republican Speakers, Senator Trumbull, John P. Hale [N. H.], Henry Wilson [Mass.], William P. Fessenden [Me.], Zachariah Chandler [Mich.]Amendment Is Defeated and Resolution Carried-President Buchanan's Annual Message-It Treats of Harper's Ferry, the Dred Scott Decision, and the Slave Trade.


OHN BROWN, the leader of the militant Free State men in the Kansas troubles, had fled the Territory when a reward for his arrest was offered by Governor of Missouri and President Buchanan. Taking with him seven companions, three of whom were slaves he had taken from their owners in Missouri, with their wives and children, he departed from Lawrence for the East early in January, 1859. Pursued by 42 mounted pro-slavery men, he turned upon them and put them to flight, capturing four of them, whom he released after five days, during which he had compelled them to pray night and morning. Brown was joined shortly after this "Battle of the Spurs," as the encounter was called, by his lieutenant, J. H. Kagi, with forty mounted men, seventeen of whom escorted him to Nebraska City.

Thence he crossed the Mississippi into Iowa and proceeded to Detroit, where he arrived on March 12. He crossed at once into Canada with the negroes of his party, who quickly established themselves as free laborers.

At Chatham, Canada West, on May 8, Brown gathered in a negro church a company of Abolitionists who adopted a "Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States," the preamble of which was as follows:

Whereas, Slavery, throughout its entire existence in the United States, is none other than the most barbarous, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens against another portion, the only conditions of which are perpetual imprisonment and hopeless servitude, or absolute extermination, in utter disregard and violation of those eternal and self-evident truths set forth in our Declaration of Independence:

Therefore, We, the citizens of the United States and the oppressed people, who, by a recent decision of the Supreme Court, are declared to have no rights which the white man is bound to respect, together with all the other people degraded by the laws thereof, do, for the time being, ordain and establish for ourselves the following Provisional Constitution and ordinances, the better to protect our people, property, lives, and liberties and to govern our actions.

This constitution organized all men and women who accepted it, whether bond or free, together with their children, into a band who, holding all property in common for the good of the cause, were authorized to confiscate the entire personal and real property of slaveholders and of those who acted either directly or indirectly with them whether these were in the free or slave States. The final article read:

The foregoing articles shall not be construed so as in any way to encourage the overthrow of any State government or of the general Government of the United States, and look to no dissolution of the Union, but simply to amendment and repeal; and our flag shall be the same that our fathers fought under in the Revolution.

John Brown was chosen Commander-in-Chief; J. H.

Kagi, Secretary of War; Owen Brown (son of John Brown) Treasurer; and Richard Realf (who was a man of literary attainments, writing poetry of the highest lyric order) Secretary of State.

Brown went to Cleveland, O., on March 20, and advertised two horses for sale, notifying intending purchasers that he had taken them along with the slaves from their owners, in order to facilitate the escape of the negroes. Despite this warning the horses brought an excellent price.

From Cleveland Brown journeyed eastward, visiting his family in Essex County, N. Y., and contracting for 1,000 pikes in Collinsville, Conn. On June 30, he and two of his sons turned up in the neighborhood of Harper's Ferry in the guise of wool-growers from western New York prospecting for a farm in a milder climate. Now Harper's Ferry was the seat of a national armory.

After looking over the ground for several days, the Browns rented a large farm with three houses six miles from the village. From time to time other persons joined them, women as well as men, but, as they paid cash for everything, they were not regarded with suspicion by their neighbors. They seemed to spend their time chiefly in hunting, although it was remarked afterwards that they returned from their excursions with no game. Really they were occupied in spying out the country by day, and bringing in arms and ammunition by night.

On Sunday evening, October 17, John Brown and his men, twenty-three in number, seized the armory and the railroad bridge over the Potomac. Visiting the houses of Col. John A. Washington, proprietor of Mount Vernon, and a Mr. Alstadtt in the vicinity, they took these gentlemen, together with their slaves, who were told they were free, and put them in the armory. Other citizens were captured and confined in the same place. In the morning the village, railroad and armory were completely dominated by armed sentinels, who answered the question of by what authority they had seized civil and national property with a phrase, "By the authority

of God Almighty!" which is reminiscent of Ethan Allen. The trains which were turned back at the bridge bore the news to nearby telegraph stations, and forces of Virginia militia were soon on their way to the seat of insurrection. Brown's first plan had been to escape to the mountains with the arms and ammunition of the armory, but he later decided to make a stand at Harper's Ferry, trusting that the slaves would rise and flock to his standard. In this he was disappointed, not a negro joining him.

The armory was taken by the militia on October 18 at 7 a. m., after a stubborn resistance on the part of the Abolitionists, but four of whom were taken, the others who had not been killed in the assault making their escape. Among the prisoners was John Brown, who was knocked down with a saber blow in the face and twice run through the body with a bayonet while prostrated. Both of his sons were killed. The four prisoners were quickly tried at Charlestown, the county seat, and on November 1 were sentenced to be hanged. When asked if he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed upon him Brown replied:

In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted-the design on my part to free the slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter, when I went into Missouri and there took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada. I designed to have done the same thing again on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.

Had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right, and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.

This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the Law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or, at least, the New Testament. That teaches me

that all things "whatsoever I would that men should do unto me, I should do even so to them." It teaches me, further, to "remember those that are in bonds as bound with them." I endeavored to act upon that instruction. I say I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done, as I have always freely admitted I have done, in behalf of His despised poor was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments-I submit: so let it be done.

I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial. Considering all the circumstances, it has been more generous than I expected.

His letter to his family, written a week after his sentence to death, is as follows:

I am quite cheerful, having (as I trust) the peace of God, which "passeth all understanding," to "rule in my heart," and the testimony (in some degree) of a good conscience that I have not lived altogether in vain. I can trust God with both the time and the manner of my death, believing, as I now do, that for me at this time to seal my testimony (for God and humanity) with my blood will do vastly more toward advancing the cause I have earnestly endeavored to promote than all I have done in my life before. I beg of you all meekly and quietly to submit to this; not feeling yourselves in the least degraded on that account. Remember, dear wife and children all, that Jesus of Nazareth suffered a most excruciating death on the cross as a felon, under the most aggravating circumstances. May God Almighty comfort all your hearts and soon wipe away all tears from your eyes. Think, too, of the crushed millions who "have no comforter." I charge you all never (in your trials to forget the griefs of "the poor that cry and of those that have none to help them." I wrote most earnestly to my dear and afflicted wife not to come on. First, it would use up all the scanty means she has, or is at all likely to have, to make herself and children comfortable hereafter. For let me tell you that the sympathy that is now aroused in your behalf may not always follow you. There is but little more of the romantic about helping poor widows and their children than there is about trying to relieve poor "niggers." Again, the

« PreviousContinue »