In 1859, Brown led an unsuccessful raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry that ended with the multi-racial group’s capture. Brown’s trial resulted in his conviction and a sentence of death by hanging.
Brown’s attempt in 1859 to start a liberation movement among enslaved African Americans in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (later part of West Virginia), electrified the nation. He was tried for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, the murder of five men and inciting a slave insurrection. He was found guilty on all counts and was hanged. During the Kansas campaign, he and his supporters killed five pro-slavery supporters in what became known as the Pottawatomie massacre in May 1856 in response to the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas by pro-slavery forces.
In 1859 he led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry. During the raid, he seized the armory; seven people were killed, and ten or more were injured. He intended to arm slaves with weapons from the arsenal, but the attack failed. Within 36 hours, Brown’s men had fled or been killed or captured by local pro-slavery farmers, militiamen, and U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee.
As he began recruiting supporters for an attack on slaveholders, Brown was joined by Harriet Tubman, “General Tubman,” as he called her. Her knowledge of support networks and resources in the border states of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware was invaluable to Brown and his planners. Although other abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison did not endorse his tactics, Brown dreamed of fighting to create a new state for freed slaves, and made preparations for military action. After he began the first battle, he believed, slaves would rise up and carry out a rebellion across the south.
He asked Tubman to gather former slaves then living in present-day Southern Ontario who might be willing to join his fighting force, which she did.[Brown arrived in Harpers Ferry on July 3, 1859. A few days later, under the name Isaac Smith, he rented a farmhouse in nearby Maryland. He awaited the arrival of his recruits. They never materialized in the numbers he expected. In late August he met with Douglass in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where he revealed the Harpers Ferry plan. Douglass expressed severe reservations, rebuffing Brown’s pleas to join the mission. Douglass had actually known about Brown’s plans from early in 1859 and had made a number of efforts to discourage blacks from enlisting.
In late September, the 950 pikes arrived from Charles Blair. Kagi’s draft plan called for a brigade of 4,500 men, but Brown had only 21 men (16 white and 5 black: three free blacks, one freed slave, and a fugitive slave). They ranged in age from 21 to 49. Twelve had been with Brown in Kansas raids. On October 16, 1859, Brown (leaving three men behind as a rear guard) led 18 men in an attack on the Harpers Ferry Armory. He had received 200 Beecher’s Bibles — breechloading .52 (13.2 mm) caliber Sharps rifles — and pikes from northern abolitionist societies in preparation for the raid. The armory was a large complex of buildings that contained 100,000 muskets and rifles, which Brown planned to seize and use to arm local slaves. They would then head south, drawing off more and more slaves from plantations, and fighting only in self-defense. As Frederick Douglass and Brown’s family testified, his strategy was essentially to deplete Virginia of its slaves, causing the institution to collapse in one county after another, until the movement spread into the South, essentially wreaking havoc on the economic viability of the pro-slavery states.
Altogether Brown’s men killed four people, and wounded nine. Ten of Brown’s men were killed (including his sons Watson and Oliver). Five of Brown’s men escaped (including his son Owen), and seven were captured along with Brown. Among the raiders killed were John Henry Kagi; Lewis Sheridan Leary and Dangerfield Newby; those hanged besides Brown included John Anthony Copeland, Jr. and Shields Green.
Jeremiah Goldsmith Anderson (killed during the storming of John Brown’s Fort)
John Henry Kagi
Lewis Sheridan Leary
William H. Leeman
Stewart Taylor (died of wounds)
Dauphin Osgood Thompson (killed during the storming of John Brown’s Fort)
William Thompson captured and killed by militia. For an account of his capture, see “Seven Marstellers and their lineal descendants” by Rev. John Andrew Thompson Marsteller (1938)
Hanged in 1859 following the raid
John E. Cook
John A. Copeland, Jr.
Hanged in 1860
Aaron D. Stevens
Died during US Civil War
Charles Plummer Tidd
Osborne Perry Anderson
Francis Jackson Meriam
Former slave Isaac Gilbert, his wife, and their three children.
John Brown & Raiders Goal of Destroying Virginia’s and The South’s Capitalist System of Slavery and Creating Maroon Communities and in The End A All New Afrikan/Black State Nation Within U.S. Borders:
The connection between John Brown’s life and many of the slave uprisings in the Caribbean was clear from the outset. Brown was born during the period of the Haitian Revolution, which saw Haitian slaves revolting against the French. The role the revolution played in helping to formulate Brown’s abolitionist views directly is not clear; however, the revolution had an obvious effect on the general view towards slavery in the northern United States. As W.E.B. Du Bois notes, the involvement of slaves in the American Revolutions, as well as the “upheaval in Hayti, and the new enthusiasm for human rights, led to a wave of emancipation which started in Vermont… swept through New England and Pennsylvania, ending finally in New York and New Jersey.” This changed sentiment, which occurred during the late 18th and early 19th century, undoubtedly had a role in creating Brown’s abolitionist opinion, during his upbringing.
The 1839 slave insurrection aboard the Spanish ship La Amistad, off the coast of Cuba, provides a poignant example of John Brown’s support and appeal towards Caribbean slave revolts. On La Amistad, Joseph Cinqué and approximately 50 other slaves captured the ship, slated to transport them fromHavana to Puerto Principe, Cuba in July 1839, and attempted to return to Africa. However, through trickery, the ship ended up in the United States, where Cinque and his men stood trial. Ultimately, the courts acquitted the men because at the time the international slave trade was illegal in the United States. According to Brown’s daughter, “Turner and Cinque stood first in esteem” among Brown’s black heroes. Furthermore, she noted Brown’s “admiration of Cinques’ character and management in carrying his points with so little bloodshed!” In 1850, Brown would refer affectionately to the revolt, in saying “Nothing so charms the American people as personal bravery. Witness the case of Cinques, of everlasting memory, on board the ‘Amistad.'” The slave revolts of the Caribbean had a clear and important impact on Brown’s views toward slavery and his staunch support of the most severe forms of abolitionism. However, this is not the most important part of the many revolts’ legacy of influencing Brown.
The specific knowledge John Brown gained from the tactics employed in the Haitian Revolution, and other Caribbean revolts, was of paramount importance when Brown turned his sights to the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. As Brown’s cohort Richard Realf explained to a committee of the 36th Congress, “he had posted himself in relation to the wars of Toussaint L’Ouverture… he had become thoroughly acquainted with the wars in Hayti and the islands round about.” By studying the slave revolts of the Caribbean region, Brown learned a great deal about how to properly conduct guerilla warfare. A key element to the prolonged success of this warfare was the establishment of Maroon communities, which are essentially colonies of runaway slaves. As a contemporary article notes, Brown would use these establishments to “retreat from and evade attacks he could not overcome. He would maintain and prolong a guerilla war, of which… Haiti afforded” an example.
The idea of creating Maroon communities was the impetus for the creation of John Brown’s “Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States,” which helped to detail how such communities would be governed. However, the idea of Maroon colonies of slaves is not an idea exclusive to the Caribbean region. In fact, Maroon communities riddled the southern United States between the mid-1600s and 1864, especially theGreat Dismal Swamp region of Virginia and North Carolina. Similar to the Haitian Revolution, the Seminole Wars, fought in modern-day Florida, saw the involvement of Maroon communities, which although outnumbered by native allies were more effective fighters.
Although the Maroon colonies of North America undoubtedly had an effect on John Brown’s plan, their impact paled in comparison to that of the Maroon communities in places like Haiti, Jamaica and Surinam. Accounts by Brown’s friends and cohorts prove this idea. Richard Realf, a cohort of Brown in Kansas, noted that Brown not only studied the slave revolts in the Caribbean, but focused more specifically on the maroons of Jamaica and those involved in Haiti’s liberation. Brown’s friend Richard Hinton similarly noted that Brown knew “by heart,” the occurrences in Jamaica and Haiti. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a cohort of Brown’s and a member of the Secret Six, stated that Brown’s plan involved getting “together bands and families of fugitive slaves” and “establish them permanently in those [mountain] fastnesses, like the Maroons of Jamaica and Surinam.” Brown had planned for the Maroon colonies established to be “durable,” and thus able to endure over a prolonged period of war.
The similarities between John Brown’s attempted insurrection and the Haitian Revolution, in both methods, motivations and resolve, is still seen today as the main avenue in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince is still named for Brown as a sign of solidarity.
Haki KweliShakur 10-16-51ADM August Third Collective NAPLA NAIM
John Brown’s Raid and Virginia Reaction Slide player