An interesting view of Pre Civil War events in Virginia with slave owners supposedly arming their loyal slaves to resist John Brown’s invaders. The effects of John Brown’s Invasion of the South to spark a slave rebellion by seizing the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (present day West Virginia ), just before the start of the Civil War. Harper’s Weekly November 19, 1859 Illustrations by Porte Crayon (David Hunter Strother)

John Brown holds a ant-islavery convention calls For Armed uprising against slavery at May 8th 1858 Anti-Slavery Convention: Land of Rebellion which was attended by twelve whites and thirty-four Blacks, at Chatham, Canada.

In early fall 1859, as Brown made final preparations for his raid, Douglass, driven by curiosity and hope, paid a visit to the “old man” in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. They met secretly in an old stone quarry, Douglass accompanied by a fugitive slave named Shields Green, whom he had brought along as a possible recruit for Brown’s band of rebels. They sat down on large rocks and discussed Brown’s plans. Brown beseeched Douglass to join his rather pathetically small band of willing warriors. “I want you for a special purpose,” Douglass remembered Brown saying to him. “When I strike, the bees will begin to swarm, and I want you to help hive them.” Douglass was dismayed; he had earlier understood that Brown really intended to liberate slaves in Virginia and funnel them into hideaways in the Appalachian Mountains. Now, Brown appeared obsessed with attacking the federal arsenal, a desperate mistake, in Douglass’s judgment. The former fugitive slave told the Kansas captain that he was “going into a perfect steel trap, and that once in he would not get out alive.” Douglass said no to Brown’s pleas, but let Shields Green decide his own fate. According to Douglass, Green said “I b’leve I’ll go wid de ole man”; he would die at Harpers Ferry.

John Brown organized the Chatham convention in Ontario to discuss his “Provisional Constitution.” The convention began on May 8, 1858 with white and black anti-slavery activists attending. It was held at a black schoolhouse to avoid interference by curious, white Chatham residents. At the convention Brown spoke about his plan to establish a military stronghold in the mountains that runaway slaves could use as a haven and choose to join his militant cause. Brown’s Provisional Constitution also mentioned his plans for an insurrection—his attack on Harpers Ferry Virginia Though invited, national figures like Frederick Douglass and Jermain Wesley Loguen did not attend.

Prior to his raid on Harpers Ferry, John Brown sent out invitations to what he called a “quiet convention” for “true friends of freedom” (Landon 174). Conflicting reports indicate that between 44 and 46 delegates attended the meeting, which took place over a two-day period in a single story black schoolhouse in Chatham, Ontario. The majority of the attendees were black leaders who had been wrestling with the emigration question as a solution to racism in the United States. Among the more notable delegates were Martin Delany (who had fled the U.S. for Chatham in 1856) and William C. Monroe. Emigration proponent Monroe apparently served as President over the meeting; he came from Detroit with William Lambert, who had also been active in the Michigan Anti-Slavery Society and the Colored Vigilant Committee of Detroit. Several secondary sources suggest that Harriet Tubman was in attendance, but no primary evidence confirms this rumor; all of the known signatories of the “Provisional Constitution” were men, which Brown himself apparently insisted upon (Quarles 41, 44; Landon 174, Hamilton 132). Thirteen of the attendees were white members of Brown’s motley militia.

Brown was said to have given a speech at the Convention wherein he outlined his
plans to establish a military stronghold in the mountains—the rumored
“Subterranean Pass Way”

act as a safe haven for runaway slaves who wanted to join his militant fight against slavery (Rollin 87-88). He assured his listeners that his plan would be successful because he had been studying Insurrectionary warfare, particularly the history of the Haitian Revolution and the military strategy of Toussaint L’Ouverture (Quarles 46, Landon 132). Although his speech and Provisional Constitution indicate that Brown’s audience was clearly aware that he was planning an insurrection, it is not clear that he revealed to them that his plan was to sack Harpers Ferry, the only armory in the nation outside of Massachusetts.

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