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John Brown
1846-47 John Brown by Augustus Washington (without frame).jpg
Photo by Augustus Washington, circa 1846–1847
Born (1800-05-09)May 9, 1800
Died December 2, 1859(1859-12-02) (aged 59)
Cause of death Execution by hanging
Resting place John Brown Farm State Historic Site, Lake Placid, New York, U.S.
Known for
Children 20 (11 survived to adulthood)
  • Owen Brown (father)
John Brown signature.svg

John Brown (May 9, 1800 – December 2, 1859) was an American abolitionist who believed in and advocated armed insurrection as the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States. He first gained attention when he led small groups of volunteers during the Bleeding Kansas crisis of 1856.

Early years

Brown was a white man, born in Torrington, Connecticut. He strongly believed in Christianity. He believed that Christians should treat people the same no matter what color their skin was. Many white Christians in America at this time did not agree with this.

Kansas and the Pottawatomie Massacre

John Brown Museum-Osawatomie
John Brown Museum in Osawatomie, Kansas

Brown lived mostly in Springfield, Massachusetts before moving to the Kansas Territory. This would later become the state of Kansas in 1861. Several of his sons were already living there. Brown's sons wanted his help to fight people from Missouri. The people in Missouri wanted slavery to be legal in Kansas. On 24 May 1856, Brown and his sons killed five people in Kansas who wanted slavery to be legal. This came to be known as the Pottawatomie massacre. Many people in Kansas were shocked and upset about this. More violent things happened after this. This was the beginning of the period in the Kansas Territory known as Bleeding Kansas. Before leaving Kansas, Brown and his followers were attacked at the Battle of Osawatomie on August 30, 1856. His son Frederick was killed there.

Harper's Ferry

Brown's "fort" (a firehouse) was attacked by US Marines

In 1859, Brown decided to attack the Harpers Ferry Armory in Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). He was planning on giving the weapons to slaves. The slaves would use the weapons to fight against their masters and become free. Brown attacked the arsenal in October 1859. His sons and several other men, including several black men, helped him with the attack. His attack failed. Brown was captured, and was executed by hanging for treason against the state of Virginia on 2 December 1859.

Public opinion

John Brown's Body Lies a Moulderin' in THIS Grave
Grave of abolitionist John Brown

Brown's actions as an abolitionist and the tactics that he used still make him a controversial figure today. He is sometimes thought of as a hero and a visionary, and sometimes as a madman and a terrorist. Historian James Loewen surveyed American History textbooks and noted that historians considered Brown perfectly sane until about 1890, but he was generally portrayed as insane from about 1890 until 1970.

Historians agree that the Harpers Ferry raid escalated tensions which led to the South's secession a year later and the American Civil War.

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