Harper Ferry's Raid

John Brown was a very passionate abolitionist before the Civil War. Abolitionists wanted to get rid of slavery. He wanted to incite a slave rebellion and set up an area for freed slaves in the mountains of Maryland and Virginia. He was born in 1800 in Connecticut and raised in Ohio. His parents were strict abolitionists. In his early life, he failed in many businesses and even declared bankruptcy. Many lawsuits were filed against him.

After attending an anti-slavery meeting in Cleveland in 1837, he dedicated himself to stamping out slavery. He was very emotional about his decision, and in 1837 was already making plans to start a slave uprising. In the 1850's, violence and fighting went on in the state of Kansas between those who wanted it to come into the union as a slave state and those who wanted it to be a free state. Brown left Ohio after helping several slaves escape and traveled to Kansas.

John Brown took five of his sons with him. The town of Lawrence, Kansas was an abolitionist town. Pro-slavery men raided the town. John Brown wanted revenge for this attack. He and his sons made an attack on some cabins along Pottawatomie Creek. This began a summer of fighting after they killed five men who were pro-slavery. He justified his actions as' obedience to the will of a just God.' One of John Brown's sons was killed during this summer.

Brown became somewhat of a hero to the Northerners who were very vocal in their anti-slavery sentiments. He went to the East and, by 1857, had approached six wealthy anti-slavery men to give him financial support. These men were called 'the Secret Six.' They were Franklin Sanborn, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, George Luther Stearns, Gerrit Smith, Samuel Gridley Howe and Theodore Parker. Others also supported him financially without knowing of his violent plans. Brown wanted to gather his own army. His numbers grew to about 20 men. The group included several of Brown's sons and several black men. The group rented a farm at Harper's Ferry, Virginia and started to make plans for their attack. Harper's Ferry now is in the eastern part of West Virginia.

Brown's plan was to take over the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry. An arsenal is where arms and ammunition are stored. He wanted to get the arms so he could start a slave rebellion. The small army made their attack on the night of October 16, 1859. They took several hostages which included some slaves. After news of the capture of the arsenal leaked out, Brown's army was surrounded. On October 18, U. S. Marines, led by Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J. E. B. Stuart, broke the hold on the arsenal. Ten men of Brown's group were killed, and Brown was wounded and taken captive.

The State of Virginia tried John Brown for murder and treason. He was found guilty on November 2, 1859. He was hanged on December 2. His final words were on paper. 'I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.' His words came true all too quickly with the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861, an act which began the Civil War. The raid on the arsenal didn't succeed, but feelings for and against slavery became stronger. Brown's actions showed that most likely the North and the South were not going to be able to come to an agreement about slavery peacefully.

Brown conducted his own defense and powerfully stood up as almost a religious martyr for the cause. Henry David Thoreau lived in Massachusetts. He wrote essays and poems. As an abolitionist, he openly supported John Brown after his arrest in 1859 for the Harper's Ferry raid. He also wrote an essay called A Plea for Captain John Brown.




A: Massachusetts
B: Connecticut
C: Maine
D: Virginia

A: Virginia
B: South Carolina
C: Pennsylvania
D: New Jersey

A: A general store
B: A storehouse for arms
C: A saloon
D: A repair shop

A: 1897
B: 1859
C: 1845
D: 1864

A: Edgar Allen Poe
B: Washington Irving
C: Henry David Thoreau
D: Frederick Douglass

A: George Washington
B: William Sherman
C: George Custer
D: Robert E. Lee








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