Boyhood and Youth
1800 — John Brown is born in Torrington, Conn., May 9th. Attempted insurrection of slaves under Gabriel in Virginia, in September.
1805 — The family migrates to Ohio.
1812 — John Brown meets a slave boy.
1816 — He joins the church.
1819 — He attends school at Plainfield, Mass.
1819–1825 — John Brown works as a tanner at Hudson, O.
1821 — He marries Dianthe Lusk, June 21st.
1822 — Attempted slave insurrection in South Carolina in June.
1825–1835 — He works as a tanner at Randolph, Pa., and is postmaster.
1831 — Nat Turner's insurrection, in Virginia, August 21st.
1832 — His first wife dies, August 10th.
1833 — He marries Mary Ann Day, July 11th.
1834 — He outlines his plan for Negro education, November 21st.
1835–1840 — He lives in and near Hudson, O., and speculates in land.
1837 — He loses heavily in the panic.
1839 — He and his family swear blood-feud with slavery.
1840 — He surveys Virginia lands for Oberlin College, and proposes buying 1,000 acres.
1841 — John Brown begins sheep-farming.
1842 — He goes into bankruptcy.
1843 — He loses four children in September.
1844 — He forms the firm of "Perkins and Brown, wool merchants."
1845–51 — He is in charge of the Perkins and Brown warehouse, Springfield, O.
1846 — Gerrit Smith offers Adirondack farms to Negroes, August 1st.
1847 — Frederick Douglass visits Brown and hears his plan for a slave raid.
1849 — He goes to Europe to sell wool, and visits France and Germany, August and September.
1849 — First removal of his family to North Elba, N. Y.
1850 — The new Fugitive Slave Law passed.
1851–1854 — Winding up of the wool business.
1851 — He founds the League of Gileadites, January 15th.
1854 — Kansas and Nebraska Bill becomes a law, May 30th. Five sons start for Kansas in October.
1855 — John Brown at the Syracuse convention of Abolitionists in June. He starts for Kansas with a sixth son and his son-in-law in September. Two sons take part in Big Springs convention in September. John Brown arrives in Kansas, October 6th. He helps to defend Lawrence in December.
1856 — He attends a mass meeting at Osawatomie in April. He visits Buford's camp in May. The sacking of Lawrence, May 21st. The Pottawatomie murders, May 23-26th. Arrest of two sons, May 28th. Battle of Black Jack, June 2d. Goes to Iowa with his wounded son-in-law and joins Lane's army, July and August. Joins in attacks to rid Lawrence of surrounding forts, August. Battle of Osawatomie, August 30th. Missouri's last invasion of Kansas, September 15th. Geary arrives and induces Brown to leave Kansas, September. Brown starts for the East with his sons, September 20th.
1857 — John Brown is in Boston in January. He attends the New York meeting of the National Kansas Committee, in January. Before the Massachusetts legislature in February. Tours New England to raise money, March and April. Contracts for 1,000 pikes in Connecticut.
1857 — He starts West, May. He is at at Tabor, I., August and September. He founds a military school in Iowa, December.
1858 — John Brown returns to the East, January. He is at Frederick Douglass's house, February. He reveals his plan to Sanborn in February. He is in Canada, April. Forbes' disclosures, May. Chatham convention, May 8–10th. Hamilton's massacre in Kansas, May 19th. Plans postponed, May 20th. John Brown starts West, June 3d. He arrives in Kansas, June 25th. He is in South Kansas, coöperating with Montgomery, July–December. The raid into Missouri for slaves, December 20th.
The Harper's Ferry Raid
1859 — John Brown starts with fugitives for Canada, January 20th. He arrives in Canada, March 12th. He speaks in Cleveland, March 23d. Last visit of John Brown to the East, April and May. He starts for Harper's Ferry, June. He and three companions arrive at Harper's Ferry, July 3d. He gathers twenty-two men and munitions, June–October. He starts on the foray, Sunday, October 16th at 8 p. m.. The town and arsenal are captured, Monday. October 17th at 4 a. m. Gathering of the militia, Monday, October 17th at 7 a. m. to 12 m. Brown's party is hemmed in, Monday, October 17th at 12 m. He withdraws to the engine-house, Monday, October 17th at 12 m. Kagi's party is killed and captured, Monday, October 17th at 3 p. m. Lee and 100 marines arrive, Monday, October 17th at 12 p. m. Brown is captured, Tuesday, October 18th at a. m.
1859 — Preliminary examination, October 25th. Trial at Charleston (then Virginia, now West Virginia), October 27th–November 4th. Forty days in prison, October 16th–December 2d. Execution of John Brown at Charleston, December 2d. Burial of John Brown at North Elba, N. Y., December 8th.
AFRICA AND AMERICA
"That it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet saying, Out of Egypt have I called My son."
The mystic spell of Africa is and ever was over all America. It has guided her hardest work, inspired her finest literature, and sung her sweetest songs. Her greatest destiny — unsensed and despised though it be, — is to give back to the first of continents the gifts which Africa of old gave to America's fathers' fathers.
Of all inspiration which America owes to Africa, however, the greatest by far is the score of heroic, men whom the sorrows of these dark children called to unselfish devotion and heroic self-realization: Benezet, Garrison and Harriet Stowe; Sumner, Douglass and Lincoln — these and others, but above all, John Brown.
John Brown was a stalwart, rough-hewn man, mightily yet tenderly carven. To his making went the stern justice of a Cromwellian "Ironside," the freedom-loving fire of a Welsh Celt, and the thrift of a Dutch housewife. And these very things it was — thrift, freedom and justice — that early crossed the unknown seas to find asylum in America. Yet they came late, for before them came greed, and greed brought black slaves from Africa.
The Negroes came on the heels, if not on the very ships of Columbus. They followed De Soto to the Mississippi; saw Virginia with D'Ayllon, Mexico with Cortez, Peru with Pizarro; and led the western wanderings of Coronado in his search for the Seven Cities of Cibola. Something more than a decade after the Cavaliers, and a year before the Pilgrims, they set lasting foot on the North American continent.
These black men came not of their own willing, but because the hasty greed of new America selfishly and half thoughtlessly sought to revive in the New World the dying but unforgotten custom of enslaving the world's workers. So with the birth of wealth and liberty west of the seas, came slavery, and a slavery all the more cruel and hideous because it gradually built itself on a caste of race and color, thus breaking the common bonds of human fellowship and weaving artificial barriers of birth and appearance.
The result was evil, as all injustice must be. At first the black men writhed and struggled and died in their bonds, and their blood reddened the paths across the Atlantic and around the beautiful isles of the Western Indies. Then as the bonds gripped them closer and closer, they succumbed to sullen indifference or happy ignorance, with only here and there flashes of wild red vengeance.
For, after all, these black men were but men, neither more nor less wonderful than other men. In build and stature, they were for the most part among the taller nations and sturdily made. In their mental equipment and moral poise, they showed themselves full brothers to all men — "intensely human"; and this too in their very modifications and peculiarities — their warm brown and bronzed color and crisp curled hair under the heat and wet of Africa; their sensuous enjoyment of the music and color of life; their instinct for barter and trade; their strong family life and government. Yet these characteristics were bruised and spoiled and misinterpreted in the rude uprooting of the slave trade and the sudden transplantation of this race to other climes, among other peoples. Their color became a badge of servitude, their tropical habit was deemed laziness, their worship was thought heathenish, their family customs and government were ruthlessly overturned and debauched; many of their virtues became vices, and much of their vice, virtue.
The price of repression is greater than the cost of liberty. The degradation of men costs something both to the degraded and those who degrade. While the Negro slaves sank to listless docility and vacant ignorance, their masters found themselves whirled in the eddies of mighty movements: their system of slavery was twisting them backwards toward darker ages of force and caste and cruelty, while forward swirled swift currents of liberty and uplift.
They still felt the impulse of the wonderful awakening of culture from, its barbaric sleep of centuries which men call the Renaissance; they were own children of the mighty stirring of Europe's conscience which we call the Reformation; and they and their children were to be prime actors in laying the foundations of human liberty in a new century and a new land. Already the birth pains of the new freedom were felt in that land. Old Europe was begetting in the new continent a vast longing for spiritual space. So there was builded into America the thrift of the searchers of wealth, the freedom of the Renaissance and the stern morality of the Reformation.
Three lands typified these three things which time planted in the New World: England sent Puritanism, the last white flower of the Lutheran revolt; Holland sent the new vigor and thrift of the Renaissance; while Celtic lands and bits of lands like France and Ireland and Wales, sent the passionate desire for personal freedom. These three elements came, and came more often than not in the guise of humble men — an English carpenter on the Mayflower, an Amsterdam tailor seeking a new ancestral city, and a Welsh wanderer. From three such men sprang in the marriage of years, John Brown.
To the unraveling of human tangles we would gladly believe that God sends especial men — chosen vessels which come to the world's deliverance. And what could be more fitting than that the human embodiments of freedom, Puritanism and trade — the great new currents sweeping across the back eddies of slavery, should give birth to the man who in years to come pointed the way to liberty and realized that the cost of liberty was less than the price of repression? So it was. In bleak December, 1620, a carpenter and a weaver landed at Plymouth — Peter and John Brown. This carpenter Peter came of goodly stock, possibly, though not surely, from that very John Brown of the early sixteenth century whom bluff King Henry VIII of England burned for his Puritanism, and whose son was all too near the same fate. Thirty years after Peter Brown had landed, came the Welshman, John Owen, to Windsor, Conn., to help in the building of that commonwealth, and near him settled Peter Mills, the tailor of Holland. The great-grandson of Peter Brown, born in Connecticut in 1700, had for a son a Revolutionary soldier, who married one of the Welshman's grandchildren and had in turn a son, Owen Brown, the father of John Brown, in February of 1771. This Owen Brown a neighbor remembers "very distinctly, and that he was very much respected and esteemed by my father. He was an earnestly devout and religious man, of the old Connecticut fashion; and one peculiarity of his impressed his name and person indelibly upon my memory: he was an inveterate and most painful stammerer — the first specimen of that infirmity that I had ever seen, and, according to my recollection, the worst that I had ever known to this day. Consequently, though we removed from Hudson to another settlement early in the summer of 1807, and returned to Connecticut in 1812, so that I rarely saw any of that family afterward, I have never to this day seen a man struggling and half strangled with a word stuck to his throat, without remembering good Mr. Owen Brown, who could not speak without stammering, except in prayer."
In 1800, May 9th, wrote this Owen Brown: "John was born, one hundred years after his great-grandfather. Nothing else very uncommon."
THE MAKING OF THE MAN
"There was a man called of God and his name was John."
A tall big boy of twelve or fifteen, "barefoot and bareheaded, with buckskin breeches suspended often with one leather strap over his shoulder" roamed in the forests of northern Ohio. He remembered the days of his coming to the strange wild land — the lowing oxen, the great white wagon that wandered from Connecticut to Pennsylvania and over the swelling hills and mountains, where the wide-eyed urchin of five sat staring at the new world of wild beast and the wilder brown men. Then came life itself in its realness — the driving of cows and the killing of rattlesnakes, and swift free rides on great mornings alone with earth and tree and sky. He became "a rambler in the wild new country, finding birds and squirrels and sometimes a wild turkey's nest." At first the Indians filled him with strange fear. But his kindly old father thought of Indians as neither vermin nor property and this fear "soon wore off and he used to hang about them quite as much as was consistent with good manners."
The tragedy and comedy of this broad silent life turned on things strangely simple and primitive — the stealing of "three large brass pins"; the disappearance of the wonderful yellow marble which an Indian boy had given him; the love and losing of a little bob-tailed squirrel for which he wept and hunted the world in vain; and finally the shadow of death which is ever here — the death of a ewe-lamb and the death of the boy's own mother.
All these things happened before he was eight and they were his main education. He could dress leather and make whip-lashes; he could herd cattle and talk Indian; but of books and formal schooling he had little.
"John was never quarrelsome, but was excessively fond of the hardest and roughest kind of plays, and could never get enough of them. Indeed when for a short time he was sometimes sent to school, the opportunity it afforded to wrestle and snowball and run and jump and knock off old seedy wool hats, offered to him almost the only compensation for the confinements and restraints of school.
"With such a feeling and but little chance of going to school at all, he did not become much of a scholar. He would always choose to stay at home and work hard rather than be sent to school." Consequently, "he learned nothing of grammar, nor did he get at school so much knowledge of common arithmetic as the four ground rules."
Almost his only reading at the age of ten was a little history to which the open bookcase of an old friend tempted him. He knew nothing of games or sports; he had few or no companions, but, "to be sent off through the wilderness alone to very considerable distances was particularly his delight. . . . By the time he was twelve years old he was sent off more than a hundred miles with companies of cattle." So his soul grew apart and alone and yet untrammeled and unconfined, knowing all the depths of secret self-abasement, and the heights of confident self-will. With others he was painfully diffident and bashful, and little sins that smaller souls would laugh at and forget loomed large and awful to his heart-searching vision. John had "a very bad foolish habit. . . . I mean telling lies, generally to screen himself from blame or from punishment," because "he could not well endure to be reproached and I now think had he been oftener encouraged to be entirely frank . . . he would not have been so often guilty of this fault, nor have been (in after life) obliged to struggle so long with so mean a habit."
Such a nature was in its very essence religious, even mystical, but never superstitious nor blindly trustful in half-known creeds and formulas. His family was not rigidly Puritan in its thought and discipline but had rather fallen into the mild heathenism of the hard-working frontier until just before John's birth. Then, his father relates in quaint Calvinistic patois: "I lived at home in 1782; this was a memorable year, as there was a great revival of religion in the town of Canton. My mother and my older sisters and brother John dated their hopes of salvation from that summer's revival under the ministry of the Rev. Edward Mills. I cannot say as I was a subject of the work; but this I can say that I then began to hear preaching. I can now recollect most if not all of those I heard preach, and what their texts were. The change in our family was great; family worship set up by brother John was ever afterward continued. There was a revival of singing in Canton and our family became singers. Conference meetings were kept up constantly and singing meetings — all of which brought our family into a very good association — a very great aid of restraining grace."
Thus this young freeman of the woods was born into a religious atmosphere; not that of stern, intellectual Puritanism, but of a milder and a more sensitive type. Even this, however, the naturally skeptical bent of his mind did not receive unquestioningly. The doctrines of his day and church did not wholly satisfy him and he became only "to some extent a convert to Christianity." One answer to his questionings did come, however, bearing its own wonderful credentials — and credentials all the more wonderful to the man of few books and narrow knowledge of the world of thought — the English Bible. He grew to be "a firm believer in the divine authenticity of the Bible. With this book he became very familiar." He read and reread it; he committed long passages to memory; he copied the simple vigor of its English, and wove into the very essence of his being, its history, poetry, philosophy and truth. To him the cruel grandeur of the Old Testament was as true as the love and sacrifice of the New, and both mingled to mold his soul. "This will give you some general idea of the first fifteen years of his life, during which time he became very strong and large of his age, and ambitious to perform the full labor of a man at almost any kind of hard work."
Young John Brown's first broad contact with life and affairs came with the War of 1812, during which Hull's disastrous campaign brought the scene of fighting near his western home. His father, a simple wandering old soul, thrifty without foresight, became a beef contractor, and the boy drove his herds of cattle and hung about the camp. He met men of position, was praised for his prowess and let listen to talk that seemed far beyond his years. Yet he was not deceived. The war he felt was real war and not the war of fame and fairy tale. He saw shameful defeat, heard treason broached, and knew of cheating and chicanery. Disease and death left its slimy trail as it crept homeward through the town of Hudson from Detroit: "The effect of what he saw during the war went so far to disgust him with military affairs that he would neither train nor drill."
But in all these early years of the making of this man, one incident stands out as foretaste and prophecy — an incident of which we know only the indefinite outline, and yet one which unconsciously foretold to the boy the life deed of the man. It was during the war that a certain landlord welcomed John to his home whither the boy had ridden with cattle, a hundred miles through the wilderness. He praised the big, grave and bashful lad to his guests and made much of him. John, however, discovered something far more interesting than praise and good food in the landlord's parlor, and that was another boy in the landlord's yard. Fellow souls were scarce with this backwoodsman and his diffidence warmed to the kindly welcome of the stranger, especially because he was black, half naked and wretched. In John's very ears the kind voices of the master and his folk turned to harsh abuse with this black boy. At night the slave lay in the bitter cold and once they beat the wretched thing before John's very eyes with an iron shovel, and again and again struck him with any weapon that chanced. In wide-eyed silence John looked on and questioned, Was the boy bad or stupid? No, he was active, intelligent and with the great warm sympathy of his race did the stranger "numerous little acts of kindness," so that John readily, in his straightforward candor, acknowledged him "fully if not more than his equal." That the black worked and worked hard and steadily was in John's eyes no hardship — rather a pleasure. Was not the world work? But that this boy was fatherless and motherless, and that all slaves must of necessity be fatherless and motherless with none to protect them or provide for them, save at the will or caprice of the master — this was to the half-grown man a thing of fearful portent and he asked, "Is God their Father?" And what he asked, a million and a half black bondmen were asking through the land.
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