Portrait of John Brown.

At roughly 11 a.m. on December 2, 1859, authorities hanged John Brown for leading a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. [Wikimedia Commons]

John Brown - Facts

May 9, 1800 – December 2, 1859

Key facts about ardent abolitionist John Brown.

Full Name:

  • John Brown

Birth Date:

  • May 9, 1800

Birth Location:

  • Torrington, Connecticut

Parents:

  • Ruth (Mills) and Owen Brown

Education:

  • Limited

Occupation:

  • Tanner

Spouse:

  • Dianthe Lusk (1820), Mary Ann Day (1833)

Nickname(s):

  • Oswatomie Brown

Place of Death:

  • Charles Town, Virginia

Date of Death:

  • December 2, 1859

Place of Burial:

  • Brown Farm State Historic Site, North Elba, NY

Significance:

  • John Brown was the fourth of eight children in the family of Ruth (Mills) and Owen Brown.
  • In 1805, when Brown was five years old, his father moved the family to Hudson, Ohio, located in the state’s staunchly anti-slavery Connecticut Western Reserve.
  • John Brown’s mother died during childbirth in 1805.
  • Owen Brown’s tannery business proved successful and he became a pillar of the community. He was instrumental in the founding of Western Reserve College and later, Oberlin College. Interestingly, one of Owen Brown’s early apprentices at his Hudson tannery was Jesse Root Grant, the father of future Civil War general and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant.
  • While on a cattle drive in Michigan, twelve-year-old John witnessed the abuse of a young slave about his own age. The event left an indelible impression on Brown’s mind and fueled his hatred of slavery.
  • John Brown received only rudimentary schooling during his youth.
  • In 1816 John Brown returned east and enrolled in preparatory school with plans to become a minister. Notwithstanding his lofty aspirations, Brown did not fare well academically and was soon back working in his father’s tannery.
  • John Brown married Dianthe Lusk on June 21, 1820. Dianthe gave birth to their first child, John Jr., a year later.
  • In 1825, John Brown moved his family to Crawford County in northwestern Pennsylvania where he opened his own tannery.
  • John Brown’s wife Dianthe died in August 1832 after giving birth to their seventh child.
  • On July 11, 1833, John Brown wed sixteen-year-old Mary Ann Day. They remained married until Brown’s death in 1859. Together they had thirteen children, six of whom survived childhood.
  • Between his two marriages, John Brown fathered twenty children, eleven of whom survived to adulthood.
  • In 1834, John Brown moved to Franklin Mills (now Kent), Ohio, and started another tannery.
  • John Brown declared bankruptcy following several failed business venture.
  • As early as the 1820s, John Brown’s loathing of slavery had motivated him to secretly serve as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
  • In 1837, church officials expelled John Brown from his congregation when he attempted to escort blacks to his pew in a section that was reserved for whites.
  • In 1847, John Brown met Frederick Douglass and revealed his plans to lead a slave revolt in the South.
  • In 1849, John Brown moved his family to North Elba, New York, a freedman’s community created on land provided by philanthropist Gerrit Smith.
  • Following the enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, John Brown helped organize the Springfield Chapter of the League of Gileadites, an African-American group that assisted escaped slaves elude slave catchers.
  • The events playing out in Kansas offered Brown an ideal opportunity to act on his increasingly militant views on abolishing slavery. On October 7, 1855, Brown joined five of his sons (Owen, Frederick, Salmon, Jason, and John, Jr.,) who had settled along the Osawatomie River in Kansas during the previous year. When a group of pro-slavery marauders sacked and looted the staunchly anti-slavery town of Lawrence on May 21, 1856, Brown sprang into action. Appointing himself captain of anti-slavery forces, Brown led his four sons and two accomplices on a mission of revenge.
  • On the night of May 24, John Brown, along with four of his sons and two other accomplices, dragged five unarmed men and boys, believed to be slavery supporters, from their homes near Pottawatomie Creek in Kansas and brutally hacked them to death.
  • John Brown’s leadership and participation in the Pottawatomie Creek Massacre aroused personal commendation from abolitionists and condemnation from slaveholders.
  • John Brown began planning his raid on Harpers Ferry as early as 1857.
  • In January 1858 John Brown unsuccessfully tried to convince Frederick Douglass to support his plan to raid the federal arsenal at Harper Ferry, which Douglass described as suicidal.
  • John Brow planned to capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia and then lead an insurrection of armed slaves.
  • Reverend Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Samuel Gridley Howe, Theodore Parker, Franklin Sanborn, George Stearns, and Gerrit Smith, collectively known as the “Secret Six,” were John Brown’s principal financial backers.
  • On May 8, 1858, at the Chatham Convention, in Chatham, Ontario, twelve whites and thirty-four blacks approved a constitution for the republic Brown planned to establish after the successful conclusion of his planned slave rebellion.
  • On October 17, 1859 John Brown led a unsuuccessful raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
  • Brought to an end on October 18, 1859, Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry lasted less than two days.
  • John Brown and four of his raiders were captured at the conclusion of their unsuccessful raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.
  • Following John Brown’s capture, Virginia authorities took him to nearby Charles Town to stand trial.
  • On October 26, 1859, a grand jury indicted John Brown and his co-conspirators on three counts: conspiring with Negroes to produce insurrection, treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, and murder.
  • John Brown’s trial began on October 26, 1859.
  • On Monday, October 30, 1859, John Brown’s jury deliberated only forty-five minutes before finding him guilty on all counts.
  • On Wednesday, November 2, 1859, Circuit Judge Richard Parker sentenced John Brown to be publicly hanged on December 2, 1859.
  • John Brown was hanged for his raid on Harpers Ferry at roughly 11 a.m. on December 2, 1859.
  • John Brown raid on Harpers Ferry placed a spotlight on slavery that polarized the nation.
  • Following his raid on Harpers Ferry, John Brown became a martyr in the North when luminaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau extolled his sacrifices for the abolitionist cause.
  • Following John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, many Southerners demonized Brown and rejoiced in his execution.
  • John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry intensified the dispute over slavery in the United States and hastened the nation toward civil war.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title John Brown - Facts
  • Coverage May 9, 1800 – December 2, 1859
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date November 29, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 18, 2021
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