John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry Facts

October 16 – 18, 1859

Key facts about John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry.

Portrait of John Brown.

Abolitionist John Brown was hanged on December 2, 1859, for leading a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in October 1859. [Wikimedia Commons]


  • October 16–18, 1859


  • Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia)

Principal participants:

  • John Brown, Robert E. Lee


  • 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 Harpers Ferry, which Douglass described as suicidal.
  • John Brown 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.
  • John Brown’s raiders comprised twenty-two men recruits – three free blacks, one freed slave, one fugitive slave, and sixteen whites, including himself and his sons Oliver, Owen, and Watson.
  • When news of John Brown’s Raid reached Washington DC, federal officials responded quickly, deploying roughly ninety marines commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee, to diffuse the situation.
  • Of the twenty-two men involved in John Brown’s Raid, ten were killed, including Brown’s sons Watson and Oliver.
  • John Brown and four of his raiders were captured at the arsenal.
  • Seven of John Brown’s raiders escaped, but two of them were later apprehended and returned to Virginia to stand trial. The remaining five, including Brown’s son Owen, eluded authorities and were never captured.
  • Of the seven of John Brown’s raiders who were eventually captured, all stood trial in Virginia and were sentenced to death.
  • The ten raiders killed or mortally wounded during John Brown’s Raid included Jeremiah Anderson, Oliver Brown, Watson Brown, John Henry Kagi, Lewis Leary, William Leeman, Dangerfield Newby, Stewart Taylor, Dauphin Thompson, and William Thompson.
  • The seven raiders eventually captured and executed following John Brown’s Raid included John Brown, John E. Cook, John Anthony Copeland, Jr., Shields Green, Edwin Coppoc, Albert Hazlett, and Aaron Stephens.
  • The five raiders who eluded capture after John Brown’s Raid included Osbourne Perry Anderson, Owen Brown, Barclay Coppoc, Francis Jackson Meriam, and Charles Plummer Tidd.
  • John Brown’s raiders killed six civilians and one U.S. marine during the raid on Harpers Ferry.
  • 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.
  • 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

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  • Article Title John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry Facts
  • Date October 16 – 18, 1859
  • Author
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 16, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 12, 2023