John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry

Thu, 10/13/2016 - 1:29pm -- lwhite

On October 16, 1859 abolitionist John Brown and twenty-two of his supporters made their way to Harpers Ferry, Virginia to seize the federal arsenal. Brown’s plan – had it succeeded – was to start a slave insurrection. He and his men – including two of his sons – took the arsenal. They eventually went into the country and took numerous citizens as hostages. Brown believed that by doing this, more slaves would escape and join him and his small band of soldiers. However, no other slaves joined. The local militia ended up surrounding Brown and his men and eventually, one of Brown’s sons was sent to try and negotiate but was killed in the process.

John Brown's Raid on Harpers Ferry

News of Brown’s slave revolution soon reached Colonel Robert E. Lee. Soon enough a company of Marines came and ended Brown’s plan. The result of this was ten of Brown’s men being killed in the fray – including both of his sons. In the end, Brown was tried for murder, found guilty, and sent to the gallows. On December 2, 1859, Brown met his untimely end. Although his slave revolution was ultimately a failure, his raid had quite the profound effect on the Civil War by further splitting the ideals between the North and the South.

While in prison, John Brown wrote a few letters to family members. One such letter that Redwood Library has the honor of possessing is written from John Brown to his cousin Rev. Luther Humphrey on November 19, 1859. Although sitting in prison, Brown’s letter does not appear to be mournful. At one point Brown writes, “I neither feel mortified, degraded, nor in the least ashamed of my imprisonment, my chain, or my near prospect of death by hanging.”

His statement proves that this abolitionist deeply believed in his motives behind his raid on Harpers Ferry. Towards the end of his letter, Brown makes it clear that he did not wish to spoil everything that he has done “in the sake of freedom.”

His letter is not fear ridden or sad. John Brown makes it clear that he believes that he has lived a whole and prosperous life. His letter at one point states “I have never since I can remember required a great amount of sleep; so that I conclude that I have already enjoyed full and average number of waking hours…”

It is interesting to point out that even in the face of death; John Brown still appears to be happy. Whether or not this is to ease the mind of his cousin is not entirely clear, but it does reveal how earnest his feelings to the idea of freedom were.