BROWN, JOHN A controversial white abolitionist, John Brown was born on May 9, 1800 in Connecticut. For the greater part of his life, Brown was a drifter, living in at least five different states, working as a cattle drover, tanner, wool merchant and farmer. In the meantime, he had married twice and had fathered a total of twenty children.
His fierce hatred of the institution of Afro-American slavery did not actively surface until he moved to Kansas in 1855. In the midst of a bitter controversy over whether Kansas should enter the Union as a free or slave state, Brown and severalcompanions took the law into their own hands by raiding a proslavery settlement on Potawatomi Creek, dragging five unsuspecting settlers from their cabins and brutally murdering them. Known as the "Potawatomi Massacre," this incident not only brought Brown a degree of national "recognition," but also reenforced his own belief that his crusade against the evils of slavery was divinely inspired.
He next proposed that a black republic be established in the mountains of Maryland and Virginia where escaped slaves could gather and more effectively defend themselves against white racism and slave hunters. Toward this end, in October 1859, Brown and a group of his followers, both black and white, staged an attack upon the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, hoping to secure enough arms and ammunition to properly outfit his proposed "republic." As it turned out, however, Brown's raid was a complete fiasco. After a two day siege during which ten of his men were killed by federal troops, Brown himself was captured.
Charged with treason, conspiracy and murder, Brown was convicted and executed on December 2, 1859. The manner in which he conducted himself during his trial and immediately preceding his execution, however, assured that sectional hostility between the northern and southern states would continue unabated. Brown refused to enter a plea of insanity. He insisted to the end that he was an agent of God sent to free the slaves. "If it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded," he said during his trial, "I say, let it be done." It was done, but in the process John Brown was transformed into a martyr to the cause of freedom by northern sympathizers and, concurrently, viewed as a "typical abolitionist" by southern proslavery interests.