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Old John Brown by Walter Hawkins

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This book is for busy people who have not the time to read at
large upon the subject. Those who would adequately master all
the bearings of the story here briefly told must read American
history, for which facilities are rapidly increasing. As to John
Brown himself, his friend F. B. Sanborn's LIFE AND LETTERS is a
mine of wealth. To its pages the present writer is greatly
indebted, and he commends them to others.

W. H.

Kilburn, May 1913.





There are few who have not a dim notion of John Brown as a name
bound up with the stirring events of the United States in the
period which preceded the Civil War and the emancipation of the
slave. Many English readers, however, do not get beyond the
limits of the famous couplet,

John Brown's body lies mouldering in the grave,
But his soul is marching on.

That statement is authentic in both its clauses, but it is
interesting to learn what he did with the body before it
commenced a dissolution which seems to have been regarded as
worth recording. Carlyle says in his grimly humorous way of the
gruesome elevation of the head of one of his patriotic heroes on
Temple Bar, 'It didn't matter: he had quite done with it.' And
we might say the same of the body which was hanged at Charlestown
in 1859. In his devoutly fatalistic way John Brown had presented
his body a living sacrifice to the cause of human freedom, and
had at last slowly reached the settled opinion that it was worth
more to the cause dead than alive. Such a soul, so masterful in
its treatment of the body, was likely to march on without it.
And it did in the years that followed, This Abolitionist raider,
with a rashness often sublime in its devotion, precipitated the
national crisis which issued in the Civil War and Emancipation.

There are lives of brave men which set us thinking for the most
part of human power and skill: we watch bold initiators of some
wise policy carrying their enterprise through with indomitable
courage and in-exhaustible patience, and we are lost in
admiration of the hero. But there are other brave lives which
leave us thinking more of unseen forces which impelled them than
of their own splendid qualities. They never seem masters of
destiny, but its intrepid servants. They shape events while they
hardly know how or why; they seem to be rather driven by fate
than to be seeking fame or power. They go out like Abraham, 'not
knowing whither they go,' only that, like him, they have heard a
call. Sometimes they sorely tax the loyalty of their admirers
with their eccentricities and their defiance of the conventions
of their age. Wisdom is only justified of these, her strange
children, in the next generation. Prominent among such lives is
that of John Brown. The conscience of the Northern States on the
question of slavery needed but some strong irritant to arouse it
to vigorous action, and, the hanging of John Brown sufficed.

The institution of slavery became both ridiculous and hateful to
multitudes because so good a man must be done to death to
preserve it. The verdict of Victor Hugo, 'What the South slew
last December was not John Brown, but slavery,' found an echo in
many minds. And when the long, fierce conflict, through which
Emancipation came, was begun, the quaint lines,

John Brown's body lies mouldering in the grave,
But his soul is marching on,

became one of the mightiest of the battle-songs which urged the
Federal hosts to victory. His name kindled the flame of that
passion for freedom which made the cause of the North triumphant,
and there was awe mingled with the love they bore his memory.
Perhaps no man had been oftener called with plausible reason a
fool; but those who knew the single-hearted devotion to a great
cause of this ready victim of the gallows came reverently to
think of him as 'God's fool.' When they sang 'John Brown died
that the slave might be free' they were singing more than a
record of John Brown's generous motive; it was a record of one of
God's strange counsels. 'For God chose the foolish things of the
world that He might put to shame the things that are strong, and
the base things of the world, and the things that are despised,
did God choose, yea, and the things that are not, that He might
bring to nought the things that are, that no flesh should glory
before God.' Verily, then, it might seem worth while to set the
story of John Brown in such a plain, brief form as to make it
available for busy folk who have no time to read longer accounts
of him. If it sets some thinking of the ways of God rather than
admiring John Brown, that will be just what he would have
ardently wished who desired always that God should be magnified
in his body, whether in the fighting which he never loved and
never shirked, or the hanging which he often foresaw and never



The birth of John Brown is recorded in the following laconic
style by his father in a little autobiography he wrote for his
children in the closing days of his life. 'In 1800, May 8, John
was born one hundred years after his great-grandfather; nothing
else very uncommon.' In the year mentioned the family were
living at Torrington, Connecticut, whence they shortly removed to
Ohio, then the haunt of the Red Indian. They were of the pioneer
farming class, which has supplied so many of the shapers of
American history. The one great honour in their pedigree was
that they descended from a man of the MAYFLOWER--Peter Brown, a
working carpenter who belonged to that famous ship's company. We
might say, indeed, that the story of John Brown flows from the
events of 1620, the year of the MAYFLOWER. Two landings on the
American coast that year were destined to be memorable. In
August a Dutch vessel disembarked the first cargo of imported
slaves--twenty of them; and that day Slavery struck deep root in
the new land. And in November of that same year the MAYFLOWER,
with her very different cargo of brave freemen, dropped anchor in
Cape Cod Bay. The stream of ill results from that first landing
and the stream of Puritan blood, generous in its passion for
liberty, that flowed unimpoverished from Peter Brown through
generations of sturdy ancestors--these are the streams destined
to meet turbulently and to supply us with our story. Owen Brown,
the father of John, thus testifies to his own fidelity to the
tradition of liberty. 'I am an Abolitionist. I know we are not
loved by many. I wish to tell how I became one. Our neighbour
lent my mother a slave for a few days. I used to go out into the
field with him, and he used to carry me on his back, and I fell
in love with him.' There we have the clue to the history of the
household of the Browns for the next two generations. They FELL
IN LOVE With the despised negro, and this glorious trait passed
like an heritage from generation to generation.

There is a letter extant which supplies us with the best
information on John Brown's own boyhood. It was written for a
lad in a wealthy home where he stayed in later days, who had
asked him many questions about his experiences in early life. He
humorously calls it a 'short story of a certain boy of my
acquaintance I will call John.' A few extracts will reveal his
character in the forming. Here, for instance, you may trace the
conscientiousness (often morbid) which was so marked a feature in
his later days. 'I cannot tell you of anything in the first four
years of John's life worth mentioning save that at that early age
he was tempted by three large brass pins belonging to a girl who
lived in the family, and stole them. In this he was detected by
his mother; and after having a full day to think of the wrong,
received from her a thorough whipping.' He adds, 'I must not
neglect to tell you of a very foolish and bad habit to which John
was somewhat addicted. I mean, telling lies, generally to screen
himself from blame or from punishment. He could not well endure
to be reproached, and now I think had he been oftener encouraged
to be entirely frank, by MAKING FRANKNESS A KIND OF ATONEMENT for
some of his faults, he would not have had to struggle so long
with this mean habit.'

A story is told of John's schooldays which is an amusing and
quite characteristic instance of his ethical eccentricities. For
a short time he and his younger brother Salmon were at a school
together, and Salmon was guilty of some offence which was
condoned by the master. John had serious concern for the effect
this might have upon his brother's morals, and he sought the
lenient teacher and informed him that the fault was much
deprecated by their father at home, and he was sure castigation
there would have been inevitable. He therefore desired it should
be duly inflicted, as otherwise he should feel compelled to act
as his father's proxy. Finding discipline was still lax, he
proceeded with paternal solemnity to administer it himself. His
brother acknowledged that this was done with reluctant fidelity!
Truly the moral instincts of the family were worthy of their
Puritan ancestry.

Although naturally self-conscious and shy, his precociousness in
boyhood, bringing him into association, as it did, with much
older folk, bred a somewhat arrogant manner. The rule he
exercised over younger members of the family also made him
somewhat domineering, a fault which he diligently sought to
correct in later life. At fifteen he had become a miniature man
of business and was driving cattle on long journeys with all the
confidence of mid-age. The letter from which we have already
quoted has one or two more passages which may enlighten us as to
his rearing. Still writing in the third person, he says, 'John
had been taught from earliest childhood to fear God and keep His
commandments, and though quite sceptical he had always by turns
felt much doubt as to his future well being. He became to some
extent a convert to Christianity, and ever after a firm believer
in the divine authenticity of the Bible. With this book he
became very familiar, and possessed a most unusual memory of its
entire contents.' Here are hints as to his early pursuits:
'After getting to Ohio in 1805, he was for some time rather
afraid of the Indians and their rifles, but this soon wore off,
and he used to hang about them quite as much as was consistent
with good manners and learned a trifle of their talk. His father
learned to dress deer-skins, and at six years old John was
installed a young Buck-skin. He was, perhaps, rather observing,
as he ever after remembered the entire process of deer-skin
dressing, so that he could at any time dress his own leather,
such as squirrel, racoon, cat, wolf, and dog skins, and also
learned to make whiplashes, which brought him some change at
times, and was of considerable service in many ways. 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, and during the warm
season might generally be seen barefooted and bareheaded, with
buck-skin breeches suspended often with one leather strap over
his shoulder, but sometimes with two. To be sent off through the
wilderness alone to very considerable distances was particularly
his delight; in this he was often indulged, so that by the time
he was twelve years old he was sent off more than a hundred miles
with companies of cattle. He followed up with tenacity whatever
he set about so long as it answered his general purpose, and
thence he rarely failed in some good degree to effect the things
he undertook.'

'From fifteen years and upward he felt a good deal of anxiety to
learn, but could only read and study a little, both for want of
time and on account of inflammation of the eyes. He managed by
the help of books, however, to make himself tolerably well
acquainted with common arithmetic and surveying, which he
practised more or less after he was twenty years old.' 'John
began early in life to discover a great liking to fine cattle,
horses, sheep, and swine; and as soon as circumstances would
enable him, he began to be a practical shepherd--it being a
calling for which, in early life, he had a kind of enthusiastic
longing, together with the idea that as a business it bade fair

Here we touch the keynote of this life of manifold outward
occupations, but of one consuming desire. That PRINCIPAL OBJECT
filled his horizon even in childhood. He loved to tell how, like
his father before him, he fell captive to the slave's dumb plea
and pledged his whole strength to the chivalrous task of breaking
his fetters. It happened on this wise. In those long journeys
he was allowed to take, he was the 'business guest' of a slave-
owner, who was pleased with his resourcefulness at such an age.
He was the object of curious attention, and was treated as
'company' at table. On the estate was a young negro just his own
age, and as intelligent as he. Young John struck up an
acquaintance with him, and could not fail to contrast the fashion
in which he himself was pampered with the way the young darkie
was coarsely treated with scant fare and ill-housing. His
frequent thrashings seemed to bruise young John's spirit as much
as they did his flesh. They were not always administered with
the orthodox whip, but with a shovel or anything else that came
first to hand. Young John pondered long upon this contrast, and
tells us how the iniquity of slavery was borne in upon his young
heart, and he was drawn to this little coloured playmate, who had
neither father nor mother known to him. The Bible was the final
court of appeal in the Brown family, and the verdict of that
court was that they two--the slave and the guest--were brothers,
so henceforth the instinct of fraternal loyalty drew young John
to 'swear eternal war with slavery.' That vow, never recanted or
forgotten, became the text of his life. It interprets all his
vagaries and reconciles what else were hopeless inconsistencies.
It was a devout obsession which made him a wanderer all his days,
and in the end carried him to prison and to death. To a child a
great call had come, and a child's voice had replied, 'Speak,
Lord, Thy servant heareth.' And ears and heart tingled at
messages that seemed to come from the Unseen.



For over thirty years did this man both 'hope and quietly wait
for the salvation of the Lord' to come for the slaves of his
land. The interval is full of interest for those who care to
watch the development of a life-purpose. Only for three, or four
years was he destined to figure in the eyes of the world. Those
years, as we shall hereafter see, were crowded with events; but
for a generation he felt an abiding conviction of impending

There is something fateful about the constant indications of this
spirit of readiness. His commercial pursuits were multifarious,
but none of them was greatly successful. At Hudson, Ohio, till
1825, and afterwards at Richmond, Pennsylvania, he was tanner,
land-surveyor, and part of the time postmaster. He became
skilful at his father's business of tanning, but is a typical
Yankee in the facility with which he turns his hand to anything.

From 1835 to 1839 he was at Franklin, Ohio, where we find him
adding to his former occupations the breeding of horses, and also
dabbling in land speculation, with the, result that he became
bankrupt. But when he failed in business he set to work to pay
his debts in full. His death found him still striving to achieve
that end. He was regarded as whimsical and stubborn, yet through
years of struggle, endeavour, and even failure he was known as
trusty and honourable.

From 1841 to 1846 he lived at Richfield, Ohio, where he took to
shepherding and wool-dealing, which he continued in 1849 at
Springfield, Massachusetts. He seems to have developed much
capacity for wool-testing. When he came to England with a cargo
of wool, some English dealers sought to practise a fraudulent
joke upon his quick fingers. They stripped a poodle of the best
of his fleece and handed it to the oracular Yankee with the
inquiry, 'What would you do with that wool?' But there was
wisdom in him down to the finger-ends, for he rolled it there,
and in a moment handed it back with the confounding retort,
'Gentlemen, if you have any machinery in England for working up
dog's hair I would advise you to put this into it.'

Had he known how to sell wool as well as he knew how to test it;
had he known how to sell his sheep as well as he knew hundreds of
sheep faces apart, and like a diviner could interpret their
inarticulate language; had he been as apt upon the market as he
was upon the farm, he might have made money. As it was, there
was never more than enough for the wants of a severely plain
household life.

But this business record was (and herefrom its frequent
misfortune may have largely proceeded) in no wise the history of
John Brown. We must catch, if we can, indications of the
unfolding of his soul, and of the inward preparation for what he
felt was his divine destiny; and these may best be gathered as we
watch the simple home life of the family. At an early age, while
residing at Hudson, Ohio, he married his first wife, Dianthe
Lusk; and though he was but twenty years of age, his was no rash
choice. A description by one who had been brought up with her
may be fitly quoted: 'Plain but attractive, because of a quiet
amiable disposition, sang beautifully, almost always sacred
music; she had a place in the wood not far from the house where
she used to go alone to pray.' John Brown, servant as he already
accounted himself of the Invisible Powers, is drawn to one who
thus communes with the Unseen. She will have sympathy with his
moral aims and a source of strength when he may be absent from
her in pursuit of them. The sketch proceeds, 'She was pleasant
but not funny; she never said what she did not mean.' Here,
truly, was the wife for a man in dead earnest and who could keep
a boyish oath even unto death. For twelve years she proved a
good comrade, and of the seven children of this marriage five
survived, from whom testimonies concerning the domestic life are

The wife who succeeded her (Mary Ann Day) seems to have been no
less a help-meet in his enterprises. Thirteen children, many of
whom died young, were the off-spring of this second marriage, so
that in a hereditary sense the soul of John Brown may be said to
have marched on.

He infected all his children with his passionate love of liberty.
Many are his cares for their spiritual welfare. Some of them
sorely tried his patience by their aloofness from the Christian
conventions that were dear to him; he yearns over their souls as
he fears their experience of the inner working of grace is not as
his own, but they swerved not in their allegiance to the cause of
the slave. Let us avail ourselves of some of their memories of
their remarkable father. How early the house became a city of
refuge for the runaway negro we learn from the eldest son, who
tells us he can just recollect a timid knock at the door of the
log cabin where they lived. A fugitive slave and his wife were
there, for they had heard that there were a couple residing in
the house who loved the negro and would lend him a rescuing hand.
They were speedily made to know they were welcome, and the
negress, relieved of her last fear, takes young John in a
motherly fashion upon her knee and kisses him. He almost
instinctively scampers off to rub the black from his face.
Returning, he watches his mother giving them supper. Presently
father's extraordinarily quick ear detects the sound of
horsehoofs half a mile away; weapons are thrust into the hands of
the terrified pair, and they are taken out to the woody swamps
behind the house to lie in hiding. Father then returns, only to
discover that it is a false alarm, whereupon he sallies forth to
bring them into shelter and warmth once more, and tells the
assembled family on their arrival how he had difficulty in the
dark in recognizing the hiding-place and really discovered them
at length by hearing the beating of their frightened hearts. No
wonder. Quick as any faculty he had was that of hearing a
slave's heart beat. Had it not been for that keen instinct there
would have been no tale to tell of John Brown.

The daughter says her earliest memory is of her father's great
arms about her as he sang to her his favourite hymn:

Blow ye the trumpet, blow
The gladly solemn sound:
Let all the nations know
To earth's remotest bound.
The year of Jubilee is come,
Return, ye ransomed sinners, home.

Then, ceasing, he would tell her with heart brimming with
tenderness of poor little black children who were slaves. What
were slaves? she wanted to know. And he was ready enough to
tell her of those who were riven from father and mother and sold
for base coin, whom in some States it was illegal to teach their
A B C, but quite lawful to flog; and then the daughter would be
asked, by way of application to his moving discourse, if she
would like some of them to come some time and share her home and

Thus continually to that rising family there was unfolded the
horror of the slavery system. That horror had faded in the minds
of many in the Northern States whose ancestry had held freedom
dear; while in the Southern States, for the most part, the
possession of your fellow creatures as if they were so much farm
stock had become too familiar a feature of common life to evoke
any conscientious misgiving, much less shame. The enormous
additions to the cotton trade had made slave labour increasingly
gainful, and the capital invested in this living property was
immense. Careful rearing of slaves for the market as well as
their purchase brought wealth to many, and fierce was the
resentment when any one publicly criticized the institution.
There was by no means an absence of humane regard far the
wellbeing of the negroes; a kind of patriarchal tenderness
towards them was distinctly 'good form.' But there was the
deadly fact that they were human goods and chattels, with no
civil rights worth mentioning--for laws in their defence were
practically worthless, seeing they could not appear as witnesses
in the court. Public whipping-houses were provided for the
expeditious correction of the refractory, and a mere suspicion of
intent to escape was legal justification for the use of the
branding-irons upon their flesh. If they did contrive to escape
there were dogs bred on purpose to hunt them down. If the slave
resisted his master's will he might be slain, and the law would
not graze the master's head. Domestic security he had none, for
wife might be wrenched from husband or child from mother
according to the state of the market. And, strangest of all to
our ears, the pulpits of the South extolled slavery as appointed
of Heaven, and solemnly quoting the prophecy that Ham should be
the servant of his brethren, the pulpiteer would ask who would
dare to resist the will of God Most High? Not content to hold
their views tenaciously, the slave-holders and their followers
dealt out threatenings and slaughter to all who by lip or pen
opposed them. The household of Brown pondered all this invasion
of the great natural right of freedom, and with one accord pined
for the opportunity of checking, or, it might be, ending it.

It is on record how they were taught to repeat their father's
vow. It was in 1839, when they were living at Franklin, Ohio,
that he called them around him, and on bended knee declared the
secret mission with which, he believed, High Heaven had charged
him--to labour by word or sword, by any means opportunity might
offer, for the overthrow of slavery, which he believed to be the
very citadel of evil in America. 'Swear, children, swear,' said
he; and from that little group in the log house there went up an
appeal for a blessing upon their oath--an oath which they could
truly protest was likely to bring nought to them but peril,
disaster, and, perchance, death, but which they were well assured
must bring glory to Eternal God. And so their oath was
registered in heaven.

For many years it was only in indirect ways they could promote
their end. Early they gave themselves to help the tentative
endeavours that were often on foot to educate those slaves who
did make good their escape, and especially to train them to
independent agriculture, so that evidence might be afforded that
they could use their liberty to good purpose, and become useful
citizens. The Browns were always active in promoting such
apprenticeship to freedom.

Two scenes reveal the temper of this united house. The first is
at Franklin, where in the Congregational Church there are revival
services being conducted, in which the Episcopalians and
Methodists are uniting with their neighbours under the guidance
of a fervent evangelist. The folk are greatly wrought upon, and
are looking for an outpouring of divine grace. Among the large
assemblies are many coloured folk, some free and some runaway
slaves. The darkies are directed by judicious deacons to seats
reserved for them near the door, where they will not vex the eyes
of the worshipping whites. John Brown has swift argument within
him as in his boyish days: 'Has God--their Father and ours--set
any line betwixt His children? Is He a respecter of persons?
And, if not, can we expect reasonably an outpouring of His grace
while in this ungracious manner we are thwarting Him? We shall
bar the blessing we seek.' Rising to his feet, he denounces the
distinction in God's House, then, turning to his own family, who
were accustomed to obey him, and whom he knew agreed with him, he
bade them rise and take the seats near the door while the negroes
came and took theirs near the front. Nothing loth, both parties
did as they were told, to the confusion of the pious community.
Next day pastor and deacons waited upon the refractory member--
John Brown--to 'labour with him,' as the old church chronicle has
it, upon his grave indecorum. But they found themselves
belaboured with passages from Old Testament and New, and sundry
stout doctrines of the Christian faith, till they retired
discomfited, in their hearts delivering him to Satan that he
might learn not to blaspheme. But Satan would have none of him,
we are sure.

Another instance of the same devotion to the cause of freedom
belongs to rather later days when they had removed to
Springfield, Massachusetts. There they lived with their wonted
simplicity, but it had been the fond design of mother and
daughter to furnish the parlour in due course. The moment had
arrived when the domestic finances seemed to allow of this modest
luxury, but already John Brown had designs of another removal to
North Elba, New York, where an estate was being occupied by
escaped slaves under the patronage of Gerrit Smith, a wealthy
Abolitionist. At this juncture he calls his family together and
asks for their mind as to whether they should now furnish the
parlour with their savings or retain them for the help of these
black settlers who require clothes and other equipment as they
start their new life of independence. The blood of the Browns
flows as one stream, and the ready response of all is 'Save the
money, father.'

His favourite books were well known by the children--JOSEPHUS,
Henry ON MEEKNESS. What a significant medley of peace and war--
the wolf and the lamb--Napoleon and Henry on Meekness side by
side! But dearest ever was the Book which had been the oracle in
his father's house--itself the Book of battles and yet the gospel
of peace, the sacred charter of man's liberties and yet the holy
statute book for man's government--the Bible. Swift paternal
correction was there for any misquotation from that Book; it was
a Book not to be lightly paraphrased, but LEARNED AND OBEYED. In
his own Bible there are pencillings that reveal at once the
secret springs of his strange, and to outward seeming, erratic
life. Thus these passages are marked: 'Remember them that are
in bonds, as bound with them.' 'Whoso stoppeth his ear at the
cry of the poor, he also shall cry and shall not be heard.'
'Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker.' 'He that hath
pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord.'

Above all passages, perhaps, was this quoted--Isa. lviii. 6: 'Is
not this the fast that I have chosen, to loose the bands of
wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed
go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy
bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast
out to thy house?' If ever man kept that chivalrous fast before
the Lord it was John Brown.

The last stage in what we may call the long preparation of John
Brown for the prominent labours of his life reveals still further
how the passionate love of the cause of liberty burned as a fire
in the bones of this family. They were attracted by the proposal
of Gerrit Smith, to celebrate the passing of West Indian
Emancipation with the offer of 100,000 acres of his wild land in
the north of New York State for coloured families to settle upon.
Eager for the success of the experiment, Brown and his sons were
prepared to start pioneering in the new region, so as to be near
at hand to encourage and assist the new settlers. Prepared to
choose their location as they deemed the exigencies of the great
cause demanded, they settled at North Elba in what was then a
wilderness in Essex county, and commenced to live a life of
sterner simplicity than before, hewing in the forests, and
clearing with axe and fire the land which they then proceeded to
cultivate, obtaining food and clothes as those must who have
neither store nor tailor near. There, with one room beneath that
served by day, and two rooms overhead that served by night, they
lived, and not discontentedly, for if there was little space or
grandeur within there was plenty without; and John Brown, who was
no mere conqueror of Nature, but a lover of her beauty, revelled
in the glories of that untamed land, with its mountains wooded to
their summits, with its frowning gorges and rushing torrents and
its richly scented air. Best of all there were black settlers
around whom they could help and thus forward their life-work,
proving that the race they vowed should be free could appreciate
and justify the boon.



Thus, then, did this family live their life of preparation. But
eventful days were at hand, and John Brown felt that his real
life-work had yet to come. 'I have never,' he said, 'for twenty
years made any business arrangement that would prevent me at any
time from answering the call of the Lord. I have kept my affairs
in such a condition that in two weeks I could wind them up and be
ready to obey that call, permitting nothing to stand in the way
of duty, neither wife, children, nor worldly goods; whenever the
time should come, I was ready.' Now truly it seemed as if 'God's
judgements' were to be abroad in the earth, as if He was
'travelling in the greatness of His strength, mighty to save' the
oppressed; as if 'the Day of Vengeance' were in His heart, and
the 'Year of His redeemed was come'; and, said John Brown's
heart, 'He shall find one loyal henchman; I am ready.'

John Brown's call seemed to come after this wise. The enrolment
of each New State in the Union was the occasion of fierce
contention as to whether the territories should be free or
whether slavery should be permitted. Each party had sought at
such junctures to score an advantage, for the balance was often a
very fine one between them,

The spirit of compromise had from the earliest days prevailed
upon the thorny question. Washington was against slavery.
Statesmen like Adams, Franklin, Madison, and Munroe had opposed
it; but others had been willing to purchase the preservation of
Union by concessions to the South, and toleration had been their
consistent policy.

The Missouri compromise in 1820 had apparently settled the
question as to the new State of Kansas, for all future States
north of the latitude 36d 30m were to be free. But at the
enrolment of Kansas the slave party circumvented this statute,
and ensured local option for the State upon this matter. In 1854
the new State of Kansas proceeded to determine for itself once
for all by popular election the grave question whether she was to
be a Slave or a Free State. But in these young States, which
were being almost daily reinforced by new residents, each at once
entitled to vote, the slave party saw a rare opportunity for the
manufacture of faggot votes. What was to hinder the inhabitants
of Missouri, the neighbouring State--who were slavery men--from
going over in a body and voting! Couldn't men migrate and change
their minds? Scandalous, you say. It was. But the scandal was
actually perpetrated. None other than the acting Vice-President
of the United States advised this course, and he found many ready
to improve upon his instructions. One official stated: 'To
those who have qualms of conscience as to violating laws, State
or National, I say the time has come when such impositions must
be disregarded, since your rights and property are at stake. And
I advise you one and all to enter every election district in
Kansas and vote at the point of the bowie-knife and, the

Thus, a thousand strong, with two cannon in their procession, the
armed ruffians went to vote at an election out of their own
State. If brave election judges protested--and some did, in
spite of cocked pistols at their heads (like true lawyers ready
to die for justice' sake)--and required the mob to establish
their claims, they were overpowered; the ruffians seized the
ballot-boxes, and in the end there were 4,908 votes cast, though
there were only 1,410 genuine voters in the State. Such was the
deliberate report of a committee years after. The Legislature
thus elected met and were suffered to make a Statute Book for the
young State. Penalties of imprisonment and death were liberally
appointed for all who should dare to resist the institution of

With such legislation to shield their lawlessness, ruffians
belonging to the class of 'mean whites ' commenced a series of
barbarous outrages in the interests of the slave-holders--a
series sickening to contemplate. Two instances may be quoted
which are typical:

A ruffian bets that he will scalp an Abolitionist in true Indian
fashion, and rides out in search of his prey. A gentleman known
to be opposed to slavery is met in a gig and shot; and, taking
his scalp, the drunken fiend rides back, and producing the
promised spoil, claims his due.

Another leader of the Free-State men is surrounded by these
desperate ruffians, and his skull and brain are cloven with a
hatchet. In fiendish glee they dance upon the almost breathless
man, who vainly pleads, 'Do not abuse me, I am dying.' The only
response is a shower of tobacco juice from their filthy lips into
his pleading eyes. With his last breath he says, 'It is in a
good cause,' and so dies--slaughtered because he dared to say
others should share in his right of liberty. True, dying man,
the cause is good and will triumph, though thou and many others
die first!

Such scenes roused the ire of the long-suffering Free-State men
of Kansas. Redress there was none, save in their own right arm,
for, as Emerson says, 'A plundered man might take his case to the
court and find the ring-leader who has robbed him dismounting
from his own horse and unbuckling his knife to sit as judge.'

They were not without allies. There might be no government aid
from Washington, but throughout the North were men who loved the
cause of Abolition better than their own ease, and they came in
ever-increasing numbers. Amongst them were several of Brown's
upgrown sons, followed by their father, ready to settle in this
new State, where they might turn the tide of public opinion in
favour of Freedom.

Thus slowly the ranks of the righteous lovers of liberty were
replenished, and they began to form into bands for mutual
protection, farming and soldiering by turns as necessity

Some of John Brown's Northern friends, who knew the stuff of
which he was made, and saw that if Freedom had no blow struck on
her behalf she would be driven by outrage-mongers out of Kansas,
equipped him with money and rifles, or, as they had come to be
called, 'Beecher Bibles'--a tribute to Henry Ward Beecher's
ardent championship of advanced views upon the slavery question.

On October 6, 1855, he arrived at Osawatomie, and we find him
writing cheery words to his brave second wife and their family
whom he had left, telling them to hope in God and comfort one
another, humbly trusting they may meet again on God's earth, and
if not--for his vow is 'to the death'--that they may meet in
God's heaven. Of that second wife--heroine in obscurity, sharer
of the oath which ever knit the household in one, mother of
thirteen children--we might say much, but her spirit breathes in
these words she speaks concerning her solitary days:

'That was the time in my life when all my religion, all my
philosophy, and all my faith in God's goodness were put to the
test. My husband was away from home, prostrated by sickness; I
was helpless from illness; in one week three of my little ones
died of dysentery--this but three months before the birth of
another child. Three years after this sad time another little
one, eighteen months old, was burned to death. Yet even in these
trials God upheld me.'

Such was the wife who, while John Brown fought for liberty,
grudged him not to such a cause, and patiently trained others who
should bear his name worthily in days to come.



John Brown was now at his work; no longer the mere fingers, but
the soul of him had found a task. He set before himself this
object, to free Kansas from the slave-holders' grip.

The Free-State men had met and agreed to pay no taxes to a
Legislature illegally elected. They organized a rival
government, and brought themselves into violent antagonism to the
Federal Authorities at Washington--for President Pierce and his
Cabinet, which included the renowned Jefferson Davis, backed the
pro-slavery Legislature and its following of ruffians. The town
of Lawrence, which the Free Staters held, was taken and pillaged
by a wild mob under the leadership of the United States Marshal,
and we find the Browns in a company marching to its relief.
There was much skirmishing, during which two of Brown's sons were
taken prisoners. Only the constant vigilance and undaunted
courage of a few desperately bold men kept heart in the lovers of
liberty. But they (often led by John Brown) escaped the
government officials who sought to arrest them and sped to the
help of those who were marked as the victims of the marauders.
So slowly did the Federal Authorities awake to the situation that
for a time there seemed little protection to be expected for
persecuted lovers of liberty.

We must now form. some estimate of the two sides in this
irregular warfare in which John Brown all through the summer of
1856 was so prominently engaged.

On the one hand were those whom the slave-holders relied upon for
the most part to do their dirty work--ruffians, many of them from
the neighbouring State; men who did not work, but who lived a
wild life--not cultivating a tract of land around their rude
dwelling-place like honest settlers, but fishing, shooting, and
thieving for a living--preferring the atmosphere of a Slave State
as more favourable to their life of lawlessness and plunder, and
finding inspiration in the whisky-bottle for such deeds of
devilry as have been described.

Upon the other side, waging a guerilla warfare--for little else
was possible against enemies who preferred sneaking outrages to
pitched battles--were little companies of some score or two.
Captain John Brown's company was ever to the fore. He felt that
outrage had gone far enough unchecked, and that it was time
honest men took the aggressive and struck terror into cowards'
hearts. They were not without fierceness, but it was the fruit
of honest anger. Rifles in their judgement went not ill with
Bible-reading and prayer--but we have heard of such before.
Armed Roundheads and Scotch Covenanters combined prayer with
sword exercise. In this camp, morning and evening prayers were
an institution; uncivil treatment of prisoners was a gross
offence; no intoxicating liquors were permitted. One by-law
runs: 'All profane, vulgar, or ungentlemanly talk shall be
discountenanced.' What! do these rough men set themselves up to
be gentlemen! Yes, according to Emerson's own meaning when he
says of Brown's supporters:

'All gentlemen, of course, are on his side. I do not mean by
"gentlemen" people of scented hair and perfumed handkerchiefs,
but men of gentle blood and generosity, "fulfilled with all
nobleness," who, like the Cid, give the outcast leper a share of
their bed; like the dying Sidney, pass the cup of cold water to
the wounded soldier who needs it more. For what is the oath of
gentle blood and knighthood! What but to protect the weak and
lowly against the strong oppressor! Nothing is more absurd than
to complain of this sympathy, or to complain of a party of men
united in opposition to slavery. As well complain of gravity or
the ebb of the tide. Who makes the Abolitionist! The slave-
holder. The sentiment of mercy is the natural recoil which the
laws of the universe provide to protect mankind from destruction
by savage passions. And our blind statesmen go up and down, with
committees of vigilance and safety, hunting for the origin of
this new heresy. They will need a very vigilant committee,
indeed, to find its birthplace, and a very strong force to root
it up. For the arch-abolitionist, older than Brown, and older
than the Shenanndoah Mountains, is Love, whose other name is
Justice--which was before Alfred, before Lycurgus, before
Slavery, and will be after it.'

John Brown and, at one time, six of his sons were in the company.
Many were rejected who offered for service, not for lack of
physical stature, but moral. 'I would rather,' said John Brown,
'have the smallpox, yellow fever, and cholera all together in my
camp than a man without principles. It is a mistake to think
that bullies are the best fighters. Give me God-fearing men
--men who respect themselves; and with a dozen of them, I will
oppose a hundred of these ruffians.' These are the men, then,
who were found in Kansas woods, with bare heads and unkempt
locks, in red-topped boots and blue shirts, taking their hasty
meals or fitful sleep, their horses tied to the tree-trunks ready
for swift mounting at the first signal of danger. No sounds of
revelry betray their hiding-place; the spirit of the man in their
midst, with Puritan nobility in his rugged face, and a strange,
awe-inspiring unworldliness in his talk, has entered into them.
No novice is he in the affairs of either world--this or the
Unseen. At night he will look up to the stars that glitter above
the still camp and talk like a theologian, moralizing upon the
fact that while God's stars are unerring in their courses God's
human creatures are so erratic. But he is no mere dreamer; you
may see him, when the enemy is known to be near, sleeping in his
saddle, with his gun across it, that he may be no sooner awake
than ready. One who knew not of this habit was once imprudent
enough to touch him in his sleep, as he wanted to speak to him;
he had only time to knock up the swiftly pointed barrel with his
hand and John Brown's bullet grazed the intruder's shoulder.

One of the first deeds in this campaign, and the one that
certainly first turned the tide and caused the pro-slavery
ruffians to feel that they had need to look to their own safety,
and would not be suffered with impunity to murder whom they chose
and fire honest men's houses like fiends let loose, was the
midnight massacre at Pottawatomie. Along a certain creek there
lived five of these incendiaries and outrage-mongers who were
specially notorious. A report reached Brown that they were sworn
to sweep the neighbourhood clear of Abolitionists, not forgetting
'those Browns.' That they were to be kept in terror by such a
gang seemed to Brown an unrighteous state of things, and he
formed the desperate design of visiting them first. But he loved
not slaughter for slaughter's sake. Not only could he strike
upon occasion, but he could be just in his rough-and-ready
fashion. He argued within himself, 'I shall be right in killing
these men if I am sure they intend these murders, but I will not
act upon mere report.' Disguising himself, he started with two
men to carry a surveyor's chain, and one to carry a flag. No
coward was this man. He would put his life in peril rather than
act on mere suspicion. So he ran his lines past the houses of
these five men, and they naturally came out to see what this
surveying business was. Brown told them, as he looked through
his instrument and waved the flagman to this side or that, 'Yours
is a grand country. Are there many Abolitionists about here?'
In his pocket-book he jotted down the answer 'Yes,' and, swearing
great oaths, they told him that they meant to sweep the region
clear of them in a week. 'Are there some called Brown?' 'Yes,'
and man by man they swore the Browns should be killed by their
hands. Back he went saying to himself, 'If I understand the Book
these are murderers, they have committed murder in their hearts.'
Ere many nights were passed eight men were requisitioned from the
camp. They stole forth armed with short cutlasses, and next
morning the ghastly news spread abroad that five corpses had been
found by that creek. John Brown, jun., said, 'The only statement
that I ever heard my father make in regard to this was "I did not
myself kill any of those men at Pottawatomie, but I am as fully
responsible as if I did."' It was a terrible act; we cannot
wonder that it came as a great shock to many who had the cause of
liberty at heart, but when questioned about it the old man was
always reticent, and would only say, 'God is my Judge.'

The result was unmistakable. From that moment John Brown's name
became a terror to the evildoers of that quarter. The free
settlers felt there was another fate than extermination for them,
and the impotent administration at Washington first began to see
that this hitherto submissive majority of free settlers must be
reckoned with. A writer said years after, 'It was like a clap of
thunder from a clear sky.' There are acts that can only be
morally estimated by a careful consideration of the prevailing
circumstances, and in this case they are such as we, well housed
and protected folk, thank God, know not. Those who knew this man
through and through were swift to testify, 'Whatever may be
thought of John Brown's acts, John Brown himself was right.' No
personal end had he to serve; his harvest was privation,
suffering, death. He had no personal vengeance to wreak, and
when revengeful words were spoken in his hearing he soon lifted
the conversation to a sublime level.

'That,' said he, 'is not a Christian spirit. If I thought I had
one bit of the spirit of revenge I would never lift my hand. I
do not make war on slave-holders, but on slavery.'

Henceforth John Brown's little band was famous. A few days after
the Pottawatomie tragedy we find him engaging a company under
Captain Fate, who professed, with doubtful authority, to be the
emissary of the Government. Hearing after prayer meeting one
Sunday they are in the neighbourhood, he is quickly in pursuit as
soon as night has set in, and in the morning with a handful of
men he is exchanging brisk fire with the enemy. Presently Fred
Brown, a wild-looking man of the woods, who has been left in
charge of the horses, comes riding upon a pony none too large for
its ungainly burden. He waves his long arms, shouting, 'Come on,
boys, we've got 'em surrounded and cut off their communications.'
The enemy are scared at the apparition, and their captain,
thinking there is no fathoming the plots of these Browns, sends a
lieutenant forward with a flag of truce. John Brown asks, 'Are
you captain!' 'No.' 'I will talk with him, not with you.'
Captain Fate advances with much parley. 'Any proposition to
make?' impatiently asks John Brown. 'No.' Then he (John Brown)
has one--unconditional surrender; and with eight men he has soon
secured twenty prisoners. So all through that summer Brown was
wellnigh ubiquitous in harassing the enemy, and their dispatches
betray their terror of him by ludicrous exaggerations of his
achievements. But it is certain he lived as nearly up to his
terrible reputation as he could. At Franklin, at Washington
Creek, and at Osawatomie we find him in evidence. Here are
extracts from his letters in reference to the attack made by the
pro-slavery men at the last-mentioned place. 'On the morning of
August 30 an attack was made by the ruffians on Osawatomie,
numbering some 400, by whose scouts our dear Frederick was shot
dead.' (This was his son, and it was by a Methodist preacher's
rifle he was killed. Such was the support which the pulpit
sometimes gave in those turbulent days to the slavery cause.)
'At this time I was about three miles off, where I had some
fourteen or fifteen men over-night that had just enlisted under
me. These I collected with some twelve or fifteen more, and in
about three-quarters of an hour I attacked them from a wood with
thick undergrowth.

'With this force we threw them into confusion for about fifteen
or twenty minutes, during which time we killed or wounded from
seventy to eighty of the enemy--as they say--and then we escaped
as we could with one killed, two or three wounded, and as many
more missing. Jason (another son) fought bravely by my side. I
was struck by a partly spent shot which bruised me some, but did
not injure me seriously. "Hitherto the Lord has helped me,
notwithstanding my afflictions."'

Later there was a futile attack upon Lawrence by 2,700 Of the
Border ruffians, and while the governor claimed afterwards the
credit for the failure of the attack, it is certain that his
dilatory intervention had less to do with the result than the
prompt action of a couple of hundred defenders of the place who
made a dash outwards towards the advancing rabble. Mounted on a
grocer's box in the main street, John Brown thus addressed them
before action: 'If they come up and attack don't yell, but
remain still. Wait till they get within twenty-five yards of
you: get a good object: be sure you see the hind sight of your
gun--then fire. A great deal of powder and lead is wasted on
aiming too high. You had better aim at their legs than at their
heads. In either case, be sure of the hind sights of your guns.
It is from the neglect of this that I myself have so many times
escaped; for if all the bullets that have ever been aimed at me
had hit, I should have been as full of holes as a riddle,'

All these skirmishes from a military point of view were trivial,
but from a political standpoint they were crucial. They saved
Kansas, and made free election at length possible. Brown and his
men were 'incarnate earnestness,' says one writer, and it was
that fervent devotion which made all that followed possible. It
became impossible for a government to wink at arson and murder.
'Take more care to end life well than to live long,' the old man
used to say, and he exemplified his doctrine.

His reckless bravery was proverbial. After one of their
successful skirmishes a wounded Missourian wished greatly to see
the redoubtable John Brown before he died. The captain went to
the wagon where he lay and said, 'Here I am; take a good look at
me; we wish you all no harm. Stay at home, leave us alone, and
we shall be friends. I wish you well.' The dying man looked at
him from head to foot, and, reaching out his hand, said, 'I don't
see as you are so bad. You don't look or talk like it. I thank
you.' Clasping his hand, the old captain said, 'God bless you,'
and his tears were the Amen. Thus tender was he ever with his
prisoners, despite his fierceness.

At length the United States Government saw the free settlers were
in no abject mood, and stepped in to their relief. John Brown
saw the dawn of better days, and then travelled away northward,
worn and sick, with a fugitive slave as a kind of trophy hidden
in his wagon. Before long he found security and peace for a
while at North Elba, New York, at the house of Gerrit Smith.



We now find John Brown busy for a while in the Northern States
addressing Abolitionist meetings, collecting funds for the cause,
and co-operating with the Anti-slavery Committees, of which there
were several thousands. In many homes where the friends of
freedom lived he was a welcome guest, not least welcomed by the
children, who always seemed to refresh his weary heart. 'Out of
the mouths of children,' as the psalmist says (according to one
version), 'God gives strength to true men.' You might often have
seen him holding up a little two-year-old child, saying, 'When
John Brown is hanged as a traitor she can say she used to stand
on John Brown's hand.' He was no false prophet!

Now also he was able to revisit, after two years' absence, the
old homestead where his wife and children were awaiting him, down
to the little one whom he had left an infant in the cradle.
'Come,' says the strange father to the little prattler, 'I have
sung it to all of them; I must sing it to you.'

Blow ye the trumpet, blow
The gladly solemn sound:
Let all the nations know
To earth's remotest bound.
The year of Jubilee is come,
Return, ye ransomed sinners, home.

In strains to which a soul on fire gave enchantment and a
tunefulness of their own he sang that song of Moses and the Lamb,
telling of the Jewish charter of Liberty to which Christ in His
turn gave larger meaning; and the little eyes in the room beheld
a transfigured face which they remembered when he had ceased
blowing the trumpet of Jubilee, and when they sang the same hymn
as they laid him beneath the sod outside that cabin door.

But not long could he stay at home. The year of Jubilee for all
these bondmen was his one thought, and he found friends who
regarded him as a tried man and were prepared to trust him
implicitly. Such men as Beecher and Theodore Parker gave him
help spiritual; men like the wealthy Stearns gave him help
financial to the extent of many thousand dollars, and were
content to know that John Brown, however he spent it (and
concerning his plans he was always reticent), would have but one
object--liberty to the captive.

One way in which it was spent was in the working of what was then
known as the underground railway. The opportunist statesman--
Henry Clay--had led many Northern voters to tolerate the passing
of the Fugitive Slave Law, under which the Federal Government
facilitated the enforced return of fugitive slaves found in free
states to the plantations of the South. And the Abolitionists in
the North, as a set-off against this detested legislation, gave
themselves with much zest to aid the runaway slave. If a slave
could escape to the swamps or the forest and elude the
bloodhounds on his track, he knew that at certain points he would
find those who were prepared to house him, and, passing him on
secretly from station to station, ensure his arrival at a
terminus where he would be safe for life. That was Canada, the
country where the Union Jack waves--the flag of 'Britons' who
'never shall be slaves' and are prepared to grant to all the
priceless boon they claim themselves. This escape was called
'shaking the paw of the lion.' May that British lion never be
transformed into a sleek tiger; may his paw ever be outreached to
a runaway slave, and his roar be a terror to all who would market
in human flesh and blood!

This chain of well-known houses and locations was called the
underground railway; and, spite of penalties of imprisonment oft
inflicted, it never lacked porters or guards; and if the trains
did not always run to time it was because they were very cautious
against accident. Some 30,000 passengers were probably conveyed
on this line. You will not be surprised to find John Brown an
active 'guard,' and under the name of 'Shubel Morgan' or
'Hawkins' he did good service there. See him making his way with
twelve fugitive slaves from Missouri, through Kansas, Nebraska,
Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan to Canada. It is the dead of
winter, and the rough wagons travel heavily and slowly along the
drifted roads. There is a price on his head in these Southern
States--3,250 dollars offered conjointly by the Governor of
Missouri and President Pierce--and the stations are sometimes
thirty miles apart. They come to a creek, and there is the State
Marshal awaiting them with eighty armed men--for he thought he
had better have a good force, as he heard it was John Brown he
might encounter. John puts his host of twenty-three men all told
into battle array in front of the wagons, and gives the laconic
order, 'Now go straight at 'em, boys, they are sure to run.'
Into the water his men charge--but the baptism of water is all
they are fated to pass through; there is no baptism of fire to
follow, for, scared at the impulsive charge, and filled with
vague terror at that irrepressible John Brown, the Marshal
springs upon his horse and skedaddles. His men scramble to their
horses. Some cannot untie them from the shrubs quickly enough;
several animals carry two men, and, to complete the ludicrousness
of the scene, one man, fearing he might be too late, grips fast
the tail of the steed to which the proper rider has just set
spurs, and, vainly trying to spring on behind, is seen with his
feet off the ground, being whirled through the air. A few
prisoners are speedily added to Brown's little company, who,
thinking it is perhaps prudent to keep men off horseback who were
so prone to flight, orders them to walk.

But he has ideas of courtesy, has this rough old warrior, and
says he means them no unkindness and will walk with them. Such a
favourable opportunity must in no wise be missed, so the old
soldier-prophet gives them his mind upon the wickedness of slave-
holding and the meanness of slave-hunting, which discourse, let
us hope, is not wholly unfruitful. When he has held them for one
night he thinks they have been brought far enough from their
haunts to prevent further mischief, and sets them free. That one
night spent with him they are not likely to forget. He would not
so much as allow them the privilege of swearing. 'No taking of
God's name in vain gentlemen; if there is a God you will gain
nothing, and if there is none you are fools indeed.' Such is the
old man's plain argument.

One of them, a harum-scarum young physician, is taken specially
under charge by John Brown. Before retiring Brown desires him to
pray. 'I can't pray,' he says, with an oath. 'What, did your
mother never teach you?' asks Brown. 'Oh yes,' he replies; 'but
that was a long time ago.' 'Well, you still remember the prayer
she taught you?' continued Brown. 'Yes,' is the answer. 'Say
that for want of a better,' is the order. Then, to the amusement
of all, the poor doctor repeats the rhyme:

And now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

Said the young doctor after he was released, 'John Brown knows
more about religion than any man I ever met. He never used harsh
language; we were treated like gentlemen; we shared food with
them. Only it went against the grain to be guarded by niggers.'

Thus the journey proceeds. As they get farther north there is
more bark than bite about the opposition they encounter. In the
street at one town where they are sheltered, Brown strolls alone
and finds a champion of slavery haranguing the crowd and
denouncing Brown as a reckless, bloody outlaw, a coward who
skulked and would never fight in the open. Warming to a climax
the orator proclaims, 'If I could get a sight of him I would
shoot him on the spot; I would never give him a chance to steal
any more slaves.' 'My friend,' says a plain-looking countryman--
no other than John Brown himself--on the outskirts of the throng,
'you talk very brave; and as you will never have a better
opportunity to shoot old Brown than right here and now, you can
have a chance.' But his powder was damped--or his courage!

Now the journey is over. The twelve fugitives have become
thirteen, for a little infant has been born on the march, never
to know, thank God, the horrors the mother has left behind. The
child is named after his deliverer 'John Brown,' who conducts
them safely across the ferry and places them under the shelter of
the Union Jack on the Canadian shore. Then the old man
reverently pronounces his 'Nunc dimittis,' 'Lord, now lettest
thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy
salvation.' 'I could not brook the thought that any ill should
befall them, least of all that they should be taken back to
slavery. The arm of Jehovah has protected us.' Before many
months those rescued ones were weeping at the news that John
Brown was condemned to die, and were saying 'Would that we could
die instead.'



John Brown now prepared for his final effort, for the enterprise
he had espoused and the sacrifice he had sworn to make for it
were to be completed by his death. 'There is no way of
deliverance but by blood,' had become his settled conviction upon
this slavery question. And truly it seemed so. The Slave States
were waxing fiercer in their unholy enterprise. The reopening of
the market for freshly imported slaves from Africa was openly
advocated--indeed, prices were offered for the best specimens, as
if it were a mere cattle trade. 'For sale, 400 negroes just
landed,' was placarded in Southern streets; and to complete the
grim situation a prize was proposed for the best sermon in
defence of the slave trade. Surely the Lord gave not 'the word,'
but 'great was the company of the preachers' who were prepared to
publish it.

John Brown felt that the fullness of time was come for a
desperate stroke. Desperate indeed it was. From a military
point of view it was madness. He resolved to hire a farm in
Maryland, near to the great armoury at Harper's Ferry in the
Slave State of Virginia, and there diligently and silently to
store arms. Then with a small company he would seize Harper's
Ferry. Having possessed himself of its stores, he would retreat
to the mountains, where he hoped there would be considerable
rallying to his standard. Holding his own amid mountain
fastnesses of which he had acquired an intimate knowledge, he
thought he might at last become strong enough to make terms with
the Government.

We next find him passing as Isaac Smith, a Maryland farmer--known
to his neighbours as a demure, somewhat eccentric, son of the
soil. Three of his sons, true to the vow, were with him. Little
thought the farmers around that hard by that farmhouse a few
thousand weapons were stored and that a little band of mysterious
strangers was gathering there, but so it was. To the last there
was much opposition to Brown's impulsive scheme. Once, indeed,
he resigned leadership, but the little group passed a horrible
five minutes of bereavement and then re-elected him with many
promises of support. Sublime old madman!--if mad indeed he was!
Had he not made them all feel like himself, 'that they have but
one life and once to die; and if they lose their lives perchance
it will do more for the cause than their lives would be worth in
any other way?'

One reluctant darkie, rescued by him from slavery, was challenged
to say what he would do. He hesitated--looked at his shaggy old
benefactor, and then, with heart surcharged with gratitude, said,
'I believe I'll go wid de ole man.'

Ah! the old man's soul had entered into them--it kept them
'marching on.' In the dark, wet night of October 16, 1859, they
mustered quietly. The captain addressed them, and he was no
reckless destroyer of human life who thus spake: 'Gentlemen, let
me press this one thing on your minds. You all know how dear
life is to you, and how dear your lives are to your friends; and
in remembering that, consider that the lives of others are as
dear. Do not therefore take the life of any one if you can
possibly avoid it, but if it is necessary to take life in order
to save your own, then make sure work of it.'

Two of them were deputed to hasten, when the town was in their
hands, to Colonel Washington's house, four miles distant--to
seize him, free his slaves, and take the relic of the house, the
famed sword of his illustrious ancestor George Washington, that
with this in hand John Brown might head the campaign. That feat
they actually performed, and for one brief day their leader bore
that sword.

Silently marched that little band of about a score under shelter
of the darkness. They had their plans complete, even a
Constitution ready framed, should they be successful. The
telegraph wires were cut. They contrived to terrify all on guard
without firing a shot, and as the sun rose, Harper's Ferry,
arsenal, armoury, and rifle works, and many prisoners were in the
hands of John Brown. The day wore on, but the expected
reinforcements came not; the spreading news, however, brought
hostile troops around the captured place, and they hourly
increased. Brown took not his one chance of escape to the
mountains--why, it is difficult to say. In prison afterwards he
said his weakness in yielding to the entreaties of his prisoners
ruined him. 'It was the first time I ever lost command of
myself, and now I am punished for it,' he added. At another time
when questioned he gave fatalistic answers, and said it was
'ordained so ages before the world was made.' By afternoon he
was on the defensive within the armoury, and a fierce fight
ensued. Even then his simple notions of justice were uppermost,
and to the last as his men fired from the portholes he would be
heard saying of some one passing in the street, 'That man is
unarmed don't shoot.' Two of his sons--Watson and Oliver Brown--
were pierced with bullets. As he straightened out the limbs of
the second, he said, 'This is the third son I have lost in the
cause.' Always the cause! The night fell and the fight was in
abeyance, but in the morning he was summoned to surrender, and
refused, saying he would die there. At length the engine-house,
their last resort, held stubbornly, was captured, and Brown fell,
wounded by the sword of a young lieutenant who had marked him for
his stroke. One of his prisoners who was by says truly of his
last fight, 'Almost any other man who saw his sons fall would
have exacted life for life, but he spared all of us who were in
his power.' Of the force of twenty-two men, ten were killed,
seven captured and hanged, and five escaped. On the other side
six were killed and eight wounded.

He was now a captive, suffered to recover from his wounds that he
might die a felon's death. Many were those who, from various
motives, came to see the wounded prisoner, and from many
interviews reported at the time we may take a few extracts:

Q. Can you tell us who furnished money for your expedition?
A. I furnished most of it myself. I cannot implicate others. It
is by my own folly I have been taken. I could have saved myself
had I not yielded to my feelings.

Q. If you would tell us who sent you, who provided means, it
would be valuable information.
A. I will answer freely and faithfully about what concerned
myself, anything I can with honour, but not about others. It was
my own prompting and that of my Maker or the devil--whichever you
please to ascribe it to--I acknowledge no master in human form.

Q. Why came you here?
A. To liberate the slaves--the cry of the oppressed is my only
reason. I respect the rights of the poorest coloured folk as
much as those of the most wealthy and powerful.

Q. How do you justify your acts?
A. I think, my friend, you are guilty of a great wrong against
God and humanity--I say it without wishing to be offensive and
it would be perfectly right for any one to free those you
wickedly hold in bondage. I am not here to gratify revenge, but
because I pity those who have none to help them.

Q. Do you consider this a religious movement?
A. The greatest service man can render to God.

Q. Do you consider yourself an instrument in the hands of
A. I do.

Q. Brown, suppose you had every nigger in the United States, what
would you do with them?
A. Set them free.

Said Governor Wise of Virginia, 'Mr. Brown, the silver of your
hair is reddened by the blood of crime, and you should eschew
these hard words and think of eternity. You are committing
felony by these sentiments.' Brown replied, 'Governor, I have by
all appearances not more than fifteen or twenty years the start
of you in the journey to eternity, and whether my time has to be
long or short I am equally prepared to go. There is an eternity
behind and an eternity before, and this speck in the centre,
however long, is but comparatively a minute. The difference
between your tenure and mine is trifling, and you have all of you
a heavy responsibility and it behoves you to prepare more than it
does me.'

The Governor's public testimony was: 'They are mistaken who took
Brown to be a madman. He is a bundle of the best nerves I ever
saw. He is a man of clear head, of courage, fortitude, and
simple ingenuousness. He is cool, collected, and indomitable;
and it is but just to him to say that he was humane to his
prisoners, and he inspired me with great trust in his integrity
as a man of truth. He is a fanatic, vain and garrulous, but
firm, truthful, and intelligent. He professes to be a Christian
in communion with the Congregational Church of the North, and
openly preaches his purpose of universal emancipation, and the
negroes themselves were to be the agents, by means of arms, led
on by white commanders. Colonel Washington says that he was the
coolest and firmest man he ever saw in defying danger and death.
With one son dead by his side, and another shot through, he felt
the pulse of his dying son with one hand, held his rifle with the
other, and commanded his men with the utmost composure,
encouraging them to be firm, and to sell their lives as dearly as
they could.'

The trial for treason and murder took place in the Virginian
Court on October 27-31, ere he had recovered. He pleaded for
delay till his health allowed him to give more attention to his
defence, but the request was refused. So, weak and wounded, he
had to lie upon his pallet with a blanket thrown over him. His
words were few, and to the same effect as those we have quoted.
There was only one verdict possible in that court--GUILTY--and he
was sentenced to be hanged. Technically there was no other
course possible. The calm verdict of the CAMBRIDGE MODERN
HISTORY upon the raid is correct: 'It was the mad folly of an
almost crazed fanatic . . . the stain still upon him of the
bloodiest of the lawless work done in the name of Freedom; a
terrible outlaw because an outlaw for conscience' sake; intense
to the point of ungovernable passion--heeding nothing but his own
will and sense of right; a revolutionist upon principle; a
lawless incendiary, and yet seeking nothing for himself.'

But while we feel the veracity of these words there comes to our
mind one of Charles Kingsley's impulsive sayings: 'Get hold of
one truth, let it blaze in your sky like a Greenland sun, never
setting day or night. See it in everything, and everything in
it. The world will call you a bigot and fanatic, and then fifty
years after will wonder how it was the bigot and fanatic managed
to do so much more than all the sensible men round about him.'

John Brown vindicated that opinion.



The journeys of John Brown's body were now at an end. Only his
soul was free to travel, and it found its vehicle in letters
which carried thoughts that breathed and words that burned far
and wide.

This condemned prisoner had five weeks left of mortal life, and
they were the most fruitful he ever spent. The greatest
achievement of his life was the marvellous advocacy of the cause
conducted from his prison. His friend F. B. Sanborn says:
'Here was a defeated, dying old man, who had been praying and
fighting and pleading and toiling for years, to persuade a great
people that their national life was all wrong, suddenly
converting millions to his cause by the silent magnanimity or
the spoken wisdom of his last days as a fettered prisoner.'

He had spoken of a Samson's victory as possibly the great
triumph in store for him. Even so it was, and in his death and
by the manner of it he mortally wounded his old enemy, Slavery.
As the great continent watched from afar his last days, a thrill
passed through it that made Emancipation a triumphant cause.
Efforts to save Brown's life might be in vain, but Brown's death
was helping to save the life of the nation. His letters from
the prison were many and widely circulated. All he has to say
of himself is that he knows no degradation. 'I can trust God
with the time and manner of my death, believing that for me now
to seal my testimony with my life will do vastly more for the
Cause than all I have done before. Dear wife and children, do
not feel degraded on my account.' Humorously he remarks, 'I am
worth inconceivably more to hang than for any other purpose.'
'Say to my poor boys never to grieve for one moment on my
account; and should many of you live to see the time when you
will not blush to own your relation to old John Brown, it will
not be more strange than many things that have happened.' '" He
shall BEGIN to deliver Israel out of the hand of the
Philistines." This,' said he, 'I think is true of my commission
from God and my work.' The scaffold had no terrors for him.
His trust, he averred, was firm in that Redeemer who, to
European and Ethiopian, bond and free alike, had brought a year
of Jubilee and a great salvation. But though he asked no pity
for himself, he pleaded in every letter for those who, as he
said, were on the 'under-hill' side. 'Weep not for me,' he
wrote home, 'but for the crushed millions who have no
comforter.' The old text was continually repeated, 'Remember
them that are in bonds as bound with them,' and he bade them
abhor with undying hatred that 'sum of all villanies--slavery.'

His only cause of agitation in the prison was the intrusive
ministration of certain pro-slavery parsons. He refused to let
a man who 'had the blood of the slaves on his skirts' minister
to him. 'I respect you as a gentleman, but a HEATHEN
gentleman,' he would say. 'Don't let such go with me to the
scaffold,' he asked. 'I would rather have an escort of
barefooted, bareheaded, ragged slave boys and girls led by some
old grey-headed slave mother.'

A sculptor who had conceived a great admiration for the brave
old man was ambitious to execute a marble bust of him. He
applied to Mrs. Stearns--Brown's old wealthy supporter--to aid
him in his enterprise. She readily promised to supply all
funds, but, said she, 'You will have a vain journey for the
measurements. He will just say, "Nonsense; give the money to
the poor." You will then say, "Mr. Brown, posterity will want to
know what you looked like," and he will reply, "No consequence
to posterity how I looked; better give the money to the poor."
But go if you will and use my name.' And off went the eager
artist. With some difficulty he procured an interview with the
prisoner. But woman is far-sighted; sure enough the answer
came, 'Nonsense; give the money to the poor.' But the artist
pleaded, 'Posterity will want to see what you were like.' Said
the man who longed that his work rather than his memory should
live, 'No consequence to posterity how I looked; give the money
to the poor.' However, the name of Mrs. Steams prevailed at
last, and with a thankful look he said, 'She must have what she
desires; take the measurements.'

The day of execution, December 2, 1859, drew near. Excitement
increased, and for the first time in the history of the Union
the passport system was introduced by the State Government of
Virginia, and was maintained during the last eight days of
Brown's life, lest haply aid from the North should be organized.
Troops were present to the number of 3,000, around the scaffold
at Charlestown, when he was carried forth to die. Rumour
alleged that he had on the way to the scaffold taken a slave
child from its mother's arms and kissed it. But, credible as it
may have been to many, those who were present knew he was too
closely pinioned and guarded for it to be possible. He had
little to say--only one word of the glory of the surrounding
scenery, for he was a true son of Nature to the last. He had
placed in an official's hands a slip of paper with the following
words upon it: 'I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the
crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with
blood. I had, as I now think vainly, flattered myself that
without very much bloodshed it might be done.'

Upon the scaffold he only bade them be quick, as he was quite
ready. Ready! Yes, he had been ready many a year, and it was
no unwilling victim that swung mid-air that December morning.

They carried his body to the old log-house he occupied at North
Elba, where it was buried upon the farm. That farm has been
recently purchased for a public park; and the grave, with the
big boulder upon it, forms a conspicuous feature. Thousands
approach it with reverent feet, not so much because of the body
which lies mouldering there, but for the sake of the soul which
is marching on. They had sung in Northern streets a grim ditty
during those days of suspense before his execution, with the
refrain, addressed to the Southerner:

And Old Brown, Osawatomie Brown,
May trouble you more than ever
When you've nailed his coffin down.

It contains a true word of prophecy. Says an American writer:
soon after, 'I meet him at every turn. John Brown is not dead;
he is more alive than ever he was.' As that same year the
Northern States gird themselves for the great Presidential
contest, determined that at length a thorough Abolitionist named
Abraham Lincoln shall tenant the White House, it is evident that
John Brown's soul is marching on.

When at length fierce civil war breaks out, and those same
Northern States month by month are brought to the sure
conviction that Freedom as certainly as Union is the cause for
which they fight, and as through long disappointment and
suspense, lavish effusion of blood, generous sacrifice of their
bravest sons they steadily press to victory under the ever-
patient, dogged leadership of President Lincoln and General
Grant, it is evident that John Brown's soul is marching on.

In the tramp of ten thousands of armed men, in the strains of
that grand old battle-hymn of the Republic, I hear the march of
his soul:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible, swift
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah, &c.

He hath sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgement-seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul! to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free!
While God is marching on.

When Lincoln's first Emancipation Decree (made necessary by the
fact that so many blacks belonging to the disloyal were fighting
for the Union), that all slaves in the Rebel States from New
Year's Day, 1863, shall be free, is promulgated; and when, two
years later, the Constitution is amended so as to forbid slavery
all through the Republic, now again united; when the nation
generously provides food, shelter, and education for the
emancipated; and when the freed bondmen greet their liberty-
loving President in Southern streets with shouts of gratitude
and cries of 'Father Abraham'--you may know that John Brown's
soul is marching on.

There in America and elsewhere it continues its march. Wherever
the swift cruiser speeds in pursuit of the infamous slave-ship,
in every heart-beat of the brave seamen who feel they are on a
righteous errand and will overhaul her in the King's--aye, in
God's--name, we hear the march of John Brown's soul.

When a nation of free men rises up in wrath at the issue of some
official document that seems to be couched in temporizing
language on this supreme subject, or at some government that has
tolerated conditions that approximate slavery, and will have
none of it, we know the old hero's soul is marching on.

Whenever in secret council the ambassador of a free people
negotiates a treaty, and, backed by the most sacred impulses of
those he represents, urges an anti-slavery clause, we know John
Brown's soul is on the march.

And march it shall, while nations learn to prize liberty as
God's great chartered right to every man, while they read the
shining letters of the Golden Rule, while they remember that God
made all men of one blood and that all are redeemed by the blood
of One.

While God looks down from His heaven and sees the distressed
face, or hears the piercing cry of the oppressed, and can turn
the hearts of men to fight His battles upon earth, the soul of
John Brown will be marching still.

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