William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 41] [part 39] [Cutler's History]




[Image of John Brown] John Brown was of Puritan ancestry - being sixth in descent from Peter Brown, one of the determined band "who came to New England in the Mayflower, and landed at Plymouth Rock, December, 1620." Fourth in descent from Peter Brown, and the grandfather of John Brown, famous in Kansas history, was John Brown, of Connecticut, Captain of a company in the Continental army, and who died while in the service. Gideon Wells, the grandfather of John Brown on the maternal side, also served in the Revolutionary war, and attained the rank of Lieutenant. John Brown, the son of Owen and Ruth (Mills) Brown, was born in Torrington, Conn., May 9, 1800. When he was five years old, his father migrated to Hudson, Ohio, and during the war of 1812 was engaged in furnishing beef to the American troops on the northern frontier, John sometimes accompanying him to Detroit, and sometimes taking droves of cattle to their destination alone. At that early age even, he looked at what he witnessed of military life, and of the inevitable misuse of irresponsible authority, with keen, observing eyes, and the germ of the dominant principle and passion of his life was planted. What he saw in the army so disgusted him that he never could be induced to perform military service in time of peace, and he firmly resolved never to take part in any war, except it was one for liberty. What he saw of the "peculiar institution," and the effect it produced on him, he relates in a short autobiographical sketch written in 1857. Speaking of himself in the third person, he says:

"During the war with England, a circumstance occurred that in the end made him a most determined Abolitionist, and led him to declare or swear eternal war with slavery. He was staying, for a short time, with a very gentlemanly landlord, once a United States Marshal, who held a slave boy near his own age, active, intelligent and good feeling, and to whom John was under considerable obligation for numerous little acts of kindness. The master made a great pet of John, brought him to table with his first company and friends, called their attention to every little smart thing he said or did, and to the fact of his being more than a hundred miles from home, with a drove of cattle, alone; while the negro boy (who was fully, if not more than his equal,) was badly clothed, poorly fed and lodged in cold weather, and beaten before his eyes with iron shovels or any other thing that came first to hand. This brought John to reflect on the wretched, hopeless condition of fatherless and motherless slave children - for such children have neither fathers nor mothers to protect and provide for them. He sometimes would raise the question,'"Is God their Father?'"

John Brown's early life of toil and privation in a new country gave him but little leisure to acquire an education at school. As he quaintly says, "He learned nothing of grammar, nor did he get a school so much knowledge of common arithmetic as the four ground rules." He, however, gradually acquired a fondness for books, and having access to the library of a friend, persistently availed himself of the privilege, and thereby gained the principal part of his early education. At the age of sixteen, he joined the Congregational Church, and three years later went to Plainfield, Mass., to study for the Christian ministry. He had partially fitted for college, under the instruction of Rev. Moses Hallock, when he was attacked with inflammation of the eyes, which, becoming chronic, compelled him to abandon his studies and return to Ohio, where he resumed the tanner's trade (which he had previously practiced in his father's service), and carried it on for the next twenty years, partly in Ohio and party in Crawford County, Penn.

He returned to Ohio, and when about twenty years of age he married Dianthe Lusk, who died in 1832, and who was the mother of seven of his children. The year succeeding her death, he married Mary A. Day (now living in California), by whom he had thirteen children, of whom three sons were with him at Harper's Ferry, two of whom lost their lives there, and the third escaped.

In Pennsylvania, Brown engaged in land speculation, and losing the greater part of his property, returned to Ohio in 1840 and embarked in the wool trade. In 1846, he removed to Springfield, Mass., where he opened a wool warehouse, receiving stock from the wool growers of Northern Ohio, to be sold at discretion. The firm name of the Springfield house was Perkins & Brown. He attempted, while here, to establish a system of selling wool by valuation, by grades and sorts, and thereby brought himself in collision with the New England manufacturers, who chose to purchase wool direct from the producers. Thereupon Brown shipped two hundred thousand pounds of wool to London, going himself to sell it. He was obliged to dispose of it at half its value, and returned to America financially ruined.

In 1849, he removed with his family to North Elba, Essex County, N.Y., and settled upon an unimproved farm given him by Gerrit Smith, who had previously planted a colony of negroes in the same region. It was a sterile, rugged location, high up the Adirondack Mountains, and the negroes, for the sake of whom he had removed to the place, soon became discouraged, and relinquishing their mountain farms removed to a more congenial soil and climate. Brown and his family, now including several sons grown to manhood, worked on and ultimately secured comfortable homes for themselves. In 1851, the father returned with his family to Ohio, and again engaged in the wool business. In 1854, his four elder sons - John Brown, Jr., Jason, Owen and Frederick - all the children of his first wife and residing in Ohio, determined to migrate to Kansas. John and Jason were married and had some property. The others were unmarried. In preparation for their removal to Kansas in the spring, Owen and Frederick took the teams and entire stock, cattle and horses to Southwestern Illinois to winter, where they were joined by a younger brother, Salmon, early in 1855, and in the spring, the brothers settled in Lykins County, on the Pottawatomie, about eight miles from the site of Osawatomie. They came without arms, simply to make homes for themselves - Frederick intending to return to Ohio to be married, and to bring his wife to Kansas. They were harassed, plundered, threatened and insulted by bands of maranders from Missouri, and could get no redress themselves. The hour had come and the man was ready. Since 1839, he had been waiting for an opportunity to begin in earnest the work which engrossed the deepest passions of his soul - war against slavery - and he believed that Kansas was the chosen field. He immediately moved his family to the mountain home at North Elba, and procuring arms for his sons, then in Kansas, and for Owen, Oliver, and his son-in-law, Henry Thompson, all of whom desired to accompany him, he came with them to fight for freedom in Kansas, and for freedom for the slave everywhere. His first appearance as a military leader among the Free-State settlers of Kansas was at the siege of Lawrence, November, 1855, when, accompanied by his four sons, all thoroughly armed, he entered Lawrence, offered his services to the besieged town, and was placed in command of a company. After the difficulties at Lawrence had been peaceably terminated, Capt. Brown returned to Osawatomie, not angry and disgusted at the result, or because other counsel than his own prevailed, but happy and grateful, writing to his wife: "The Free-State men have only to retain the footing they have gained and KANSAS IS FREE." The prominent part he took in the exciting events in Kansas during the tempestuous year of 1856, at Black Jack, at Osawatomie, his deeds both aggressive and defensive, good or ill, belong to the history of the State, and find their proper place there.

After the Missouri invasion of September, 1856, and the dispersion of the invaders by order of Gov. Geary, John Brown, with four of his sons - one of which was John, Jr., just released from prison at Lecompton - started overland by way of Nebraska and Iowa for the Eastern States. He passed through Northern Kansas in the disguise of a surveyor, escaped capture, although in the company of the Marshal who held a writ for his arrest, and arrived safely at Tabor in Iowa, a noted station on the underground railroad, where he rested with his sons two weeks. He did not return to Kansas for over a year - not until November, 1857. The winter of 1856-57 was spent in the East; in devising plans and visiting places and parties for the purpose of enlisting aid and sympathy for the purpose so near his heart. He employed all his energies to secure, as he expressed it, "the means of arming and thoroughly equipping" his followers, who were "mixed up with the people of Kansas," and his failure to induce the extravagant, luxurious "heaven-exalted" people of the East to contribute to his purpose aroused the deepest indignation in the earnest, iron-willed old man. In March or April, in anticipation of the Harper's Ferry movement, he made arrangements for the opening of a military school at Tabor, Iowa, to be under the instruction of Col. Hugh Forbes. Capt. Brown was to meet Forbes and the designated pupils at Tabor in June; but, although he started from the East in May, he did not reach Tabor until the 7th of August, Col. Forbes being two days later. They remained at Tabor, inactive, for want of funds, until the 2d of November, when Capt. Brown, leaving two of his sons at Tabor, came down to Kansas by the emigrant's road, in a wagon driven by another of his sons. He visited Lawrence, and there met Luke F. Parsons and John E. Cook, whom he enlisted in his enterprise. He then went to Topeka, and was there joined by A. D. Stevens, Charles F. Moffett, J. H. Kagi, and Cook, and the five left Topeka for Nebraska City. (Mr. Moffett, and Mr. Kagi had seen John Brown at Tabor, to which place they had conducted some fugitive salves from Topeka a short time previous, and had been agreed to join his company.) Before they reached their destination, Cook was sent back to Lawrence to have a draft cashed, and to get Luke F. Parsons, Richard Realf and Richard Hinton to return with him to Tabor. Hinton could not go at the time, but the others joined Brown in the course of a few days, and some of them first learned at this time that Capt. Brown's ultimate destination was Virginia. They had previously believed the fight was to be in Kansas and Missouri. Besides those mentioned, Owen Brown, C. P. Tidd, Richard Robertson and William Leeman were of the part at Tabor. They stopped at Pedee, Iowa, during the winter of 1857-58, and pursued a course of military studies under the instruction of A. D. Stevens (Capt. Whipple), Forbes having gone East, where he subsequently revealed the secret of the organization. In the early spring of 1858 (April), Capt. Brown returned from Ohio where he had been making unsuccessful efforts to organize another school, rejoined his company in Iowa, and the part left for Chatham, Canada West, via Chicago and Detroit.

On May 8, in a negro church at Chatham, a secret convention was called by Brown, which was attended by followers both white and black who were fully in accord with his views. At this convention, a "Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the people of the United States" was adopted. Under the new regime the offices of President and Commander-in-Chief were to be separate, and in no case to be held by the same person. John Brown was chosen Commander-in-Chief; J. H. Kagi, Secretary of War; Owen Brown, Treasurer; Richard Realf, Secretary of State.

During the session of the convention, a dispatch was received from a Congressman at Washington, stating that Col. Forbes was there and making revelations in regard to the Harper's Ferry plan. Capt. Brown, in order to give a different impression in regard to the matter, and disarm suspicion, decided that the must immediately disband his men and return to the West "so that the world may know that John Brown is still in Kansas."* (*Charles W. Moffett, at John Brown's meeting at Topeka, October 21, 1882.) The men were accordingly disbanded, and scattered in various directions. Some went to their homes, Mr. Parsons and Mr. Moffett to Ohio, to await the course of events, and be near the final destination, and Capt. Brown, accompanied by Kagi and Stevens, returned to Kansas, arriving at Lawrence, under the name of Capt. Morgan, June 25, 1858. The following day, he started with Kagi for Southeastern Kansas, to visit Capt. Montgomery and also his half-sister, the wife of Rev. Adair, then living near Osawatomie. This was just after the troubles in Bourbon and Linn counties had been quelled and peace established by arrangements and stipulations made by Gov. Denver and agreed to by Montgomery. Montgomery had retired to his farm; the troops from Fort Scott had gone north; military outposts were the protection of settlers had been established along the border, and the policy of the Governor seemed to be bringing peace and rest to the distracted country.

Soon after the arrival of Capt. Brown and Kagi in Southern Kansas, they were joined by Stevens, Leeman, Tidd and Anderson, of his Tabor military company, and after visiting various parts of the country, the farm of Eli Snider, the blacksmith, the scene of the Marias des Cygnes massacre, was fixed upon as a desirable position for a location - being near the State line, and well adapted for defense. Negotiations were entered into with Snider and a titled secured "for military occupation." A strong log house, which would serve as fort if necessary, was built by Capt. Brown and his company; but for some reason, not explained, probably the prevalence of peace at the time, was soon abandoned, the Captain and Kagi going to the Rev. Adair's and the rest of the company remaining in Linn and Anderson Counties. At the renewal of hostilities in October, Capt. Brown and his men took part in the troubles, living at this time in a strongly intrenched cabin on Little Sugar Creek. This cabin was attacked late in November, by a strong posse of armed men, but successfully defended by Stevens, Kagi and Montgomery, the latter coming to their relief with a small party just before the attack. Brown was absent at his sister's in Osawatomie. In December, Capt. Brown, with his company, went to Bourbon County and made their headquarters at "Bain's Fort" or cabin, near the border line, so as to assist Montgomery in his operations, and be conveniently situated for a contemplated invasion of Missouri, or whatever action circumstances might demand. While here, on Sunday, December 19, a negro, named Jim, came to the cabin where Brown and his men were stopping, and stated the he, together with his wife, two children and another negro man, were to be sold within a few days, and appealed to the Captain for assistance to escape. The next day two parties were made up to go into Missouri and forcibly liberate these and other slaves. John Brown commanded one band of twelve men, Kagi another of eight. Capt. Brown's party liberated ten slaves, taking their masters along some distance into Kansas to prevent an alarm being given, and then sending them back. Kagi's party rescued one slave, killing the master. The parties re-united and returned to their cabin - known as Bain's Fort - whence the negroes were taken to Franklin County and secreted, Brown remaining part of them for greater safety. The excitement caused, by this invasion was intense. The President offered a reward of $2,500 for the arrest of Brown, and the Governor of Missouri one of $2,000. The Free-State citizens of Linn and Bourbon Counties felt that this aggressive raid would only bring fresh invasions from Missouri, and generally disapproved of the act. Capt. Montgomery had refused to join in the expedition. Capt. Brown, in explanation or defense of the act, and to exculpate Montgomery from the charge of being implicated in the invasion, wrote his celebrated letter styled "John Brown's Parallels," dating it from the Trading Post, Linn County. (See Linn County history.)

Leaving his fugitives with Kagi and Stevens, Capt. Brown soon went to Lawrence to make preparations for taking them through to Canada. When they were perfected, he left Lawrence for the North, starting on the 20th of January, 1859. He stopped in the vicinity of Topeka a short time, at the house of Mr. Sheridan, and while there his fugitives were supplied by neighbors with food and articles of clothing, which they greatly needed. Capt. Brown himself was insufficiently clothed, and shivered with cold when exposed to the keen Kansas winds. He started from Topeka with four white companions and his wagons of fugitives. When he reached Holton, he was intercepted by a band of armed men, and finding it necessary to halt and make a defense, took possession of a log cabin in the woods, near Cedar Creek, and remained on the defensive. Both parties sent for reenforcements. Deputy Marshal Colby was sent by Gov. Medary, with the posse of men from Atchison, to arrest Brown and bring him to Lawrence to trial, and some troops also were sent. John Ritchie and a small force of cavalry from Topeka hurried to the relief of Brown, and on joining him the horsemen were sent on ahead, Brown with the fugitives following. As they advanced, the opposing force, without offering any resistance, fled; James Green, of Atchison, and Dr. Herford, of Kansas City, being taken prisoners. Col. Ritchie with his command accompanied Capt. Brown to the Nebraska line, and from that point he met with on serious difficulty.

This was the last trip that John Brown made through Kansas - his last visit. He reached Tabor the first week in February, continued his journey to Chicago, where he sent his men in different directions, retaining Kagi and Stevens with himself. The party reached Detroit on the 12th of March, and immediately crossed into Canada, with the rescued slaves. His subsequent movements are familiar to all. His preparations were commenced immediately and continued persistently for the contemplated invasion of Virginia. In the latter part of June, he made his appearance in Hagertown, Md., and passing there as Mr. Smith, a farmer, hired for a few months an unoccupied farm about six miles from Harper's Ferry. He removed to this farm with several of his party early in July, and was joined by others from time to time until the force numbered twenty-two persons, seventeen of whom (including three of his sons) were white persons, the remainder negroes. With this force the attack on Harper's Ferry was made, on the 16th of October, 1859 - Nine months from the time he left Kansas. The attack, the defense, the defeat, the trial, the sentence, the execution of John Brown, on December 2, 1860 - the details of all these, form a page in the history of the country, and cannot be given here.

But for what went before, and that which came after, John Brown's connection with Kansas affairs would not have been deemed prominent or worthy of especial note. He took little part in the political affairs of the Territory during the short periods of his sojourn. He never voted; he had not even the interest of a squatter's claim. He cared little for the plans of his contemporaries for making Kansas a free State except so far as they might result in making all States free. His hatred of slavery and slave-holders was the all-absorbing passion of his life, and to its extermination he was not pledged but called. He was viewed by the more conservative free-State men as too fanatical to be intrusted with their confidence, as a leader, and too erratic to follow the lead of others. It is not known that he ever took part in any concerted action where any except his immediate followers were concerned, and many of them followed him even to death.

In the annals of history, John Brown stands as a colossal figure, typical of the most exalted heroism - that which cheerfully puts the seal of martyrdom upon the sincerity of motive and act.

"Seven Grecian cities claimed the Homer dead,
Through which the living Homer begged his bread."

So as in the grand prospective of the ages, John Brown stands forth as the friend of friends to the oppressed of all nations and climes, remembered when the very names of his calumniators are forgotten. Osawatomie and Lawrence in the West, may well contest with Elba and Springfield in the East, the honor of having been even the temporary dwelling place of the great hero and champion of a world's emancipation.

The biography of John Brown has yet to be written. His foot prints on the soil of Kansas have been traced in the pages of its history. They are ephemeral, incidental, and like those of other men, will fade away. In the hearts of a free people his memory is enshrined forevermore.

[TOC] [part 41] [part 39] [Cutler's History]