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date: 27 January 2022

Brown, John (1800–59), 

Source:
The Concise Oxford Companion to American Literature
Author(s):
James D. HartJames D. Hart, Wendy MartinWendy Martin, Danielle HinrichsDanielle Hinrichs

Abolitionist leader, in 1855 moved with his five sons from Ohio to Osawatomie, Kansas, following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. Believing himself to be the special instrument of God intended to destroy proslavery settlers, he deliberately murdered five of his Southern-minded neighbors; this and similar acts, together with his previous reputation as an operator of the Underground Railroad, made him nationally celebrated as “Brown of Osawatomie.” In 1859 he and his followers moved to Harpers Ferry, Virginia, where, on the night of October 16, he and twenty-one others captured the U.S. armory, with the intention of establishing a base from which they might free slaves by armed intervention. A force of U.S. marines under R. E. Lee attacked the armory, killed ten of Brown’s men, and wounded and captured Brown. With the insurrection quelled, Brown was hanged (December 2, 1859). His sincerity and dignity when on trial led many liberals to treat him as a martyr, e.g. Thoreau’s ... ...

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