Although thought of as a crazed mad man, John Brown was in fact a passionate abolitionist. John Brown was a man of action -- a man who would not be deterred from his mission of abolishing slavery. On October 16, 1859, he led 21 men on a raid of the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His plan to arm slaves with the weapons he and his men seized from the arsenal was destroyed, however, by local farmers, militiamen, and Marines led by Robert E. Lee. Within 36 hours of the attack, most of Brown's men had been killed or captured.
John Brown was born into a deeply religious family in Torrington, Connecticut, in 1800. Led by a father who was very opposed to slavery, the family moved to northern Ohio when John was five, to a district that would become known for its antislavery views.
During his first fifty years of life, Brown moved about the country, settling in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York, and taking along his ever-growing family.
(He would father twenty children.) Working at various times as a farmer, wool merchant, tanner, and land speculator, he never was financially successful. He even filed for bankruptcy when in his forties. His lack of funds, however, did not keep him from supporting causes he believed in. He helped finance the publication of David Walker's Appeal and Henry Highland's "Call to Rebellion" speech. He gave land to fugitive slaves. He and his wife agreed to raise a black youth as one of their own. He also participated in the Underground Railroad and, in 1851, helped establish the League of Gileadites, an organization that worked to protect escaped slaves from slave catchers.
In 1847 Frederick Douglass met Brown for the first time in Springfield, Massachusetts. Of the meeting...