John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights

Reynolds, David S.  John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.
Source Type
Secondary
Year
2005
Publication Type
Book
Citation:
David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), x.
Body Summary:
John Brown planted the seeds for the civil rights movement by making a pioneering demand for compete social and political equality for America's ethnic minorities. To be sure, many other Americans have contributed to civil rights. But only one white reformer lived continuously among blacks, penned a revised American constitution awarding them full rights, and gave his life in a violent effort to liberate the slaves. That's why the Second Niagara Movement (which became the NAACP), the forerunner of the civil rights movement, hailed Brown as one "who had no predecessors, and can have no successors." And that's why no other white person in American history has been more beloved over time among African Americans than John Brown.

It may be discomfiting to think that some of America's greatest social liberties sprang in part from a man who can be viewed as a terrorist. But John Brown was a man not only of violence but of eloquence and firmness of principle. His widely reprinted declarations against slavery impressed the intellectual leaders Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said Brown's speech to Virginia court was as great as the Gettysburg Address, and Henry David Thoreau, who declared that Brown's words were more powerful than his rifles.
Citation:
David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 290.
Body Summary:
"As during his visit in 1857, Brown gave a public lecture in the Concord Town Hall. Emerson, Thoreau, and Alcott were among those in attendance. Brown talked about Kansas and dropped hints about Virginia. Without revealing plans, he said he was prepared to strike a dramatic blow for freedom by running off slaves in an effort to render insecure the institution of slavery. The Transcendentalists' enthusiasm for Brown was stronger than ever. They thought he looked like an apostle, with his flowing white beard, his intense grayish eyes, and his aquiline nose, slightly hooked above his firm lips…For Alcott, as for Emerson and Thoreau, Brown embodied the higher law, principled violence, and self-reliance."
Citation:
David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 23.
Body Summary:
Into this unusual family atmosphere of fervent Calvinism and equally fervent Abolitionism, John Brown was born on May 9, 1800, in Torrington, Connecticut. Had he appeared at a different historical moment, it is quite possible that Harpers Ferry would not have happened - if so, the Civil War might have been delayed, and slavery might not have been abolished in America as soon as it was.
Citation:
David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 297-298.
Body Summary:
Living conditions at the Kennedy farm were primitive and crowded. The farmhouse consisted of two rooms, one of the first floor and the other above it. The downstairs room served as kitchen, parlor, and living room. Upstairs was a dormitory, storage area, and military training space. Furniture was sparse. Boxes were used as seats, and the men slept on the floor. The dining table was made of rough boards.
Citation:
David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 309.
Body Summary:
The raid on Harpers Ferry helped dislodge slavery, but not in the way Brown had foreseen. It did not ignite slave uprisings throughout the South. Instead, it had an immense impact because of the way Brown behaved during and after it, and the way it was perceived by key figures on both sides of the slavery divide. The raid did not cause the storm. John Brown and the reaction to him did.
Citation:
David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 49.
Body Summary:
[John] Brown…took on a housekeeper whose sixteen-year-old sister, Mary Day, came occasionally to spin cloth. Mary caught his eye as she sat at her spinning wheel. Tall and deep bosomed, she had striking black hair and a sturdy frame. The daughter of Charles Day, a blacksmith and farmer in nearby Troy Township, she had little formal education but impressed Brown as a practical, hardworking woman. It wasn't long before Brown, too bashful to propose verbally, presented her with a written offer of marriage. The girl nervously put his note under her pillow and slept on it a night before opening it. After reading it, she grabbed a bucket and rushed off to a spring to fetch water. Brown followed her. By the time the two returned to the house, he had received the answer he wanted. They were married on June 14, 1833. Ten months later a baby girl, Sarah, arrived.
Citation:
David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 278.
Body Summary:
The opportunity came in mid-December when [John Brown's] Free State friend George B. Gill told him he had just been visited by a black man, Jim Daniels, who was held in slavery by a Missourian named Harvey G. Hicklan (or Hicklin). Daniels, disguised as a broom salesman, had snuck across the state line and reported to Gill that he, his pregnant wife, and their two children were on the verge of being sold to a Texas slave-owner. Brown assured Gill he would help Daniels…On the night of December 20-21, he rode with twenty men into Vernon County, Missouri. As he approached the Little Ossage River, he divided his party. Twelve went with him to the area north of the river and the rest with Aaron Stevens to the south side. The goal was to liberate slaves, and if necessary, take whites as hostages.
Citation:
David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 65.
Body Summary:
As the meeting drew to a close, John Brown suddenly rose, lifted his right hand, and said, "Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!" His aged father then stood up and with his characteristic stammer added, "When John the Baptist was beheaded, the disciples took up his body and laid it in a tomb and went and told Jesus. Let us go to Jesus and tell him." Tears flowed down his wrinkled face as he led the meeting in prayer. No longer was John Brown working in secret. A murder committed by a proslavery mob had drawn from him a vow to fight slavery. The circumstances of his oath were telling. He was responding to a man who was an inchoate version of what he would later become. Elijah Lovejoy had risked his life by defending blacks publicly, as would Brown. Also like Brown, he persevered in his battle despite setback, and when faced with defeat he consciously chose the role of the Christ-like martyr.
Citation:
David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 279.
Body Summary:
[John] Brown and [Aaron] Stevens joined up at daybreak. Between them, they had eleven blacks representing four families: Jim Daniels with his wife and children; a widowed mother with two daughters and a son; a young man and a boy who were brothers; and a woman who had been forced to live separately from her husband…The blacks were taken thirty-five miles to Augustus Wattle's cabin in Moneka, Kansas, near Osawatomie. Before joining them Brown lingered near the state line to watch for any Missourians who might try to retaliate for his act. Subsequently, the blacks were moved to the home of Dr. James G. Blount, near Garnett. There, Brown built strong earthworks in case of attempted reprisal.
Citation:
David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 311.
Body Summary:
[John Brown] sent a party into the countryside to liberate slaves and take captive their masters. Three whites ([Aaron] Stevens, [John] Cook, and [Charles] Tidd) and three blacks ([Lewis] Leary, [Shields] Green, and Osborne Anderson) were assigned to the job. Brown wanted this important mission, which he believed would initiate the liberation of Virginia’s slaves, to be undertaken by a racially mixed group.

The six liberators went five miles above the Ferry to the farm of Colonel Lewis Washington, the great-grandnephew of George Washington. At midnight they captured this scion of the Revolution and forced him to hand over to Anderson the Lafayette pistol and the sword of Frederick the Great.

They subjected Washington to further indignity when they declared they had come to free his slaves and take him to the Ferry as a hostage. Washington tried to appease Stevens by offering him whiskey. When the offer was refused, Washington broke down. He was taken to his own carriage, behind which was his four-horse farm wagon, now full of his slaves and their captors. Amid the sobs and cries of his family, the vehicles rumbled away.
Citation:
David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights, rev. ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 49-50.
Body Summary:
Unlike the erratic Dianthe [Lusk Brown], Mary would prove to be a rock of stability for John Brown. Staunch and stoical, she set a tone of quiet courage that would influence the whole family. At the time of her marriage she was only half Brown's age and four years older than his oldest son, but her stepchildren would always call her "Mother." She would endure the deaths of nine of the thirteen children she had with John Brown, including four in one terrible week in 1842. Only four of her children outlived her. She stood behind her husband in times of poverty, long separation, and mortal danger. During his trial friends suggested that she try to save him by testifying that he was insane. She replied flatly, "It would be untrue, and therefore impossible."
How to Cite This Page: "John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/12521.