An excerpt from
Gun and the Gospel: Early Kansas and Chaplain Fisher
-- Rev. H.D. Fisher, D.D.
Published by Medical Century Company, 1897; 2nd edition.


Every great epoch in history is preceded by widespread agitation, is ushered in by action, springing from thought and motive of extreme intensity on the part of the actor, and is always in advance of the mentality of the age and always stamped by the idiosyncrasies of the reformer whose soul is so wrapt in the oncoming, inevitable event as to be precipitated into action without counting the results to self or fortune. Thus it ever has been and doubtless ever will be in human life and history.

The first act of Moses, Deliverer and Law-Giver, in slaying the Egyptian oppressor, prefigured the deliverance of Israel, voiced the universal desire for freedom, lost him the throne of Egypt, drove him personally into banishment, inaugurated a new epoch in the destruction of Egypt, the then mightiest nation on earth, and quickened into birth a nation whose perpetuation without home or country or king, prince or ruler, is the standing miracle of the ages even until this day. So it was with John the Baptist. At the time of his appearance the world was full of desire and expectation for a new form of worship and spiritual service. Suddenly, without plan or forethought for personal safety or emolument, he burst upon the expectant world with the startling declaration "The Kingdom of Heaven is At Hand," and inaugurated a new era and a new salvation, even at the loss of his own head. The


greatest character in human history, one whose every act was a sermon and whose every word was a revelatlon, perfected the era introduced by John the Baptist and crowned the ages with immortality by dying that most ignominious of all deaths, crucifixion, and so demonstrated his infinite love for susuffering humanity, as well as the most exalted plan and purpose for establishing the universal brotherhood of mankind.

We need not multiply examples. Bridging from the fairest ensample of devotion to a cause the world has ever known, turning from the greater to the less, from the pattern to the follower, we have in the case of John Brown, of Osawatomie, the subject of these paragraphs, one in whom all that we have predicated of era-makers had full scope and concentration. He appeared in the arena of action when the public mind was surcharged with the electric impetus of coming events, when the dawn of a new age of broader freedom trembled upon the horizon, when the watchers looked intently for the full rising of that sun which should warm the half-born thought to sturdy life and set reform in motion.

John Brown was born at Torrington, Connecticut May 9th, 1800, and died on the scaffold at Charleston, West Virginia, December 2nd, 1859. He was sixth in descent from that Peter Brown who came to New England in the Mayflower in 1620, and was a grandson of Captain John Brown, a revolutionary officer who died in the American revolution. He was honorably and well connected, numbering among his immediate kinsfolk conspicuous Puritans, revolutionists, soldrers, lawyers, professors, doctors of divinity, orators, physicians and farmers. His father and family moved to Hudson, Ohio, when John was five years


old. Here in the Ohio wilderness he grew, a stalwart youth. At the age of sixteen he joined the Congregational church and began studying for the ministry. Ohio, especially Hudson, was at this time thoroughly imbued with anti-slavery doctrine, and young Brown imbibed the sentiment freely as he grew toward manhood. Tall, athletic, studious, having the bearing of a theologue, he had, like the immortal Simon and Grant, been a tanner, and when from excessive application to study his eyes failed him he returned to his early vocation in Hudson. Here he married and partially reared his family of six children. He was farmer, tanner and land-surveyor while living at Hudson. In 1826 he moved to Richmond, Pennsylvania, near Meadville, where he remained until 1835, when he located at Franklin Miles, Portage County, Ohio. His life being one of change, his business while in this locality was one of speculative adventure in land and sheep until he finally moved to Boston and became a wool merchant. Here he made the acquaintance of such men as Caleb Cushing, Rufus Choate, Gerrett Smith and that greatest of all ex-slaves, Frederick Douglass.

In 1848-49 he visited England to open a wool market and also to visit noted battle-fields. The world was one day to know why!

On his return he went at once to live among the colored farmers of North Elba, in the Adirondack woods, for the purpose of drilling a company of liberators from among them. The life of the people at North Elba was strictly pioneer, but though there were few roads, churches or school-houses the people were inclined to religion, education and thrift. Mrs. Brown's dwelling had but two rooms and in this house two families lived. In these humble surroundings,


sowing what seeds they might toward a future reapmg, they lived for several years.

In the winter of 1854-55, after Kansas had been opened for settlement, the Browns prepared to settle there. The brothers-- John Brown, Jr., Jason, Owen, Frederick and a half-brother, Salmon-- established themselves in Miami County, near Osawatomie. To supplement their anti-slavery struggles in the new land they wrote to their father for aid. Through his efforts a mass-meeting was held in Utica and an anti-slavery society was formed to help settle Kansas. At this meeting the father pleaded eloquently for the cause for which his sons were doing valiant battle on the Western fields. "Without shedding of blood," he cried, "there is no remission of sins!" He asked for arms, dwelt upon the violent spirit of the pro-slavery people and pledged himself to join his sons and make good report of their doings. Arms were provided and funds were furnished and the father was sent to his sons in Kansas. Such were the material results from Kansas meetings on both sides of Mason's and Dixon's line!

The Brown contingent already in Kansas had selected claims and were serving in the free-state conventions. John Jr., had been elected to the free-state legislature at Topeka. They were all radical free-state men. When John Brown, Sr., had joined his sons at Osawotamie he found his sphere, and from and after October of 1855 he became a colossal figure in the nation's history, a bold picture down time's perspective. His wife was ever his counsellor and ally, his sons, like the sons of the patriarchs of old, were his trusted lieutenants, and even his sons-in-law became part of his invincible cohort. So early as 1839 John


Brown had declared that by blood atonement alone could the chattel slavery of human beings be destroyed, and virtually from that date he had become bound with them in bonds to stay with them and be of them until the bitter end. His forecast was unerring-- events proved it. He took his wife and three eldest sons and a colored preacher into his plans and purposes and bound them all to secrecy as to the place of the inauguration of the epoch of liberty. His eldest son records that the first time he saw his father kneel to pray-- he was a Presbyterian-- was when he first vowed himself then and there to attack slavery by force.

Hinton says John Brown equipped his brain as well as his conscience. He made himself familiar with military tactics and guerrilla methods, for he was a thinker as well as a believer in destiny. Kansas was to him a splendid opportunity for a demonstration of himself. It was here that he began to think and write, and none can measure the depths of his desire and doing. He resolved to make the Declaration of American Independence a verity and the constitution an instrument whereby to liberate and elevate a race. His matured plan was to form, by means of picked men, a line penetrating to the very heart of the Southland, to be held by adroit and persuasive men who should receive, protect and pass on to safety all slave-fugitives, and thus create a mobilized force. The specifications of the plan are too great to be given in detail here.

This plan, though miscarrying at Harper's Ferry, showed consummate skill and remarkable geographical knowledge of the Southern states and the fastnesses thereof, covering the whole land like a vast net-work. And if once those meshes had been drawn,


the hundreds of thousands of lives lost and the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in civil war would have been saved and John Brown's soul in it's "marching on" would have lead the brothers in black from slavery to freedom through a bloodless victory. There would then have been no confederacy nor a semblance of war against the Union. His chain of mountain forts and defiles and draws, as a means of communication along the great divides and slopes of southern mountains, would have done honor to Napoleon's best civil engineer corps. He has been pronounced insane by men whose conception could never by any chance rise to the compass of such a scheme as was his. No general of the age showed such thoroughness of topographical knowledge of his territory as did John Brown, and few have showed engineering skill of such scope and ability. He sincerely believed that the slave power was designed to cripple and destroy the Republic, and he as sincerely hoped to abolish that power, root and branch, by aiding the slaves to secure their freedom. He lived under this profound conviction as under a guiding star and acted under the light of it. There was nothing in his Puritan nature that could by any possibility compromise with what he intelligently conceived to be an evil oppressive to humanity. To him that crime against liberty, as enacted in the over-riding of eight hundred legally cast votes by four thousand invading Missourians, whereby a citizen of Texas was elected as a delegate to Congress to represent Kansas, could not be condoned or palliated.

Robbery, murder and arson had marked the march of Buford, Titus and other commanders of the border ruffians who had invaded Kansas, while free-state men


had come as came the Pilgrims from across the ocean, with wives and children, Bibles and hymn-books, school books and teachers-- to establish a type of Christian civilization superior to any yet developed on the American continent. It was with this last named band that John Brown had become identified with all the zeal and enthusiasm of his rugged and devout nature. Strugglillg against mighty odds, this purposeful people had written on high their legend, “Resistance to Tyranny is Obedience to God.” They resisted-- and to what end the Pottawotamie Creek disaster to the pro-slavery men bore testimony of supremest force. This-- always to be lamented-- sanguinary encounter by no means lessened the asperities between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces. The results of it have been censured and they have been commended, but they fixed upon this hero the significant sobriquet, "Osawotamie" Brown-- he whose soul in poetry, history and song goes forever ''marching on." From that time he was an aggressive figure in free-state movements for the rescue of Kansas from the desires of the slave power.

John Brown was conspicuously connected with the obtaining and colporteurage of the noted "Sharp's Rifles," known as "Beecher's Bibles," and in his visits to Chicago, Buffalo and elsewhere he aided greatly in kindling a public sentiment in favor of free Kansas and the integrity of the Union. Anticipating the determined purpose of state's rights men to dissolve the Union to make way for the extension of African slavery he fought zealously in the van-guard.

Among his various supporters he counted upon the full confidence of that non-combative, peace-loving people, the Quakers, as the following incident will show: On one of his visits East he stopped in the


Springdale Settlement in Iowa. A friend named Townsend kept a house significantly called "Traveler's Rest." Riding up to the door of this unpretentious hostelry on a very gaunt mule the spare, dustbegrimed, sun-burned traveler dismounted. "Have you ever heard of John Brown, of Kansas?" was his question to the landlord. With no word of welcome, recognition or introduction, the landlord calmly took from his pocket a piece of chalk and lifting Brown's hat from a head covered with grizzled hair he drew a broad "X" on the hat and then turned him about to make two "X's" on his back. "Walk right in and make yourself at home,'' said the landlord then. And for the sake of the cause the faithful mule, as well as his owner, were gratuitously entertained. The Unitarians of New England, and the Congregationalists and Presbyterians, as well as all philanthropic people, were deeply interested in the mission in which John Brown was engaged and bade him a hearty "God Speed" from day to day,.

Finally, concentrating his attention upon Virginia as a starting point, Brown began his chosen lieutenants at Harper's Ferry. On the 16th of October, 1859, they took possession of the United States arsenal. They then set about destroying telegraph communications, captured a railroad train, and at last got into imperfect fortifications in the Erskine House. The grounds, the bridge and the entire town passed into their possession, their declaration being that they wanted only liberty. The stopping of the train was the one fatal blunder in the well-conceived plan, for its detention gave the passengers and trainmen an opportunity to learn the situation and to spread the news to telegraph stations. All hope of


secrecy was lost at once. On the morning of the 17th of October, 1859, the country from ocean to ocean was ablaze with flaming bulletins like these:

"Fearful and Exciting Intelligence!"

"Negro Insurrection at Harper's Ferry!" "Hundreds of Insurrectionists in Arms!" "Arsenal and Works Seized!'

"The Leader, 'Osawatomie Brown,' of Kansas!" "Several Killed. Troops on the Way!"

Such were the startling echoes which filled the air, were to be heard on the streets, discussed on the cars, in the papers and whizzed from every telegraph wire, The smouldering public sentiment, already kindled by dread and excitemeut, burst into flame at the name of "Osawatomie Brown" and Kansas. It was to the American people as the war cry of old, “The sword of the Lord and Gideon!” It was as the breaking of pitchers and the glowing of lamps and the clarion notes of bugles on the hill-tops in the midnight stillness. "Negro insurrection;" "Led by Osawatomie Brown of Kansas." The words became a slogan of horror. I was in Baltimore that day-- and such a day! When many of the great cutlasses provided by Brown were captured and brought to Baltimore the people went wild. Men's hearts failed them for fear. It was the beginning of the end, and the air was thick with direful prophecy.

While the enormity of the crime of human slavery justified an expiation by blood it is but just to say of John Brown that his was not intended to be a bloody insurrection. He hoped for a vast uprising and a peaceable manumission. His methods proved unwise, inefficient and disastrous. He and his men were captured, though not without an effort at defence; some were killed in the struggle, among them


Oliver Brown, one of the sons of the leader. "Osawatomie Brown" had undeniably committed an offence against the United States government by having taken forcible possession of the arsenal, and against the dignity of Virginia by occupying her soil with an armed force. What was to be the penalty? On the night of the 16th some of Brown's men had captured Colonel Washington. The Virginian had surrendered the "sword of Frederick the Great" and "the pistol of Lafayette" and he and his sons had then been marched to the ferry. Here the slain of the party had already aggregated ten. Brown, wounded and bleeding, was taken shortly afterward by United States marines and turned over to the state authorities. Tried by a Virginia court, he was found guilty of treason against the state and condemned to death by hanging.

On the 2nd of December, 1859, the execution took place at Charleston in the presence of thousands of people who had gathered to witness this first and last execution for "treason" on such grounds. Just before his execution Brown wrote in a clear hand: "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 much bloodshed it might be done."

* * * * * * *

When the body was laid to rest at North Elba, Wendell Phillips said of him, "Marvellous old man! History will date Virginia's emancipation from Harper's Ferry. John Brown has loosened the roots of the slave system. He sleeps in the blessings of the crushed and the poor, and men believe more firmly in virtue now that such a man has lived."

His body rests at North Elba, New York, 'neath


the shadow of a great rock which is made his monument, but his record is on high. As Christ died to make men happy he died to make men free. His short-lived movement crystallized and projected into tangible form the spirit of the age. Even from the time the first innocent blood baptized the fair soil of freedom's chosen battle-field, Kansas, the die was cast, the time chosen and the methods fixed by which the crime of crimes must be undone. And from that time until now the name of John Brown, Christian, patriot, liberator, has stood out broadly in the chronicles of our country's struggle for freedom. Brown's name, like that of James H. Lane of Lawrence, is so interwoven with Kansas history and that history is so interwoven with the larger history of universal American freedom that no discussion of either would be complete or just without giving to him the large meed of credit which rightfully is his for the part he played in starting the nation upon a vaster conception of its obligations to liberty and the individual.*

*The summer of 1896 has seen the realization of a hope dear to the heart of the late Kate Field, its instigator, and to all those who take pleasure in the rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. The John Brown Association, organized by Miss Field, and numbering among its members some prominent New Yorkers, has purchased the John Brown farm and homestead and formally presented this historic property to the state with the agreement that the Commonwealth of New York shall defray the expenses of taking proper care of it. Upon the occasion of the presentation an appropriate monument was unveiled, situated near the old headstone marking John Brown's grave.

Return to the Rev. Fisher index

Return to the John Brown essay

Return to the introductory essay

Return to the table of contents.