Thursday, March 8, 2018

John Brown: an Abolitionist from Crawford County

John Brown was one of the most radical abolitionists, an impressive man bound under the convictions of the church, who truly lived and died for his beliefs. As Hon. G.B. Delamater states in the Centennial Edition Tribune-Republican, “John Brown, who became distinguished for radical sentiments, firm will, brave actions and his tragic end on a Virginia scaffold, was a pioneer citizen of Crawford county, and for many years aided in its settlement and improvement during an important period of its history.”

Brown came to Crawford County in 1826 and remained there for about ten years as a pioneer. He bought land, built a house, made a farm, and started a tannery. Brown derived his education from schools, books, and tutors. He was a devout Calvinist, believing that it was his mission from God to eradicate the institution of slavery. His character was resolute and utterly convinced of his mission, making it difficult to doubt a man of such strong character. “Brown so impressed his associates and others that they believed that if he had been asked for his authority to act, he would have pulled from his pocket a commission from God Almighty.”
Brown's convictions and actions helped to convince others that “his part was to undo heavy burdens, and let the oppressed go free - to remember those in bonds as bound with them.”
He was clerk of a small Congregational church while he lived in Richmond Township in Crawford County. Brown became the first postmaster in Richmond, although he resigned when Andrew Jackson was elected president.

Brown encouraged early rising, family worship, athletic exercises, mental exercises such as debating and discouraged the use of tobacco or alcohol. Debating was a particular strength of his, and “his knowledge and power to present an argument skillfully was probably exercised with delicacy, not to mortify, but to encourage his opponents and develop his powers. He always seemed to speak anywhere, to any one or more, without embarrassment, and with the ease of a professional speaker.”
However, Brown's charisma did not serve to hide his true feelings, and “being a man of integrity, and decided in his conviction and manners, though modest and unassuming, he abhorred all shams or pretense in others…”
”He seemed to practice his theory, that everyone should have an object in life, and sometimes in death… when presenting to certain persons his scheme for operating against slavery, he said life was short at the longest; it was more important how one died, than when; that they should consider whether an early death, in a good cause, was not better than to rust out life in inaction for a longer period to no purpose.” This philosophy would spur him on to his final moments.

“He [John Brown] took deep interest in the very able and heated discussions, and final action on the question of restricting slavery in the admission of Missouri.”
In 1787, the Northwest Ordinance was passed by Congress, creating the Northwest Territory, encompassing modern day Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Slavery was prohibited in this new territory, making the Ohio River the western boundary of slavery in the United States at that time. Crawford County lies on the eastern border of this line. 

In 1821, Missouri was admitted into the Union as a slave state through the Missouri Compromise. This contradicted the absolute restriction of the expansion of slavery established in 1787. This redaction of the prohibition of slavery in new territories caused great distress throughout the North, both because the balance of slave and free states was now thrown off, and because many people believed that “slavery was not only ‘the sum of all villainies’ but an institution that would, unless promptly checked, become so powerful that trouble would come and the nation involved in bloody results.”
His sense of injustice boiling over, Brown led an armed slave rebellion and took over the United States arsenal in the town of Harper's Ferry, Virginia. Although the odds were greatly stacked against him (so much that Frederick Douglass pronounced his mission a death wish), Brown believed that once his group struck at the arsenal, slaves all across Virginia would join them in revolt. Brown's group at the arsenal was overpowered by General Robert E. Lee and Brown was summarily executed.

After Brown's death, a gold medal was presented to his widow and family by Victor Hugo. Brown is now memorialized by a statue in the Capitol of Kansas, where he also fought against slavery before moving to Virginia.

“Whether controlled by intelligence or impulse, sanity or insanity, wisdom and prudence, or folly and imprudence, his character and conduct have given him prominence in the recent history of his country.”