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Chapter 6: making ready.

From the 16th of March, when John Brown was in Canada, up to the 16th of October, when he conquered Virginia,--a period of eight months,--it would neither be prudent nor just to trace his movements too minutely; and I do not propose to do so now. From the 20th to the 30th of March, he was at Cleveland, with Kagi. An incident of this residence is thus related by Wendell Phillips:

Prudence, skill, courage, thrift, knowledge of his time, knowledge of his opponents, undaunted daring in the face of the nation,--all these he had. He was the man who could leave Kansas and go into Missouri, and take eleven men and give them to liberty, and bring them off on the horses which he carried with him, and two which he took as tribute from their masters in order to facilitate escape. Then, when he had passed his human proteges from the vulture of the United States to the safe shelter of the English lion,--this is the brave, frank, and sublime truster in God's right and absolute justice, that entered his name, in the city of Cleveland, “ John Brown, of Kansas,” and advertised there two horses for sale, and stood in front of the auctioneer's stand, notifying all bidders of the defect in the title. But, he added, with nonchalance, when he told the story, “They brought a very excellent price.”

At this time there was great excitement in Cleveland, in consequence of the arrest and imprisonment of a number of prominent citizens of Oberlin, charged with [239] the manly virtue of liberating a fugitive slave, which, by the laws of the United States, is an indictable and penitentiary offence.. On Tuesday, the 22d of March, a large meeting was held at Cleveland, at which Kagi and John Brown were invited to speak. Kagi described the scenes I have endeavored to depict in the chapter entitled, Fleshing the Sword. John Brown was then called on, and made a speech; but the report preserved of it is exceedingly imperfect. Such as it is, here it is:

John Brown's speech.

He prefaced his remarks by saying that he had called for an admission fee that he might use in place of money he had expended upon the slaves on their way to Canada. He remarked that since his last return to Kansas he had had no fight with the pro-slavery ruffians, although he had been threatened abundantly. He wished to say that he had never lifted a finger towards any one whom he did not know was a violent persecutor of the Free State men. He had never killed any body; although, on some occasions, he had shown the young men with him how some things might be done as well as others; and they had done the business. He had never destroyed the value of an ear of corn, and had never set fire to any pro-slavery man's house or property, and had never by his own action driven out pro-slavery men from the Territory; but if occasion demanded it, he would drive them into the ground, like a fence stake, where they would remain permanent settlers. Further, he had yet to learn of any pro-slavery men being arrested or punished [by the Territorial authorities] for any crime. He related the circumstance of the murder of his son at Ossawatomie, who was shot down for the crime of being a Free State man. On the afternoon of the same day the Ossawatomie fight occurred. Mr. Brown remarked that he was an outlaw, the Governor of Missouri having offered a reward of $3000, and James Buchanan $250 more, for him. He quietly remarked, parenthetically, that John Brown would give two dollars and fifty cents for the safe delivery of the body of James Buchanan in any jail of the Free States. He would never submit to an arrest, as he had nothing to gain from submission; but he should settle all questions on the spot if any attempt was made to take him. The liberation of those slaves was meant as a direct blow to slavery, and he laid down his platform that he considered it his duty to break the fetters from any slave when he [240] had an opportunity. He was a thorough abolitionist. The remainder of his speech was a narration of Kansas affairs.

At the close of his remarks, the audience, by resolution, indorsed and approved of his course in Kansas, for which he heartily thanked them.

In the beginning of April he was in Ashtabula County, sick of the ague. On the 16th, he was at Westport, Essex County, New York--near home. On his journey there, he staid over at Peterboroa, the residence of Gerritt Smith, and at Rochester, where he delivered a public speech and met the brave negro, Shields Green, or Emperor. In May he was in Boston, New York City, and Rochester. At Boston he learned how to manufacture crackers and beef meal.

On the 3d of June he was at Collinsville, and concluded the contract for the pikes afterwards found on the Kennedy farm. On the 7th he was at Troy, from which he sent a draft of three hundred dollars to pay for the pikes. He then proceeded to Summit, Portage, and Ashtabula Counties, in Ohio. He went from Ohio to Chambersburg, stopping at Pittsburg City and Bedford. He remained at Chambersburg toward the close of June, for several days; and, on the 30th, with two sons and Captain Anderson, left for Hagerstown, in Maryland.

The next movements of the party are thus described by a resident of Hagerstown, a pro-slavery man, in a letter written after the arrest of Captain Brown at Harper's Ferry:

John Brown, his two sons, and a Captain Anderson spent a night here, at the Washington House, in June, and were taken to Harper's Ferry next day in a hack. When here I was struck with the long beard of one of them, and called over to learn who they were and [241] where they came from. Brown registered as “ Smith and two sons,” from Western New York, and told Mr. Singling, the landlord, that they had got tired of farming in that region; that the frosts had taken their crops for two or three years; that they were going to Virginia to look out a location for raising sheep and growing wool, &c. After looking around Harper's Ferry a few days, and prowling through the mountains in search of minerals, as they said, they came across a large farm with three unoccupied houses — the owner, Dr. Booth Kennedy, having died in the spring. These houses they rented from the family till next March, and paid the rent in advance, and also purchased a lot of hogs from the family for cash, and agreed to take care of the stock until a sale could be had; and they did attend most faithfully to them, and have it all in first-rate order; were gentlemen, and kind to every body. After living there a few weeks, others joined them, until as many as twelve were in these three houses, and every few days a stranger would appear and disappear again without creating the least surprise.

A correspondent of a New York paper gives these additional particulars:

About five or six miles distant from Harper's Ferry, on the Maryland side, is the Kennedy Farm, which John Brown hired in July at a rent of thirty-five dollars a year. . . . A short time afterwards the party was increased by the arrival of two women, said to be his wife and daughter; and about three weeks ago three men arrived. The house is located in the midst of a thickly-settled neighborhood, five or six families living within hail, and the movements of the strangers were regarded with much curiosity. They seemed to have no settled purpose; but a large number of boxes and packages were sent to them by railroad, which they carted home, and nearly every (lay one or more of them paid a visit to the village. They paid for every thing they wanted in hard cash, and were sociable and friendly towards their neighbors. A great deal of their time appeared to be passed in hunting in the mountains, although they never brought home any game.1 On one occasion a neighbor remarked to Mr. Smith (as Old Brown was called) that he had observed twigs and branches bent down in a peculiar manner, which Smith explained by stating that it was the habit of the Indians, in travelling through a strange country, to mark their path in that way, so as to find their way back. He had no doubt, he said that Indians passed over these mountains, unknown to the inhabitants.


These statements of conversations with John Brown must not be fully credited; but the accounts of the hiring of the farm are substantially correct. “The greater part of the men,” according to Cook's Confession, “kept out of sight during the day, for fear of attracting attention. The arms, munitions, et cetera, were carted from Chambersburg to his rendezvous. The spear heads and guards came in strong boxes, and the shafts passed for fork handles. They were put together by our men at the house, where most of them were afterwards found.”

“During his residence at the Kennedy farm,” writes one who lived with him, “the old man used often to take his Bible, sit down on a stool in the corner near the door, and read a chapter, and then make a prayer. He always did so in the morning. We never ate a meal at ‘Headquarters,’ until a blessing was asked on it.”

During the period that elapsed from the hiring of his farm till his invasion of Virginia, John Brown had occasion to revisit the North. On the 14th of October he is supposed to have been in Baltimore; and on the 16th he took occasion to report himself at Harper's Ferry. The announcement was made so loudly, that it reached every home in the North, and penetrated every cabin of the Southern plantations.

1 “We strike at higher and wickeder game,” said Mr. Hunter-acted, Captain Brown.

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