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Chapter 1: Whetting the sword.

Thus far John Brown's action has been exclusively defensive; even according to the usual but unjust definition of the word. He had never struck a blow but in defence of a threatened party. He had fought against the invaders of Free Soil, but never yet invaded a slave country.

We are now to see him acting as an aggressor — if we accept the popular interpretation of the phrase. Rather, in truth, we are now to see him as a defender of the faith delivered to the fathers. For error is always an innovator — ever an aggression. It has supplanted and fills the place that God intended for the truth. Hence the radical reformer is the only conservative; and the monomaniac is the man who supports any untrue thing, whether creed, party, church, or civil institution.

The North says that slavery is a wrong. Why not, then, destroy it? The Constitution, the Union, Federal laws, State rights, it answers; refusing to believe that no real good can be gained by nourishing a gigantic wrong. [188]

When John Brown walked, he neither turned to the right nor left. With a solemn, earnest countenance, he moved straight on, and every one he met made way for him. So in his ideas. He felt that he was sent here, into this earnest world of ours, not to eat, and sleep, and dress, and die merely, but for a divinely pre-appointed purpose — to see justice done, to help the defenceless, to clear God's earth of the Devil's lies, in the shortest time and at any cost.

He looked over the American field, and saw a huge embodied falsehood there; a magazine of all manner of ungodliness-the sum of all villanies. He heard people call it slavery, and regret its existence; others style it the peculiar institution, and hope that it might finally disappear. Others he heard loudly cursing it, but not one grappling with it. He was amazed at what he saw and heard; and, when he said so, people called him a monomaniac. He saw some afraid to assail it, because it was guarded by two lions in the way — called the Union, and the Constitution; while others, seeing the cotton that it belched from its mouth, were so pleased with that performance, that they would not look behind the bales. Some he saw bound with the chains of policy, and others with the manacles of non-resistance. But not one living, dreadfully-in-earnest foe among them all!

That is what he saw, or thought he saw. Perhaps, had he seen the hidden mines that some men were digging, he would have changed his opinion of the value of their labor; but even had he known it, as he was not a miner, but a fighter on the earth, he still [189] would have acted as he did act. He marched straight ahead, trampling under foot the rotten stubble of unjust laws and constitutions, that stood between him and his foe. It is true that he finally fell among them; but not before he proved how very powerless they are to resist a man.

John Brown's scheme.

John Brown returned to Kansas in the month of November, 1857.

What had he been doing since January, when we reported him in Boston? Whetting his sword. And how? In our free Republic, with its barbaric Southern rulers, it would not be here safe to say how. Only brief traces of his movements, therefore, can, in justice to his noble friends, be recorded at this time. It should be stated, first, that at this period there was every prospect of renewed disturbances in Kansas. Our need of officers had been greatly felt in the recent conflict there. One hundred mounted men, well armed and officered, would at any time have swept the invaders from the Territory. John Brown fully appreciated this necessity, and the terror that his own name had inspired, arose from the dread, he modestly thought, of his military knowledge, as much as from the victories he had gained. Hence he desired to have funds to equip a sufficient force for the protection of the squatters, as well as to drill a select number of the young men of Kansas, who had proved themselves faithful to principle.

He well knew, from his power over men, that, should the Kansas difficulties cease, the youths thus [190] drilled would follow him to Harper's Ferry, which, for many years, he had selected as the grand point of attack on slavery.

John Brown in Boston.

I met John Brown in Boston in January, 1857; and many of the facts of this volume he told me at that period. To a gentleman of note in Massachusetts, who made his acquaintance at that time, I am indebted for the reminiscences that follow:

He brought me a letter of introduction in January, 1857. His business was to raise money for the purpose of further protecting the Free State men of Kansas; and for this purpose he desired to equip one hundred mounted men. His son Owen accompanied him. He immediately impressed me as a person of no common order, and every day that I saw him strengthened this impression. . . . His brown coat of the fashion of ten years before, his waistcoat buttoning nearly to the throat, and his wide trousers, gave him the look of a well-to-do farmer in his Sunday dress; while his patent leather stock, gray surtout, and fur cap, added a military air to his figure. At this time he wore no beard.1

The idealist among idealists.

I found him frank and decided in his conversation; expressing his opinions of men and things with a modest firmness, but often in the most striking manner. I think it was in his second call on me that he used the language, “I believe in the Golden Rule, sir, and the Declaration of Independence. I think they both mean the same thing; and it is better that a whole generation should pass off the face of the earth — men, women, and children — by a violent death, than that one jot of either should fail in this country. I mean exactly so, sir.” I have twice or thrice heard him repeat this sentiment, which I particularly noticed at the time. He staid but a short time in Boston; but returned in February, and soon after appeared before a committee of the Massachusetts Legislature. .... In March he visited Concord, and spoke at a public meeting in the Town Hall, where, I am told, he exhibited the chain worn by his son John in Kansas, and, with a gesture and voice never to be forgotten by those who heard him, denounced the administration [191] and the South for their work in Kansas. He spent several days in Concord, and made the acquaintance of many of its citizens; among others, of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry D. Thoreau, who have testified so clearly to his nobility of character.

Near the end of March, 1857, being on my way to Washington, I met Capt. Brown in New York City, and spent a night with him at the Metropolitan Hotel. Capt. Brown objected to the show and extravagance of such an establishment, and said he preferred a plain tavern, where drovers and farmers lodged in a plain way. We went on to Philadelphia, and while there I was taken unwell, and could scarcely sit up. Capt. Brown nursed me as much as I had need of, and showed great skill and tenderness. In May he set out for Kansas, and I lost sight of him for nearly a year.

Emerson is reported at this time to have said that John Brown was the truest hero-man he had ever met. Theodore Parker, also, said to a friend of mine, who spoke of Captain Montgomery as a man of more harmonious and cultivated intellect than John Brown, “Do you know what you say, sir? John Brown is one of the most extraordinary men of this age and nation.” Henry D. Thoreau styled him a “true transcendentalist.”

Mr. Stearns, an active and generous friend of Kansas, tells two incidents of John Brown's visit to Boston at this time, which are exceedingly characteristic of the old Puritan.

Shortly after his introduction to him, Mr. Stearns said, one day, half jestingly, “I suppose, Captain Brown, that if Judge Lecompte had fallen into your hands, he would have fared rather hard.”

The old man turned round in his chair, and, in the most earnest tones, said, “If the Lord had delivered Judge Lecompte into my hands, I think it would have required the Lord to have taken him out again.” [192]

A meeting of prominent friends of freedom in Kansas, was to be held on the Sabbath, as no other day could a full attendance be obtained. Mr. Stearns, not knowing how the old Puritan might regard this use of the day of rest,--to him and to us a very holy use of it,--inquired if it would be consistent with his religious conviction to give his attendance.

Mr. Stearns,” said the old man, “I have a poor little ewe that has fallen into the ditch, and I think the Sabbath is as good a day as any to help her out. I will come.”

Travels in the Eastern States.

The winter and spring of 1857 John Brown spent in travelling. He visited North Elba once. He spoke at different cities, and employed all his energies in collecting money. I believe that a large sum was voted for his use by the National Kansas Committee; but I know that- it is said through the dishonesty of an agent — he received only a very trifling portion of it. He published, also, the following appeal, which was widely copied by the press, and undoubtedly liberally responded to:

To the friends of Freedom:

The undersigned, whose individual means were exceedingly limited when he first engaged in the struggle for liberty in Kansas, being now still more destitute, and no less anxious than in times past to continue his efforts to sustain that cause, is induced to make this earnest appeal to the friends of freedom throughout the United States, in the firm belief that his call will not go unheeded.

I ask all honest lovers of liberty and human rights, both male and female, to hold up my hands by contributions of pecuniary aid, either as counties, cities, towns, villages, societies, churches, or individuals.

I will endeavor to make a judicious and faithful application of all such means as I may be supplied with. Contributions may be sent, [193] in drafts, to W. H. D. Calender, Cashier State Bank, Hartford, Conn. It is my intention to visit as many places as I can during my stay in the States, provided I am informed of the disposition of the inhabitants to aid me in my efforts, as well as to receive my visit. Information may be communicated to me, (care of Massasoit House,) at Springfield, Mass. Will editors of newspapers, friendly to the cause, kindly second the measure, and also give this some half dozen insertions? Will either gentlemen or ladies, or both, volunteer to take up the business? It is with no little sacrifice of personal feeling I appear in this manner before the public.

In February, when in Collinsville, Connecticut, he ordered the manufacture of his pikes. I remember that, when in Boston, he spoke with great contempt of Sharpe's rifles as a weapon for inexperienced men, and said that with a pike, or bow and arrows, he could arm recruits more formidably than with patent guns. How he ordered the pikes is thus stated by the maker of them:

In the latter part of February, or the early part of March, 1857, Old Brown, as he is familiarly called, came to Collinsville to visit his relatives, and by invitation addressed the inhabitants at a public meeting. At the close of it, or on the following day, he exhibited some weapons which he claimed to have taken from Capt. H. C. Pate, at the battle of Black Jack. Among others was a bowie knife or dirk, having a blade about eight inches long. Brown remarked that such an instrument, fixed to the end of a pole about six feet long, would be a capital weapon to place in the hands of the settlers in Kansas, to keep in their cabins to defend themselves against “ border ruffians or wild beasts,” and asked me what it would be worth to make one thousand. I replied that I would make them for one dollar each, not thinking that it would lead to a contract, or that such an instrument would ever be wanted or put to use in any way, if made; but, to my surprise, he drew up a contract for one thousand, to be completed within three months, he agreeing to pay me five hundred dollars in thirty days, and the balance within thirty days thereafter. 2


In March and April, Captain Brown made an agreement with a drill-master, named Hugh Forbes, all Englishman, and a Revolutionary exile, to instruct a number of young Kansas men in military science. Forbes engaged to be at Tabor, in Iowa, in June, to meet John Brown and his men there.

In May, John Brown set out for Kansas, but was delayed in the Central States for some time. Here is an incident of his travels, recently published to prove his insanity, by a citizen of Ohio:

During the summer of 1857, I met John Brown in the cars between Cleveland and Columbus. He was about to return to Kansas. I sought to gather some information respecting the probable advantage of wool growing in that section; but found his mind was very restless on wool and sheep husbandry, and soon began to talk with great earnestness of the evil of Slavery, on which he soon became enthusiastic, and claimed that any course, whether stealing or coaxing niggers to run away from their masters, was honorable; at which I attempted to point out a more conservative course, remarking very kindly to him that Kentucky, in my opinion, would have been a free State ere this, had it not been for the excitement and prejudices engendered by ultra abolitionists of Ohio. At this remark, he rose to his feet with clinched fist, eyes rolling like an insane man, (as he most assuredly was,) and remarked that the South would become free within one year were it not that there were too many such scoundrels as myself to rivet the chains of Slavery. .... I must, though, in justice to Mr. Brown, state that, when not under excitement or mental derangement, he has ever manifested to me a kind, benevolent, and humane disposition, as a man of strict integrity, moral and religious worth. Affidavit of S. N. Goodale, of Cleveland, Ohio.

Another person, who also met John Brown in the cars at this time, subsequently said that he regarded him as a monomaniac; and his chief reason was, that the old man “spoke of the Eastern people generally as criminally lukewarm on the subject and sin of slavery, and manifested a very great deal of warmth on the subject” !

That it is true that John Brown was not fully satisfied with the results of his trip to the east, may be seen [195] by the following characteristic note, which was found in his own handwriting among the papers left at the homestead of North Elba. It is entitled:

Old Brown's Farewell

To the Plymouth Rocks, Bunker Hill Monuments, Charter Oaks, and Uncle Thom's Cabbins.
He has left for Kansas. Has been trying since he came out of the Territory to secure an outfit, or in other words, the means of arming and thoroughly equipping his regular minuet men, who are mixed up with the people of Kansas, and he leaves the States, with a feeling of deepest sadness: that after having exhausted his own small means, and with his family and his brave men; suffered hunger, cold, nakedness and some of them sickness, wounds, imprisonment in Irons; with extreme cruel treatment, and others death: that after lying on the ground for months in the most sickly, unwholesome, and uncomfortable places ; some of the time with sick and wounded destitute of any shelter; and hunted like wolves; sustained in part by Indians: that after all this; in order to sustain a cause which every citizen of this “glorious Republic” is under equal moral obligations to do: and for the neglect of which, he will be held accountable by God: a cause in which every man, women, and child; of the entire human. family has a deep and awful interest; that when no wages are asked; or expected; he cannot secure, amidst all the wealth, luxury and extravagance of this “Heaven exalted” people; even the necessary supplies of the common soldier. “, How are the mighty fallen?”

Boston, April, A. D. 1857.

The diary of one of the old man's sons, which was found among the papers at the Kennedy Farm, gives an outline of his movements after starting for the Territory.

Journal of one of Brown's sons.

The journal, which opens on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 1857, is contained in an ordinary-sized account book, upon the fly-leaf of which is impressed a circular stamp, inscribed “Tabor, Fremont County, Iowa,” and around the rim the name of “Jason Jones, Notary public.”

The first entry, of Aug. 25, states that the writer started at a certain date in June for Tabor, from Akron to Hudson; got goods at Henrichs, &c. ; harness ; bought red mail stage at Jerries ; next day went to Cleveland; shipped chest by express; staid at Bennett's Temperance House; next day went to church through the day and evening.

July 4, the entry is, “Father left for Iowa City,” where he was [196] joined by Jason, on h the 5th, who records a meeting with Dr. Bowen, Mrs. Bowen, and Jessie and Eliza Horton.

The entries until the 10th record the purchases of wood for spears, staples, chains for mules, and canvas for wagon cover. A horse and buggy was swapped for two horses on the 13th; on the 14th tents and tent poles were carefully packed in the wagons, and additional blankets purchased.

July 15, the entry is, “The party crossed Iowa River,” (Fort des Moines River at Red Rock, from which the autobiography is dated,) “stopped at noon on the stream beyond Six Mile House.”

The entry of Aug. 9 records the “arrival of Col. Forbes,” (at Tabor,) who from the frequent mention made of that work, the deference which the entries betray for the military judgment of the Colonel, and from the fact of the discovery of several copies of his work among the effects of Old Brown, we suppose to be Hugh Forbes, author of a Manual of the Patriotic Volunteer, the reading of which was the daily occupation of the writer, varied with the “cleaning of rifles and revolvers,” and “fired twelve shots, drilled, cleaned guns and loaded, received letters from J. and G. Smith.”

September 23, the record acknowledges the receipt of letters from Redpath and G. Smith; on the 30th the writer finishes “reading G. Smith's speech,” and states that “efforts were made to raise a fund to send cannon and arms to Lane,” but adds that they proved a failure. On the 1st of October the journalist visits Nebraska City with “Mr. Jones and Carpenter.”

October 3d proves a lucky date to the writer, who records the receipt then of “seventy-two dollars from friend Sanborn.” The succeeding day (Sunday) our journalist improves his leisure by perusing speech of Judge Curtis, delivered before the students of Union College, New Jersey, and of Dartmouth College, and at the Normal School Convention, Westfield, Mass., and at Brown University, R. I. ; the entry of the same date continues, “Read of the awful disaster to the Central America, formerly the George Law; read answer of the Connecticut men to Buchanan, and had to shed a few tears over it.”

On Nov. 4, the journalist rose at “ten minutes before four o'clock,” elate with the remembrance that he is “thirty-three years old this day.”

John Brown reached Tabor on the 7th of August, and Colonel Forbes, two days after him. They were obliged to remain there, inactive, till the 2d of November, in consequence of being out of funds.

During this interval of suspense, writes Col. Forbes, Captain Brown advocated the adoption of his plan, and I supported mine of stampedes. The conclusion arrived at was, that he renounced his Harper's Ferry project, and I consented to cooperate in stampedes in Virginia and Maryland instead of the part of the country I indicated as the most suitable. I perceived, however, that his mind constantly wandered back to Harper's Ferry, and it was not till it had been definitely settled that neither of us should do any thing unless under the [197] direction or with the consent of a committee, that I felt easy in my mind respecting his curious notions of Harper's Ferry. He was very pious, and had been deeply impressed for many years with the Bible Story of Gideon, believing that he with a handful of men could strike down Slavery.

On the 2d of November, Colonel Forbes took steamer at Nebraska City for the East, and Captain Brown went down to Kansas by the emigrants' road, in a wagon driven by one of his sons. He left two others at Tabor.

Here Cook's Confession (which, although false in certain particulars, is mainly a correct statement of facts) becomes an authority of historical interest to the biographer of John Brown:

. . . I did not see him again until the fall of 1857, when I met him at the house of E. B. Whitman, about four miles from Lawrence, K. T., which, I think, was about the 1st of November following. I was told that he intended to organize a company for the purpose of putting a stop to the aggressions of the pro-slavery men. I agreed to join him, and was asked if I knew of any other young men, who were perfectly reliable, who, I thought, would join also. I recommended Richard Realf, L. F. Parsons, and R. J. Hinton. I received a note on the next sunday morning, while at breakfast in the Whitney House, from Captain Brown, requesting me to come up that day, and to bring Realf, Parsons, and Hinton with me. Realf and Hinton were not in town, and therefore I could not extend to them the invitation. Parsons and myself went, and had a long talk with Captain Brown. A few days afterwards I received another note from Captain Brown, which read, as near as I can recollect, as follows:

Captain Cook.
Dear Sir:

You will please get every thing ready to join me at Topeka by Monday night next. Come to Mrs. Sheridan's, two miles south of Topeka, and bring your arms, ammunition, clothing, and other articles you may require. Bring Parsons with you if he can get ready in time. Please keep very quiet about the matter.

Yours, &c., John Brown.

I made all my arrangements for starting at the time appointed. Parsons, Realf, and Hinton could not get ready. I left them at Lawrence, and started in a carriage for Topeka. Stopped at the hotel over night, and left early the next morning for Mrs. Sheridan's, to meet Captain Brown. Staid a day and a half at Mrs. Sheridan's — then lift for Topeka, at which place we were joined by Stephens, Moffitt, and Kagi. Left Topeka for Nebraska City, and camped at night on the prairie north-east of Topeka. Here, for the first, I learned that we were to leave Kansas to attend a military school during the winter. It [198] was the intention of the party to go to Ashtabula County, Ohio Next morning I was sent back to Lawrence to get a draft of eighty dollars cashed, and to get Parsons, Realf, and Hinton to go back with me. I got the draft cashed. Captain Brown had given me orders to take boat to St. Joseph, Mo., and stage from there to Tabor, Iowa, where he would remain for a few days. I had to wait for Realf for three or four days; Hinten, could not leave at that time. I started with Realf and Parsons on a stage for Leavenworth. The boats had stopped running on account of the ice. Staid one day in Leavenworth, and then left for Westen, where we took stage for St. Joseph, and from thence to Tabor. I found C. P. Tidd and Leeman at Tabor. Our party now consisted of Captain John Brown, Owen Brown, A. D. Stephens, Charles Moffitt, C. P. Tidd, Richard Robertson, Col. Richard Realf, L. F. Parsons, William Leeman, and myself. We stopped some days at Tabor, making preparations to start. Here ce found that Captain Brown's ultimate destination was the State of Virginia. Some warm words passed between him and myself in regard to the plan, which I had supposed was to be confined entirely to Kansas and Missouri. Realf and Parsons were of the same opinion with me. After a good deal of wrangling we consented to go on, as we had not the means to return, and the rest of the party were so anxious that we should go with them. At Tabor we procured teams for the transportation of about two hundred Sharpe's rifles, which had been taken on as far as Tabor, one year before, at which place they had been left, awaiting the order of Captain Brown. There were, also, other stores, consisting of blankets, clothing, boots, ammunition, and about two hundred revolvers of the Massachusetts Arms patent, all of which we transported across the State of Iowa to Springdale, and from there to Liberty, at which place they were shipped for Ashtabula County, Ohio, where they remained till brought to Chambersburg, Pa., and were from there transported to a house in Washington County, Md., which Captain Brown had rented for six months, and which was situated about five miles from Harper's Ferry. It was the intention of Captain Brown to sell his teams in Springdale, and, with the proceeds, to go on with the rest of the company to some place in Ashtabula County, Ohio, where we were to have a good military instructor during the winter; but he was disappointed in the sale. As he could not get cash for the teams, it was decided we should remain in the neighborhood of Springdale, and that our instructor, Col. H. Forbes, should be sent on. We stopped in Pedee, Iowa, over winter, at Mr. Maxson's, where we pursued a course of military studies. Col. H. Forbes and Captain Brown had some words, and he (Col. F.) did not come on; consequently, A. D. Stephens was our drill-master. The people of the neighborhood did not know of our purpose. We remained at Pedee till about the middle of April, when we left for Chatham, Canada, via Chicago and Detroit.

In this extract there are two false statements; that “some warm words passed” between Cook and Brown; and that there was a “good deal of wrangling” between the Captain, and Parsons, and Realf.

1 The steel engraving which embellishes this volume is from a daguerreotype taken at that time, and presented to me by the old negro as a token of friendship.

2 Having failed to raise the necessary money, the pikes were left unfinished at this time; but, in the following year, in the month of June, John Brown was again in Collinsville, and completed the contract, and in August, under the name of J. Smith and Sons, ordered them to be forwarded to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, upon which they were transported across the country to Harper's Ferry.

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