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Chapter 2: some shadows before.

We were at supper, on the 25th of June, 1858, at a hotel in Lawrence, Kansas. A stately old man, with a flowing white beard, entered the room and took a seat at the public table. I immediately recognized in the stranger, John Brown. Yet many persons who had previously known him did not penetrate his patriarchal disguise. A phrenologist, who was conversing with me, having noticed him, suddenly turned and asked if I knew that man? Such a head, such developments, he said, were infallible indications of “a most remarkable person.”

I had several long conversations with the venerable hero, but do not deem it prudent to disclose their nature. Instead of relating, therefore, what I heard him say at this time, I subjoin some reminiscences by a friend, who was fully in his confidence, and filly worthy of it. These notes distinctly foreshadow the Liberator's plans; and, as they have been so grossly misrepresented, it is due to him, I think, that they should now be published, as far as prudence permits.

After premising that all the young men of principle [200] in Kansas, by the law of attraction or mental affinity, were the devoted friends and admirers of John Brown; and mentioning that, in November, 1857, Cook, Realf, and Kagi left the Territory for.Tabor, in Iowa, in his company; and recording his arrival in Lawrence under the name of Captain Morgan, on the 25th of June, 1858, he thus continues:

A talk with John Brown and Kagi.

On Sunday I held a very interesting conversation with Captain Brown, which lasted nearly the whole afternoon. The purport of it was, on his part, inquiries as to various public men in the Territory, and the condition of political affairs. He was very particular in his inquiries as to the movements and character of Captain Montgomery. The massacre of the Marais-des-Cygnes was then fresh in the minds of the people. I remember an expression which he used. Warmly giving utterance to my detestation of slavery and its minions, and impatiently wishing for some effectual means of injuring it, Captain Brown said, most impressively:
Young men must learn to wait. Patience is the hardest lesson to learn. I have waited for twenty years to accomplish my purpose.

(In the course of the conversation he reminded me of a message that I had sent him in 1857,1 and said, “ he hoped I meant what I said, for he should ask the fulfilment of that promise, and that perhaps very soon;” and further added, “he wanted to caution me against rash promises. Young men were too apt to make them, and should be very careful. The promise given was of great importance, and I must be prepared to stand by it or disavow it now.” My answer need not be stated.

In this conversation he gave me no definite idea of his plans, but seemed generally bent on ascertaining the opinions and characters of our men of anti-slavery reputations.

Kagi, at the same time, gave me to understand that their visit to Kansas was caused by the betrayal of their plans, by a Colonel Forbes, to the Administration, and that they wished to give a different impression from what these disclosures had, by coming to the West. Both stated they intended to stay some time, and that night (Sunday) [201] Captain Brown announced they should go South in the morning to see Captain Montgomery, and visit his relatives. The Rev. Mr. Adair's wife is the half-sister of Captain Brown. They live near Ossawatomie.

John Brown in Southern Kansas.

Captain Brown started for Southern Kansas, on Monday morning, June 26. I did not see him again until the middle of September, when I met him at Mr. Adair's. Both the Captain and Kagi were sick with the fever and ague, and had been for some time. In the interim, Captain Brown had been in Linn and Bourbon Counties, and also visited other parts of Southern Kansas. One of his first acts, after arriving South, was to negotiate with Synder, the blacksmith, upon whose claim the terrible massacre of the Marais-des-Cygnes occurred, for its purchase. This claim is situated about a half mile from the State line. The buildings are located in an admirable position for defence. John Brown saw both the moral and material advantages of the position, and was desirous of obtaining possession. It will be remembered that Synder successfully resisted Hamilton's gang on the day of the massacre. Captain Brown stated his object in wishing to obtain possession of the land, and Synder agreed to sell. But though a brave, he was not specially an upright man, and, soon after making a bargain with John Brown, having a better offer, he broke the contract. The Captain had, in the interval, with the assistance of Kagi, Tidd, Stephens, Leeman, and another member of his company, prepared a very strong fortification, where they could have successfully resisted a large force. In my journey through the Southern border counties, I found that a general feeling of confidence prevailed among our friends, because John Brown was near. Over the border the Missourians were remarkably quiet from June until October, from the belief that the old hero was in their vicinity. By the bad faith of Synder the farm was abandoned, and Captain Brown and Kagi came to Mr. Adair's, where I met them. The others were living in Linn and Anderson Counties. I called at the house about ten in the morning, and remained until past three in the afternoon.

Another conversation.

Captain Brown had been quite unwell, and was then somewhat more impatient and nervous in his manner than I had before observed. Soon after my arrival, he again engaged in conversation as to various public men in the Territory. Captain Montgomery's name was introduced, and I inquired how Mr. Brown liked him. The Captain was quite enthusiastic in praise of him, avowing a most perfect confidence in his integrity and purposes. “Captain Montgomery,” he [202] said, “is the only soldier I have met among the prominent Kansas men. He understands my system of warfare exactly. He is a natural chieftain, and knows how to lead.” The Captain spoke of General Lane, and alluded to the recent slaying of Gaius Jenkins. He said, “he would not say one word against Lane in his misfortunes. His only comment was what he told the General himself-that he was his own worst enemy.” Of his own early treatment at the hands of ambitious “ leaders,” to which I had alluded in bitter terms, he said:

They acted up to their instincts. As politicians, they thought every man wanted to lead, and therefore supposed I might be in the way of their schemes. While they had this feeling, of course they opposed me. Many men did not like the manner in which I conducted warfare, and they too opposed me. Committees and councils could not control my movements, therefore they did not like me. But politicians and leaders soon found that I had different purposes, and forgot their jealousy. They have all been kind to me since.

Further conversation ensued relative to the Free State struggle, in which I, criticising the management of it from an anti-slavery point of view, pronounced it “an abortion.” Captain Brown looked at me with a peculiar expression in the eyes, as if struck by the word, and in a musing manner remarked, “ Abortion!--yes, that's the word.”

He then spoke of Governor Robinson's actions as being of a “weather-cock character,” and asked if it was true that Colonel Phillips had written his first two messages to the Topeka Legislature. I told him my reasons for believing the truth of the statement, among other things mentioning that the first draft of the message sent to the Legislature at Topeka, in June, 1857, as placed in the hands of the printers, was in Phillips' handwriting. At this John Brown grew angry — the only time I ever saw him so. He denounced the act severely, declaring it “a deception to which no one should lend himself.” I replied that Phillips had done for the best without doubt; that the Free State men had placed Robinson in the position, and that they must sustain him in it.

The Captain answered shortly, “ All nonsense. No man has a right to lend himself to a deception. Phillips had no business to write the messages. Robinson must be a perfect old woman. John Brown, sir, would, if he was Governor, write his own documents, if they contained but six lines.” Kagi interposed, and made some remarks, which calmed down the Captain, and the conversation became more general.

The conviction was expressed that trouble would break out again in Southern Kansas. At this time I mentioned my intention of embarking in a newspaper enterprise. Captain Brown, in an impressive manner, reminded me of my promise to obey his call, and expressed a [203] wish that I should not enter into any entangling engagements, referring to my letter of 1857. He said “that he thought all engagements should be considered sacred, and liked my adhering to the one I had at the time. That was the reason he had not sent to me; but now he hoped I would keep myself free.” In this connection he used words which I have often thought of since.

“For twenty years,” he said, “I have never made any business arrangement which would prevent me at any time answering the call of the Lord. I have kept my business in such condition, that in two weeks I could always wind up my affairs, and be ready to obey the call. I have permitted nothing to be in the way of my duty, neither wife, children, nor worldly goods. Whenever the occasion offered, I was ready. The hour is very near at hand, and all who are willing to act should be ready.”

I was not at this time aware of the precise plans, but had a general conception of his purpose, which, as it dawned upon me, filled my whole being with the radiance of its grandeur, as the July sunrise filleth the heavens with glory. All through that conversation I had the impression that those blue eyes, mild yet inflexible, and beaming with the steady light of a holy purpose, were searching my soul, and that my whole being was as transparent to him as the bosom of one of his own Adirondack Lakes. I shall never forget the look or the expression with which he said:

“Young men should have a purpose in life, and adhere to it through all trials. They would be sure to succeed if their purpose is such as to deserve the blessing of God.”

Kagi unfolds the great plan.

After dinner, Kagi had some conversation with the Captain apart. He then asked me if I would walk down to the Marais-des-Cygnes, “as he was going to fish.” I acquiesced, and we started. About half way to the river we stopped, and sat on a fence. Kagi asked me what I supposed was the plan of Captain Brown? My answer was, that I thought it had reference to the Indian Territory and the South-Western States. He shook his head, and gradually unfolded the whole of their plans, a portion of which only has been elucidated in the Harper's Ferry outbreak. 1 shall not, for obvious reasons, give the full details. A full account of the convention in Canada was made, as well as of the organization, its extent and objects, thereby effected. The mountains of Virginia were named as the place of refuge, and as a country admirably adapted in which to carry on a guerilla warfare. In the course of the conversation, Harper's Ferry was mentioned as a point to be seized, but not held,--on account of [204] the Arsenal. The white members of the company were to act as officers of different guerilla bands, which, under the general command of John Brown, were to be composed of Canadian refugees, and the Virginia slaves who would join them. A different time of the year was mentioned for the commencement of the warfare from that which has lately been chosen. It was not anticipated that the first movement would have any other appearance to the masters than a slave stampede, or local insurrection, at most. The planters would pursue their chattels and be defeated. The militia would then be called out, and would also be defeated. It was not intended that the movement should appear to be of large dimensions, but that, gradually increasing in magnitude, it should, as it opened, strike terror into the heart of the Slave States by the amount of organization it would exhibit, and the strength it gathered. They anticipated, after the first blow had been struck, that, by the aid of the free and Canadian negroes who would join them, they could inspire confidence in the slaves, and induce them to rally. No intention was expressed of gathering a large body of slaves, and removing them to Canada. On the contrary, Kagi clearly stated, in answer to my inquiries, that the design was to make the fight in the mountains of Virginia, extending it to North Carolina and Tennessee, and also to the swamps of South Carolina if possible. Their purpose was not the extradition of one or a thousand slaves, but their liberation in the States wherein they were born, and were now held in bondage. “The mountains and swamps of the South were intended by the Almighty,” said John Brown to me afterwards, “ for a refuge for the slave, and a defence against the oppressor.” Kagi spoke of having marked out a chain of counties extending continuously through South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. He had travelled over a large portion of the region indicated, and from his own personal knowledge, and with the assistance of Canadian negroes who had escaped from those States, they had arranged a general plan of attack. The counties he named were those which contained the largest proportion of slaves, and would, therefore, be the best in which to strike. The blow struck at Harper's Ferry was to be in the Spring, when the planters were busy, and the slaves most needed. The arms in the Arsenal were to be taken to the mountains, with such slaves as joined. The telegraph wires were to be cut, and the railroad tracks torn up in all directions. As fast as possible other bands besides the original ones were to be formed, and a continuous chain of posts established in the mountains. They were to be supported by provisions taken from the farms of the oppressors. They expected to be speedily and constantly reinforced; first, by the arrival of those men, who, in Canada, were anxiously looking and praying for the time [205] of deliverance, and then by the slaves themselves. The intention was to hold the egress to the Free States as long as possible, in order to retreat when that was advisable. Kagi, however, expected to retreat southward, not in the contrary direction. The slaves were to be armed with pikes, scythes, muskets, shot guns, and other simple instruments of defence; the officers, white or black, and such of the men as were skilled and trustworthy, to have the use of the Sharpe's rifles and revolvers. They anticipated procuring provisions enough for subsistence by forage, as also arms, horses, and ammunition. Kagi said one of the reasons that induced him to go into the enterprise was a full conviction that at no very distant day forcible efforts for freedom would break out among the slaves, and that slavery might be more speedily abolished by such efforts than by ally other means. He knew by observation in the South, that in no point was the system so vulnerable as in its fear of a slave-rising. Believing that such a blow would soon be struck, he wanted to organize it so as to make it more effectual, and also, by directing and controlling the negroes, to prevent some of the atrocities that would necessarily arise from the sudden upheaval of such a mass as the Southern slaves. The Constitution adopted at Chatham was intended as the framework of organization among the emancipationists, to enable the leaders to effect a more complete control of their forces. Ignorant men, in fact all men, were more easily managed by the forms of law and organization than without them. This was one of the purposes to be served by the Provisional Government. Another was to alarm the Oligarchy by discipline and the show of organization. In their terror they would imagine the whole North was upon them pell-mell, as well as all their slaves. Kagi said John Brown anticipated that by a system of forbearance to non-slave. holders many of them might be induced to join them.

My friend here explains at great length an admirably devised plan of an extended insurrection in the Southern States; but as its publication might prevent its successful execution-and of that, or an attempt to fulfill it, there is no doubt in my own mind- I deem it more prudent to suppress this portion of his narrative. He thus continues the report of his conversation with Mr. Kagi:

No politicians trusted.

One thing I remember distinctly. In answer to an inquiry, Kagi stated that “ no politician, in the Republican or any other party, [206] knew of their plans, and but few of the abolitionists. It was no use talking,” he said, “ of Anti-slavery action to Non-resistant Agitators.” That there were men who knew of John Brown's general idea is most true; but, south of the Canadian Provinces and of North Elba, there were but few who were cognizant of the mode by which he intended to mould those ideas into deeds.

John Brown on insurrection.

After a long conversation, the substance of which I have given, we returned to the house. I had some further conversation with John Brown, mostly upon his movements, and the use of arms. The Captain expressed tersely his ideas of forcible emancipation. Of the terror inspired by the fear of slaves rising, he said:

Nat Turner, with fifty men, held Virginia five weeks. The same number, well organized and armed, can shake the system out of the State.”

I remember also these sentences:

“ Give a slave a pike, and you make him a man. Deprive him of the means of resistance, and you keep him down.”

“ The land belongs to the bondman. He has enriched it, and been robbed of its fruits.”

“Any resistance, however bloody, is better than the system which makes every seventh woman a concubine.”

“ I would not give Sharpe's rifles to more than ten men in a hundred, and then only when they have learned to use them. It is not every man who knows how to use a rifle. I had one man in my company who was the bravest man and worst marksman I ever knew.”

“ A ravine is better than a plain. Woods and mountain sides can be held by resolute men against ten times their force.”

“A few men in the right, and knowing they are, can overturn a king. Twenty men in the Alleghanies could break Slavery to pieces in two years.”

“When the bondmen stand like men, the nation will respect them. It is necessary to teach them this.”

Much more was said which I cannot recall. The afternoon had more than half passed before I left for my destination. I rode over the prairies till sunset; and in the glory of the grand scheme, which had been opened to me, it seemed as if the whole earth had become broader, and the heavens more vast. Since that day, when I stood in the light of those searching eyes, I have known what John Brown meant when he said:

“ Young men should have a purpose in life, and adhere to it in all trials. They will be sure to succeed if their purpose is such as to deserve the blessing of God.”

1 This message was an expression of regret, in a letter given to Richard Realf for John Brown, that the writer could not then join him, in consequence of other engagements; but promising, at any future time, to be ready to obey his call.

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