Oct. 16, 1859: Abolitionist John Brown Led Raid on Harpers Ferry

John Brown portrait by Robert Shetterly/Americans Who Tell The Truth.

On this day in 1859, John Brown led a small group on a raid against a federal armory in Harpers Ferry in an attempt to start an armed revolt against the institution of slavery. Brown stood trial and was found guilty of treason.

On December 2, John Brown was hung in Charles Town. As Brown approached the the hanging scaffold, he stated:

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 very much bloodshed it might be done.

John Brown’s Last Speech

Watch a dramatic reading by Josh Brolin of Brown’s speech given to the courtroom a month before his execution.

Use the role play, “‘If There Is No Struggle…’: Teaching a People’s History of the Abolition Movement” by Bill Bigelow in which students become members of the American Anti-Slavery Society, facing many of the real challenges to ending slavery.

View more resources for teaching outside the textbook about the Abolition Movement.

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