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 of that same year, 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. (From Voices of a People’s History.)

Listen to a song about John Brown, “Glory, Glory,” written by Joe DeFilippo and performed by the R. J. Phillips Band, a group of Baltimore musicians.

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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