Rupert S. Holland_
Nineteen and Thirteen_
There were many people in the North at that time who were helping runaway slaves to escape from their masters, and in certain parts of the country there were stations of what was called the "Underground Railroad." Negroes fleeing from the tyranny of Southern owners were helped along from one station to another, until they were finally safe across the Canadian border. The law of the country said that negro slaves were like any other form of property, and that it was the duty of citizens to return runaways to their masters.
John Brown at Harper's Ferry_
In the days when Kansas was the battle-ground between those men who upheld negro slavery, and those who attacked it, a man named John Brown went from the east to that territory. Several of his sons had already gone into Kansas, and had sent him glowing accounts of it. Many New England families were moving west by 1855, and building homes for themselves on the splendid rolling prairies across the Mississippi. John Brown, however, went with another purpose. The years had built up in him such a hatred for negro slavery that it filled his whole thoughts. Kansas was the field where slave-owners and abolitionists, or those who opposed slavery, were to fight for the balance of power. Therefore he went to Kansas and made his home in the lowlands along the eastern border, near a region that the Indians had named the Swamp of the Swan.
There were a great many men in Kansas at that time who had no real convictions in regard to slavery, and to whom the question was one of politics, and not of religion, as it was to John Brown. Those were days of warfare on the border, and men from the south and the north were constantly clashing, fighting for the upper hand in the government, and taking every possible advantage of each other. Five of John Brown's sons had already settled in Kansas when he came there with a sick son and a son-in-law. Early in October, 1855, they reached the home of the pioneers. They found the houses very primitive, small log shanties, the walls plastered with mud. The father joined his boys in getting in their hay, and set traps in the woods to secure game for food. But trouble was brewing in the town of Lawrence, which was the leading city of Kansas. Word come to the Swamp of the Swan that men who favored slavery were marching on the town, intending to drive out the free-state Northerners there. This was a direct call to John Brown to take the field. His family set to work preparing corn bread and meat, blankets and cooking utensils, running bullets, and loading guns. Then five of the men set out for Lawrence, which was reached at the end of a twenty-four hours' march.
The town of Lawrence, a collection of many rude log houses, was filled with crowds of excited men and women. John Brown, looking like a patriarch with his long hair and beard, arrived at sundown, accompanied by his stalwart sons armed with guns and pistols. He was at once put in charge of a company, and set to work fortifying the town with earthworks, and preparing for a battle. In a day or two, however, an agreement was reached between the free-state and the slave-state parties, and immediate danger of warfare disappeared. Satisfied with this outcome, Brown and his sons took to the road again, and marched back to their home. There they stayed during the next winter. In the cold of the long ice-bound months, the passions of men lay dormant. But with the coming of spring the old feud smouldered afresh.
Bands of armed men from the South arrived in Kansas, and one from Georgia came to camp near the Brown settlement on the Swamp of the Swan. On a May morning John Brown and four of his sons walked over to the new camp to learn the Georgians' plans. He had some surveying instruments with him, and the newcomers took him for a government surveyor and therefore a slave man, for almost every official that was sent into Kansas held the Southern views. Pretending to be a surveyor, the father directed his sons to busy themselves in making a section line through the camp. The men from Georgia looked on, talking freely. Presently one of them said: "We've come here to stay. We won't make no war on them as minds their own business; but all the Abolitionists, such as them Browns over there, we're going to whip, drive out, or kill,—any way to get shut of them!"
The strangers went on to name other settlers they meant to drive out, not suspecting who their listeners were, and John Brown wrote every word down in his surveyor's book. A few days later the Georgians moved their camp nearer to the Brown settlement, and began to steal horses and cattle belonging to the free-state men. Brown took his list, and went to see the men whose names were on it. They held a meeting, and decided that it was time to teach the "border ruffians," as such men as the Georgians were called, a lesson. News of the meeting spread rapidly, and soon it was generally known that the free-state men about Osawatomie, which was the name of the town near which the Browns lived, were prepared to take the war-path.
The old bitter feelings flamed up again in May of 1856. On the twenty-first of the month, a band of slavery men swept down on the town of Lawrence, and while the free-state citizens looked on, sacked and burned the place. John Brown and his sons hurried there, but when they reached Lawrence the houses were in ashes. He denounced the free-state men as cowards, for to his ardent nature it seemed an outrage that men should let themselves be treated so by ruffians. When a discreet citizen said that they must act with caution John Brown burst out at him: "Caution, caution, sir! I am eternally tired of hearing that word caution—it is nothing but the word for cowardice!" There was nothing for him to do, however, and he was about to turn toward home when a boy came dashing up. He reported that the ruffians in the Swamp of the Swan had warned all the women in the Brown settlement that they must leave Kansas by Saturday or Sunday, or they would be driven out. The women had been frightened, and taking their children, had fled in an ox-cart to the house of a relative at a distance. The boy added that two houses and a store near the settlement had been burned.
Those were dark days on the border, days that hardened men's natures. Such a man as John Brown felt that it was his duty to stamp out the pest of slavery at any cost. He turned to his sons and to some German friends whose homes had been burned. "I will attend to those fellows," said he. "Something must be done to show these barbarians that we too have rights!" A neighbor offered to carry the little band of men in his wagon. They looked to their guns and cutlasses. Peace-loving people in Lawrence grew uneasy. Judging from Brown's expression, they feared that he was going to sow further trouble.
Eight men drove back to the Browns' settlement, and found that the messenger's story was correct. They called a meeting of those who were to be driven out of Kansas, according to the ruffians' threats. At the meeting they decided to rid the country of the outlaws, who had only come west to plunder, and some of whom had been employed in chasing runaway slaves who had escaped from their masters. Their plans made, Brown's band rode to a little saloon on the Pottawatomie Creek where the raiders made their headquarters. Within an hour's walk were the men's cabins. Members of Brown's band stopped at the door of each cabin that night, and asked for the men they wanted. If the inmates hesitated to open the door it was broken open. Two of the men on their list could not be found, but five were led out into the woods and killed. It was a horrible deed, barbarous even in those days of bloodshed. But Brown's men felt that they were forced to do it.
John Brown thought that this one desperate act might set Kansas free; but it only marked the beginning of a long and bloody drama. As soon as the facts were known he and his sons became outlaws with prices on their heads. Even his neighbors at Osawatomie were horrified at his act. Two of his sons who had not been with him were arrested, and the little settlement became a center of suspicion. The father withdrew to the woods, and there about thirty-five men gathered about him. They lived the life of outlaws, and neither slave-state nor free-state officers dared to try to capture them. By chance a reporter of the New York Tribune came on their camp. He wrote: "I shall not soon forget the scene that here opened to my view. Near the edge of the creek a dozen horses were tied, all ready saddled for a ride for life, or a hunt after Southern invaders. A dozen rifles and sabres were stacked against the trees. In an open space, amid the shady and lofty woods, there was a great blazing fire with a pot on it; a woman, bareheaded, with an honest sunburnt face, was picking blackberries from the bushes; three or four armed men were lying on red and blue blankets on the grass; and two fine-looking youths were standing, leaning on their arms, on guard near by.... Old Brown himself stood near the fire, with his shirt sleeves rolled up, and a large piece of pork in his hand. He was cooking a pig. He was poorly clad, and his toes protruded from his boots. The old man received me with great cordiality, and the little band gathered about me."
This band, living in forest and swamp, was always ready to strike a blow for the free-state cause. The slavery men were getting the upper hand, and Northern families who had settled in Kansas began to look to John Brown for protection. The "border ruffians" grew worse and worse, attacking small defenseless settlements, burning homes and carrying off cattle. Sometimes it was only the fear of retaliation from Brown's company that kept the raiders from still greater crimes. Occasionally they met; once they fought a battle at Black Jack, and twenty-four of the enemy finally surrendered to nine of Brown's men. One of the leader's sons was badly wounded, and the father had to nurse him in the woods.
Affairs grew worse during the summer. The vilest scum of the slave states poured into Kansas, and the scenes on the border grew more and more disgraceful. There were pitched battles, and at last the governor of the territory, thoroughly scared, surrendered his power into the hands of the slave-holders, and fled for his life. The slave-state men thought that the time had come to strike a blow that should settle the question in Kansas permanently. They prepared to gather an army in Missouri, intending to cross into Kansas, and so terrify settlers from the North that they would make no further resistance. Conditions looked desperate to John Brown, and he left the territory for a short time to see what he could do to get help for his cause.
A large band of emigrants from the North were on the march toward Kansas, and Brown rode to meet them. The emigrants had heard of him, and welcomed him to their midst. He encouraged them and urged them to fight for freedom, and went on his way hoping to rouse more free-state men to enter Kansas.
The East was now thoroughly awake to the lawless situation on the border, and a new governor, Geary by name, was sent out from Washington. Meetings were held in the large cities, and money, arms, and men began to pour into Kansas. Several hundred men from Missouri attacked Osawatomie, which was defended by Abolitionists, and a battle followed. John Brown was there, and when his party won the day he gained the nickname of "Osawatomie Brown," by which he was generally called thereafter.
Fired by this success, the leaders of the free-state army planned to capture Lawrence. The new governor feared that such an act would mean the beginning of a general civil war, and did his best to prevent it. He succeeded in this. The free-state men were divided into two parties, those whose aim was to have Kansas admitted to the Union as a free state, and those who, like John Brown, were bent on abolishing slavery throughout the United States. Governor Geary assured the former men that Kansas would be free soil, and he tried to induce Brown to leave that part of the country for a time in the interest of peace. Brown was willing to do as Governor Geary wished, thinking that Kansas was safe for the present. He wanted to turn his attention to other parts of the country, where he thought he was more needed. In September, 1856, he started east with his sons. He was now a well-known figure, hated by all slave-owners, a hero to Abolitionists, and distrusted by that large number of men whose object was to secure peace at any cost.
There were many people in the North at that time who were helping runaway slaves to escape from their masters, and in certain parts of the country there were stations of what was called the "Underground Railroad." Negroes fleeing from the tyranny of Southern owners were helped along from one station to another, until they were finally safe across the Canadian border. The law of the country said that negro slaves were like any other form of property, and that it was the duty of citizens to return runaways to their masters. There were also scattered through the border states a number of men whose business it was to catch fugitive slaves and take them back south. These men were usually of a brutal type, and the poor refugee who fell into their clutches was made to suffer for his attempt at escape. Story after story of the sufferings of slaves came to John Brown's ears, and he felt that it was his duty to throw himself into the work of the Underground Railroad, and help as many slaves as possible to cross into Canada.
This work was not enough for him, however; he wanted to strike some blow at the slave-owners themselves. The Alleghany Mountain range was one of the main roads for fugitives, for there men could hide in the thick forests of the mountainside, and could make some show of defense when the slave-catchers and bloodhounds came in pursuit. John Brown knew this country well. He traveled through the North, talking with other men who felt as he did, and trying to work out a plan which should force the country to decide this question of negro slavery. At last he decided to make a raid into Southern territory, and free slaves for himself.
In the heart of the Alleghanies, and almost midway between Maine and Florida, is a great natural gateway in the mountains. Here the Potomac and the Shenandoah Rivers meet, and seem to force their way through the natural barrier. This pass is Harper's Ferry, and in 1859 it was the seat of a United States arsenal. To the south was a country filled with slaves, who looked to Harper's Ferry as the highroad to freedom. Not far from the arsenal rose the Blue Ridge Mountains, the heights of which commanded the pass. It was John Brown's plan to lead men from the Maryland side of the Potomac River to attack the arsenal, and when it was captured to carry arms and ammunition across the Shenandoah to Loudoun Heights in the Blue Ridge, and hide there. From here his band could make raids to the south, freeing slaves, and shielding them from their masters, while using the mountains for a shelter.
There were many other men in the United States bent on destroying slavery, but few so impulsive as John Brown. His plan was rash in the extreme, and even its success would have profited only a few slaves. But Brown was a born crusader. The men who followed him were all impulsive, and many of them were already trained in the rude ways of frontier life. They knew what he had done in Kansas, and were ready to fight on his side anywhere else. They had a real reverence for John Brown. The tall man with the long, almost white hair, keen eyes, and flowing beard was no ordinary leader. He had the power to convince men that his cause was just, and to hold them in his service afterward.
In June, 1859, John Brown, with two of his sons, and two friends, started south. He rented a farm about five miles from Harper's Ferry, in a quiet, out-of-the-way place. There were several cabins in the neighborhood, and as his followers gradually joined him, they occupied these shelters. A daughter kept house for him during the summer. The men farmed in the daytime, and planned their conspiracy at night. The leader did everything he could to win the friendship of his neighbors. He had some knowledge of medicine, and attended all who were sick. Frequently he preached in the little Dunker chapel near by. He was always ready to share his food or give the shelter of his roof to any travelers. Slowly he collected guns and ammunition, and late in September sent his daughter north, and arranged to make his attack. At first some of the other men objected to his plans. One or two did not approve of his seizing the government arsenal, and thought they should simply make a raid into Virginia as the slave-state men had formerly carried war into Kansas. Their leader, however, was determined, and nothing could turn him. Already he feared lest some suspicion of his purpose might have spread, and was eager to make his start. He set Sunday night, October 16th, as the time for the raid. That morning he called his men together and read to them from the Bible. In the afternoon he gave them final instructions, and added: "And now, gentlemen, let me impress this one thing upon your minds. You all know how dear life is to you, and how dear life is to your friends. And in remembering that, consider that the lives of others are as dear to them as yours are to you. Do not, therefore, take the life of any one, if you can possibly avoid it; but if it is necessary to take life in order to save your own, then make sure work of it."
At eight o'clock that night the old farm was alive with action. John Brown called: "Men, get on your arms; we will proceed to the Ferry." His horse and wagon were driven up before the door, and some pikes, a sledge-hammer, and a crowbar were put in it. John Brown pulled on his old Kansas cap, and cried: "Come, boys!" and they went into the lane that wound down the hill to the highroad.
Each of the band had been told exactly what he was to do. Two of the men were to cut the telegraph lines, and two others were to detain the sentinels at the bridge. Men were detailed to hold each of the bridges over the two rivers, and others to occupy the engine house in the arsenal yard.
The night was cold and dark. John Brown drove his one-horse farm-wagon, and the men straggled behind him. They had to cover five miles through woods and over hills before they came down to the narrow road between the cliffs and the Cincinnati and Ohio canal. Telegraph wires were cut, the watchman on the bridge was arrested, and the band found their way open into Harper's Ferry.
Their object was to seize the arms in the arsenal and rifle factory. They marched to the armory gate, where they found a watchman. "Open the gate," one of Brown's men ordered. The watchman said that he could not, and another of the band declared that there was no time for talk, but that he would get a crowbar and hammer from the wagon. He twisted the crowbar in the chain that held the gate, and broke it open; then leaving the watchman in the care of two men, the rest made a dash for the arsenal.
A great deal happened in a short time. Guards were overpowered, the bridge secured, and the river forded close to the rifle-works. Not a gun had to be fired, and both soldiers and civilians did as they were bid by the armed men. Others of the raiders hurried out into the country, and meeting some colored men, told them their plans, and the latter at once agreed to join them. Each of the negroes was sent at once to stir up the slaves in the neighborhood, and bring them to Harper's Ferry. The raiders then came to the house of Colonel Lewis Washington. They knocked on the door, and were admitted. Colonel Washington asked what they wanted. The leader answered, "You are our prisoner, and must come to the Ferry with us." The Virginian replied, "You can have my slaves, if you will let me remain." He was told, however, that he must go back with them; and so he did, together with a large four-horse wagon and some arms, guns, swords, and cartridges.
Others of the band had brought in more Virginia prisoners. An east-bound train on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that reached Harper's Ferry about one o'clock in the morning was detained, and the passengers were kept there until sunrise. John Brown was in command at the arsenal, and the rest of his band were acting at different points. By morning the people of the village were all alarmed. They did not know what the raiders meant to do, but many of them fled to the mountains, spreading the news as they went.
In spite of some little confusion among his followers, practically all of John Brown's plans had been successful up to this point. He had captured the armory, and armed about fifty slaves. His next object was to get the store of guns and ammunition that he had left at his farm. Here came the first hitch in his plans. He ordered two of his men, Cook and Tidd, to take some of the freed slaves in Colonel Washington's wagon, and drive to the house of a man named Terrence Burns, and take him, his brother and their slaves prisoners. Cook was to stay at Burns's house while Tidd and the negroes were to go to John Brown's farm, load the guns in the wagon, and bring them back to a schoolhouse near the Ferry, stopping on the way for Cook and his prisoners. This the two men did; but they were so slow in getting the arms from the farm to the schoolhouse, a distance of not over three miles, that much valuable time was lost. Cook halted to make a speech on human equality at one of the houses they passed, and Tidd stopped his wagon frequently and talked with passers-by on the road. They had the first load of arms at the schoolhouse by ten o'clock in the morning, but it was four o'clock in the afternoon before the second load arrived. All the guns and arms should have been at the schoolhouse by ten o'clock, if the men had followed John Brown's orders strictly.
John Brown probably still intended to carry his arms, together with the prisoners and their slaves, up to Loudoun Heights, where he would be safe for some time, but his men were so slow in obeying his orders that the enemy was given time to collect. The train that had left Harper's Ferry that morning carried word of the raid throughout the countryside, and men gathered in the neighboring villages ready to march on Harper's Ferry and put an end to the disturbance. John Brown held thousands of muskets and rifles in the arsenal, while the men who were marching to attack him were for the most part armed with squirrel guns and old-fashioned fowling-pieces. The militia collected rapidly, and marched toward the Ferry from all directions. By noon the Jefferson Guards had seized the bridge that crossed the Potomac. Meantime John Brown had girded to his side a sword that had belonged to Lafayette, that had been taken from Colonel Lewis Washington's house the night before, called his men from the arsenal into the street, and said, "The troops are on the bridge, coming into town; we will give them a warm reception." He walked back and forth before the small band, encouraging them. "Men, be cool!" he urged. "Don't waste your powder and shot! Take aim, and make every shot count! The troops will look for us to retreat on their first appearance; be careful to shoot first."
The militia soon advanced across the bridge and up the main street. When they were some sixty or seventy yards away from the raiders John Brown gave the order to fire. Some of the militia fell. Other volleys followed; and the attacking party was thrown into disorder. Finally they were driven back to the bridge, and took up a position there until reinforcements arrived. As they retreated John Brown ordered his men back to the arsenal. In the lull of the firing nearly all the unarmed people who were still in the town fled to the hills.
It was now one o'clock in the afternoon, and the band of raiders could have escaped to Loudoun Heights. But their leader wanted to carry the guns and ammunition away with him, and to do this he needed the aid of the rest of his men. He sent a messenger to one of his followers named Kagi, who was stationed with several others on the bank of the Shenandoah, with orders for him to hold the place a short time longer. The messenger, however, was fired on and wounded before he could reach Kagi, and the latter's party was soon attacked by a force of militia, and driven into the river. A large flat rock stood up in the river, and four of the five raiders reached this. There three of them fell before the fire of bullets, and the fourth was taken a prisoner. In similar ways the number of John Brown's men was much reduced.
The leader realized the danger of the situation, and decided that his best chance of escape lay in using the prisoners he had captured as hostages for his band's safe retreat. He moved his men, and the more important of the prisoners, to a small brick building called the engine-house. There he said to his captives, "Gentlemen, perhaps you wonder why I have selected you from the others. It is because I believe you to be the most influential; and I have only to say now that you will have to share precisely the same fate that your friends extend to my men." He ordered the doors and windows barricaded, and port-holes cut in the walls.
The engine-house now became the raiders' citadel, and the militia and bands of farmers who were arriving at Harper's Ferry released the prisoners who were still in the arsenal, and concentrated all their fire on the band in the small brick house.
As the sun set the town filled with troops, and it was evident that the men in the fort would have to surrender. They kept up their firing, however, from the port-holes, and were answered with a rain of bullets aimed at the doors and windows. Both sides lost a number of men. Two of John Brown's sons had been shot during the day. Finally the leader asked if one of his prisoners would volunteer to go out among the citizens and induce them to cease firing on the fort, as they were endangering the lives of their friends, the other captives. He promised that if they would stop firing his men would do the same. One of the prisoners agreed to try this, and the firing ceased for a time.
More troops poured into Harper's Ferry, and presently Colonel Robert E. Lee arrived with a force of United States marines. Guards were set about the engine-house to see that John Brown and his men did not escape. Then Colonel Lee sent a flag of truce to the engine-house, and in the name of the United States demanded that Brown surrender, advising him to throw himself on the clemency of the government. John Brown answered that he knew what that meant, and added, "I prefer to die just here." Again in the morning Lee sent his aide to the fort. The officer asked, "Are you ready to surrender, and trust to the mercy of the government?" Brown answered, "No, I prefer to die here." Then the soldiers attacked, not with guns this time, but with sledge-hammers, intending to break down the doors. This did not succeed, and seizing a long ladder they used it as a battering-ram, and finally broke the fastenings of the main door. Lieutenant Green pushed his way in, and, jumping on top of the engine, looked about for John Brown. Amid a storm of bullets, he saw the white-haired leader, and sprang at him, at the same time striking at him with his sword. John Brown fell forward, with his head between his knees. In a few minutes all of the raiders who were left in the engine-house had surrendered to the government troops.
Of the band that had left the farm on Sunday night seven were taken prisoners, ten had been killed in the fighting, and six others had managed to make their escape. By noon of Tuesday, October 18th, the raid was over. John Brown, wounded in half a dozen places, lay on the floor of the engine-house; and the governor of Virginia bent over him. "Who are you?" asked the governor. The old man answered, "My name is John Brown; I have been well known as old John Brown of Kansas. Two of my sons were killed here to-day, and I'm dying too. I came here to liberate slaves, and was to receive no reward. I have acted from a sense of duty, and am content to await my fate; but I think the crowd have treated me badly. I am an old man. Yesterday I could have killed whom I chose; but I had no desire to kill any person, and would not have killed a man had they not tried to kill me and my men. I could have sacked and burned the town, but did not; I have treated the persons whom I took as hostages kindly, and I appeal to them for the truth of what I say. If I had succeeded in running off slaves this time, I could have raised twenty times as many men as I have now for a similar expedition. But I have failed."
The news of John Brown's raid spread through the country, and the people North and South were amazed and bewildered. They had grown used to hearing of warfare in the distant borderland of Kansas, but this was a battle that had taken place in the very heart of the Union. Men did not know what to think of it. John Brown appeared to many of them as a monstrous figure, a firebrand who would touch his torch to the tinder of slavery, and set the whole nation in a blaze. Newspapers and public speakers denounced him. They said he was attacking the foundations of the country when he seized the arsenal and freed slaves from their lawful owners. Only a handful of men had any good to say for him, and that handful were looked upon as madmen by their neighbors. Only a few could read the handwriting on the wall, and realize that John Brown was merely a year or two in advance of the times.
We who know the story of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery think of John Brown as a hero. We forget the outlaw and remember the martyr. If he was setting the laws of men at defiance he was also following the law that he felt was given him by God. His faith and his simplicity have made him a great figure in history. A man who met him riding across the plains of Kansas in the days of the border warfare drew a vivid picture of him. He said that a tall man on horseback stopped and asked him a question. "It was on a late July day, and in its hottest hours. I had been idly watching a wagon and one horse toiling slowly northward across the prairie, along the emigrant trail that had been marked out by free-state men.... John Brown, whose name the young and ardent had begun to conjure with and swear by, had been described to me. So, as I heard the question, I looked up and met the full, strong gaze of a pair of luminous, questioning eyes. Somehow I instinctively knew this was John Brown, and with that name I replied.... It was a long, rugged-featured face I saw. A tall, sinewy figure, too (he had dismounted), five feet eleven, I estimated, with square shoulders, narrow flank, sinewy and deep-chested. A frame full of nervous power, but not impressing one especially with muscular vigor. The impression left by the pose and the figure was that of reserve, endurance, and quiet strength. The questioning voice-tones were mellow, magnetic, and grave. On the weatherworn face was a stubby, short, gray beard.... This figure,—unarmed, poorly clad, with coarse linen trousers tucked into high, heavy cowhide boots, with heavy spurs on their heels, a cotton shirt opened at the throat, a long torn linen duster, and a bewrayed chip straw hat ... made up the outward garb and appearance of John Brown when I first met him. In ten minutes his mounted figure disappeared over the north horizon."
But John Brown had seized the government's arsenal, and put arms in the hands of negro slaves, and therefore the law must take its course with him. Its officers came to him where he lay on the floor of his fort, a badly-wounded man, who had fought for fifty-five long hours, who had seen two sons and eight of his comrades shot in the battle, and who felt that his cause was lost.
When men who owned slaves asked the reason for his raid, he answered, "You are guilty of a great wrong against God and humanity and it would be perfectly right for any one to interfere with you so far as to free those you wilfully and wickedly hold in bondage.... I pity the poor in bondage that have none to help them. That is why I am here; not to gratify any personal animosity, revenge, or vindictive spirit."
A number of Virginians had been killed in the fight, and it was difficult to secure a fair trial for the raiders. The state did its best to hold the scales of justice even. The formal trial began on October 27, 1859. Friends from the North came to his aid, and a Massachusetts lawyer acted as his counsel. John Brown heard the charges against him lying on a straw pallet, and four days later he heard the jury declare him guilty of treason. December 2, 1859, the sentence of the court was carried out, and John Brown was hanged as a traitor. His last written words were, "I, John Brown, am 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."
Every great cause in history has its martyrs, and John Brown was one of those who were sacrificed in the battle for human freedom. Statesmen had tried for years to argue away the wrongs that began when the first African bondsmen were brought to the American colonies. Statesmen, however, cannot change the views of men and women as to what is right and wrong, and all the arguments in the world could not convince such men as John Brown and his friends that one man had a right to the possession of a fellow-creature. He struck his blow wildly, but its echo rang in the ears of the North, and never ceased until the Civil War was ended, and slavery wiped off the continent. The great negro orator, Frederick Douglass, said twenty-two years later at Harper's Ferry, "If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did, at least, begin the war that ended slavery. If we look over the dates, places, and men for which this honor is claimed, we shall find that not Carolina, but Virginia, not Fort Sumter, but Harper's Ferry and the arsenal, not Major Anderson, but John Brown began the war that ended American slavery, and made this a free republic.... When John Brown stretched forth his arm the sky was cleared,—the armed hosts of freedom stood face to face over the chasm of a broken Union, and the clash of arms was at hand."
In the spring of 1861 the Boston Light Infantry went to Fort Warren in Boston Harbor to drill. They formed a quartette to sing patriotic songs, and some one wrote the verses that are known as "John Brown's Body," and set them to the music of an old camp-meeting tune. Regiment after regiment heard the song and carried it with them into camp and battle. So the spirit of the simple crusader went marching on through the war, and his name was linked forever with the cause of freedom.