Thought to be the earliest portrait of John Brown, this daguerreotype was made by the African American photographer Augustus Washington. Produced in 1846 or 1847—about a decade before Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry—the image shows Brown with a hand raised, calling to mind the pledge he made to fight for the eradication of slavery. Brown was living at this time in Springfield, Massachusetts, and, finding himself increasingly stirred by the anti- slavery fervor emanating from Boston, he had begun planning for armed action against slave- holding Southerners. (Augustus Washington/National Portrait Gallery)
In 1856, John Brown, a militant abolitionist who’d had 20 children and string of failed businesses, earned notoriety by murdering five pro-slavery men in Kansas. The following year, he hatched the idea of establishing a militarized outpost of abolitionists in the Blue Ridge Mountains. His plan was to seize the federal armory at Harpers Ferry and arm the legions of slaves he imagined would rise up. Though the band of men he led into Harpers Ferry in Ocrober 1859 did seize the armory, the raid was quickly suppressed and Brown was hanged for conspiracy, treason, and murder
Across the North, Brown gained fame as a martyr, but the South was horrified, both by Brown’s actions and the celebration of them.
Shortly after the raid, it came to light that Brown had obtained secret funding from New England abolitionists. After the war, one of those supporters, Franklin Sanborn (writing anonymously and referring to himself in the third person, recounted how he and his fellow abolitionists—through clandestine meetings and a “secret committee”—had funneled money and weapons to Brown’s cause.—Sage Stossel
At the beginning of the year 1858, nobody in Massachusetts, except here and there a fugitive slave perhaps, had heard of John Brown’s plan for the invasion of Virginia, though he had made much progress toward its execution …