John Brown

1800-1859. Controversial leader of part of the abolitionist* movement. He was born in Torrington, Connecticut, into a family with a history of mental illness. He engaged in many different business ventures in several states and was a defendant in numerous legal cases resulting from his failure to meet financial obligations. In 1854 he began organizing guerrilla warfare activities to rid Kansas of the evil of slavery. Believing himself divinely appointed to destroy the supporters of slavery, he led a group of six associates in the infamous Pottawatomie Massacre of 1856; five pro-slavery men were seized in their homes at night and hacked to death. From this incident John Brown gained notoriety and provoked fear and hatred, but he was defended by radical abolitionists. In 1859 he tried to set up a revolutionary government by force when he attacked the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, with a band of twenty-one followers. This free state could be a refuge for slaves and encourage slave insurrections. The effort was easily crushed by the U.S. Marines, and Brown was convicted of treason and hanged. His violent acts were glorified by the abolitionist extremists and made the extreme pro-slavery faction stronger in the South by the panic they aroused.