John Brown

Detail of John Brown from a daguerrotype by Augustus Washington, c. 1846-1847 – National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

John Brown (1800-1859)

Few men fought the spread of slavery as violently and audaciously as John Brown. A Torrington native who received little formal education, Brown believed that African Americans belonged free and fully integrated into US society. In 1855, at the age of 55, Brown headed for Kansas to fight proslavery agitators who poured into the state in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Most famously, in October of 1859, Brown launched an attack on the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, intending to incite a slave revolt. His plan ultimately failed and ended in his execution by the State of Virginia. However, the publicity his actions received brought greater attention to the contentious nature of the battle over slavery and fostered anxieties in the South that brought the country closer to war.

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Yale Law School. “The Avalon Project: Life, Trial and Execution of Captain John Brown; 1859,” 2008. Link.


Torrington Historical Society. “John Brown Birthplace,” 2016. Link
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. “The Amistad Center for Art & Culture,” 2016. Link.
“Torrington Historical Society,” 2017. Link.


Connecticut Digital Archive. “John Brown Collection,” n.d. Link.
National Museum of American History. “John Brown’s Sharps Rifle,” 2016. Link.
Lee, Robert E. “Robert E. Lee’s Demand for Surrender of John Brown and His Party (at Harper’s Ferry), October 18, 1859,” 1859. National Archives. Link.


Douglass, Frederick. Admiration & Ambivalence: Frederick Douglass and John Brown: A Manuscript from the Gilder Lehrman Collection. New York, NY: Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 2005.
Quarles, Benjamin. Allies for Freedom; Blacks and John Brown. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1974.
Du Bois, W. E. B. John Brown. New York, NY: International Publishers, 1962.
Hinton, Richard J. (Richard Josiah). John Brown and His Men; with Some Account of the Roads They Traveled to Reach Harper’s Ferry. New York and London: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894. Link.
Reynolds, David S. John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.
Villard, Oswald Garrison. John Brown: A Biography Fifty Years After, 1800-1859. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1910. Link.
Warren, Robert Penn, and John Brown. John Brown. The Making of a Martyr. New York, NY: Payson & Clarke, 1929.
McGlone, Robert E. John Brown’s War Against Slavery. Cambridge; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Abels, Jules. Man on Fire; John Brown and the Cause of Liberty. New York, NY: Macmillan, 1971.
Oates, Stephen B. To Purge This Land with Blood: A Biography of John Brown. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1970.


Hartford Daily Courant (1840-1887). “Editorial Article 1 -- No Title.” October 19, 1859, sec. ProQuest - Hartford Courant Historical Newspaper database - Available through