John Brown, American abolitionist leader

John Brown (1800-1859) was an American abolitionist leader who was executed for leading a failed slave rebellion at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859.

Brown grew up as an evangelical Christian with strong religious convictions; he believed that he was a “an instrument of God”, destined to strike the “death blow” to American slavery. Brown was the leading exponent of violence in the American abolitionist movement as decades of peaceful efforts had failed.

Brown first gained national attention when he led anti-slavery volunteers and his own sons during the Bleeding Kansas Crisis in the mid-1850s. This was a state level conflict in Kansas as to whether the province would enter the Union as a slave state or a free state. In May 1856, Brown led a group that killed five supporters of slavery in the Pottawatomie massacre, a response to the sacking of Lawrence by pro-slavery forces.

In October 1859, Brown led a raid on the federal armoury at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (today West Virginia), intending to use the weapons in the facility to arm slaves to start a rebellion. The raid failed and Brown was captured, tried and executed for treason, the first person executed for treason in the history of the United States.

The US Civil War broke out two years later and Brown became an icon of the Union Forces. Union soldiers marched to the new song “John Brown’s Body”, that portrayed him as a heroic martyr. Brown has been variously described as a heroic martyr and visionary, and as a madman and terrorist.

If you want to hear more about Belfast abolitionists sought to end slavery in the USA, book a place on the ANTI SLAVERY BELFAST TOUR!

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