Archiver > OH-FOOTSTEPS > 1999-10 > 0941434921

From: Gina Reasoner <>
Date: Mon, 01 Nov 1999 01:42:01 -0400

Historical Collections of Ohio By Henry Howe, LL.D.



JOHN BROWN, of Osawatomie, was born in Torrington, Conn., May 9, 1800. For
three generations his family were devoted to anti-slavery principles. His
father, Owen Brown, in 1798, took part in the forcible rescue of some
slaves claimed by a Virginia clergyman in Connecticut. At the age of five,
John Brown removed with his parents to Hudson, Ohio. Until twenty years of
age he worked at farming and in his father's tanner. He then learned
surveying. Later he removed to Pennsylvania,and was postmaster at Randolph,
Pa., under President Jackson. In 1836 he returned to Ohio; removed to
Massachusetts in 1844; in 1849 purchased a farm and removed to Northern New
In 1854 five of his sons removed from Ohio to Kansas militia by the
Free-State party: their active participation in the Kansas troubles is a
part of the history of the Union.
On the night of Sunday, Oct. 16, 1859, Captain Brown, with his sixteen
men, captured Harper's Ferry and the United States Arsenal. The citizens of
the town had armed themselves, and penned Brown and his six remaining men
in the engine-house, when, on the evening of the next day, Col. Robert F.
Lee arrived with a company of United States Marines. When Brown was finally
captured, two of his sons were dead, and he was supposed to be mortally
wounded. Brown was tried in a Virginia court, and sentenced to death by
hanging. On the day of his execution, he handed one of his guards a paper,
on which was written the following:
'CHARLESTOWN, VA., Dec. 2, 1859. I, John Brown, am now 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."
Rev. S.D. Peet, in the "Ashtabula County History," gives some interesting
items. The means were so out of proportion to the magnitude of the
enterprise that most men not acquainted with John Brown believed him to be
insane; but to those who knew him; who knew the depth and fervor of his
religious sentiments; his unwavering trust in the Infinite; his strong
conviction that he had been selected by God as an instrument in his hands
to hasten the overthrow of American slavery; to such he seemed inspired
rather than insane. In a conversation I had with him the day he started for
Harper's Ferry, I tried to convince him that his enterprise was hopeless,
and that he would only rashly throw away his life. Among other things, he
said, "I believe I have been raised up to work for the liberation of the
slave; and while the cause will be best advanced by my life, I shall be
preserved; but when that cause will be best served by my death, I shall be
removed." The result proved that his sublime faith and trust in God enabled
him to see what others could not see. He had so lived that, though dead,
"his soul went marching on."
Sanborn's "Life of John Brown," published by Roberts Brothers, Boston, is
the most complete biography of him extant. We here give, in an original
contribution from high authority in this county, some facts in his history
not before published.
JOHN BROWN, of Osawatomie and Harper's Ferry, spent a large part of his
youth in Hudson, and the incidents of his life there throw much light upon
his subsequent career.
Space will permit the record of only a few of the "memorabilia" which
might be gathered up. He was the son of Owen Brown, a tanner, one of the
pioneers of the township; a man of strong character, of many peculiarities
and of the most unquestioned integrity.
Owen Brown was an inveterate stammerer and a noted wit. He could not
endure placidly any reference to his infirmity of speech, and was never
more witty and caustic in his retorts than when some well-intentioned party
sought to help him to the word he was stammering for. On one occasion when,
in answering the question of a stranger, his effort to give a desired word
had become painful, the stranger kindly helped him to it; when his answer
was, "Ba-Ba-Ba-Balaam ha-ha had an a-a-ss to speak for him too."
The stranger rode on without an answer to his question.
Owen Brown's first wife was a Miss _____, of a large family in Hudson and
the neighborhood, in which there was a strong hereditary tendency to
insanity. All the members were peculiar, eccentric, and many of them
insane. John was a son of this first wife,and in early life disclosed the
influence of this insane tendency. He was noted for his pranks and
peculiarities, which reverence for the stern government of his father could
not suppress. This government was based upon the rule laid down by Solomon,
not to spare the rod; and the old man was as faithful in tanning the hides
of his boys as he was in tanning the hides pickled in his vats; and this
practice gave John an early opportunity to disclose his penchant for
military tactics.
When a mere lad, having committed an offence, which by sad experience he
knew would bring the accustomed chastisement, he repaired to the barn, the
well-known place of discipline, and prepared for it by so arranging a plank
that one stepping upon it would be precipitated through the floor and upon
the pile of agricultural implements stored beneath it; and then, with
apparent childish innocence, returned to the house. Soon the pater familias
accused him of the offence, and invited him to an interview in the barn.
After a paternal lecture, responded to by supplications for mercy, and
promises "never to do so again," in obedience to orders he meekly stripped
off coat and vest,and, with apparent resignation, submitted himself to the
inevitable. As the first blow was about to fall, he dexterously retreated
across the concealed chasm, and the good father was found to be as one
"beating the air."
The ancient Adam in him was aroused,and leaping forward, with more than
usual vigor in his arm, as the cutting blow was about to descend, he
stepped upon the treacherous plank and landed upon the plows and barrows
below. John retired from the scene. With difficulty the father rescued
himself from his position, and with bruised and chafed limbs repaired to
the house. John escaped further interviewing for this offence, but
tradition is silent as to the cause, whether, before the father's recovery,
the offence was deemed outlawed, or whether his own experience had given
him some new ideas as to the effect of the abrasion of a boy's cuticle.
Passing over many similar events of his boyhood, his first military
campaign should not be omitted. After reaching his majority and becoming
the head of a family, he was the owner of a farm in Northeastern Hudson,
upon which there was a mortgage that he was finally unable to raise, and
proceedings in court were had for its foreclosure. Brown repaired to his
neighbor, Chamberlain; told him he could not keep the farm, and asked him
to bid it in. This he agreed to do and did. But after the sale was made and
deed given, Brown asked for the privilege of remaining on the premises for
a little time as tenant. The request was granted. When this time had
elapsed he refused to vacate. Proceedings in ejectment were had, and the
officers of the court turned him out of the house. Upon the withdrawal of
the officers he again took possession, barricaded the house, armed his
family with shot-guns and rifles, and prepared to hold the fort. Repeatedly
arrested and sued, he responded to the warrant or summons, but left his
garrison in possession of the stronghold. The contest was protracted into
the winter, when an heroic scheme, like that of the Russians in burning
Moscow, compelled the retreat of our general. On some real or fictitious
charge, warrants were obtained in another township for the arrest of the
eccentric garrison. While the warrants were served, some half hundred of
Chamberlain's friends were ambushed in the immediate neighborhood, and as
the officer and his prisoners passed out of sight they took possession of
the premises; and as the building was of little value they quickly razed it
to the foundations, carried off all material which would suffice even for
building a hut, and rendered the place untenable. When Brown and his
garrison returned, he found a hasty retreat the only alternative. It was
not as disastrous as Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, but it ended the campaign.
His subsequent experience in wool-growing was not more successful. Simon
Perkins, then a well-known capitalist of Akron, furnished the capital for
the enterprise and Brown furnished the brains. He soon became as
enthusiastic over fine-wooled sheep as he afterwards became over the
wooly-headed slave and brother, but when the business was closed out, the
share contributed to the capital by Brown was all that remained.
His experiences in Kansas and at Harper's Ferry are too well known to need
repetition here; but some account of his last visit to Hudson and the
neighborhood, just before his invasion of Virginia, is important to a right
understanding of his character. After his trial and conviction in the
Virginia court, M.C. Read, an attorney of Hudson, was employed by a brother
of John Brown to take affidavits of parties whom he interviewed just before
leaving for Harper's Ferry, to be laid before Governor Wise, with the hope
of obtaining a commutation of his sentence. It was found that he had
approached many persons with solicitations of personal and pecuniary aid,
but these approaches were made with great shrewdness and caution. His real
design was masked under a pretended scheme of organizing a western colony.
In discussing this, he adroitly turned the conversation to the subject of
slavery; to his work in Kansas; and finally to his divine commission to
overthrow the institution of slavery. His was certain, because it was
divinely promised, and divine direction to the employment of the proper
means was assured. Affidavits of these parties were taken, showing the
details of the conversation, and giving the opinion of the affiants, that
Brown was insane. They were laid before Governor Wise by C.P. Wolcott, then
an attorney of Akron, and afterwards Assistant Secretary of War under
President Lincoln. They produced no effect upon the Governor.
This unquestioning faith of Brown in his divine commission and in his
promised success, accounts for his undertaking so gigantic a work with such
inadequate means. He had read and believed that the blowing of ram's horns
by the priests, and the shouting of the people with a great shout, had
caused the walls of Jericho to fall down, because Jehovah had so ordered
it. He believed that with a score of men poorly armed, he could conquer the
South and overturn its cherished institution, because Jehovah had so
ordered it, and had commissioned him for the work. His faith was equal to
that of any of the old Hebrew prophets, but his belief in his divine
commission was a delusion, resulting from pre-natal influence and the
mental wrench and exhaustion of his Kansas experience.
THE REV. CHARLES B. STORRS, the first president of the Western Reserve
College, was the son of the Rev. Richard S. Storrs, of Long Meadow, Mass.,
and was born in May, 1794. He pursued his literary studies at Princeton,
and his theological at Andover, after which he journeyed at the South, with
the double object of restoring his health and preaching the gospel in its
destitute regions. In 1822 he located himself as a preacher of the gospel
at Ravenna. In this situation he remained, rapidly advancing in the
confidence and esteem of the public, until March 2, 1828, when he was
unanimously elected professor of Christian theology in the Western Reserve
College, and was inducted into his office the 3d of December following. The
institution then was in its infancy. Some fifteen or twenty students had
been collected under the care and instruction of a tutor, but no permanent
officers had been appointed. The government and much of the instruction of
the college devolved on him. On the 25th of August, 1830, he was
unanimously elected president, and inaugurated on the 9th of February, 1831.
In this situation he showed himself worthy of the confidence reposed in
him. Under his mild and paternal, yet firm and decisive administration of
government, the most perfect discipline prevailed, while all the students
loved and venerated him as a father. Under his auspices, together with the
aid of competent and faithful professors, the institution arose in public
estimation, and increased from a mere handful to nearly one hundred
students. For many years he had been laboring under a bad state of health,
and on the 26th of June, 1833, he left the institution to travel for a few
months for his health. He died on the 15th of September ensuing, at his
brother's house in Braintree, Mass. President Storrs was naturally modest
and retiring. He possessed a strong and independent mind, and took an
expansive view of every subject that occupied his attention. He was a
thorough student, and in his method of communicating his thoughts to others
peculiarly happy. Though destitute in the pulpit of the tinsel of rhetoric,
few men could chain an intelligent audience in breathless silence, by pure
intellectual vigor and forcible illustration of truth, more perfectly than
he. Some of his appeals were almost resistless. He exerted a powerful and
salutary influence over the church and community in this part of the
country, and his death was deeply felt. -Old Edition.

-continued part 9

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