Digital History>eXplorations>John Brown: Hero or Terrorist?> Planning the Raid>Richard Hinton's Interview with John Brown and John Kagi

Richard J. Hinton’s Interview with John Brown and John Kagi

Source: Richard J. Hinton, John Brown and His Men (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1894), pp. 672 675.


After dinner Kagi had some conversation with the Captain apart. He then asked me if I would walk down to the Marais des Cygnes, "as he was going to fish." I acquiesced, and we started. About half way to the river we stopped and sat on a fence. Kagi asked me what I supposed was the plan of Captain Brown. My answer was, that I thought it had a reference to the Indian Territory and the Southwestern States. He shook his head, and gradually unfolded the whole of their plans . . . . A full account of the conversation in Canada was given, as well as of the organization, its extent and objects, thereby effected. The mountains of Virginia were named as the place of refuge, and as a country admirably adapted to carrying on a guerilla warfare. In the course of the conversation, Harper's Ferry was mentioned as a point to be seized but not held on account of the arsenal. The white members of the company were to act as officers of different guerilla bands, which, under the general command of John Brown, were to be composed of Canadian refugees and the Virginia slaves who would join them. A different time of the year was mentioned for the commencement of the warfare from that which has lately been chosen. It was not anticipated that the first movement would have any other appearance to the masters than a slave stampede, or local outbreak at most. The planters would pursue their chattels and be defeated. The militia would then be called out, and would also be defeated. It was not intended that the movement should appear to be of large dimensions, but that, gradually increasing in magnitude, it should, as it opened, strike terror into the heart of the slave States by the amount of organization it would exhibit, and the strength it gathered. They anticipated, after the first blow had been struck, that, by the aid of the freed and Canadian negroes who would join them, they could inspire confidence in the slaves, and induce them to rally. No intention was expressed of gathering a large body of slaves, and removing them to Canada. On the contrary, Kagi clearly stated, in answer to my inquiries, that the design was to make the fight in the mountains of Virginia, extending it to North Carolina and Tennessee, and also to the swamps of South Carolina, if possible. Their purpose was not the expatriation of one or a thousand slaves, but their liberation in the States wherein they were born, and were held in bondage. "The mountains and the swamps of the South were intended by the Almighty," said John Brown to me afterwards, "for a refuge for the slave, and a defense against the oppressor."

Kagi spoke of having marked out a chain of counties extending continuously through South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. He had traveled over a large portion of the region indicated, and from his own personal knowledge, and with the assistance of the Canadian negroes who had escaped from those States, they had arranged a general plan of attack. The counties he named were those which contained the largest proportion of slaves, and would. therefore. be the best in which to strike. The blow struck at Harper's Ferry was to be in the spring, when the planters were busy, and the slaves most needed. The arms in the arsenal were to be taken to the mountains, with such slaves as joined. The telegraph wires were to be cut and railroad tracks torn up in all directions. As fast as possible, other bands besides the original one were to be formed, and a continuous chain of posts established in the mountains. They were to be supported by provisions taken from the farms of the oppressors. They expected to be speedily and constantly reinforced; first, by the arrival of those men, who in Canada, were anxiously looking and praying for the time of deliverance, and then by the slaves themselves. The intention was to hold the egress to the free States as long as possible, in order to retreat when that was advisable. Kagi, however, expected to retreat southward, not in the contrary direction. The slaves were to be armed with pikes, scythes, muskets, shot guns, and other simple instruments of defense; the officers, white or black, and such of the men as were skilled. and trustworthy, to have the use of the Sharpe's, rifles and revolvers. They anticipated procuring provisions enough for subsistence by forage, as also arms, horses, and ammunition. Kagi said one of the reasons that induced him to go into the enterprise was a full conviction that at no very distant day forcible efforts for freedom would break out among the slaves, and that slavery might be more speedily abolished by such efforts than by any other means. He knew by observation in the South, that in no point was the system so vulnerable as in its fear of a slave rising. Believing that such a blow would be soon struck, he wanted to organize it so as to make it more effectual, and also, by directing and controlling the negroes, to prevent some of the atrocities that would necessarily arise from the sudden upheaving of such a mass as the Southern slaves. The constitution adopted at Chatham was intended as the framework of organization among the emancipationists, to enable the leaders to effect a more complete control of their forces. Ignorant men, in fact, all men, were more easily managed by the forms of law and organization than without them. This was one of the purposes to be subserved by the Provisional Government. Another was to alarm the (slave holding) oligarchy by discipline and the show of organization. In their terror they would imagine the whole North was upon them pelf melt, as well as all their slaves. Kagi said John Brown anticipated that by a system of forbearance to non slaveholders many of them might be induced to join them.

In answer to an inquiry, Kagi stated that no politician, in the Republican or any other party, knew of their plans, and but few of the Abolitionists. It was no use talking, he said, of anti slavery action to non resistant agitators. That there were men who knew John Brown's general idea is most true; but, south of the Canadian Provinces and of North Elba, there were but few who were cognizant of the mode by which he intended to mould those ideas into deeds.

After a long conversation, the substance of which I have given, we returned to the house. I had some further conversation with Brown, mostly upon his movements, and the use of arms. An allusion to the terror inspired by the fear of slaves rising, was the fact that Nat Turner with fifty men held a portion of Virginia for several weeks. The same number well organized and armed, can shake the system out of the State . . . .

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