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Harpers Ferry: John Brown's Daughter's Recollections
Digital History ID 329

Author:   Annie Brown Adams


Until the Kansas-Nebraska Act, abolitionists were averse to the use of violence; they hoped to use moral suasion and political legislation to end slavery. By the mid-1850s, the abolitionists' aversion to violence had begun to fade. On the night of October 16, 1859, violence came and John Brown and his followers were its instrument.

Brown's plan was to capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and arm slaves from the surrounding countryside. His long range goal was to drive southward into Tennessee and Alabama, raiding federal arsenals, inciting slave insurrections, and creating in the mountains maroon communities or refuges for escaped slaves. Failing that, he hoped to ignite a sectional crisis that would destroy slavery.

In the following letter, one of Brown's daughters, who was fifteen in 1859, reflects back on her memories of the preparations for the raid.

Document: My father and two brothers, Owen and Oliver, John Henry Kagi and Jerry G. Anderson went down to Harper's Ferry some time in June to prepare for and get a place that would be quiet and secluded where they could receive their freight and men. They rented Kennedy Farm situated about five miles north of Harper's Ferry as that seemed in all respects perfectly adapted to their purpose.... It was far enough from neighbors to seclude us, in a quiet woodsy place, less than a half mile from the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Maryland, about two miles from Antietam and six miles from Sharpsburg--afterwards noted battlegrounds during the War....

After my father had selected his place, he found out...that he would be obliged to have some woman to help him, to stand between him and the curiosity of outsiders... So he sent Oliver back to North Elba after Mother and I. Never dreaming that Mother would not go. Oliver's girl wife, Martha and I went back with him. Martha was sixteen and I was fifteen years old then....

I will first describe John Brown, not the one the world knew, but my father as I knew him. He was very strict in his ideas of discipline. We all knew from our earliest infancy that we must obey him....

We commenced housekeeping at Kennedy Farm sometime in July.... Our family at that time consisted of six persons.... Then followed the rest--one, two three and four at a time. These last arrivals all came secretly by way of Chambersburg, Father, and some of the rest going there with a light covered wagon, in which they rode or else walked a part of the way. They would hide in the woods and come in to the house before daylight in the morning or else after dark at night. They all lived upstairs over the dining room, coming down at their meals, and at any time that there was no strangers or visitors about....

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Annie Brown Adams to Garibaldi Ross

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