The abolitionist John Brown remains one of the most controversial figures of the 19th century. During a few years of fame before his fateful raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Americans either regarded him as a noble hero or a dangerous fanatic.
After his execution on December 2, 1859, Brown became a martyr to those opposed to slavery. And the controversy over his actions and his fate helped stoke the tensions that pushed the United States to the brink of Civil War.
John Brown was born on May 9, 1800 in Torrington, Connecticut. His family was descended from New England Puritans, and he had a deeply religious upbringing. John was the third of six children in the family.
When Brown was five, the family moved to Ohio. During his childhood Browns very religious father would exclaim that slavery was a sin against God. And when Brown visited a farm in his youth he witnessed the beating of slave. The violent incident had a lasting effect on young Brown, and he became a fanatical opponent of slavery.
Brown married at the age of 20, and he and his wife had seven children before she died in 1832. He remarried and fathered 13 more children.
Brown and his family moved to several states, and he failed at every business he entered. His passion for eliminating slavery became the focus of his life.
In 1837, Brown attended a meeting in Ohio in memory of Elijah Lovejoy, an abolitionist newspaper editor who had been killed in Illinois.
At the meeting, Brown raised his hand and vowed that he would destroy slavery.
In 1847 Brown moved to Springfield, Massachusetts and began befriending members of a community of escaped slaves. It was at Springfield that he first befriended the abolitionist writer and editor Frederick Douglass, who had escaped from slavery in Maryland.
Browns ideas became more radical, and he began advocating a violent overthrow of slavery. He argued that slavery was so entrenched that it could only be destroyed by violent means.
Some opponents of slavery had become frustrated with the peaceful