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John Brown's Hanging

"Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say, let it be done." -John Brown, statement at his sentencing on Nov. 2, 1859.


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John Brown was a white, American militant abolitionist who saw violence as the only means to put a permanent end to slavery. He loathed the Fugitive Slave Act, which declared that all runaway slaves found must be brought back to their masters. He not only became a “link” in the Underground Railroad, helping to lead slaves to freedom in Canada, but John Brown also became an organizer in a self-protection society for free blacks and fugitive salves. Some considered him as a fanatical crusader against slavery due to his multiple raids: Pottawatomie Massacre, Bleeding Kansas, and at Harpers Ferry. His out look however was different...“I, John Brown, am now certain that the crimes of this guilty land [slavery] will never be purged away, but with blood.”
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(John Brown on the scaffold)

John Brown’s Hanging took place on December 2, 1859 in Charleston, Virginia. By 5’o-clock that morning, the field on which John Brown’s execution was to be carried out had already been extremely guarded by a vast amount of soldiers and artillery, in case of last minute attempts to liberate Brown. No public spectators, of any sort, were permitted near the execution site. At around 11 a.m., John Brown, seated in his own coffin in a furniture wagon, with arms tied down above his elbows, was escorted into the field by a thick column of soldiers. “He wore the same seedy and dilapidated dress that he had at Harpers Ferry and during his trial, but his rough boots had given place to a pair of parti-colored slippers and he wore a low crowned broad brimmed hat”, according to journalist David Strother (pen name Porte Crayon). Crayon was one of the very few civilians present at John Brown’s hanging. Though his face was grim as he neared the gibbet, Porte Crayon’s eyewitness account claimed that John Brown descended off his chariot of death with "surprising agility". He then walked towards the scaffold with a brisk step, pausing just for a moment to bid the few people gathered at the scene good morning before continuing his climb up the scaffold steps. At the top, Brown reportedly immediately took off his hat and offered up his neck to Mr. Avis, the jailer and his executor. His face was then covered with a white muslin cap. Upon being lead forward to the drop, John Brown was asked by the sheriff if he wanted a handkerchief to throw as a signal to cut the drop. John Brown’s replay was simple, “No I don’t care; I don’t want you to keep me waiting unnecessarily.”…those of which were his last words.

Men cannot be hung on a whim so one might wonder, "why?". The bottom line is that John Brown was a man vehemently and passionately against slavery, just like his father. He wasn't a man with much money but nothing was going to stop him from his attempts to eliminate slavery. Frederick Douglass was quoted saying, "though a white gentleman, [Brown] is in sympathy a black man, and as deeply interested in our cause, it is as though his own soul had been pierced with the iron of slavery." Though Brown had been fighting against slavery just about his whole life, the first thing that got him recognized was when he went to a pro slavery town and killed five people in an act against a previous attack that killed five anti-slavery men. After this, he began to create a plan of war that led to Harpers Ferry. Himself and 21 other men along with two of his own son's raided the arsenal and were quickly all killed or captured. Brown was convicted of treason and hanged on December 2, 1859.


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Painting of John Brown at Harpers Ferry


"Thus died John Brown, the strange, stern old man; hard and uncouth in character as he was in personal appearance, undemonstrative and emotionless as an Indian. In the manner of his death there was nothing dramatic or sympathetic. There was displayed neither the martial dignity of a chieftain nor the reckless bravado of a highwayman—neither the exalted enthusiasm of a martyr nor the sublime resignation of a Christian.” - Porte Crayon


John Brown’s Body Lyrics:
John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave
John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave
John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave
His soul goes marching on

Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
His soul is marching on

He captured Harper's Ferry with his nineteen men so true
He frightened old Virginia til she trembled through and through
They hung his for a traitor, themselves the traitor crew
His soul is marching on

Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
His soul is marching on

John Brown died that slave might be free,
John Brown died that slave might be free,
John Brown died that slave might be free,
But his soul is marching on!

Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
His soul is marching on

The stars above in Heaven are looking kindly down
The stars above in Heaven are looking kindly down
The stars above in Heaven are looking kindly down
On the grave of old John Brown

Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory! Hallelujah!
His soul is marching on

The Song John Brown's Body was written in 1861. It became the anthem of the Union soldiers during the Civil War, sung first by the Massachusetts 12th Regiment. Many versions of the song have been written by William W. Patton and Julia Ward Howe in her song, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", among others. click for other versions of song

Please also visit this fun site with extra facts on John Brown
It includes a variety of pictures, maps, information of the Secret Six, Brown's provisional Constitution, his trial report and testimony, Brown's prison interview and adresses to the court, John Brown's prison letters, Thoreau's plea for Brown, Lee's report and Senate report amoung other interesting topics so please check it out!



The north and south had different perspectives..
North: The Northern perspective of John Brown was filled with great favor and admiration. Many people viewed him as a martyr for freedom and human liberty due to his dedicated abolitionist position. To morn his execution in certain anti- slavery parts of America church bells rang out to honor his name and purpose. The north saw Brown as an advocate for equality among races and for that cause a national hero. Fredrick Douglas, one of Brown’s fellow abolitionists said, “His zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine…I could live for the slave, but he could die for him.” No more then 18 months after his execution civil war broke out and the Union troops marched to a song called “John Brown’s Body", in tribute. It has been recorded that any Union regiment that marched passed the court house where John Brown had been convicted and at the field of his hanging the troops would “take pains” to sing the song through Charleston. John Brown was admired, honored, and celebrated in the north.

South: Hate. Fear. Two words that describe the Southern attitude towards Brown. On the surface it would just seem like hate. The south couldn't see the true beauty of what Brown was trying to do because they were too worried that their slaves would rebel and be gone for good. In reality, that was Brown's goal so they had every right to hate him. However, underneath the hate, it was pure fear. The southern farmers knew that without their slaves, they were done for. There had to be a part of them that feared Brown would succeed. So, Brown was simply a terrorist in their eyes. A man that the law couldn't and wouldn't stop. An animal that wasn't afraid to kill people to get his point across. Unlike the north, the south celebrated the conviction and the death of Brown. The south was rejoiced and over-whelmed. Their fear, for a moment, subsided and the death of John Brown did not cause the shed of tears in the south.



How influential do we think John Brown’s hanging was in sparking the Civil War?
The hanging of John Brown should be rated at least a 4, if not 5 for adding the powder to the sectional fire between North and South, erupting in the Civil War. In the North, John Brown was viewed as a martyr for dying in his attempts to permanently put an end to slavery. Though radical, his abolitionist movements made John Brown a hero of human liberties to most northerners and his death only encouraged what would soon become the Union to fight against succession and slavery. On the other hand in the south, John Brown’s image was quite the opposite. He was the villain and a terrorist, who ruthlessly murdered many southern pro-slavery civilians, furthering their will to finally rise up and fight the North. Shortly after his execution, a mere 18 months, civil war broke out between northerners and southerners.



Works Cited:
"John Brown." PBS. 17 May 2009 <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p1550.html>.

"The Hanging." PBS. 14 May 2009 <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/brown/
peopleevents/pande10.html>.

Linder, Douglas. "The Trial of John Brown 1859." Famous Trials. 2005. 14 May
2009 <http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/FTrials/johnbrown/
brownhome.html>.

Stutler, Boyd B. "An Eyewitness Describes the Hanging of John Brown."
American Heritage Magazine 1955: Vol. 6 Issue 2 . American Heritage. 13
May 2009 <http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/ah/1955/2/
1955_2_4.shtml>.

"A Violent Crusader in the Cause of Freedom" hand out from Mr. Schels class.