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John Brown

50 Years and Over of Akron and Summit County 
Samuel A. Lane, Beacon Job Department, Akron, Ohio 1892




THOUGH born in Connecticut, on May 9, in the first year of the century, John Brown may be fairly claimed as a native of Summit county, having emigrated to the township of Hudson, with his father's family, as early as 1805. Here, possessing in a marked degree, the strong characteristics of his energetic and enterprising father, the late Owen Brown, of direct Mayflower Puritanic descent, John grew to manhood, inured to frontier hardships and pioneer privations and toil, but under the advanced educational and thor­oughly orthodox influences of the enlightened and God-fearing inhabitants of that town, in those early days.

Possessing a sternly religious bent of mind, it was early designed that he should become a minister of the gospel, but that project was finally abandoned on account of an affection of the eyes which interfered with the pursuit of his theological studies ; whereupon he devoted himself to the dual calling of his father, farming and tanning, at the same time thoroughly qualifying himself in the art of surveying.

June 21, 1820, then just twenty years of age, he was married to Miss Dianthe Lusk, of Hudson, by whom, during the twelve years of their married life, he had seven children, six son and daughter, Mrs. Brown dying on the 10th day of August, 1832.

About one year later, he was married to Miss Mary A. Day, of Crawford county, Pa., by whom he had thirteen children, seven sons and six daughters; thus being the progenitor of a grand total of twenty children, eight only of whom survived the tragic death of the father, as hereinafter alluded to, December 2, 1859.



FARMER, TANNER, ETC.—In addition to tanning and general farming and casual surveying, Brown became a great lover of cattle and sheep, and, like his brother Frederick, became an expert in the growing and handling of fine stock. Indeed, he was accounted to be the best judge of wool in the United States, if not in the world, being able to tell from the feel, the country, or section of country, where given samples of wool were grown; an anecdote being rela­ted of him that, while in England, as hereinafter related, thinking to puzzle him, among other samples submitted for his inspection, a soft tuft clipped from a snow-white poodle was handed him, when he instantly responded, "gentlemen, if you have any machinery that will work up dog's hair I would advise you to use it upon this."

Continuing the farming and tanning business in connection with his father, in Hudson, until about 1826, he removed to Rich­mond, Crawford county, Pa., where he was engaged in the same business, quite successfully, for about nine years.

REAL ESTATE SPECULATOR.About the year 1835, Mr. Brown returned to Ohio, and in 1836, in connection with a Mr. Thompson, of Pennsylvania, bought what was known as as the Haymaker farm, of between one and two hundred acres, in the western por­tion of what is now the village of Kent, for the consideration of $7,000. Early in the Summer of 1838, this farm was surveyed and platted by ex-County Clerk, Capt. John A. Means (now living in Tallmadge), as the deputy county surveyor of Portage county, and put to record October 22, of that year, as "Brown and Thompson's addition to Franklin village."

It was the expectation of the proprietors that a large manu­facturing village would rapidly materialize at that point. Similar operations further up the river, by the Franklin Manufacturing Company, afterwards the Franklin Silk Company, together with the disastrous monetary and commercial revulsion of 1837-40, compelled the abandonment of the scheme, and an alienation of the lands in question, which were soon thereafter relegated to agricultural purposes, though in later years largely covered by the A. & G. W. R. R. shops, and quite a suburban population, of the now prosperous and enterprising village of Kent; the only relic of its projector now remaining being quite a large two-story frame building, on the southeast side of the river, opposite the lower mill, erected for a boarding house, and now pointed out with pride, to the visiting stranger, as the " John Brown House."

SHEEP HUSBANDMAN.—On the collapse of his village annexation scheme, Mr. Brown, in 1839, took a drove of cattle over-land to New England, bringing back with him a small flock of choice sheep, as the nucleus of the immense business in that line, in which he afterwards embarked. In 1840, in connection with Capt. Herman Oviatt, a large land owner of Hudson and Richfield he went quite extensively into the sheep and wool business, removing his family to Richfield in 1842, where-he also established a tannery.

Subsequently, about 1844, he became associated with the late Col. Simon Perkins, stocking his large farm, overlooking Akron, on the west, with several thousand head of the very best fine-wooled sheep that could be obtained, Mr. Brown, with his fam­ily, residing in the same house now occupied by county surveyor, Charles E. Perkins, immediately south of the old Perkins home­stead. 

It being difficult to always make favorable contracts for their yearly clips, so far from manufacturing centers, in 1846, Perkins & Brown established an extensive wool depot in Springfield, Mass., not only for the sale of their own product, but also for the storage and sale, on commission, of the product of most of the other fine-wool growers in Ohio and other states, with the object of thereby securing greater uniformity in prices, and consequently better profits, than could be realized from individual hap-hazard con­tracts with itinerant wool-buyers.

Brown was placed in charge of this enterprise, removing his family to Springfield, and the firm of Perkins & Brown soon became one of the best-known and most reliable fine-wool concerns in the United States.

A DISASTROUS PROJECT.—But at length differences began to arise, between Brown and the manufacturers in regard to prices. Having practically a monopoly of the very finest grades of the product, Brown placed his figures higher than the manufacturers were willing to pay, and after holding his accumulations for a year or two without bringing the recalcitrant manufacturers to terms, Brown chartered a vessel at Boston., transported his wool (about 200,000 pounds), thither by rail, and shipped it to England. Here he found there was no especial demand for the extra-fine grades of wool of which his cargo was composed, and after paying storage on it for a considerable length of time, it was finally sold to the agents of the New England manufacturers, at prices which enabled them to re-ship and place it in their mills, at several cents per pound less than they had offered for it before shipment.

This misadventure involved a loss to the firm of from $30,000 to $40,000, falling principally, if not wholly, upon Col. Perkins, and the Springfield establishment was closed out and the firm dissolved.



By this time the slave extension propaganda began to pro­mulgate the dogma that the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law,. authorizing the reclamation of fugitive slaves from the territories of the United States, had virtually repealed the Missouri Com­promise, so that slaves could not only be legally taken to, and held in, the territory north of 36° 30' but that such territory could be erected into slave states, should a majority of the inhabitants so declare, on presenting themselves to Congress for admission.

This view was not only held by all the senators and represen­tatives of the slave states, both Whigs and Democrats, but also by some from the northern states. In January, 1854, Senator Stephen A. Douglas, of Illinois—with inordinate presidential aspirations—introduced a bill for opening to settlement all the territory north of Texas and • west of Missouri, under the general name of Nebraska, to which, on the suggestion of Senator. Dixon, of Kentucky, was attached a provision for the formal repeal of the Missouri Compromise.

IN THE ADIRONDACKS.-- In 1849 Brown retired from business and speculative life, to a tract of wild land presented to him by Gerritt Smith, in Essex county, in the northern part of the state of New York, a portion of which is now known as the "North Woods," or "Adirondacks," so popular as a cool retreat from the mid-Summer heats of the Eastern and Southern States.

Here, at North Elba, "the world forgetting and by the world forgot," for four or five years he quietly, but with characteristic energy, grubbed out from his rugged acres a comfortable living for his still rapidly increasing family--his older children by first wife, being already in active business for themselves.

"SQUATTER SOVEREIGNTY."—In advocating his bill, Mr. Douglas invented the phrase "Popular Sovereignty," the theory being that the majority of the squatters upon the lands in question—whether pros or antis should be allowed to settle the question for themselves, thus stimulating rapid settlement from both sections, the section coming in ahead to be the best " fellow." The phrase "Popular Sovereignty" was soon changed to "Squatter Sover­eignty," in the fiery and exciting discussion which followed, the infamy finally being accomplished, an amendment having, meantime, been adopted, designating the southern portion of the terri­tory in question as Kansas, and the northern portion as Ne­braska.



THE RACE FOR LIFE.—Now, immediately commenced what may literally be termed "a race for life" between slavery and free­dom, Kansas being the arena. The border slave state of Missouri at once threw into the new territory an immense horde of what were very properly designated as "Border Ruffians," while all the other slave states contiguous to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and some of the more remote, shipped in thousands upon thousands of their "chivalrous sons," all armed to the teeth, and several regular military organizations—notably that of Major Buford, of South Carolina, inscribed upon his red flag, "South Carolina and State Rights"--for the purpose of intimidating free settlers and outvoting them, when conventions and elections were to be held, and of forcibly ejecting the free state men from the territory. 

But the friends of freedom were by no means inactive, and thousands from the adjacent states of Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, wended their way thither for peace­able and permanent settlement. In the Eastern States also, for the double purpose of aiding their surplus population to obtain independent homes, and to secure to the new territory the boon of freedom, Emigrant Aid Societies were organized and thousands of hardy, industrious and intelligent men were sent forward, sup­plied with the means to establish for themselves comfortable homes, and the endowment of schools, churches and adequate local government. 

These peaceable immigrants met with the most determined and malignant opposition from the "border ruffians" harassed and murdered while passing through Missouri; their houses and vil­lages destroyed, and themselves killed or subjected to the most fearful indignities and outrages, accompanied by the most flagrant and brutal usurpations and frauds whenever and wherever elec­tions, either local or general, were to be held. 

These outrages soon taught the free-State men to meet force by force—in short to fight the pro-slavery devil with fire—and many very sanguinary battles ensued in various parts of the territory, so that the dark and bloody ground came to be appro­priately known as "Bleeding Kansas."



Among others who had sought to better their physical and pecuniary condition, and at the same time aid the cause of free­dom, were several of the sons and sons-in-law of John Brown. They were not only stalwart and energetic in the improvement of the lands upon which they had "squatted," but also vigilant and determined in the exercise of their civil and political rights as "Squatter Sovereigns." This subjected the Brown family to the most malignant hatred of the border ruffian element, their crops being destroyed, their buildings burned, and one of their number being most ruthlessly murdered, and another driven into insanity by cruel treatment while held as a prisoner.

These outrages upon the members of his own family, and the danger which menaced the cause of freedom itself, determined our whilom fellow-citizen, John Brown, to leave the seclusion of his Essex county home and fly to the rescue. By his coolness and bravery, he was soon accorded the leadership in repulsing the various attacks of the pro-slavery forces, and in making raids upon the camps and settlements of his blood-thirsty enemies, as well. The remarkable skill with which he, with a mere handful of men, routed a large force of "border ruffians" at the settlement of Ossawatomie, gave to him the sobriquet of "Old Ossawato­mie," by which name he is to this day better known than by any other.



The struggle continued for some three or four years. The free-state settlers out-numbered the slave-state men at least two to one, but by incursions of armed bodies from Missouri at elections, and by the connivance of pro-slavery federal and territorial officers, the will of the majority was thwarted until 1859, when a delegate convention held at Wyandotte, adopted a free-state constitution, which was ratified by a vote of 10,421 to 5,530, though, by fillibus­tering tactics in Congress. it was not admitted to the Union until the withdrawal of the Southern senators to engage in the Slave-holders' Rebellion, in January, 1861.

In the height of the bloody conflict, John Brown visited Boston, Mass., where he had a conference with the prominent friends of freedom and members of the Emigrant Aid Society, from whom he received contributions of about $4,000 in money, and nearly twice that amount of arms and other warlike supplies. On his way back, in the Summer of 1856, he spent a few days among his old friends in Summit county for a similar purpose. At a small but enthusiastic meeting, to whom he gave a graphic account of the bloody struggle, a committee was appointed to can­vass the village in behalf of the good cause, of which committee it was the privilege, and the pleasure, of the writer to be a member.

Rifles, shot-guns, revolvers, pistols, swords, butcher-knives, powder, lead, etc., with considerable contributions of money, were thus gathered in, while it was more than hinted that two cases of arms of a former independent military company, stored in a barn in Tallmadge, and several similar packages of State arms, which had been gathered in from other parts of the county, and stored in the upper part of the jail, mysteriously disappeared about the time. Middlebury, Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Tallmadge same and perhaps other towns in Summit County, also made liberal contributions to the good work, all of which aided in freeing Kan­sas, Nebraska and contiguous territory from the curse of slavery, and, possibly, in precipitating that infinitely more bloody conflict which resulted in the overthrow of the accursed institution throughout the land.



By this time our old friend always an ardent and conscientious anti-slavery man—had become so intensely embittered against the inhuman system, and the iniquities and atrocities of its supporters, that he determined to devote the balance of his life and energies for its extinction. Thus, for a time, he devoted him­self to the project of providing the human chattels of the border states especially "Border Ruffian" Missouri—with the facilities of escape and safe transportation to the true land of freedom--Canada. In this way, for a year or two, much was done towards paying off the large indebtedness of himself and his family for the great indignities and wrongs that had been inflicted upon them, as above set forth.

But, to the prolific mind of John Brown, it soon became apparent that this mode of warfare against America's most gigan­tic curse, was puny in the extreme; that while it might annoy and inconvenience an occasional individual slaveholder, and se­cure limited freedom to an occasional captive, it would do very little towards accomplishing the great desire of his heart—univer­sal emancipation.

In his humane, philanthropic and patriotic zeal, he truly believed that the enslaved race needed but the advent of a hold and determined leader, to instantly rally en masse, and gallantly fight their own way to freedom. Imbued with this thought, sometime in 1858, he gathered around him a few "True Friends of Freedom" at Chatham, in Canada, to whom he unfolded his plans, at which secret gathering a Provisional Constitution was drawn up and adopted, under which Brown was designated as Com­mander-in-Chief, Richard Realf, Secretary of State, and J. H. Kagi, Secretary of War.

Retaining a portion of the Kansas contributions of arms and other munitions of war, and having had fabricated a large number of long-handled double edged pikes, for the use of those negroes unskilled in the use of fire-arms, in the Summer of 1859 Brown established his headquarters at what was known as the Kennedy farm, in Maryland, and within five miles of Harper's Ferry, Va., where one of the Arsenals of the United States was located. Here had been quietly gathered the "sinews of war" alluded to.

On the night of Sunday, October 16, 1859, about 10 o'clock, with an "army" of seventeen white men and five negroes, Brown took possession of the Government buildings, at Harper's Ferry, within 50 miles of the National Capitol; stopped railroad trains, captured a number of citizens, liberated several slaves and held the town nearly 36 hours. Though there were no symptoms of any uprising among the slaves, or any evidence that they had been advised of the contemplated raid for their deliverance, the whole Southern country was immediately thrown into the utmost excitement and alarm.

The citizens of Harper's Ferry, during Monday afternoon, so far recovered from their panic as to rally for their defense and the expulsion of the invaders, and quite a number of sharp skirmishes ensued, with several serious casualities on both sides, one of Brown's men being shot down, while conveying, under a flag of truce, a message from the Provisional Commander-in-Chief to the mayor of the town. A company of militia,. 100 strong, arrived from Charlestown early in the afternoon, but were kept at bay by the intrenched invaders. Other troops arrived from near-by towns, both in Virginia and Maryland, during the afternoon, and by night there were fifteen hundred armed soldiers surrounding the engine house, but kept at bay by the handful of brave-hearted men therein entrenched.


Monday night, the Government at Washington sent a body of U. S. troops, under the command of Col. Robert E. Lee (two years later the commander-in-chief of the greatest insurrection known to history), to subdue the insurgents. Refusing to comply with Col. Lee's command to surrender, fire was opened upon the engine house, and hotly returned by the intrenched party.

The "citadel" was at length stormed, Brown arid his men fighting to the last like tigers. Thirteen of the band, including two of Brown's sons, being either killed outright or mortally wounded; Brown himself being very seriously wounded by both sword and bayonet.


Brown and his six surviving followers were taken to the Jef­ferson County jail, at Charlestown, ten miles southwest of Har­per's Ferry. Here they were indicted for inciting insurrection, a:id for treason and murder. Conviction followed, as a matter of course, the large array of evidence, forwarded from Summit county, and elsewhere, as to tendency to insanity in his family, and of belief in the actual insanity of Brown himself, upon the slavery question, not proving of any avail. Brown was so weak from his wounds, that he was obliged to lie upon a cot during the trial. 

He exhibited the utmost heroism and fortitude through­out, boldly proclaiming his hatred of the slave-system, the right­eousness of the act he had sought to perform, with the prediction that the accursed institution was doomed to speedy overthrow.

The execution occurred at 11:15'A. m., on Friday, December 2, 1859. The martyr-convict was firm and cheerful to the last, pleasantly conversing with the sheriff and guard who bore him from the jail to the scaffold, treating all concerned in the execution with the utmost courtesy. His death was easy, the body being lowered from the scaffold 35 minutes after the drop fell and delivered to his wife, at Harper's Ferry, who started with it the same evening, for North Elba, where it was quietly interred, in the presence of his surviving family, and a few sympathizing friends, with appropriate funeral services, on Thursday, December 8, 1859, Wendell Phillips pronouncing a fitting eulogy over his remains.



His life-long friend, Mr. Lora Case, still living hale and hearty, in Hudson, at the age of nearly 80 years, wrote him a friendly and sympathetic letter, after his conviction and sentence, to which he made the following characteristice reply, but a few moments before his execution:

CHARLESTOWN, JEFFERSON CO., VA., } December 2, 1859.


Lora Case, Esq.,

MY DEAR SIR:—Your most kind and cheering letter of the 28th of November, is received. Such an out-burst of warm-hearted sympathy, not only for myself, but also for those who have no helper, compels me to steal a moment from those allowed me in which to prepare for my last great change, to send you a few words. Such a feeling as you manifest makes you shine (in my estimation) in the midst of this wicked and perverse gen­eration, as a light in the world, and may you ever prove yourself equal to the high estimate 1 have placed upon you. Pure and undefiled religion before God, and the Father, is, as I understand it, an active (not a dormant) principle. I do not undertake to direct any more in regard to my children. I leave that more entirely to their excellent mother, from whom I have just parted. I send you my salutation with my own hand. Remember me to all your-and my dear friends.

Your friend._______________________________ JOHN BROWN.



Though many deprecated the insane scheme, as they regarded it, of attempting the overthrow of so gigantic, and at that time so -thoroughly intrenched, an iniquity—backed as it then was by the entire civil and military power of the government—with such frail weapons, and such meager resources, yet having an unwaver­ing belief in the honesty of his motives, and his entire conscien­tiousness, coupled with his unflinching bravery, the public mind, everywhere in the North, was filled with sincere sorrow at his ignominious end; and with the most intense indignation at the relentless vindictiveness with which, while so severely suffering from the bayonet wounds inflicted by United States soldiers in effecting his capture, he was hurried through the merest mockery of a trial to his death.

Memorial services were held in nearly all the principal cities .and towns in the Northern States. In Akron, on the day of execu­tion, flags were displayed at half mast; stores and other business places were closed, the Court of Common Pleas adjourned—bells were tolled, and in the evening a very large meeting was held in Empire Hall, in which feeling and appropriate speeches were made by Judge James S. Carpenter, Attorney General Christopher P. Wolcott, Gen. Lucius V. Bierce, Dr. Thomas Earl, Dr. Joseph Cole, Wilbur F. Sanders, Esq., Nathaniel W. Goodhue, Esq,. Newell D. Tibbals, Esq., and others, with an appropriate poem from the pen of the late James Mathews, read by the writer of this sketch, the exercises being exceedingly earnest and solemn throughout; similar and equally solemn and impressive services being held at Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson and other villages in Sum­mit county.



Many anecdotes and traditions of his boyhood and early man­hood, are still rife among the people of Hudson, that, properly written out, would make interesting reading, but the scope of this chapter will not admit of their publication here. Many of his most intimate acquaintances, while maintaining unbounded faith in his honesty of purpose, and his religious conscientiousness, entertained the belief that, from hereditary taint, he was in reality insane. After his conviction and sentence, in Virginia, Prof. Matthew C. Read, of Hudson, procured many affidavits to that effect, from people who had known him intimately from his earliest boyhood, which were laid before the Virginia authorities, in the hope of securing a commutation of his sentence. The affidavits were presented, and an eloquent appeal made to Governor Wise, in their support, by Akron's well-remembered talented attorney, Hon. Christopher P. Wolcott, then attorney general of Ohio, and after­wards assistant secretary of war, but without avail. Slavery was inexorable, and unimbued with the attribute of mercy. The sys­tem which could ruthlessly imprison a delicate and sympathetic woman for teaching a slave to read the Holy Bible, or giving a pant­ing fugitive a crust of bread while fleeing from bondage, had no commiseration or clemency to bestow upon the man, who almost single-handed, had insanely attempted the overthrow of the iniq­quitous system itself. But the posthumous influence of John Brown, the martyr, was far more potent for the downfall of that system, than was the influence, while living, of John Brown, the emancipator, and the patriotic refrain, so enthusiastically sung by our Union soldiers, both in camp and on the march:

John Brown's body lies mouldering in the ground,

John Brown's body lies mouldering in the ground,

John Brown's body lies mouldering in the ground,

But his soul goes marching along.

Glory ! glory! hallelujah !

Glory ! glory! hallelujah !

Glory ! glory! hallelujah !

We'll conquer as we go !

did more to inspirit the Union soldier, upon one hand, and to superstitiously dispirit the cohorts of treason, upon the other, than any other one moral instrumentality, and in less than half a decade from the date of his ignominious death, the end he thus "madly" sought to accomplish, was most effectually consum­mated through the " madness" of the very men who so mercilessly clamored for his execution.

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