John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry of October 16-18, 1859 (also known as John Brown’s raid or The raid on Harpers Ferry) was an attempt by the white abolitionist John Brown to start an armed slave revolt in 1859 by seizing a United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown’s raid, accompanied by 20 men in his party, was defeated by a detachment of U.S. Marines led by Col. Robert E. Lee.
John Brown had originally asked Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, both of whom he had met in his formative years as an abolitionist in Springfield, Massachusetts, to join him in his raid, but Tubman was prevented by illness, and Douglass declined, as he believed Brown’s plan would fail.
The following is an example of how news of the raid was reported in the Midwestern United States.
On Friday last, one of the most diabolical schemes was brought to light that has ever occurred in this Government. A large body of whites and blacks took possession of the U. S. arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia–stopping railroad trains, and murdering and Imprisoning the citizens at will. It turned out to be an Abolition movement, headed by the notorious and infamous Ossawatomie Brown, formerly of Kansas, who represented to his fanatical followers that the negroes would Join them by thousands, and that Maryland and Virginia would become free States. The rebellion has been put down,however, and the ringleaders shot. The following gives the sequence.
HARPER’S FERRY, October 18, 8 A. M–The Armory has just been stormed and taken,after a determined resistance. Col.Shutt approached with a flag of truer, and demanded the surrender of the Armory. After expostulating for some time, the rioters refused. The marines then advanced and made a charge, endeavoring to break open the door with sledge-hammers, but it resisted all their efforts. A large ladder was then used as a battering-ram, and the door gave way. The rioters fired briskly,and shot three of the marines, who exchanged shots through the partly broken door. The marines then forced their way through the break, and in a few minutes the resistance was at an end.
Capt. Brown and his son were both shot. The latter is dead, and the former dying. He lies in the Armory enclosure. He talks freely, and says that he is the old Ossawatomic Brown, whose feats in Kansas had such a wide notice. His whole object was to free the slaves, and justified his action.
Another rioter, a negro named Lewis Leary, who has just died, confessed to the particulars of the plot, which he says was concocted by Brown at a Fair held in Ohio two months ago.