Who was John Brown?

He was called a "misguided fanatic" by Abraham Lincoln, a "blood-thirsty murderer" by Jefferson Davis and considered a 19th century "Christ" by intellectuals like Emerson and Thoreau. He was John Brown.

Since his early childhood in Ohio, Brown had taken to heart the doctrine that all of "God's" creations should be free. He used his home to hide runaway slaves and often spoke openly for the abolition of slavery. He followed five of his sons to Kansas Territory in October 1855 and soon made his presence known as a religious man and a military leader. However, it was in May 1856 that his most noted adventure in Kansas occurred. After the sacking of Lawrence by pro-slavery forces, Brown and seven of his followers set out to seek revenge and on May 24 they brutally murdered and mutilated five pro-slavery men near Dutch Henry's Crossing on Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County. This action was denounced by both the free-staters and pro-slavery forces. It was reported in the press in both the North and South and earned Brown national recognition as "John Brown from Osawatomie, Kansas."

He left Kansas Territory never to return in early 1859. His plan to capture the armory at Harper's Ferry in Virginia and ignite a slave insurrection failed. Brown was tried for treason and executed by hanging on December 2, 1859. His stirring speeches at his trial and brave composure while being executed, made Brown a martyr for the abolitionists. Poems, ballads and songs were written in his honor and his legend grew in popularity through the Civil War.
Together we will examine the time when John Brown lived, the lives he effected and the history he left behind and make our own evaluation of him.


Task One: Web Image Tour

  1. Open a Microsoft Word document
  2. Click here to see pictures of John Brown
  3. 'Drag and drop' each picture of John Brown into the word document. Don't forget to press return after each 'drag and drop' you make. Please call your teacher over or ask a fellow classmate for assistance if you need help 'dragging and dropping'.
  4. Save your work.
  5. Write a sentence of two describing what you think about each picture of John Brown.
  6. Save your work.

Task Two: Understanding the times of John Brown

With the same MS Word document you created in Step One, answer the following questions using the resources below.

  1. What were the purposes of the compromises of 1820, 1850 and 1854? Why were each of them important
  2. What was another name for America's westward expansion? Why was it given that name?
  3. Why was the Kansas-Nebraska Act seen as an important part to the nation's growth?

Task Three: Write a short essay

What kind of man was John Brown? What do you think of him and his life?

Process (What to think about while doing this assignment)

How did John Brown become a central figure in the events of his time?



The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and map of Missouri Compromise.

The Compromise of 1850

Map of 1850 Compromise and map of the land Congress bought from Texas

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 The violence that occured from this law is referred to as 'Bleeding Kansas'.

Bleeding Kansas

Map of 1854 Compromise

Timeline of John Brown's Life

A map of John Brown's life (Your browser must be Flash comparable)

A narrative of John Brown's life

Letters written to John Brown

Historian Stephen B. Oates speaks about John Brown. there are 5 video clips on this web page. Be sure Real Player is loaded on your machine. If you're using the pacific High School network, pick the clips for a T-1 Lan connection.

Frederick Douglas describes his last meeting with John Brown

Eyewitness account of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry




Evaluation (How you will be graded on this assignment)
Conclusion (Topics to be discussed after the completion of the assignment)
  Can John Brown be compared to other people who advocate violence for the sake of a moral cause?  
  New York State US History & Government Guidelines - II.B.2.d., 3, D.1  
email Ken at kstein2@nycboe.net