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John Brown

John Brown, the famous abolitionist and mastermind of the attack on Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, and Frederick Douglass first met in 1847 at John Brown's home in Springfield, Massachusetts. Douglass's impressions of the meeting can be found in this excerpt from Frederick Douglass, by Booker T. Washington. You can read the entire book here [pdf, 17.9 MB] For pdf help, click here

From this meeting, Brown and Douglass became close friends. Whenever Brown visited Rochester, Douglass' home became his headquarters. Douglass and Brown supported each other's efforts to free the slaves. John Brown was also connected to the family of Susan B. Anthony. Anthony's brothers Merrit and Daniel joined Brown in the struggle for Kansas. Brown visited Rochester in April of 1859, gave a speech at City Hall. Three weeks before the raid on Harper's Ferry, Douglass and Brown met again, this time with Shields Green, another African American from Rochester. The Booker T. Washington book gives an account of this meeting:

Although Douglass took no part in the raid, he was implicated and forced to flee to England, where he remained until the death of his daughter Annie five months' later brought him home. John Brown, Shields Green and others were hanged for their roles in the raid at Harper's Ferry. Douglass gave his version of events in a letter to the Rochester Democrat, which was reprinted in A correct history of the John Brown Invasion at Harper's Ferry..., by John H. Zittle. You can read this entire book here [pdf, 20.4 MB] For pdf help, click here

"Fred Douglas, a black republican in skin and principle, writes a letter to the editor of the Rochester Democrat, dated Canada West, October 31, 1859, in which, after denying that he furnished anybody to beat Harper's Ferry, and declaring that he was too great a coward to go there, or promise to go, continues in the following strain. We give it as a curiosity."

"The time for a full statement of what I know, and of all I know, of this desperate but sublimely disinterested effort to emancipate the slaves of Maryland and Virginia, has not yet come, and may never come. In the denial which I have now made, my motive is more a respectful consideration for the opinion of the slaves' friends than from any fear of being made an accomplice in the general conspiracy against slavery, when there is a reasonable hope for success. I may be asked why I did not join John Brown, the noble old hero. My answer to this has already been given, at least, impliedly given, "the tools to those who can use them". Let every man work for the abolition of slavery in his own way. I would help all and hinder none. My position in regard to the Harper's Ferry insurrection may be easily inferred from these remarks. I have no apology for keeping out of the way of those gentlemanly United States Marshals, who are said to have paid Rochester a somewhat protracted visit lately, with a view to an interview with me. If I have committed any offence against society, I have done so on the soil of New York, and I should be perfectly willing there to be arraigned before an impartial jury but I have quite insuperable objections to be caught by the hands of Mr. Buchanan and "bagged" by Gov. Wise. For this appears to be the arrangement--Buchanan does the fighting and hunting, and Wise "bags" the game. Some reflections may be made upon my leaving on a tour to England, just at this time. I have only to say that my going to that country has been rather delayed than hastened by the insurrection at Harper's Ferry. All I know I intend to leave here the first week in November."

The death of John Brown on December 2, 1859 was sadly noted in Rochester by the local abolitionists. Susan B. Anthony, Parker Pillsbury, and 300 others gathered to honor his memory. For years afterward, memorials for John Brown were held. Even as late as 1904 Susan B. Anthony writes of commemorating his death on Thanksgiving. You can read her letter here (the mention of John Brown is on page 3).

Rochester History contains more information about John Brown and Rochester:

"Susan B. Anthony and John Brown", by Alma Lutz, July, 1953 [pdf, 836 KB]

"A Growing Agitation: Rochester before, during and after the Civil War" by Ruth Rosenberg-Napersteck, January and April, 1984 [pdf, 6 MB]

"Lights and Shadows in Local Negro History" by Blake McKelvey, October, 1959 [pdf, 1 MB]

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