John Brown’s Men-at-Arms,
His Secret Backers,
And His Opponents
Jeremiah Goldsmith Anderson, born April 17, 1833, in Indiana, worked as a peddler, sawyer, and farmer before moving to Kansas. He was arrested twice and jailed for ten months for anti-slavery activity. Later, he fought with James Montgomery’s Free Soil troops, and participated in John Brown’s successful excursion into Missouri to free slaves. He was bayonetted to death in the final battle at the Engine House while trying to surrender on the morning of October 18, 1859.
Osborn Perry Anderson was an African American born on July 27, 1830, in West Fallowfield, Pennsylvania. While living in Canada, he learned the printing trade and met John Brown there in 1858. During the Harper’s Ferry raid, he managed to escape, returning to Canada. In 1864, he entered the United States and joined the Union Army to fight in the Civil War. After the war, he wrote a book about his experiences during the Harper’s Ferry raid called A Voice from Harper’s Ferry. Unfortunately, this book contains numerous inaccuracies. In Washington, D.C., he died of consumption on December 13, 1872.
Oliver Brown was born March 9, 1839, in Franklin, Ohio. He was John Brown’s youngest surviving son. He married Martha E. Brewster on April 7, 1858, and died October 18, 1859, at the age of twenty. His wife and baby died early in 1860.
Owen Brown was John Brown’s third son. He was born November 4, 1824, in Hudson, Ohio. He fought beside his father in Kansas and is one of the five survivors of the Harper’s Ferry raid. Of those five, he is the only one who did not join the Union Army during the Civil War, and he is the last to die. After the Civil War, he grew grapes in Ohio, and later moved to California where he died at his little homestead on "Brown Mountain" in northwest Altadena. It has been reported that he died on January 9, 1891, but according to his gravestone on "Little Round Top," a hill near "Brown Mountain," he actually died on January 9, 1889. For a fuller biography of Owen Brown and a description of his funeral with links to pictures of his homestead on "Brown Mountain" and his grave on "Little Round Top," click here. My thanks to Harry Langenbacher for his help in updating this information. For a look at his webpage about John Brown, click here.
Watson Brown, another son of John Brown, was born October 7, 1835, in Franklin, Ohio. While his father was out fighting in Kansas, Watson stayed home to take care of his mother and other brothers and sisters. He married Isabella Thompson, the sister of William and Dauphin Thompson, in 1856. During the raid, he sustained a wound which was not properly treated and became mortal. He died about twenty hours after the raiders were captured.
John E. Cook, a veteran of the fight to keep Kansas free from slavery, served as John Brown’s front man for the raid. At Harper’s Ferry, he held various jobs, including schoolteacher, book-agent, and lock tender on the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal which runs parallel to the Potomac River on the Maryland side. He also married a local Catholic girl, Mary V. Kennedy, on April 18, 1859. She bore him a son that summer. Cook escaped from Harper’s Ferry during the raid, but was captured eight miles outside Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He made a lengthy confession to Virginia authorities in Charlestown where John Brown’s trial was held, an act which did not endear him to Brown and his surviving men. He was hanged on December 16, 1859.
John Anthony Copeland, Jr. was born August 15, 1834, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Although an African American, he was a free man. In 1842, he and his parents moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where he attended school and was later enrolled as a student at Oberlin College. While living there, Copeland became involved in the rescue of escaped slave John Price, an act for which he was arrested and jailed in Cleveland. His uncle, Lewis Sheridan Leary, recruited him for John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. Copeland was one of the few who survived the raid, but he was captured and put on trial for murder and treason. He was hanged December 16, 1859.
Barclay Coppoc was born January 4, 1839, in Salem, Ohio. He was one of the youngest of Brown’s men, and one of the few who escaped capture after the raid. During the Civil War, Barclay received a commission as a lieutenant in the Third Kansas. He died as a result of injuries sustained during a train wreck on the Platte River on September 3, 1861. The wreck was caused by Confederate soldiers who had burned away the supports of a railroad trestle.
Edwin Coppoc, the older brother of Barclay, was born June 30, 1835. He met John Brown in Springdale, Iowa, in the fall of 1858. During the raid, Edwin shot the mayor of Harper’s Ferry, Fontaine Beckham. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to hang on November 2, 1859. He was hanged December 16, 1859.
Shields Green, also known as the "Emperor," was an escaped slave from Charleston, South Carolina. He lived for a time in Canada and later moved to Rochester, New York, where he met Frederick Douglass and John Brown. Green accompanied Douglass to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where Brown had organized a conference of his men in a local rock quarry to discuss the raid on the Ferry. Douglass refused to go with Brown, but Green was willing to follow "the ole man." According to some of the raiders, Green was more of a liability than an asset during the raid. He proved to be so lacking in courage that, when Brown’s men were finally captured in the Engine House, Green tried to pass himself off as one of the slaves Brown had forcibly pressed into service. Osborn Anderson, on the other hand, praised Green’s courage at his willingness to remain with Brown to the end when he could have escaped. He was executed on December 16, 1859.
Albert Hazlett was born September 21, 1837, in Pennsylvania. Like many of Brown’s other followers, Hazlett met Brown in Kansas. He managed to escape from Harper’s Ferry but was later captured in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on October 22, a few days after the raid ended. He was hanged March 16, 1860.
John Henry Kagi was born in Bristolville, Ohio, on March 15, 1835. His father served as the village blacksmith. While teaching school in Hawkinstown, Virginia, he was so repulsed by the institution of slavery that he could not keep these feelings a secret. The townspeople forced him to leave for Ohio after taking an oath never to return to the town. He fought in Kansas to keep the territory free from slavery under James H. Lane and Aaron D. Stevens. Through Stevens, he met John Brown and became embroiled in Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. He was killed during the raid on October 17, 1859.
Lewis Sheridan Leary, the uncle of John A. Copeland, was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina on March 17, 1835. He was a free-born African American with impressive forebears, one of whom was Jeremiah O’Leary of Ireland who came to America and fought in the American Revolution under General Nathanael Greene. Jeremiah later married a woman of mixed ancestry, part African and part Croatan Indian. She was believed to be a descendant of the English colonists who disappeared from Roanoke Island after 1587. Lewis Leary worked as a saddler and harness maker. He met John Brown in Cleveland, Ohio. During the raid, he was shot and severely wounded. He died eight hours later.
William H. Leeman was born March 20, 1839, and was the youngest of the men in John Brown’s raid. He was of a wild disposition, smoking and drinking heavily. While living in Kansas, he met John Brown and joined Brown’s "Volunteer Regulars" on September 9, 1856. He was then but 17. He was killed at Harper’s Ferry on October 17, 1859.
Francis Jackson Meriam was born at Framingham, Massachusetts, on November 17, 1837. Franklin Sanborn, one of John Brown’s secret northern backers, described Meriam as a man with "little judgment and in feeble health." His reckless devotion to the cause of abolition led him to join John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, one of the last to do so. He escaped and made his way to Canada, but during the Civil War, he returned to the United States and was given a captain’s commission in the Third South Carolina Colored Infantry. While serving under Grant, he was wounded in the leg, but survived the war. He died suddenly on November 28, 1865.
Dangerfield Newby was born a slave in 1815 somewhere in Fauquier County, Virginia. His owner and father, a white man from Scotland, provided for all his slave children to become free. Newby’s wife was the slave of Jesse Jennings who lived in Warington, Virginia. He joined in John Brown’s raid in an attempt to free his wife before she and the children were "sold South." Newby was gunned down at Harper’s Ferry on October 17, 1859, about noon while trying to escape from local militia coming across the Potomac River bridge.
Aaron Dwight Stevens saw heavy fighting in the Mexican War and later served in the First United States Dragoons. While serving in the dragoons, he was tried for "mutiny, engaging in a drunken riot," and assaulting a major in his regiment. He was sentenced to death, but President Franklin Pierce commuted the sentence to three years hard labor in Leavenworth. He escaped from jail and joined Free State forces opposed to slavery in Kansas where he subsequently met John Brown. During the Harper’s Ferry Raid, he was shot four times, but survived his wounds to be hanged on March 16, 1860.
Stewart Taylor was a spiritualist, a person who believes that it is possible to communicate with the dead through a medium. He was born in Uxbridge, Canada, on October 29, 1836, and was the only raider not born in the United States. Although he was a wagonmaker by trade, he was also a rapid and accurate stenographer. He died during the Harper’s Ferry raid.
Charles Plummer Tidd was born in Palermo, Maine, in 1834. He moved to Kansas in 1856 and served under John Brown in Kansas and elsewhere from 1857 on. He is one of the few raiders who survived and fought in the Civil War as a first sergeant in the 21st Massachusetts. His regiment was slated to participate in the Battle of Roanoke Island, on February 8, 1862, a fight he particularly wanted to be in because the commander of Confederate forces on the island was Brigadier General Henry Wise, the man who had been governor of Virginia at the time of the Harper’s Ferry Raid. But he came down with a fever and died just as the battle got underway.
Dauphin Osgood Thompson was born April 17, 1838. he was William’s younger brother. Their sister, Isabella, married Watson Brown. Like Jeremiah Anderson, Dauphin was killed while trying to surrender on October 18, 1859.
William Thompson was born in August of 1833. He was a neighbor of John Brown’s in North Elba, New York, and traveled to Kansas in 1856. Thompson was murdered on the Potomac River bridge as an act of vengeance spurred by the killing of Fontaine Beckham.
Brown’s Secret Northern Backers (The Secret Six)
Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911) was a minister and abolitionist. In 1854, he tried to free a captured runaway slave, Anthony Burns, from the Boston Court House. He openly supported John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, but was never called to testify before the Senate committee investigating the raid. In 1863, during the Civil War, he became the colonel of one of the first "colored" regiments to be enlisted in the Union Army, the First South Carolina.
Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876) held a degree in medicine from Harvard University and is the founder of the Perkins School for the Blind, and co-founder of the Clarke School for the Deaf. He is the first person to successfully teach a student, Laura Bridgman, who was both deaf and blind, techniques that would later be used with Helen Keller. After John Brown’s botched attempt to free slaves in Virginia, Howe worked to provide for Brown’s defense. Later, he and George Luther Stearns, fearing arrest by federal marshals because they had both provided Brown with money and arms for the raid, fled to Canada. They returned after Brown’s execution, and both men testified before the Senate committee investigating the Harper’s Ferry raid. During the Civil War, Howe served on the U.S. Sanitary Commission and helped found a committee to put pressure on Lincoln and other politicians to free the slaves. Once Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Howe served on a national committee called the Freedmens Inquiry Commission, the precursor of the Freedmens’ Bureau.
Theodore Parker (1810-1860) was a Unitarian minister in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. He was a fearless abolitionist, actively seeking out slave catchers who came to Boston and telling them to leave town before they got killed or worse. At the time of John Brown’s raid, Parker was staying in Florence, Italy, dying of consumption. He died soon after penning an angry letter defending Brown’s actions.
Franklin Benjamin Sanborn (1831-1917) taught school in Concord, Massachusetts, around the time John Brown was fighting in Kansas. He was also secretary of the Kansas Aid Society in Massachusetts when Brown came to the committee seeking guns and money. After Brown’s raid was put down, Sanborn panicked and burned all his correspondence with Brown. He also vigorously resisted all attempts to remove him to Washington to testify before the Senate committee charged with determining if Brown was involved in a conspiracy with northern abolitionists. He went on to write many books, one of the most important being a book about John Brown’s letters and journals.
Gerrit Smith (1797-1874) was an American philanthropist and would be politician. In the late 1840’s, he hit upon a scheme to help himself get elected to public office. Since only landowners could vote in New York, and he owned large tracts of land around Lake Placid, he decided to give away 40 acre lots to free African Americans who would in turn vote of him. John Brown approached Smith in 1850 to purchase a 200+ acre farm in the area of Lake Placid so that he could farm the land, survey his neighbors’ property, and help the freedmen, who were largely tradesmen, coach driver, barbers, etc., learn how to run a farm. When Smith learned that John Brown and his men had been captured at Harper’s Ferry, Smith had a nervous breakdown and was placed in an asylum. When he emerged, he had conveniently forgotten that he had ever known John Brown.
George Luther Stearns (1809-1874) was the chairman of the Kansas Aid Society in Massachusetts when John Brown approached him seeking arms and money to fight against the extension of slavery into the western territories and to free slaves. Stearns testified before the Senate committee investigating Brown’s raid, and defended Brown’s actions. On January 1, 1863, he held a party celebrating the signing of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. At the gathering, he unveiled a bust of John Brown he had commissioned from sculptor Edwin Brackett.
Fontaine Beckham was the mayor of Harper’s Ferry and the railroad stationmaster at the time of John Brown’s raid. He was born in 1788 in Culpeper County, Virginia, and was married to Ann Amelia Stephenson. His parents were James Beckham and Hannah Bohon. Aside from this, we do know that he had taken on Virginia’s Byzantine manumission laws and had some success in freeing Hayward Shepherd, the baggage master shot by Brown’s men on the first night of the raid. Because of Beckham’s sponsorship of Shepherd, the freedman did not have to leave the state of Virginia, as was generally required. When Beckham was shot and instantly killed on October 17, 1859, three slaves that he owned were manumitted by will. His body is buried at Edgehill Cemetery, Charles Town, Jefferson County, West Virginia.
Christine Fouke is one of the most interesting, if mysterious, women involved in the story of John Brown. We know only that, when Fontaine Beckham was shot, she acted as a human shield to protect the men who were removing Beckham’s body to the train station, and that she did all she could to prevent the vengeful murder of Will Thompson. As to her age or any other particulars, nothing can be discerned, except that at the time of the raid, she was not married. There is no known photograph of her.
Brevet Colonel Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870) was making repairs to his home on Arlington Heights just outside Washington, D.C., when John Brown struck at Harper's Ferry. Lieutenant Jeb Stuart called him to an urgent meeting with President James Buchanan and War Secretary John B. Floyd. They gave Lee the power to command all troops at the Ferry using his brevet rank of colonel earned during intense fighting at Chapultepec in the Mexican War. Once at the Ferry, Lee commanded a company of Marines led by Israel Green to assault the Engine House where John Brown made his last stand. The assault brought the raid to an end. After this success, Lee became one of the most famous and popular Confederate generals in the Civil War, beating back superior Union forces at places like Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. In July of 1863, he was defeated at Gettysburg, but was able to reorganize his army to continue the fight for nearly two years before the Confederate surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. After the war, he served as president of George Washington College until his death in 1870.
Dr. John D. Starry was John Brown’s greatest nemesis at Harper’s Ferry. While Brown had taken hostage all known militia leaders in the town, he had not counted on the ingenuity of this medical doctor who, though not trained in the military, organized the first resistance to John Brown’s raiders, and sent out riders to alert nearby towns. During the Civil War, he served as a surgeon in Company F, 7th Virginia Cavalry, and moved to Grant Township after the war.
Lieutenant James Ewell Brown ("Jeb") Stuart (1833-1864) was a US Cavalry officer at the time of the Brown raid. While serving in the Kansas territory, he had met a man called "Osawatomie" Brown, a name John Brown was given after his bloody massacre of pro-slavery men living on Pottawatomie Creek. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Stuart became a daring commander of Confederate cavalry, known best for his daring rides around the Union army. But in the summer of 1863, a ride around Union General Meade's Army of the Potomac caused Stuart and his men to be absent from the first two days of fighting at Gettysburg. During Grant's siege of Petersburg, Stuart was killed at the Battle of Yellow Tavern on May 11, 1864.
Governor Henry Alexander Wise (1806-1876) was the man most responsible for deciding John Brown’s fate. Because he thought the federal courts would be too slow, he made sure Brown and his men were tried in the Virginia state courts, the nearest one being the Jefferson County Courthouse in Charlestown, Virginia, just a few miles from Harper’s Ferry. While Brown was waiting to be executed, Wise toyed with the idea of having Brown declared insane, thereby sparing his life. But in the end, he changed his mind. "He was more sane than his prompters and promoters," Wise wrote of Brown, "and concealed well the secret which made him do an act of mad impulse…." In an ironic twist, less than two years later, Wise acted on a mad impulse of his own, conspiring with members of the Virginia militia to take the U.S. government armory and arsenal at Harper’s Ferry by force for the defense of Virginia in the American Civil War. He also forced Virginia into the Confederacy and became a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. As a commander, he saw little success in battle, failing to keep federal troops out of western Virginia in 1861, and losing to superior Union forces under Ambrose Burnside at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, in February of 1862. But at the beginning of General Grant’s thrust at Petersburg, Virginia, Wise, with 2,200 troops at his command, was able to hold off 16,000 Union troops under General William "Baldy" Smith long enough for Confederate troops to reinforce his position, an act of heroism which prolonged the war by nearly a year. At the surrender at Appomattox on April 12, 1865, Wise was razzed by Union troops who had discovered that he had been governor of Virginia at the time of John Brown’s raid. While the troops were threatening to hang Wise to a "sour apple tree," General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain intervened and restored order. After the war, Wise attempted to gain possession of his plantation, Rolleston in Princess Anne County. Rolleston had been occupied by Union troops ever since 1862 when the federal army took possession of Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia. In another ironic twist, members of the American Missionary Association, an outgrowth of the committee which helped free the African slaves charged with mutiny aboard the Cuban coastal slave ship Amistad, set up a school for freed slaves at Rolleston. Each morning, the students started their daily routine in Wise’s parlor by singing, "John Brown’s body lies a moulderin’ in the grave. His soul is marching on!" Wise regained possession of the property in 1868 and sold it to a man from New York who had married into his family. To learn more about Wise’s post-war years, select the out-take, Henry Wise, the Final Years, in these pages.
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