October 16, 1859 — Today, Caucasian abolitionist John Brown led 21 activists in a raid on the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, which was then in Virginia (now West Virginia). He was defeated by a detachment of U.S. Marines led by Col. Robert E. Lee.
Brown had originally asked Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass — both of whom he had met in his formative years as an abolitionist in Springfield, Mass. — to join him in this raid. Tubman was prevented by illness, and Douglass declined, saying later that he believed Brown’s plan would fail.
After the raid, Lee and volunteer aide-de-camp John Stuart searched the surrounding country for fugitives who had participated in the attack. Brown was taken to the courthouse in nearby Charles Town for trial, and found guilty of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was hanged on Dec. 2, as witnessed by the actor John Wilkes Booth, who later assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.
Illustration: Published in Harper’s Weekly.
Words of Wisdom
I, John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be done.