John Brown, of Osawatomie, was born in Torrington, Conn., May 9, 1800. For three generations his family were devoted to anti-slavery principles. His father, Owen Brown, in 1798, took part in the forcible rescue of some slaves claimed by a Virginia clergyman in Connecticut. At the age of five, John Brown removed with his parents to Hudson, Ohio. Until twenty years of age he worked at farming and in his father's tanner. He then learned surveying. Later he removed to Pennsylvania,and was postmaster at Randolph, Pa., under President Jackson. In 1836 he returned to Ohio; removed to Massachusetts in 1844; in 1849 purchased a farm and removed to Northern New York.
In 1854 five of his sons removed from Ohio to Kansas militia by the Free-State party: their active participation in the Kansas troubles is a part of the history of the Union.
On the night of Sunday, Oct. 16, 1859, Captain Brown, with his sixteen men, captured Harper's Ferry and the United States Arsenal. The citizens of the town had armed themselves, and penned Brown and his six remaining men in the engine-house, when, on the evening of the next day, Col. Robert F. Lee arrived with a company of United States Marines. When Brown was finally captured, two of his sons were dead, and he was supposed to be mortally wounded. Brown was tried in a Virginia court, and sentenced to death by hanging. On the day of his execution, he handed one of his guards a paper, on which was written the following:
'CHARLESTOWN, VA., Dec. 2, 1859. 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."
Rev. S.D. Peet, in the "Ashtabula County History," gives some interesting items. The means were so out of proportion to the magnitude of the enterprise that most men not acquainted with John Brown believed him to be insane; but to those who knew him; who knew the depth and fervor of his religious sentiments; his unwavering trust in the Infinite; his strong conviction that he had been selected by God as an instrument in his hands to hasten the overthrow of American slavery; to such he seemed inspired rather than insane. In a conversation I had with him the day he started for Harper's Ferry, I tried to convince him that his enterprise was hopeless, and that he would only rashly throw away his life. Among other things, he said, "I believe I have been raised up to work for the liberation of the slave; and while the cause will be best advanced by my life, I shall be preserved; but when that cause will be best served by my death, I shall be removed." The result proved that his sublime faith and trust in God enabled him to see what others could not see. He had so lived that, though dead, "his soul went marching on."
Sanborn's "Life of John Brown," published by Roberts Brothers, Boston, is the most complete biography of him extant. We here give, in an original contribution from high authority in this county, some facts in his history not before published.
JOHN BROWN, of Osawatomie and Harper's Ferry, spent a large part of his youth in Hudson, and the incidents of his life there throw much light upon his subsequent career.
Space will permit the record of only a few of the "memorabilia" which might be gathered up. He was the son of Owen Brown, a tanner, one of the pioneers of the township; a man of strong character, of many peculiarities and of the most unquestioned integrity.
Owen Brown was an inveterate stammerer and a noted wit. He could not endure placidly any reference to his infirmity of speech, and was never more witty and caustic in his retorts than when some well-intentioned party sought to help him to the word he was stammering for. On one occasion when, in answering the question of a stranger, his effort to give a desired word had become painful, the stranger kindly helped him to it; when his answer was, "Ba-Ba-Ba-Balaam ha-ha had an a-a-ss to speak for him too."
The stranger rode on without an answer to his question.
Owen Brown's first wife was a Miss _____, of a large family in Hudson and the neighborhood, in which there was a strong hereditary tendency to insanity. All the members were peculiar, eccentric, and many of them insane. John was a son of this first wife,and in early life disclosed the influence of this insane tendency. He was noted for his pranks and peculiarities, which reverence for the stern government of his father could not suppress. This government was based upon the rule laid down by Solomon, not to spare the rod; and the old man was as faithful in tanning the hides of his boys as he was in tanning the hides pickled in his vats; and this practice gave John an early opportunity to disclose his penchant for military tactics.
When a mere lad, having committed an offence, which by sad experience he knew would bring the accustomed chastisement, he repaired to the barn, the well-known place of discipline, and prepared for it by so arranging a plank that one stepping upon it would be precipitated through the floor and upon the pile of agricultural implements stored beneath it; and then, with apparent childish innocence, returned to the house. Soon the pater familias accused him of the offence, and invited him to an interview in the barn. After a paternal lecture, responded to by supplications for mercy, and promises "never to do so again," in obedience to orders he meekly stripped off coat and vest,and, with apparent resignation, submitted himself to the inevitable. As the first blow was about to fall, he dexterously retreated across the concealed chasm, and the good father was found to be as one "beating the air."
The ancient Adam in him was aroused,and leaping forward, with more than usual vigor in his arm, as the cutting blow was about to descend, he stepped upon the treacherous plank and landed upon the plows and barrows below. John retired from the scene. With difficulty the father rescued himself from his position, and with bruised and chafed limbs repaired to the house. John escaped further interviewing for this offence, but tradition is silent as to the cause, whether, before the father's recovery, the offence was deemed outlawed, or whether his own experience had given him some new ideas as to the effect of the abrasion of a boy's cuticle.
Passing over many similar events of his boyhood, his first military campaign should not be omitted. After reaching his majority and becoming the head of a family, he was the owner of a farm in Northeastern Hudson, upon which there was a mortgage that he was finally unable to raise, and proceedings in court were had for its foreclosure. Brown repaired to his neighbor, Chamberlain; told him he could not keep the farm, and asked him to bid it in. This he agreed to do and did. But after the sale was made and deed given, Brown asked for the privilege of remaining on the premises for a little time as tenant. The request was granted. When this time had elapsed he refused to vacate. Proceedings in ejectment were had, and the officers of the court turned him out of the house. Upon the withdrawal of the officers he again took possession, barricaded the house, armed his family with shot-guns and rifles, and prepared to hold the fort. Repeatedly arrested and sued, he responded to the warrant or summons, but left his garrison in possession of the stronghold. The contest was protracted into the winter, when an heroic scheme, like that of the Russians in burning Moscow, compelled the retreat of our general. On some real or fictitious charge, warrants were obtained in another township for the arrest of the eccentric garrison. While the warrants were served, some half hundred of Chamberlain's friends were ambushed in the immediate neighborhood, and as the officer and his prisoners passed out of sight they took possession of the premises; and as the building was of little value they quickly razed it to the foundations, carried off all material which would suffice even for building a hut, and rendered the place untenable. When Brown and his garrison returned, he found a hasty retreat the only alternative. It was not as disastrous as Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, but it ended the campaign.
His subsequent experience in wool-growing was not more successful. Simon Perkins, then a well-known capitalist of Akron, furnished the capital for the enterprise and Brown furnished the brains. He soon became as enthusiastic over fine-wooled sheep as he afterwards became over the wooly-headed slave and brother, but when the business was closed out, the share contributed to the capital by Brown was all that remained.
His experiences in Kansas and at Harper's Ferry are too well known to need repetition here; but some account of his last visit to Hudson and the neighborhood, just before his invasion of Virginia, is important to a right understanding of his character. After his trial and conviction in the Virginia court, M.C. Read, an attorney of Hudson, was employed by a brother of John Brown to take affidavits of parties whom he interviewed just before leaving for Harper's Ferry, to be laid before Governor Wise, with the hope of obtaining a commutation of his sentence. It was found that he had approached many persons with solicitations of personal and pecuniary aid, but these approaches were made with great shrewdness and caution. His real design was masked under a pretended scheme of organizing a western colony. In discussing this, he adroitly turned the conversation to the subject of slavery; to his work in Kansas; and finally to his divine commission to overthrow the institution of slavery. His was certain, because it was divinely promised, and divine direction to the employment of the proper means was assured. Affidavits of these parties were taken, showing the details of the conversation, and giving the opinion of the affiants, that Brown was insane. They were laid before Governor Wise by C.P. Wolcott, then an attorney of Akron, and afterwards Assistant Secretary of War under President Lincoln. They produced no effect upon the Governor.
This unquestioning faith of Brown in his divine commission and in his promised success, accounts for his undertaking so gigantic a work with such inadequate means. He had read and believed that the blowing of ram's horns by the priests, and the shouting of the people with a great shout, had caused the walls of Jericho to fall down, because Jehovah had so ordered it. He believed that with a score of men poorly armed, he could conquer the South and overturn its cherished institution, because Jehovah had so ordered it, and had commissioned him for the work. His faith was equal to that of any of the old Hebrew prophets, but his belief in his divine commission was a delusion, resulting from pre-natal influence and the mental wrench and exhaustion of his Kansas experience.
The Rev. Charles B. Storrs, the first president of the Western Reserve College, was the son of the Rev. Richard S. Storrs, of Long Meadow, Mass., and was born in May, 1794. He pursued his literary studies at Princeton, and his theological at Andover, after which he journeyed at the South, with the double object of restoring his health and preaching the gospel in its destitute regions. In 1822 he located himself as a preacher of the gospel at Ravenna. In this situation he remained, rapidly advancing in the confidence and esteem of the public, until March 2, 1828, when he was unanimously elected professor of Christian theology in the Western Reserve College, and was inducted into his office the 3d of December following. The institution then was in its infancy. Some fifteen or twenty students had been collected under the care and instruction of a tutor, but no permanent officers had been appointed. The government and much of the instruction of the college devolved on him. On the 25th of August, 1830, he was unanimously elected president, and inaugurated on the 9th of February, 1831.
In this situation he showed himself worthy of the confidence reposed in him. Under his mild and paternal, yet firm and decisive administration of government, the most perfect discipline prevailed, while all the students loved and venerated him as a father. Under his auspices, together with the aid of competent and faithful professors, the institution arose in public estimation, and increased from a mere handful to nearly one hundred students. For many years he had been laboring under a bad state of health, and on the 26th of June, 1833, he left the institution to travel for a few months for his health. He died on the 15th of September ensuing, at his brother's house in Braintree, Mass. President Storrs was naturally modest and retiring. He possessed a strong and independent mind, and took an expansive view of every subject that occupied his attention. He was a thorough student, and in his method of communicating his thoughts to others peculiarly happy. Though destitute in the pulpit of the tinsel of rhetoric, few men could chain an intelligent audience in breathless silence, by pure intellectual vigor and forcible illustration of truth, more perfectly than he. Some of his appeals were almost resistless. He exerted a powerful and salutary influence over the church and community in this part of the country, and his death was deeply felt. -Old Edition.
Hiistorical Collections of Ohio By Henry Howe, LL.D.