Harper's Ferry

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One abolitionist was angrier than the others. He did not want to wait for the government to solve the issue of slavery. John Brown wanted to free the slaves by force. He thought he had been sent from heaven to free all the slaves and punish all slave owners.


In October 1859 Brown and eighteen of his followers took over the federal arsenal. This was a place were weapons were kept at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. Brown thought the slaves in the countryside would come and help him. He thought the slaves would take the guns from the arsenal and go out and punish their masters. No slaves came. A group of U. S. Marines led by Colonel Robert E. Lee came. They attacked the arsenal and killed ten of Brown's men. Brown was captured.

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The caption on this illustration which appeared in 'Harper's Weekly' in November 1859 reads: "The Harper's Ferry Insurrection.--The U.S. Marines storming the Engine-House.--Insurgents firing through holes in the wall."

Image Credit: Historic Photo Collection, Harpers Ferry NHP.

Brown was tried on charges of treason and murder. He was found guilty and hanged. Many people in the North thought Brown was a great man. They thought he had given his life to free the slaves. The Southerners thought he was crazy and a troublemaker.

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