Connecticut's John Brown


By Frederick Hedenberg

In previous blogs I have written much about the Civil War as it pertains to our state. I featured an escaped slave who served as a manservant on the USS MONITOR, during the historic conflict of ironclads. Gideon Welles from Glastonbury who was Lincoln’s Secretary of The Navy. Manasseh Cutler from Killingly who authored the Northwest Ordinance which served as the master plan to expand the new nation.

One historic person from CT that little gets written about is former Torrington native, John Brown. Brown was born in Torrington on May 9 1800 fourth of eight children. Although President Lincoln credited Harriet Beacher Stowe, also of CT, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, with starting the Civil War, many felt Brown played a larger part as an abolitionist who took a violent path to rid the nation of what he felt was an abomination.

Associated with many prominent abolitionists, Brown became furious when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed. It mandated authorities in Free states to return captured slaves or be fined for any complicity in their freedom.

The Northwest Ordinance banned slavery in the new territories but it was decided that they had the right to vote for or against it. When the Kansas Territory attempted to vote in slavery, Brown and his followers went there to protest. Historians believe that he and his supporters kidnapped five pro slavery settlers and hacked them to death at Pottawamie Creek.

Brown ended up at Harper’s Ferry, VA where he captured an armory with over 100,000 rifles stored inside. He planned on arming slaves to fight for freedom. The armory became known as John Brown’s Fort. The locals fought back by firing at Brown and kept them trapped. Finally Capt. Robert E. Lee, and Lt. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, under a white flag asked for Brown’s surrender. Brown refused. The armory was stormed, Brown and his supporters captured, brought to trial and found guilty of treason. All were hanged, and before long a legend in song became popular known as “John Brown’s Body…..”