Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5 v. (lvi, 2731 p., [228] leaves of plates) : ill., maps (some fold.), ports. ; 27 cm.

1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 30 Part 1




John Brown was born May 9, 1800, at Torrington, Litchfield County, Connecticut. He was the son of Owen and Ruth (Mills) Brown. John Brown believed that his great-grandfather, Peter Brown, came over in the Mayflower. The later writers deny that Peter Brown was one of the Pilgrim Fathers. But the ancestry of John Brown is Puritan of the earliest New England stock and is as good as there is in America. That is conceded by all. His mother, Ruth Mills, was descended from Peter Wouter van der Muelen, of Amsterdam, Holland. His son Peter emigrated to Connecticut, settling in Windsor. The emigrant Muelen retained the old Dutch name, but his son Peter, who was born in 1666, wrote his name Peter Mills. From him descended Ruth Mills. She died while her son John was yet a child, but his recollection of her was clear, and the memory of her justice, as well as of her love, remained to him a priceless heritage. He was eight years old at the time of her death. The best account of the early life of John Brown was written by himself for a young friend, the son of George L. Stearns, of Boston, and is here given:


Mr. Henry L. Stearns.

[Photograph by Willard
from Portrait Owned by
William E. Connelley]
My Dear Young Friend: I have not forgotten my promise to write you; but my constant care & anxiety have obliged me to put it off a long time. I do not flatter myself that I can write anything that will very much interest you, but have concluded to send you a short story of a certain boy of my acquaintance, & for convenience & shortness of name, I will call him John. This story will be mainly a narration of follies and errors, which it is to be hoped you may avoid; but there is one thing connected with it which will be calculated to encourage any young person to persevering effort; & that is the degree of success in accomplishing his objects which to a great extent marked the course of this boy throughout my entire acquaintance with him; notwithstanding his moderate capacity; & still more moderate acquirements.

John was born May 9th, 1800, at Torrington, Litchfield Co., Connecticut; of poor but respectable parents; a descendant on the side of his Father of one of the company of the Mayflower who landed at Plymouth 1620. His mother was descended from a man who came at an early period to New England from Amsterdam, in Holland. Both his Father's and Mother's Fathers served in the war of the revolution. His Father's Father died in a barn at New York while in the service,

I cannot tell you of anything in the first Four years of John's life worth mentioning, save that at that early age he was tempted by Three large Brass Pins belonging to a girl who lived in the family & stole them. In this he was detected by his Mother; & after having a full day to think of the wrong, received from her a thorough whipping. When he was Five years old his Father moved to Ohio; then a wilderness filled with wild beasts, & Indians. During the long ,journey which was performed in part or mostly with an Oxteam, he was called on by turns to assist a boy Five years old (who had been adopted by his Father & Mother) & learned to think he could accomplish smart things in driving the Cows; & riding the horses. Sometimes he met with Rattle Snakes which were very large; & which some of the company generally managed to kill. After getting to Ohio in 1805), he was for some time rather afraid of the Indians, & of their Rifles; but this soon wore off, & he used to hang about them quite as much as was consistent with good manners, & learned a trifle of their talk. His father learned to dress Deer Skins, at 6 years old John was installed a young Buck Skin. He was perhaps rather observing as he ever after remembered the entire process of Deer Skin dressing; so that he could at any time dress his own leather, such as Squirel, Raccoon, Cat, Wolf or Dog Skins; and also learned to make Whip Lashes, which brought him some change at times; & was of considerable service in many ways. At Six years old John began to be quite a rambler in the wild new country finding birds and Squirrels and sometimes a wild Turkey's nest. But about this period he was placed in the School of adversity; which my young friend was a most necessary part of his early training. You may laugh when you come to read about it, but these were sore trials to John, whose earthly treasures were very few, & small. These were the beginning of a severe but much needed course of dicipline which he afterwards was to pass through; & which it is to be hoped has learned him before this time that the Heavenly Father sees it best to take all the little things out of his hands which he has ever placed in them. When John was in his Sixth year a poor Indian boy gave him a Yellow Marble, the first he had ever seen. This he thought a great deal of; & kept it a good while; but at last he lost it beyond recovery. It took years to heal the wound & I think he cried at times about it. About Five months after this he caught a young Squirrel, tearing off his tail in doing it; & getting severely bitten at the same time himself. He however held on to the little bob tail Squirrel; & finally got him perfectly tamed, so that he almost idolized his pet. This too he lost; by its wandering away; or by getting killed; & for a year or two John was in mourning; and looking at all the Squirrels he could see to try & discover Bobtail, if possible. I must not neglect to tell you of a verry bad & foolish habbit to which John was somewhat addicted. I mean telling lies; generally to screen himself from blame; or from punishment. He could not well endure to be reproached; & I now think had he been oftener encouraged to be entirely frank; by making frankness a kind of atonement for some of his faults; he would not have been so often guilty in after life of this fault; nor have been obliged to struggle so long with so mean a habit.

John was never quarrelsome; but was excessively fond of the hardest & roughest kind of plays; & could never get enough of them. Indeed when for a short time he was sometimes sent to School the opportunity it afforded to wrestle & Snow ball & run & jump & knock off old seedy Wool hats; offered to him almost the only compensation for the confinement, & restraints of school. I need not tell you that with such a feeling & but little chance of going to school at all he did not become much of a schollar. He would always choose to stay at home & work hard rather than be sent to school; & during the Warm season might generally be seen barefooted & bareheaded, with Buck skin Breeches suspended often with one leather strap over his shoulder but sometimes with Two. To be sent off through the wilderness alone to very considerable distances was particularly his delight; & in this he was often indulged so that by the time he was Twelve years old he was sent off more than a Hundred Miles with companies of cattle; & he would have thought his character much injured had he been obliged to be helped in any such job. This was a boyish kind of feeling but characteristic however. At Eight years old, John was left a Motherless boy, which loss was complete & permanent for notwithstanding his Father again married to a sensible, inteligent, and on many accounts a very estimable woman; yet he never adopted her in feeling; but continued to pine after his own Mother for years. This opperated very unfavorably uppon him; as he was both naturally fond of females; &, withall, extremely diffident; & deprived him of a suitable connecting link between the different sexes; the want of which might, under some circumstances, have proved his ruin. When the war broke out with England, his Father soon commenced furnishing the troops with beef cattle, the collecting & driving of which afforded him some opportunity for the chase (on foot) of wild steers & other cattle through the woods. During this war he had some chance to form his own boyish judgment of men & measures & to become somewhat familiarly acquainted with some who have figured before the country since that time. The effect of what he saw during the war was to so far disgust him with Military affairs that he would neither train, or drill; but paid fines; & got along like a Quaker untill his age finally had cleared him of Military duty. During the war with England a circumstance occurred that in the end made him a most determined Abolitionist, & led him to declare, or swear, Eternal war with Slavery. He was staying for a short time with a very gentlemanly landlord, since a United States Marshall, who held a slave boy near his own age very active, inteligent, and good feeling; & to whom John was under considerable obligation for numerous little acts of kindness. The Master made a great pet of John; brought him to table with his first company; & friends; called their attention to every little smart thing he said or did; & to the fact of his being more than a hundred miles from home with a company of cattle alone; while the negro boy (who was fully if not more than his equal) was badly clothed, poorly fed; & lodged in cold weather; & beaten before his eyes with Iron Shovels or any other thing that came first to hand. This brought John to reflect on the wretched, hopeless condition, of Fatherless & Motherless slave children; for such children have neither Fathers or Mothers to protect & provide for them. He sometimes would raise the question is God their Father? At the age of Ten years, an old friend induced him to read a little history, & offered him the free use of a good library; by which he acquired some taste for reading, which formed the principle part of his early education, & diverted him in a great measure from bad company. He by this means grew to be verry fond of the company & conversation of old & inteligent persons. He never attempted to dance in his life; nor did he ever learn to know one of a pack of Cards from another. He learned nothing of Grammer; nor did he get at school so much knowledge of common Arithmetic as the Four ground rules. This will give you some general idea of the first Fifteen years of his life; during which time he became very strong & large of his age & ambitious to perform the full labour of a man; at almost any kind of hard work. By reading the lives of great, wise & good men, their sayings and writings. he grew to a dislike of vain & frivolous conversation & persons; & was often greatly obliged by the kind manner in which older & more inteligent persons treated him at their houses, & in conversation; which was a great relief on account of his extreme bashfulness. He very early in life became ambitious to excel in doing anything he undertook to perform. This kind of feeling I would recomment to all young persons both Male & female; as it will certainly tend to secure admission to the company of the more inteligent; & better portion of every community. By all means endeavour to excel in some laudable pursuit. I had like to have forgotten to tell you of one of John's misfortunes which set rather hard on him while a young boy. He had by some means, perhaps by gift of his Father, become the owner of a little Ewe Lamb which did finely till it was about Two Thirds grown; & then sickened and died. This brought another protracted mourning season, not that he felt the pecuniary loss so heavily, for that was never his disposition; but so strong & earnest were his attachments. John had been taught from earliest childhood to "fear God & keep his commandments;" & though quite skeptical he had always by turns felt much serious doubt as to his future well being; & about this time became to some extent a convert to Christianity & ever after a firm believer in the divine authenticity of the Bible. With this book he became very familiar, & possessed a most unusual memory of its entire contents.

Now some of the things I have been telling of were just such as I would recommend to you, & I would like to know that you had selected these out; & adopted them as part of your own plan of life; & I wish you to have some definite plan. Many seem to have none; & others never to stick to any that they do form. This was not the case with John. He followed up with tenacity whatever he set about so long as it answered his general purpose; & hence he rarely failed in some good degree to effect the things he undertook. This was so much the case that he habitually expected to succeed in his undertakings. With this feeling should be coupled the consciousness that our plans are right in themselves.

During the period I have named, John had acquired a kind of ownership to certain animals of some little value, but as he had come to understand that the title of minors might be a little imperfect, he had recourse to various means in order to secure a more independent & perfect right of property. One of these means was to exchange with his Father for something of far less value. Another was by trading with other persons for something his Father had never owned. Older persons have sometimes found difficulty with titles.

From Fifteen to Twenty years old, he spent most of his time working at the Tanner & Currier's trade keeping Bachelors hall; & he officiating as Cook; & for most of the time as foreman of the establishment under his Father. During this period he found much trouble with some of the bad habits I have mentioned & with some that I have not told you of: his conscience urging him forward with great power in this matter; but his close attention to business, & success in its management, together with the way he got along with a company of men, & boys, made him quite a favorite with the serious & more inteligent portion of older persons. This was so much the case; & secured for him so many little notices from those he esteemed; that his vanity was very much fed by it; & he came forward to manhood quite full of self-conceit; & self-confident; notwithstanding his extreme bashfulness. A young brother used sometimes to remind him of this: & to repeat to him this expression which you may somewhere find, "A King against whom there is no rising up." The habit so early formed of being obeyed rendered him in after life too much disposed to speak in an imperious or dictating way. From Fifteen years & upward he felt a good deal of anxiety to learn; but could only read & studdy a little; both for want of time; & on account of inflammation of the eyes. He however managed by the help of books to make himself tolerably well acquainted with common Arithmetic; & Surveying; which he practiced more or less after he was Twenty years old. At a little past Twenty years, led by his own inclination & prompted also by his Father, he married a remarkably plain, but neat, industrious & economical girl; of excellent character; earnest piety; & good practical common sense; about one year younger than himself. This woman, by her mild, frank, & more than all else, by her very consistent conduct, acquired & ever while she lived maintained a most powerful & good influence over him. Her plain but kind admonitions generally had the right effect; without arousing his haughty, obstinate temper. John began early in life to discover a great liking to fine Cattle, Horses, Sheep, & Swine; & as soon as circumstances would enable him, he began to be a practical Shepherd, it being a calling for which in early life he had a kind of enthusiastic longing; together with the idea that as a business it bid fair to afford him the means of carrying out his greatest or principal object. I have now given you a kind of general idea of the early life of this boy; & if I believed it would be worth the trouble; or afford much interest to any good feeling person; I might be tempted to tell you something of his course in after life, or manhood. I do not say that I will do it.

You will discover that in using up my half sheets to save paper, I have written Two pages, so that one does not follow the other as it should. I have no time to write it over: & but for unavoidable hindrances in traveling I can hardly say when I should have written what I have. With an honest desire for your best good, I subscribe myself,

Your Friend,


In 1805, Owen Brown moved to the Western Reserve, in Ohio, settling at Hudson. Owen Brown established a tannery. In this, John Brown worked as foreman, in his father's service. He had not attained his majority when he married Dianthe Lusk. Before his marriage he was following the vocations of both tanner and surveyor. He lived in his own house, having employed a housekeeper, a widow named Lusk, who brought her daughter, Dianthe, with her to this service. In 1825 John Brown moved to Pennsylvania, settling near Randolph, now Richmond. There he was postmaster for some years, and he had a large tannery. In 1835 he moved to Franklin Mills, Portage County, Ohio. At that time there was a fever of speculation over the country. John Brown invested in village lots. These proved valueless, and the venture ruined him financially. Later he was an extensive sheep farmer. This led to his becoming a member of the firm of Perkins & Brown, wool merchants, with warehouse at Springfield, Massachusetts, to which city merchants, with warehouse at Springfield, Massachusetts, to which city he moved in 1846. He became an expert grader of wool, and might have succeeded in this enterprise but for the attempt to dictate the price of wool to the New England manufacturers. This caused him to take a large cargo of wool to England, in August, 1849, which was finally sold for much less than it would have brought in Springfield. He returned, after a travel over portions of Europe, in October, 1849. His partner urged him to remain in the wool business, but he decline. It is related of Brown that an Englishman thought to test his knowledge of wool. "He very gravely drew a sample from his pocket, handed it to the Yankee farmer, and asked him what he would do with such wool as that. Brown took it, and had only to roll it between his fingers to know that it had not the minutes hooks by which the fibers of wool are attached to each other. 'Gentlemen,' said he, 'if you have any machinery in England that will work up dog's hair, I advise you to put this into it.' The jocose Briton had sheared a poodle and brought the fleece with him; but the laugh went against him when Brown handed back his precious sample."

In 1846 Gerrit Smith proposed to donate wild land in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, to such free negroes as would accept, clear, and cultivate farms there. These farms were limited to forty acres. In April, 1848, John Brown proposed to take one of the farms on which to build a home and become an example to the few negro families then there and to those who might afterwards come. Mr,. Smith was pleased to accept the offer of Brown, who before the final settlement of his wool business, removed a portion of his family to North Elba, New York, where his home always remained and where he is buried.


In October, 1854, Owen, Frederick and Salmon Brown, sons of John Brown, left Ohio for Kansas. They brought eleven head of cattle and three horses. They came by water to Chicago. At Meridosia, Illinois, they remained through the winter. Early in April they set out for Kansas, crossing the line into the Territory on the 20th day of April, 1855. On the 7th of May, Jason and John Jr., also sons of John Brown, came to Osawatomie. They left Ohio after the rivers were clear of ice. The Browns settled in Franklin County, not far west of the line between Miami and Franklin Counties.1

John Brown had early determined to wage war on slavery. His sons were imbued with this same spirit. Salmon Brown had come to Kansas only to fight slavery. Later his brother Oliver came for the same purpose, as did his father and brother-in-law, Henry Thompson. The others came for the purpose of making homes, and living in Kansas. The family of John Brown was a peculiar one. The members of it were bound to one another by very close ties, and their conduct was always the result of religious inclinations. Cholera broke out among the passengers on the boat bringing the Browns up the Missouri River. Jason's son, Austin, four years old, contracted this disease and died of it. At Waverly, Missouri, the boat was tied up to repair a broken rudder. The child was taken ashore and there buried. The repairs were made before the burial party returned. The captain, without notice to those ashore, continued his way up the Missouri, leaving the Browns to get to Kansas in the best manner they could. When they offered to purchase food at farm houses, they were repulsed, the people knowing from their speech that they were the North.

John Brown, Jr., wrote a long letter to his father on the 20th of May, 1855. He described the political conditions in the Territory. He discerned plainly the national character of the conflict in Kansas, saying, "Now Missouri is not alone in the undertaking to make this a Slave State. Every Slave-holding State from Virginia to Texas is furnishing men and money to fasten Slavery upon this glorious land by means no matter how foul." He proposed that the Free-State men should immediately thoroughly arm and organize themselves into militia companies. He affirmed that the Browns were not only anxious to prepare themselves, but that they were thoroughly determined to fight. He enumerated the arms they possessed. He also made a list of arms they needed, saying, "Now we want you to get for us these arms. We need them more than we do bread."

1 The Browns settled in Franklin County, on what came to be known as Brown's Branch, about one mile south of the point where Mount Vernon, now extinct, was afterwards laid out. The settlement of the Browns fell, when the government survey was made, within section twenty-six (26), township seventeen (17), range twenty (20). Mount Vernon was about the center of section twenty-three (23), same township and range. Orson Day, the brother-in-law of John Brown, settled about two miles west of the present town of Rantoul. He built his house on section thirty (30), township seventeen (17), range twenty-one (21). John Brown helped him to erect this house, which still exists in a fair state of preservation. Judge James Hanway lived on section four (4), township eighteen (18), range twenty-one (21). It is believed well to locate these points of interest at this time.

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans , written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 1998.