WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — You likely have heard of John Brown at least at one point in reference to Kansas history.
If you’ve been to the state capitol building here in Kansas, you’ve likely seen the mural painted by famed Kansas painter John Steuart Curry called Tragic Prelude. In the middle of that mural stands Brown.
His arms are outstretched. In his right hand is a rifle, and in his left is a bible. His long beard flows in the wind, and his eyes are wide. Are they the eyes of a crazed man or a man with unwavering determination?
Brown was born 223 years ago on May 9, 1800, in Connecticut. He would be in his 50s before he ever came to the Kansas Territory.
His father opposed slavery, and when his family eventually settled in the Ohio territory, their home became a stop on the Underground Railroad. Though he was raised opposed to slavery, it is said an incident from his childhood is what moved him to be militantly opposed to slavery.
While doing business for his family in Pennsylvania at the age of 12, he stayed at a hotel whose owner owned a slave around his own age. He saw how poorly the boy was treated, and according to his family, that began to cement his abolitionist views.
It would be several decades before Brown would become militant and travel to Kansas. The murder of abolitionist and free press advocate Elijah Parish Lovejoy was said to be a catalyst for Brown.
Brown’s sons moved to Kansas in 1855, and he followed the next year after hearing about the pro-slavery groups that were settling in the area, as Kansas was being given the right to decide on whether or not to allow slavery.
The death of a free-state settler at the hands of a pro-slavery settler kicked off the Wakarusa War in Kansas. Brown and another man, James Lane, rallied men to successfully defend the city of Lawrence during a 9-day siege.
Brown would actively lead multiple battles and attacks against pro-slavery settlers during the period that became known as Bleeding Kansas. Eventually, Brown traveled to Missouri to free a group of slaves and, in the process, killed a slave owner.
He helped the group escape on the Underground Railroad to Canada and never returned to Kansas.
On Oct. 16, Brown and his followers led a raid on the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. While initially successful, it led to a shootout with federal troops in which two of his sons would die, and he would be captured.
His goal was to arm slaves and start a massive slave rebellion to liberate slaves across the South. He was found guilty and hanged on Dec. 2, 1859, in Charles Town, Virginia.