John Brown (May 9, 1800 – December 2, 1859) was an American abolitionist, and one of the first white abolitionists to advocate, and to practice, guerrilla warfare as a means to the abolition of slavery.
He first gained national notoriety when he led a company of volunteers during the Bleeding Kansas crisis, in which he fought two major battles against pro-slavery southerners, directed the
Pottawatomie massacre on the night of May 24, 1856, and freed 11 slaves from slaveholders in neighboring Missouri. Brown's most famous deed was the raid he led on the federal armory at Harpers
Ferry, Virginia (in modern-day West Virginia). Brown's subsequent capture by federal forces commanded by Robert E. Lee, his trial, and his execution by hanging are generally considered an important
part of the origins of the American Civil War, which followed sixteen months later.
Brown's nicknames were Osawatomie Brown, Old Man Brown, Captain Brown and Old Brown of Kansas. His aliases were "Nelson Hawkins," "Shubel Morgan," and "Isaac Smith." Later the song
"John Brown's Body" became a Union marching song during the Civil War
Brown was born May 9th in Torrington, Litchfield County, Connecticut. He was the second son of Owen Brown (1771–1856) and Ruth Mills (1772–1808) and grandson of Capt John Brown (1728–
1776) who appears to have been the same John Brown who was a Loyalist during the American Revolution and spent time in jail with the notorious Claudius Smith (1736–1779) allegedly for stealing
cattle, which he and Claudius used to feed to the starving British troops. His father was a tanner and strict Calvinist who hated slavery and taught his trade to his son. In 1805, the family moved to
Hudson, Ohio, where Owen Brown opened a tannery.
At the age of 16, John Brown moved, left his family, and went to Plainfield, Massachusetts, where he enrolled in school. Shortly afterward, he transferred to an academy in Litchfield, Connecticut. He
hoped to become a Congregationalist minister, but money ran out and he suffered from eye inflammations, which forced him to give up the academy and return to Ohio. In Hudson, he worked briefly at
his father's tannery before opening a successful tannery of his own outside town with his adopted brother.
On June 21, 1820, Brown married Dianthe Lusk. Their first child, John Jr., was born 13 months later. In 1825, Brown and his family moved to New Richmond, Pennsylvania, where he purchased 200
acres (800,000 m²). He cleared an eighth of it, built a cabin, a barn and a tannery. Within a year the tannery employed 15 men. Brown also made money raising cattle and surveying. He helped to
establish a post office and a school.
In 1831, one of his sons died. Brown fell ill, and his businesses began to suffer, which left him in terrible debt. In the summer of 1832, shortly after the death of a new born son, his wife Dianthe died.