On a beautiful summer day I recently visited a favorite spot in the Adirondack Mountains in North Elba (near Lake Placid) for a walk back in time. Abolitionist John Brown once farmed here and his old homestead is now a New York State Historic site. John Brown and two of his sons bought the property in 1849 in order to establish a farm for freed slaves. He is best known for seizing the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in 1859 in hopes of using the weapons to lead an armed slave revolt. It was not a successful raid and he and four others were tried and hanged for the crime. He is buried at the farm along with an estimated eleven of the 21 men who participated in the raid at Harpers Ferry. Ten men in Brown’s group were killed and they killed four in the raid.
Incidentally, the fort was recaptured by a company of Marines under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee of the United States Army. Owen Brown, John’s third son, escaped capture and eventually served as an officer in the Union Army during the Civil War. He died at the age of 64 in Pasadena, CA – where it is said that 2,000 mourners marched at his funeral.
Photograph of John Brown from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
John Brown was raised by his father to believe that slavery was a sin against God. Through his struggle in opposing armed pro-slavery advocates in Kansas he came to believe that pacifism was not going to lead to the freedom of slaves in the United States, only armed rebellion. He hoped for a relatively bloodless rebellion and would have been appalled at the toll the Civil War took in human lives.
Engraving of the Harpers Ferry Insurrection from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
The ornate iron fence surrounding the graveyard at John Brown’s Farm
Erected in May 1935 this eight foot tall sculpture depicts Brown walking with a young former slave. The New York Herald Tribune stated at the time that over “1,500 people, many of them Negro pilgrims to the last resting place of John Brown, crowded about the statue.” for the unveiling.
Above is a Seneca Ray Stoddard photograph of the graveyard taken in 1896. It was not until a few years after this photo was taken that John Brown’s son, Oliver and the remains of eight or nine other men from his group (killed in the raid) were moved to this site from a shallow grave at Harpers Ferry.
The two plaques give (on left) a brief life history of John Brown and a listing of those buried here with him, erected in 1916… The tablet on the right pays tribute to the women of the Brown family who made their own sacrifices in the name of freedom, erected in 1946.
The above headstone has five names inscribed and was originally carved for the grandfather of the abolitionist – Captain John Brown who died in1776 while serving in the Continental Army (buried in Connecticut) – his headstone was replaced and his grandson had this old one sent to his farm in North Elba in 1858. It now serves as the headstone for John Brown and three of his sons – Frederick (who died and was buried in Kansas in 1856), Oliver and Watson. Brown requested that his name and those of Oliver and Watson be carved on the stone on the morning of his execution… OLIVER BROWN Born Mar. 9, 1839, was Killed at Harpers Ferry Oct. 17, 1859 WATSON BROWN Born Oct. 7, 1835, was wounded at Harpers Ferry Oct. 17 & Died Oct. 19, 1859
The handsome iron fence, beyond it you can see the headstones and a large boulder with the two bronze plaques.
The Brown home was open for tours on this summer day. On the left and right you can see scaffolding… The cedar shingle roof was being replaced, the property is very well-kept. It’s a great place for a walk or cross country ski on the two mile loop trail wandering through the woods beyond the pond and out buildings.
The photo above was taken looking back toward the house (at left) and the gravesite and iron fence. In the far right are the ski jumps built for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
A handsome out-building at the farm
These berries were plentiful at the start of the walking trail
The leaf canopy looked to me like gorgeous stained glass
A feather found along the way
For much more detailed information about the headstones and memorials at John Brown’s Farm check out this genealogy website http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~frgen/essex/north_elba/john_brown.htm
John Brown was ahead of his time, and was not afraid to take action to defend the freedom of all men. He felt that armed insurrection was the only way to end slavery in the United States. Historians agree that his raid on Harpers Ferry led to tensions that precipitated the secession of southern states and eventually to the US Civil War.
“Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case), had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.
This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!”
— Excerpt from a speech given by John Brown in court after his conviction, November 2, 1859