BROWN, John (1800-1859), Radical abolitionist. Autograph letter signed ("John Brown") TO GERRIT SMITH (1797-1874), Peterboro [New Hampshire], 15 May 1857. 1 page, folio (12¾ x 7¼ in.), with pencil calculations in blank lower edge.
BROWN RAISES MONEY FOR HIS BLOODY STRIKE AGAINST THE SLAVE POWER AT HARPER'S FERRY
A fine autograph letter to one of the key financial backers of the Harper's Ferry raid--one of "the Secret Six"--written just before planning for the assault began in crystallize. "When you have received for me the $1,000...from Boston, please deduct from the amount of what is then due you on Franklin P. and Saml. B. Thompson's land contract; together with One Hundred and ten Dollars...for which you hold on my note; also $150...advanced by me to said Thom[p]sons; which $150...please retain for me; and at once advise said Thompsons at North Elba, Essex Co., N. Y., by letter, of the receipt of the money by you; and also remit to them the balance on receipt of their contract assigned to me." Brown then asks that when Smith has received the money and contract, he give the "Warrant Deed to Mrs. Ruth Thompson (of North Elba; my Daughter) of the south half of the lot sold by you to the Thompsons..."
This transaction is significant in Brown's trajectory towards Harper's Ferry. He had originally acquired the property from Smith in 1854, with the intention of spending his days in the free black community created there by Smith, acting as a "kind of father" to the resident farmers. But a summons to join with the anti-slavery fighters in Kansas proved a fateful, irrevocable turning point in his life. His participation in a series of brutal attacks and counter-attacks culminated in his slaughter of five pro-slavery men at Pottawatomie Creek in May 1856. Brown and his sons were expelled from the state later that year, and he returned to North Elba, ready to cut his ties with his sedate and settled past, and eager for more violent action against the slave power. Friends were struck by the almost fanatical intensity of his appearance and demeanor, and his all-consuming obsession with slavery. Smith, like Brown, had grown impatient with the meager progress of political abolitionism. He used $16,000 of his own money to buy guns for the Kansas fight, and funded Brown's Harper's Ferry raid, although he denied this once the raid failed and Brown stood trial (his five fellow conspirators were leading abolitionists Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Theodore Parker, Samuel Gridley Howe, Franklin Sanborn and George Luther Stearns). In the national uproar that followed, Smith burned all evidence of his connections with Brown and even committed himself to a Utica insane asylum for two months, in part, some believed, to evade prosecution himself.
Autograph letters of Brown are rare; those to fellow conspirators in the Harpers Ferry enterprise are especially uncommon.