Brown, John

An abolitionist of the nineteenth century who sought to free the slaves by military force. After leading several attacks in Kansas, he planned to start an uprising among the slaves. In 1859, he and a small band of followers took over a federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, in Virginia. A detachment of marines reclaimed the arsenal and captured Brown, who was tried for treason, convicted, and hanged.


Robert E. Lee, soon to be commanding general of the main Confederate army, led the marines who captured Brown.


In death, Brown became a martyr for abolitionists. “John Brown's Body,” a popular song in the North during the Civil War, had this refrain: “John Brown's body lies a-mold'ring in the grave; His soul goes marching on.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.