His Soul Goes Marching On: The Life And Legacy Of John Brown

Roundup: Talking About History

In 1860, John Brown was at one and the same time the most despised and deified man in the United States. Born in the small New England town of Torrington, Connecticut, mere months after the birth of a new century in 1800, he died on the gallows in Charles Town, (West) Virginia in 1859, on the eve of civil war. In four short years, he went from being a little known sheep farmer and wool dealer to one of the most famous (or infamous) men in the country.

John Brown became a household name in a struggle that increasingly divided the country by the 1850s—whether slavery would spread, or even survive, in the United States. When he and his small band of men attacked the federal armory at Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, he forced men and women to take a position, not only about the issue of slavery but also about Brown’s choice of method to end it. John Brown may not have started the Civil War in Harpers Ferry, but he almost certainly made imminent the day when the “irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces,” of which William H. Seward had spoken a year earlier, would rend in two the fabric of the nation, and it would be decided once and for all whether the United States would be “entirely a slaveholding nation, or entirely a free-labor nation.”

In commemoration of the sesquicentennial of John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia Archives and History has created an online exhibit—“’His Soul Goes Marching On’: The Life and Legacy of John Brown.” Archives and History is fortunate to have the Boyd B. Stutler Collection, one of the largest collections of John Brown memorabilia in existence, which was assembled by the late authority on John Brown. The Stutler Collection, which includes original letters of Brown, his family, and associates, as well as photographs and other materials, forms the basis of the online exhibit.

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