University Archives


John Brown Replies to Boston Supporter in Kansas War on Slavery

JOHN BROWN, Autograph Letter Signed, to E. Brigham, March 12, 1857, Springfield, Massachusetts. 1 p., 7.75? x 9.75?. In paper frame; expected fold; very good.

Complete Transcript
Springfield, Mass. 12th March 1857
E Brigham Esqr / Boston / Mass
My Dear Sir
Your very Kind favour of the 9th is received; & highly appreciated, but as I hope soon to be in your city, I will endeavour to call on you personally instead of writing as you request. Please accept my thanks & believe me Yours in sincerity
John Brown

Historical Background
Armed with financial support from fellow abolitionists, John Brown left New York in 1855 for Kansas Territory, where his adult sons had settled. Initially optimistic that settlers could bring Kansas into the Union as a free state, Brown was outraged by the sacking of Lawrence on May 21, 1856, by pro-slavery activists. Three days later, Brown and other antislavery men took five proslavery settlers from their homes near Pottawatomie Creek in eastern Kansas and killed them with swords. Over the next three months, “Bleeding Kansas” erupted in a series of retaliatory raids that left 29 people dead. In August 1856, Brown commanded a group of antislavery settlers in resisting a much larger force of Missourians intent on destroying antislavery settlements in Kansas. Though driven away, Brown’s forces inflicted heavy casualties on the proslavery forces, making him a hero to many northern abolitionists.

When new territorial governor John W. Geary established an uneasy peace between pro- and antislavery forces, Brown and three of his sons left Kansas in November 1856 to raise money from supporters in the East. Over the next eighteen months, he met with like-minded groups in New England and New York and raised funds to aid the free settlement of Kansas.

The New-York Daily Tribune of March 4, 1857, published a letter from John Brown to “the Friends of Freedom.” Brown wrote, “The undersigned, whose individual means were exceedingly limited when he first engaged in the struggle for Liberty in Kansas, being now still more destitute and no less anxious than in time past to continue his efforts to sustain that cause, is induced to make this earnest appeal to the friends of Freedom throughout the United States, in the firm belief that his call will not go unheeded. I ask all honest lovers of Liberty and Human Rights, both male and female, to hold up my hands by contributions of pecuniary aid, either as counties, cities, towns, villages, societies, churches or individuals.”

On March 9, 1857, E. Brigham wrote to Brown from Boston and explained that he had been moved by the “touching appeal” published in the New-York Tribune of March 4, and assured Brown that “my heart bleeds for you.” Brigham had done as much as he could for Kansas, considering his present economic condition. He continued, “The truth is—and it is an enigma to me—our people in New England do not sufficiently realize their duty in this case—they really think they have a right to give, or not to give as they please—now I contend the only question they have to decide upon, so far as loans or donations are called for to sustain Freedom in Kansas, is, whether the money will be appropriated with good judgement—and even to risk it under any circumstances than not give at all. The blessings of civil and religious liberty we enjoy in this age, are not of our own creating—they are the result of somebody’s toil, suffering, wounds and death—of the sacrifice of good men, of noble men of all ages and nations. Now such have gone beyond our reach to cherish or remunerate—but you, brave, suffering, heroic and still struggling men of Kansas are their heirs—and it is ungrateful and treacherous, that you should be left to suffer for what you have done; much less to struggle unaided in the great, the important work you have to achieve.”

John Brown (1800-1859) was born in Connecticut but grew up in Ohio. At age 16, he studied in Connecticut to be a Congregationalist minister, but he ran out of money and had trouble with his eyes. He pursued various businesses in Pennsylvania and Ohio. After the death of Elijah P. Lovejoy at the hands of anti-abolitionists in 1837, Brown publicly vowed to “consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!” Brown moved to Kansas in 1855, to help anti-slavery settlers protect themselves. That May, Brown and other abolitionist settlers killed five pro-slavery settlers. In November, Brown returned to the East and spent two years raising funds in New England and developing a plan for a direct strike against slavery. In October 1859, he led a group of 21 men to Harpers Ferry, Virginia, where they briefly seized the federal armory before local citizens trapped Brown and his men in a fire engine house before the arrival of U.S. Marines. Four of Brown’s men were killed, and he was wounded and captured along with the rest of his men. The commonwealth of Virginia tried and convicted Brown of murder, slave insurrection, and treason. He was executed on December 2. Six of his fellow raiders were executed later. The 1859 raid made him a martyr to the antislavery cause and was instrumental in heightening sectional animosities that led to the American Civil War.

E. Brigham may have been any of several people who lived in Boston in the 1850s, including ferry superintendent Edward Brigham (b. 1813), carriage maker Elisha Brigham (b. 1805), and gunpowder manufacturer and commission merchant Elijah D. Brigham (d. 1868).

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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