Abolitionist John Brown Lesson for Kids: History, Facts & Raids

Instructor: Jenny Homer

Jenny has masters' degrees in public health and public administration.

In this lesson, we'll talk about John Brown, an abolitionist in the 1800s. Find out about John Brown's background, what he did, and why his name often comes up when discussing the key events leading to the Civil War.

Slavery in America

When we see something happening that we believe is wrong, we are taught to stand up for what's right. But do you just speak out? Is it ever okay to fight or break the law? Throughout history, we have seen people answer these tough questions in different ways.

In the 1800s, America had millions of African-American slaves, who were treated like property. Many worked on farms across the South. More people began speaking out against slavery and formed the abolitionist movement. Back then, it was against the law to help slaves run away.

John Brown was a white abolitionist who believed that the best way to work against slavery was to fight, even if it meant hurting or killing others. Brown's actions affected the country, which at that time was very divided over whether and where slavery should be allowed.

John Brown

Who is John Brown?

John Brown was born in Connecticut in 1800. His father was against slavery. As an adult, he and his large family moved to a community in New York where many African-Americans lived.

Brown got more involved with the abolitionist movement and helped runaway slaves get to Canada, where they could be free. He met leaders like Frederick Douglass, who said that Brown behaved ''as though his own soul had been pierced with the iron of slavery.''

In 1855, Brown went to Kansas, where people who wanted slavery were fighting against people who didn't. After an attack on the city of Lawrence in 1856, Brown led a raid that killed five people at Pottawatomie Creek, a community that wanted slavery.

Harpers Ferry

Brown believed he had a mission to do more. He came up with an idea to set up a system of forts, so that slaves could run away and be protected as they traveled to Canada.

In 1859, Brown began putting this plan into action when he and sixteen white men and five African-Americans rented a farmhouse in Maryland. The farm was near Harpers Ferry in Virginia, where the federal government kept many of its weapons, and where about 18,000 slaves lived.

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