on new land beyond the Mississippi. Through life the whole family had abhorred negro slavery—regarding it not only as the disgrace and curse of their country, but as a heathen vice and cruelty upon which every true Christian was bound to make war to the death. In Kansas there was free scope for their action, when the border banditti of Missouri strove to compel the adoption of slavery in Kansas, against the wishes of the free settlers. The Browns suffered cruelly in the border warfare, several of John’s sons being slain or wounded. It is not true, however, that John or his sons ever inflicted retaliatory injury on the border ruffians—at Ossawatomie or elsewhere. What John did was to run off as many slaves as he could from Missouri, where everything is ripe for emancipation, and where the farmers would have abolished slavery long ago, but for the control of their banditti neighbours. John used to prepare a certain number of negroes, through his messengers, for a long ride on some appointed night; then meet them with horses, and escort them to the Canada frontier, or some friendly shelter short of it. On one occasion, when the pursuit was hot, and the escape nearly hopeless, he turned aside among the trees, put on some disguising article of dress, slipped in among the pursuers as they came up, and by his evident knowledge of the tracks, obtained the direction of the party, and led them wide apart from the negroes, every one of whom reached Canada. He well knew the faces of some of the border ruffian party; but they did not recognise him, in such a place, and in such company as their own.
It seems to have been in some such way as this that he proposed to free the Virginia negroes: and no doubt he chose the point of invasion from his knowledge that, as in Missouri, slavery is near its end in Virginia, being unpopular among the farmers, and precarious all through the State. If he had desired a servile insurrection, he would have gone further south, among the cotton plantations. An extract from one of his letters, from his condemned cell, on the 15th of November, will show what his view of his errand was. He is addressing an aged teacher of his, the Rev. H. L. Vaill.
My dear Old Friend,—I do assure you I have not forgotten our last meeting, nor our retrospective look over the route by which God had then led us; and I bless His name that he has again enabled me to hear your words of cheering and comfort at a time when I, at least, am on the “brink of Jordan.” (See Bunyan’s Pilgrim.) God in infinite mercy grant us soon another meeting on the opposite shore. I have often passed under the rod of Him whom I call my Father; and certainly no son needed it oftener: and yet I have enjoyed much of life, as I was enabled to discover the secret of this somewhat early. It has been in making the prosperity and happiness of others my own,— so that really I have had a great deal of prosperity. I am very prosperous still; and looking forward to a time when “peace on earth and goodwill to men” shall everywhere prevail. I have no murmuring thoughts or envious feelings to fret my mind. “I’ll praise my Maker with my breath.” I am an unworthy nephew of Deacon John, and I loved him much; and in view of the many choice friends I have had here, I am led the more earnestly to pray, “gather not my soul with the unrighteous.” Your assurance of the earnest sympathy of the friends in my native land is very grateful to my feelings; and allow me to say a word of comfort to them.
As I believe most firmly that God reigns, I cannot believe that anything I have done, suffered, or may yet suffer, will be lost to the cause of God or of humanity. And before I began my work at Harper’s Ferry, I felt assured that in the worst event it would certainly pay. I often expressed that belief; and I can now see no possible cause to alter my mind. I am not, as yet, in the main, at all disappointed. I have been a good deal disappointed as it regards myself, in not keeping up to my own plans; but I now feel entirely reconciled to that even; for God’s plan was infinitely better, no doubt, or I should have kept to my own. Had Samson kept to his determination of not telling Delilah wherein his great strength lay, he would probably have never overturned the house. I did not tell Delilah, but I was induced to act very contrary to my better judgment, and I have lost my two noble boys, and other friends, if not my two eyes. But, “God’s will, not mine, be done.” I feel a comfortable hope that, like that erring servant of whom I have just been writing, even I may (through infinite mercy in Christ Jesus) yet “die in faith.” As to both the time and manner of my death, I have but very little trouble on that score; and am able to be (as you exhort) “of good cheer.”
When this letter was written, he had, as we see, lost two more of his sons, slain in the enterprise which had failed. He had undergone, while suffering from wounds, a trial unfair to the last degree. He had sent his positive commands to distant friends that no one should come to his assistance from the free States, because he knew that they would never return; and he refused the aid of local counsel, because he did not choose to run the risk of being kept silent, or made to say what he did not think. Thus alone, in his condemned cell, bereaved of many beloved sons, feeble from his wounds, and expecting to be hanged on the 2nd of December, he was not only as calm as when conducting family worship at home, but as cheerful as at the head of his own table. The most irresistible proof of the fixed heroism of his temper is, that he has imbued his wife with it. The night before his death, she was with him at his supper—having persisted in going to him, and thus for once deciding on her duty apart from him. They had settled some affairs; she had received his instructions about the children and some other matters; they had supped together—on prison fare so dished up that they could eat it with their fingers, as knife and fork were forbidden; and now it was getting late in the night, and she must go. Some tears fell from her eyes, but not many. Her husband tapped her on the shoulder, saying, “Now, Mary, this is not right. Show that you have nerve.” As by an electric shock she was roused; she drew up to her full height, and wept no more. As she was leaving the cell, her husband said he might have something to add, and would write it; turning to the jailer, and asking, “What is the hour to-morrow?” to which the answer was, “Eleven o’clock.” Mrs. Brown had put two pairs of stout woollen socks on his feet, to lessen the pressure of the chain on his ancles. She made interest to get possession of that chain, to transmit as a family honour to future generations.