Famous Last Words
Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia)
December 2, 1859
“I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.”
Brown, an abolitionist, had planned to move through Virginia releasing the slaves as he and his group went, in hopes it would cause the state to become crippled county by county and eventually spread throughout the entirety of the South. He believed the best way to achieve this was through an armed revolt against the government. Brown had worked with Harriet Tubman (whom he called General Tubman) and Frederick Douglass, though Douglass and other abolitionists did not approve of his violent intentions and tried to dissuade slaves from joining Brown’s cause.
On October 16, 1859, Brown led an attack on the Harpers Ferry Armory to gain control of approximately 100,000 weapons which was to be used to supply his men to liberate the slaves. They were vastly outnumbered and overtaken quickly, though they managed to kill a few local men resisting Brown and his group.
Brown was charged with treason against Virginia, conspiracy, and murder. His defense argued he was wrongly accused of each charge (he was not from Virginia and owed no loyalty to the state therefore he could not commit treason, the actions during the rescue was unorganized proving he had not conspired with the slaves prior to the escape attempt, and he himself had not directly killed anyone so he wasn’t a murderer), but was ultimately unsuccessful.
His Last Words were written the morning of his death and he was hanged in a small field with approximately 2,000 soldiers witnessing his execution, including future Confederate general Stonewall Jackson and John Wilkes Booth.