This week in History: John Brown at Harpers Ferry

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John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry shook the Anthony family’s roots when on this day in 1859 he broke into a federal arsenal in Virginia and was captured.

Lucy and Daniel Anthony had raised Susan B., Daniel, and Merritt as pacifist Quakers. However, they frequently dined with abolitionist orator Frederick Douglass, who began agreeing with firebrand John Brown that racial equality would never occur without bloodshed.

Boots on the Ground to Support John Brown

Merritt Anthony, the youngest sibling of the group, moved to Kansas to fight with John Brown (1856). Then son Daniel (D.R.) also relocated to the border of Bleeding Kansas (1857) and is thought to have protected Brown as Brown was leaving for the East in January 1859. Therefore, it seems likely that this pacifist family considered the institution of slavery a greater evil than the violence Brown thought necessary to stamp it out.

When Brown was captured at Harper’s Ferry, he carried a note in his pocket with Douglass’ name on it, and federal officials quickly began searching Rochester to arrest Douglass. The orator escaped via the Underground Railroad on a horse borrowed from Henry Selden, who would later defend Susan for her “crime” of voting.

Financial and Political Support

When D.R. and Susan realized this sudden escape left the Douglass family without income, the Anthonys stepped in to provide for their friend’s family in his absence. Son Lewis said he didn’t know what the family would have done without the Anthonys’ assistance.

On the day Brown was hanged, Susan B. hosted a large memorial to honor the fallen abolitionist.

Read more about Brown and Harpers Ferry at This Day in History. 

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