In 1859, John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, propelled a divided nation toward Civil War. Brown’s wild hair and desperate scheme to free and arm slaves helped foster his enduring image as a crazed fanatic, a zealot on the far fringe of American society.
In the fall of 1855, John Brown arrived in “Bleeding Kansas,” a state torn between slavery’s adherents and its opponents, with a wagonload of guns and swords. After helping his sons harvest crops and build homes, he quickly joined the fight over slavery.
John Brown hoped to launch his “wool business,” as he called his attack on slavery, in 1858. But his former drillmaster, Hugh Forbes, tried to blackmail his backers by threatening to expose Brown’s plan to seize the armory at Harpers Ferry and free slaves.
In this, the second of five excerpts from his new book, “Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War,” author Tony Horwitz continues the story of the legendary abolitionist as he braves the tumult of the wool market and attaches himself, more and more strongly, to the cause of slavery’s destruction:
In the winter of 1857, John Brown quartered the fighters he had recruited for his invasion of Virginia at a sympathetic farm community in Iowa. There, the men drilled at what they called their “War College.”
An icy rain is pelting about 30 protesters who’ve converged at the gate of a natural gas drilling site near Manchester, England. On the other side of a fence topped with razor wire, a 10-story-high rig is boring into shale to determine if it’s suitable for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The demonstrators unfurl a banner: “Fracking will poison our children.”