Was John Brown a Hero or a Villain?

The history of the United States cannot be complete without mentioning slavery. John Brown features prominently in this aspect of American history because he was one of the most prominent calls for abolishing slavery in the country. What made Brown different was his willingness to act and not follow any pacifist path to eradicate slavery.

He insisted that petitions, sermons, and speeches were not yielding any results, and something drastic needed to be done. He was convinced that violence was a legitimate strategy to be deployed. He believed and insisted that God sent him on a special mission. He would lead several violent teams until he was nabbed in a confrontation with the United States government. 


He was born on the 9th of May 1800 in the city of Torrington, Connecticut. His parents were Owen Brown and Ruth Mills; he had seven siblings and was the fourth of eight kids. His ancestors were English Puritans of the 17th century. By 1805, the family changed location and shifted to Hudson, Ohio, and it was in Hudson that his father established a tannery. 

As at that time, Hudson city was the base of anti-slavery voices, and Owen took part very well. The father was so dedicated that he gave a safe shelter to fugitives and African-American slaves who had escaped. Since there was no high school in the city, John was a student at the school opened by an abolitionist named Elizur Wright. 

Later on, John Brown’s father, alongside others, established a school in Hudson. The school was named the Western Reserve College and Preparatory School and would later be engulfed by the theme of slavery. It was at this time that little John was introduced to the ideas of anti-slavery campaigns. He was also involved in church activities, and with time, he became very religious with age. His upbringing carved his experience later in life. 

The major transformative years of his life were in Springfield, Massachusetts. In Springfield, he established a community made up of some of the wealthiest and most influential people in the community. He went more in-depth in his devotion to the anti-slavery movement. Remember, that was a time when slavery was legal in the United States of America. Facing such an establishment was bound to lead to some opposition level, and that was precisely what happened, but Brown was not deterred. 


The most significant achievements in the life of John Brown have to do with his work on the abolition of slavery. He threw not just himself and his resources and all he had into the campaign; he also sacrificed his life at the end of the day. He formed and led several teams that violently attacked the pro-slavery parties.

The single greatest achievement that he was able to garner is that he is regarded as one of the most prominent names in the United States’ abolitionist movement. There is no way the history of abolition of slavery in the United States would be written without mentioning the name and efforts of John Brown. 

Controversy and Violence

John Brown recorded success and was able to leave a legacy as a prominent abolitionist but this did not come without its degree of controversy. Brown had no qualms about going violent while trying to achieve his goals. This started in May 1856 when he led his supporters to murder five supporters of slavery in what is now known as the Pottawatomie Massacre. Brown had launched this bloody response as a reaction to Lawrence’s sacking by those who advocated for slavery. It did not end there because he was just starting. 

He would later commandeer his fellow anti-slavery attackers into the Battle of Black Jack on the 2nd of June, 1856 and later to the Battle of Osawatomie on the 30th of August, 1856. It was an unrelenting blood bath, and weapons were used freely. 

Brown continued with his streak of violence, and in October 1859, he was the leader of a raid on a federal armory in Harpers Ferry (in what is now West Virginia). He planned to commence a slave liberation mission, which was going to spread all over the country. He was prepared because he had even conjured a constitution of what was going to operate in the United States of America that was free of slavery. 


The invasion of a federal institution was the final major onslaught in the life of John Brown. Upon reaching the federal armory, he was able to seize the place but tragedy set in. Seven lives were lost, and about a dozen sustained injuries. Brown’s plan to weaponize the slaves with the weapons he had seized from the armory. Unfortunately for him, a tiny fraction of the slaves showed interest or even joined his revolt. 

In no time, the federal government responded, and a combined team of the United States Marines, militiamen, and farmers in the area captured Brown’s men who were on the site. Brown was charged with treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, but that was not all. 

He was also charged for the murder of five men and planning an insurrection of slaves. He was declared guilty on all accounts, and on the 2nd of December, 1859, he was hanged. Brown holds the notorious record of being the first individual to be executed for treason in the United States of America history. 

At the end of it all, it can be stated that Brown left a mixed legacy. Some respect him as a significant force in the abolitionist movement and revere him as a visionary and martyr. Some others dismiss him as a religious nut and even a terrorist. 

Was John Brown a hero or a villain?

Overall, it can be stated that Brown is seen more as a hero. This is backed by the fact that some countless monuments and statues have been erected in his honor. These include the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in New York, John Brown Historical Park in Kansas, John Brown Tannery Site, and many others. 

Was it worth reading? Let us know.