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Senate Select Committee Report on the Harper’s Ferry Invasion
Testimony of Samuel G. Howe

Pp. 156-79


Samuel G. Howe sworn and examined.

By the Chairman:

Question. Will you please to state where you reside, and what is your profession?
Answer. I reside in Boston, Massachusetts; I am by education a physician; I do not practice my profession. I have charge of two charitable public institutions.

Question. Will you state whether you were acquainted with John Brown, who was recently put to death in Virginia, for offenses against the laws of Virginia?
Answer. I was.

Question. When did you form his acquaintance, and under what circumstances; what led to it, and where did you form it?
Answer. My acquaintance was first formed by correspondence in the year 1856 or 1857. I cannot state clearly which. I would premise that my memory is singularly deficient about dates. I became acquainted with him in 1857, as the agent of the Kansas Aid Committee.

Question. Who was the agent?
Answer. John Brown.

Question. You say you became acquainted with him as agent; was he the agent?
Answer. He was the agent, and in one sense I was the agent, inasmuch as I went to Kansas for the purposes of the committee.

Question. What was the style of the committee?
Answer. The Kansas Aid Committee of Massachusetts.

Question. Did you form his acquaintance in Kansas?
Answer. I think I did.

Question. Will you state what was the object and the occupation or employment of that committee? What was the object of raising the committee? What were their functions?
Answer. I was connected with two committees. One committee was raised for the purpose of getting clothing and money for aiding the suffering inhabitants of Kansas; that was the express object of the committee of which I was chairman. Another committee of which I was a member, was raised for the general purpose of aiding the inhabitants of Kansas in the defense of their freedom then invaded, and repelling invaders.

Question. For distinction sake, can you give us the distinctive names of these two committees?
Answer. One was the Boston committee, usually called the Faneuil Hall Committee, inasmuch as the original meeting was at Faneuil Hall; it had no official name; it was not an incorporated body; it was called just what people chose to call it. The other was the Massachusetts Kansas Aid Committee.

Question. Was that incorporated?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. When was this Massachusetts Kansas Aid Committee formed?
Answer. I think after the Boston committee, but I cannot say precisely.

Question In what year, as near as you can recollect
Answer. 1857.

Question. Did you say that Brown was the agent of that committee?
Answer. He was not then the agent of the committee. I said I had formed his acquaintance then. I was then the agent. He afterwards became the agent of the Massachusetts committee.

Question. What was his agency. What was he to do?
Answer. The first express business, as far as I can recollect, is that he called on the State committee, of which I was only a member, whereas of the other committee I was the chairman and the efficient working man. The first business that I can recollect was that, in consequence of the difficulty of getting arms and provisions and clothing up the Missouri river, it was found expedient to transport them across the country, and Mr. Brown, or Captain Brown as he was called, was appointed the agent to transport those articles of various kinds -- arms, provisions, and clothing -- into Kansas. That was the first, as far as I can recollect.

Question. Will you state what was the character and the quantity of the arms that were intrusted to him in that way?
Answer. I can state nothing with any precision. I have no knowledge about it that would enable me, under oath, to say. I can recollect distinctly that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, two hundred Sharp's rifles were committed to his care.

Question. Were those rifles at Chicago at the time they were committed to his care, do you recollect?
Answer. I cannot say.

Question, Were there any revolving pistols in the same parcel?
Answer. I cannot positively say, but my impression is that there were.

Question. Do I understand that those arms were the property of this Massachusetts Aid Committee?
Answer. They were the property of that committee.

Question. How were they procured?
Answer. They were purchased by subscriptions, contributions raised and sent in voluntarily by the people.

Question. For the purpose of purchasing arms?
Answer. No; for the aid of Kansas. The committee, in their own discretion, purchased the arms. I recollect that distinctly, because the objection was made that some of the contributors to the Boston committee would be unwilling to have any of their money appropriated for arms.

Question. And thus, according to your recollection, the arms were purchased as the act and at the discretion of the committee, with funds belonging to the committee?
Answer. Yes, sir, that is my impression.

Question. Can you tell us when these arms were purchased?
Answer. I think, in 1857; but I must fall back on my imperfect memory about dates.

Question. They were committed to John Brown. as agent of the society, for the purpose of transporting them across the country to Kansas, as the river was not considered accessible?
Answer, Yes, sir.

Question. Do you know at what point he deposited them after their transportation?
Answer. My impression is that he deposited them at Tabor, in Iowa.

Question. Can you tell us under whose control they were while they were at Tabor; who had charge of them there?
Answer. I cannot recall the person's name. I saw him, but cannot recall his name.

Question. By what authority were they put in the custody of the person whose name you cannot recall?
Answer. I have no knowledge of that.

Question. Were they recognized as under the control of that person by the Kansas committee?
Answer. I cannot answer that question with precision.

Question. Do you know in what way John Brown afterwards got possession of them, when he brought them to the region of Harper's Ferry?
Answer. I have no means of knowing that he did bring them there.

Question. Do you know then what became of them?
Answer. I do not know of my personal knowledge, what became of them. I can state my impression.

Question. Tell us what knowledge you have of it, and how it was derived, as to what became of them?
Answer. In the year 1858, I received a communication from a Mr. Forbes, then in Washington, and information from other quarters, that Captain Brown had in his possession arms belonging to the committee, which he would probably use for purposes not intended by the committee. A meeting was called. The committee had then virtually dissolved; it had nothing more to do; but the members were called together. A vote was passed, instructing the chairman to write to Captain Brown and direct him, if he held any property, arms or otherwise, belonging to the committee, to take them into Kansas, there to be used only for the defense of freedom in Kansas. Such a vote was passed, such a letter was written, and, I have no doubt, received by him. I think that was the last record of the committee which was made.

Question. Has a copy of that letter been preserved?
Answer. A copy is with the records.

Question. Have you got it with you?
Answer. I have not. I was not chairman of that committee, nor secretary. The records are accessible.

Question. What committee are you speaking of now?
Answer. The Massachusetts Aid Committee.

Question. I thought you said you were the executive officer or the chairman of that committee.
Answer. Of the Boston committee -- of the Faneuil Hall committee. I was only a member of the other committee.

Question. Are those records under your control?
Answer. I have no manner of doubt I can have access to them. I inquired of the person in whose charge they were, before I left the city of Boston, and his reply was that they were all straight, and in order, and in his safe. I presume they are accessible.

Question. Will you say in what form that communication was made to you by Captain Forbes: Was it by letter, or personally?
Answer. By letter.

Question. Written from where?
Answer. From Washington city.

Question. And your direction to Captain Brown was that the arms should be taken into Kansas and used only for purposes there?
Answer. Used only for the defense of freedom in Kansas.

Question. Do you know whether he did or did not comply with that direction?
Answer. I have no means of knowing; but, from my confidence in his character, I have no doubt that he did conform to it.

Question. You wrote that letter, as I understand, as the chairman of the Boston committee?
Answer. I did not write the letter. The chairman of the Massachusetts Aid Committee wrote the letter.

Question. Who was the chairman who wrote the letter you refer to?
Answer. I should prefer not to answer that question.

The Chairman. I see no reason why you should not answer the question.
The Witness. I am here to answer as to all I have done myself, freely and frankly, but I would respectfully ask to be excused from answering any question touching the actions of anybody else. I can only answer for my view as one of the committee.

Mr. Davis. The witness confounds his position. He is not here arraigned to answer for what he did, but to give information as to what everybody did.

The Chairman. The subject referred to the committee by the Senate is to make inquiry into all the facts attending the late incursion at Harper's Ferry, and connected with it in any way.
The Witness. Perhaps I am over sensitive about it, and inasmuch as the gentleman's name is perfectly well known as chairman of the committee, and is in print, I will give it, Mr. George L. Stearns.

Question. Did you see the letter?
Answer. I think I saw a copy of the letter afterwards.

Question. Did you receive a letter from Mr. Wilson, of the Senate, in reference to those arms?
Answer. About the same time.

Question. Will you state whether you preserved a copy of that letter?
Answer. I preserved a copy of the letter until recently, when, in the general destruction of my papers of no consequence, at the beginning of the year, I destroyed it, among others, but I have a distinct recollection of the contents.

Question. Will you state the contents?
Answer. It was that he had reason to believe that Captain Brown had in his possession arms belonging to the Massachusetts Aid Committee, which he would be likely to use for purposes not contemplated by the committee; that he, Wilson, considered the original movement for procuring anything of the kind to have been a very mistaken and unfortunate one, and he advised by all means that measures be taken to prevent Captain Brown using those arms for any purposes not contemplated in their original purchase. It was a short letter, and that was the amount of it; but I recollect he distinctly expressed his disapprobation of the fact of such arms being in existence, and his disapprobation of John Brown's general career.

Question. In what capacity, so far as you were concerned, was that letter addressed to you? Why was it addressed to you?
Answer. I suppose because I had been long acquainted with General Wilson, and he knew that I was interested in the matter.

Question. How did you act upon it, or did you act upon it?
Answer. The information came from these two quarters about the same time, and upon that information we acted as I have just described.

Question. The two quarters referred to, as I understand, were a communication made to you by Mr. Wilson, of which you have just spoken, and a communication made to you by Captain Forbes?
Answer. Yes. I did not heed much Captain Forbes's information, because it seemed to me to be ill-natured and spiteful.

Question. Did you preserve a copy of Forbes's letter?
Answer. I think I have a copy of it, but I have not got it with me. I think I have it; but I know I have a copy of my answer.

Question. Will you state the content of Forbes's letter, if your memory will admit?
Answer. It was to this intent, that he had been engaged during the active war in Kansas by Captain Brown, or by, as he called them, the Northern Abolitionists, to go to Kansas and drill men; that he never got any money for it; that he was in great distress; that he must have money; that Captain Brown was not a reliable person; that his plans, if intrusted to a man of head and prudence, might come to something; and he seemed to intimate that he, Captain Forbes, was a man of head and prudence; that if Captain Brown was allowed to go on it would be disastrous; that he would denounce it; and other things to that effect. It was a letter rather threatening in its general character. I did not heed it so much. It was a very long letter, full of vituperation and abuse. I had never seen Captain Forbes, nor heard of him before.

Question. Did I understand you to say that a copy of that letter is preserved?
Answer. I think a copy of that letter is preserved. I am sure a copy of my answer is preserved. The letter was a long document; and I have the habit, when I am writing to persons with whom I am not very intimate, and on business that seems to be of any importance, to have my letters copied. General Wilson's was a short note, and I had several letters from him on various subjects.

Question. Did you communicate the contents or substance of Forbes's letter to Brown after you received it?
Answer. I have no distinct recollection of having done so. I have been told since that I did so; but I have no distinct recollection of it, and it seems to me improbable, inasmuch as it would have defeated the purpose which I had of preventing the contributions of persons who might have contributed, from being diverted. I may have answered his letter, but I have no recollection of having done it.

Question. How would your communication of the contents of that letter to Brown, in any way affect the use of the contributions you speak of?
The Witness. I do not understand your question.

The Chairman. I understand you to say that you think you did not let Brown know what Forbes had communicated to you, for the reason that it might be the means, in some way of perverting from their legitimate use the contributions that had been made by the Massachusetts people.
The Witness. I remarked that such letter might prevent my purpose being executed, which purpose was to prevent such a perversion of the use of the arms.

Question. In what way would your communicating that to him prevent the execution of your purpose?
Answer. I do not know. I cannot say what passed through my mind. It looks to me now, thus: that if Captain Brown supposed the order which was given to him, which was peremptory, to take the arms into Kansas, was occasioned by such an act as this, he might suppose that by removing that objection the committee would be satisfied, or something of that kind. The order was peremptory, without any reason being assigned for it; and it appears to me that if we had assigned a reason and he could obviate that reason, he might say to himself "I am free in foro conscientioe."

Question. Had you any personal interview with Captain Forbes after his quarrel with Brown?
Answer. I never saw him at all.

Question. Did you know of any engagement he had made to go out to the West for any purpose connected with Kansas affairs?
Answer. I never heard of it until he stated it in his letter.

Question. Can you have the letters to which you have referred -- Forbes's letter to you and your answer to it -- together with the records of that committee, brought from Boston, without going there again in person?
Answer. It would be very difficult to get the copies of the letters. I have not now in my employment a person who wrote for me for many years, and who took care of my papers. Within the last three weeks I have been obliged to have a change, and I should have no certainty of finding those papers.

The Chairman. I wanted to know if you could get at them without going back?
Mr. Doolittle. Perhaps the witness could procure copies of the letters there and attach to them his affidavit made in Boston that they were true copies, and send them here, and also a copy of that record.
The Witness. My impression is that all can be had, except possibly Forbes's letter, which may have been mislaid.

The Chairman. Can it be done without the necessity of your returning to Washington from Boston?
The Witness. I will make every possible effort to do it, and I think I shall be successful. I think everything can be done that would be done by my coming back.

Question. Will you state whether you saw John Brown, the man who has been referred to, in Boston, or elsewhere, at any period during the year 1858?
Answer. I saw him in Boston in the year 1858.

Question. Will you state the object of his mission in coming there?
Answer. He gave me no definite information.

Question. What information did he give you as to the purpose of his coming, the objects he had in view in visiting that part of the country?
Answer. The impression I got from him was that he wished persons to render him what assistance they chose to give him, as a man having suffered in the cause of Kansas, for the defense of freedom in Kansas, and as a man disposed to devote himself to the defense of the cause of freedom.

Question. In a former part of your testimony you said those arms were to be taken to Kansas for the purpose of aiding in the defense of the cause of freedom; will you state what you mean by "the defense of the cause of freedom?"
Answer. In Kansas, repelling invasions such as had been frequent there.

Question. What sort of invasions?
Answer. What are usually called border ruffian invasions.

Question. How was your "defense of the cause of freedom" to affect it?
Answer. To protect it by repelling those who would invade it.

The Chairman. I do not still distinctly understand you. How would the cause of freedom be affected by any invasion in Kansas?
Answer. The cause of freedom in Kansas would be. If the polls, for instance, at an election were surrounded by armed men from other States, and the freemen of Kansas were prevented by fear from voting, I should call the man who attempted to repel those invaders a defender of freedom.

Question. A defender of the freedom of the white people in Kansas?
Answer. I know no distinction of color in freedom. I know no distinction of color in men.

Question. The negroes were not permitted to vote in Kansas, were they?
Answer. They ought to have been.

Question. Were they?
Answer. I supposed they would be.

Question. Were they at the time?
Answer. I have no means of knowing. I think, in the territorial condition, the people there were not responsible for the form of government imposed on them.

The Chairman. I want to get at this fact. In stating what you mean by defending the cause of freedom in Kansas, you instance it by referring to defending the freedom of voting at the polls. The negroes, we know, were not admitted at that time to vote at the polls, and I inferred, therefore, that when you spoke of the cause of freedom in Kansas, you meant the freedom of white people, for negroes were not interested in that subject.
Answer. I suppose, if Kansas was a free State, the consequence would be that her vote would be on the side of freedom in other States. It was a general term.

The Chairman. I must put the question in a different way -- -
Mr. Doolittle. In relation to this question, it is a mere matter of argument between the chairman and his witness as to his opinions. I supposed our purpose was to get at the facts.

The Chairman. If you make an objection, we will entertain it.
Mr Doolittle. I do not propose to raise an objection.

Mr. Collamer. Other witnesses have been prevented from telling what took place in Kansas.

The Chairman. The object of the question is to see what use was intended to be made of these arms which we have shown were in Brown's possession and brought to Harper's Ferry. I understand the witness to say that Brown was instructed to take them into Kansas to aid in the cause of freedom. It is certainly pertinent, in my judgment, to ascertain what the witness means by the cause of freedom in ulterior connection with the use that was actually made of the arms.
The Witness. At that time I had no thought about anything but the freedom of Kansas as such, without any thought of any colored men at all, for as far as I had seen there were few or no colored men there.

Question. Then it was for the freedom of the white people in Kansas?
Answer. The freedom of Kansas, or the freedom of the white people of Kansas, because I knew of no others there. I was in Kansas and I do not recollect seeing any others.

Question. Well, to come back again to Boston, I understand you to say that Brown's mission was, in part, as you heard it, to obtain contributions of money in Boston?
Answer. I presumed so.

Question. Do you know for what purpose those contributions were wanted by Brown?
Answer. I have no definite knowledge.

Question. Have you any knowledge?
Answer. I have no positive knowledge that I can say on oath, any more than hearsay.

Question. Anything that you derived from him? What was Brown's statement of his object?
Answer. He never gave me a definite statement of any plan or purpose that he had definitely fixed upon.

Question. Did he tell you why he wanted to collect money there; for what purpose he wanted the money?
Answer. In no definite shape did he tell me any plan that he had.

Question. In any shape?
Answer. He appealed to me as an anti-slavery man to help an anti-slavery man.

By Mr. Collamer:

Question. Was that before this order about the arms?
Answer. I think it was before.

By the Chairman:

Question. Do you know whether or not the president of the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee gave Brown an order for those arms at Tabor, in 1857?
Answer. I think he did; I think they had been in the possession of another person whose reliability was called in question; that is my impression.

Question. Who was that other person?
Answer. I cannot recollect.

Question. You say you think he did. Will you state definitely whether you know that an order was given to Brown for those arms or not?
Answer. It is impossible for me to say. I have a very strong impression; I know of the fact, that they were transferred from another person to him, and therefore I infer the order was given by which they were so transferred.

Question. Who was the secretary of the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee? Was it Sanborn?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Who was it?
Answer. I can furnish the name, but I cannot remember it now.

Question. When you saw Brown in Boston, in 1858, can you tell what period of year it was?
Answer. I can say that he had a fire in his room, and therefore I infer it was in the winter. I have no other recollection. My memory of dates is imperfect. It was probably in the winter months, February or March.

Question. Did you see him in Boston in the months of May or June, 1858?
Answer. I cannot say.

Question. Did you know that there had been a convention held by Brown and others, at Chatham, in Canada?
Answer. I think my first knowledge of it was derived from the newspapers.

Question. Then you had at no time any conversation with him on the subject of that convention?
Answer. Never; to my recollection.

Question. Dr. Howe, here is a paper that purports to be in your handwriting. Will you look at it and see whether it is or not? Exhibiting the following note:

"Dear Friend: our friend from Concord called with your note. I begin the investment with fifty dollars inclosed, and will try to do more through friends.
"Doctor."

Answer. I believe it is.

Question. Can you tell the date? There is no date to it. When was that written?
Answer. There is no evidence on the face of the paper to show when it was written.

Question. Will you say to whom this was addressed?
Answer. I presume it was addressed to Captain Brown.

Question. Do you remember the fact of writing it?
Answer. I did write it.

Question. Do you remember the fact of the time?
Answer. I do not remember the time.

Question. Will you please to say why your name was not signed to it?
Answer. Perhaps it was not signed because the investment to which it referred might have been of a character that he, perhaps, would not like to have known at the time, though he wold have no objection afterwards. Captain Brown was considered to have suffered a good deal in Kansas, and a subscription was raised to purchase him a homestead, and a thousand dollars was raised for that purpose. He was a proud man, and perhaps would not like to have it known.

Question. Was this fifty dollars part of that thousand?
Answer. If it was given in 1857 or 1858, it might have been.

Question. You say a thousand dollars was raised?
Answer. A thousand dollars or thereabouts was raised.

Question. In the years 1857 and 1858?
Answer. 1857 or 1858.

Question. To whom was that money paid, or what use was made of the money?
Answer. I know only that the homestead was bought; I presume by the chairman of the Massachusetts Aid Committee; I am not certain.

By Mr. Doolittle:

Question. Is that homestead at North Elba, New York?
Answer. Yes, sir.

By the Chairman:

Question. This letter says: "I begin the investment with fifty dollars inclosed." If this fifty dollars was for the purpose of buying that homestead, the money was sent to Brown directly?
Answer. I think not. That is my impression.

The Chairman. Then that would be contradictory to the paper, "I begin the investment with fifty dollars inclosed, and will try to do more through friends," if this referred to that purchase.
Answer. That I cannot answer, unless I could know the date of the letter. I contributed to his aid at various times.

Question. His aid in what way?
Answer. In the same way that I contribute to the aid of other anti-slavery men; men who give up their occupations, their industry, to write papers or to deliver lectures, or otherwise to propagate anti-slavery sentiments. I give as much money every year as I possibly can afford. I am in the habit of contributing in that way.

Question. Was this money contributed to Brown because of his personal necessities, or not?
Answer. Because of his personal worth, and because he had no ostensible means of reimbursing himself for his losses in Kansas. I am not in the habit of questioning very closely, when I have confidence in the character of men whom I aid.

Question. Will you be good enough to say if that is in your handwriting? It is not signed. [Exhibiting the following paper:]

"Horse-cars leave Tremont House every half hour.
"Get out at the Jamaica Plain, and inquire for house of George R. Russell.
"The steam-cars leave Providence depot.
"Get out at the Jamaica Plain station."

Answer. That is my hand-writing.

Question. Can you tell the date when that was written?
Answer. I cannot; but I remember the circumstances.

Question. What were the circumstances?
Answer. Mr. Sanborn wanted to take Mr. Brown to Mr. Russell's house. I was going with him; but I could not go, though I had promised to go. I remember now, seeing that, that I wrote this direction; but I cannot say that I gave it to Sanborn. He was not alone.

Question. That paper, then, was written for Mr. Sanborn?
Answer. It was written for Mr. Sanborn.

Question. Was it at the time when Brown was there?
Answer. It was.

Question. Do you know whether Sanborn wanted that for the use of Brown as well as for himself?
Answer. I presume he did. Brown was with Sanborn at the time.

Question. Who is George R. Russell, to whom this refers? What business had Brown with him, do you know?
Answer. I do not know what business he had with him at all. Mr. Russell is one of our wealthy, liberal men, who is in the habit of contributing to the promotion of anti-slavery sentiments -- a liberal contributor.

Question. Will you state what you mean by that phrase "contributing" for the promotion of anti-slavery sentiments? What is the meaning of that idea?
Answer. In the same way that I would promote the Gospel among the heathen; I could not precisely say what. The means are various -- lectures, writing, talking, discussing the matter.

Question. What ends are to be attained by promoting that anti-slavery sentiment? What is the object in view?
Answer. The promotion of freedom among men; the same object as the fathers in the revolution.

Question. Was one of its objects the means of attaining the freedom of the African slaves held in this country?
Answer. That would be the natural and desired result.

Question. Was that one of the ends to be attained by propagating this anti-slavery sentiment by lecturing and otherwise?
Answer. It was. I answer these questions out of courtesy to the chairman, but I must think they are rather wide.

The Chairman. If you are disinclined to answer any question, you have only to state the fact. No question is asked you, of course, which is not deemed pertinent to the inquiry which is required of this committee, in the judgment of the gentleman who puts it.

Question. Will you be good enough to inform the committee whether you were acquainted with a man named J.H. Kagi?
Answer. I never saw him.

Question. Did you have any correspondence with him?
Answer. I never corresponded with him that I recollect.

Question. Will you please to say whether you have any recollection of this telegraphic dispatch? [Exhibiting the following dispatch:

[By telegraph from Boston, June 6, 1859.]

To J.H. Kagi.
Cleveland, June 6, 1859.

He got the needful, and left three (3) days ago, direction unknown.
S.G.H.]

Answer. I have not the slightest idea. My initials are "S.G.H.," but I have no recollection whatever of that.

Question. Have no recollection of being in communication with Kagi at all?
Answer. I am certain, because Kagi struck me when reading the names in the public prints, and I asked myself the question who he was.

Question. Did you know John Brown, jr., the son of the Brown we have spoken of?
Answer. I saw him once.

Question. Where did you see him?
Answer. He called upon me at my house, I think, early in 1859. I cannot recollect the date.

Question. Here is a letter which has been proved to be in the handwriting of John Brown, jr., dated at "Syracuse, New York, Thursday, August 17, 1859," addressed to "Friend Henrie," which has been shown to mean Kagi, in which he says:

"While in Boston, I improved the time in making the acquaintance of those staunch friends of our friend Isaac. First, called on Dr. H. -- -, who, though I had no letter of introduction, received me most cordially. He gave me a letter to the friend who does business on Milk street. Went with him to his house in Medford and took dinner. The last word he sent to me was, 'Tell friend (Isaac) that we have the fullest confidence in his endeavor, whatever may be the result.'" Was it in that month of August, 1859, you saw John Brown, jr., in Boston?

Answer. It would be impossible for me to recollect any further than that it was not in cold weather.

Question. Did he introduce himself?
Answer. He introduced himself.

Question. Did you receive him as the son of old John Brown?
Answer. I did, and was very glad to see him as the son of John Brown.

Question. Did he tell you the object of his visit to Boston?
Answer. He did not.

Question. Did he tell you that he was there endeavoring to collect money?
Answer. He did not.

Question. Did he apply to you for money?
Answer. He did not.

Question. Do you remember having given him a letter to a gentleman who does business on Milk street?
Answer. Very likely I may have done so.

Question. Do you know to whom he refers?
Answer. Mr. George L. Stearns.

Question. Does Mr. Stearns live in Medford?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. You say that John Brown, jr., did not tell you the object of his visit to Boston?
Answer. He did not.

Question. Did you learn it from any other source?
Answer. I did not. I had a very strong impression that he had some business of his own, and otherwise wanted to see the friends of his father.

Question. Do you remember why you gave him the letter to Mr. Stearns?
Answer. As one of his father's friends.

Question. Was it at your own suggestion, or at his request?
Answer. I cannot say. Probably I might have heard his father speak of Mr. Stearns. He was a warm friend of the father and mother and the whole family.

Question. Did you inquire from him, or learn from him at that time, where his father was?
Answer. I did not learn.

Question. Do you remember to have inquired where he was, or what he was doing?
Answer. I do not remember whether I did or did not. I infer that I did not, because I had no knowledge of his whereabouts. Of course, if I had gained it from him or anybody else, I should probably have remembered it.

Question. Did you have any knowledge of where John Brown was, from the time you saw him in Boston, in 1859, until the outbreak at Harper's Ferry?
Answer. Not the slightest knowledge of his whereabouts. I was probably as much astonished when I heard of his turning up at Harper's Ferry, as the chairman of this committee was.

Question. You said you would probably recollect the name of the secretary of the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee. Can you give it to us now?
Answer. His name is Parnell.

Question. Where does he reside?
Answer. He does business in Boston, and probably resides in one of the small towns in the vicinity.

Question. Did you know a young man named Francis J. Meriam?
Answer. I did, very slightly.

Question. Have you seen him since the affair at Harper's Ferry?
Answer. I have.

Question. Where did you see him?
Answer. At the St. Lawrence Hotel, in Montreal.

Question. Did he tell you of what occurred at Harper's Ferry?
Answer. He did not.

Question. Did he make any reference to it in any form in conversation?
Answer. He began to talk about it, but I checked him. He applied to me. I do not know that I should volunteer any information further than to show that I am in a position to aid all purposes of proper investigation. He called upon me in the summer of 1859, and made my first acquaintance. I saw that he was in a state of mental excitement bordering on insanity. He wanted to know if I knew the whereabouts of John Brown. I told him that I did not; and I thought, moreover, that if I did, I would not tell him. When I next saw him, he was in the same wild state. I had my luggage all packed, and the porter was in the room to take it down to the cars in order that I might return to Boston, when he came in. That was at Montreal. I saw that he was in a state of painful excitement, and declined talking to him.

Question. Did he tell you, or undertake or commence to tell you, of any reason why that attack was made precipitately at an earlier day that [sic] had been contemplated?
Answer. He did not. He began a wild talk, and I stopped him. I said, "Mr. Meriam, you see I am going away;" and I knew too much of excitable men to wish to lead them on to a topic which was exciting to them.

Question. Do you know a negro man named Lewis Hayden?
Answer. I know him slightly.

Question. Do you know of any connection that he had with the affairs of Brown?
Answer. Nothing but what I have seen in the papers.

Question. Can you tell the committee where Meriam is now?
Answer. I cannot.

Question. You have spoken of having made various contributions to John Brown, and one is given here of $50; can you recollect any others, and at what time they were made?
Answer. I cannot recollect at what time, but I looked at my check book before I came away, and I found that I had given what I supposed was to John Brown $50. I set apart as much of my income every year for anti-slavery purposes as I can.

Question. Were you the recipient of contributions from others for John Brown?
Answer. During the time I was on the committee.

Question. Were those contributions for Brown, or for what you have spoken of -- aiding in the defense of freedom in Kansas?
Answer. They were for John Brown, to be used at his discretion. During the Kansas troubles, the contributions were for aiding the cause of freedom in Kansas, and afterwards I received contributions for him.

Question. Up to what period did those contributions come in?
Answer. I think during all of 1858.

Question. Were they transmitted to John Brown?
Answer. I think not directly. I think that only part of them went to John Brown. The late transactions I cannot speak of with so much certainty; but the former ones I know were never directly transmitted to him.

Question. Was a memorandum kept of the mode in which the money was disposed of?
Answer. Certainly. Everything was clearly recorded; I mean everything in regard to Kansas matters.

Question. Amongst the records you can send to this committee?
Answer. Yes.

Question. Can you state the time when you last saw John Brown the elder?
Answer. It was in the spring or early summer of 1859.

Question. Did you ever hear at any time that he was passing elsewhere by the name of John Smith?
Answer. Never.

Question. You have spoken of having seen John Brown the younger in Boston; can you tell when it was that you last saw him anywhere?
Answer. I am sure I never saw John Brown, jr., but once, and that was when he called on me at Boston.

Question. You say that the money of which you have spoken was given to John Brown, to be used at his discretion after the Kansas troubles were over, for I presume they would be considered as over in 1858. What disposition was it expected he would make of it?
Answer. I do not know that I could say what disposition I thought he would make of it; I supposed that he was a practical anti-slavery man, and I was not inclined to scrutinize, having great confidence in him as a man.

Mr. Collamer. To prevent any understanding about these contributions, I desire to ask a question. Were not the contributions received by the committees, which were made by the people in Boston and Massachusetts, for and during the Kansas troubles?
Answer. For that definite purpose.

Mr. Collamer. Was any money of those contributions ever sent to Brown after 1858?
Answer. Not that I know of.

The Chairman. But there were other contributions that were sent to him after the fall of 1858, and I understand you that they were to be used at his discretion.
The Witness. I had personal knowledge of several small sums.

Question. Was there any limit imposed upon his discretion, as far as you know, by your act or that of others, in the use of the money that was given to him?
Answer. No further than the confidence he inspired among his friends by two opinions entertained by him, one of which was that he was opposed to promoting insurrection among the slaves, and another was that he was opposed to shedding human blood except in self-defense.

Question. Where did he make those declarations?
Answer. More than once, in the presence of my friends and in my own presence, because I had arguments with him on the general matter of practical anti-slavery, and I knew his sentiments; his declarations were clear and explicit, and I had the utmost confidence in them.

Question. Do you know of any plan he had devised, or proposed to devise, to get the slaves off from the Southern States without promoting insurrection -- abducting them, or seducing them away, or anything of that sort?
Answer. I know of no definite recent plans of his; he was secretive.

Question. What do you mean by his being secretive?
Answer. I mean that he was a man not accustomed to reveal his thoughts unnecessarily to any one, that he was not a communicative man. Secretiveness, I recognize as one of the human faculties; that word I use, though in no improper or disrespectful sense.

Question. You have spoken of a fund of a thousand dollars, or thereabouts, that was subscribed to purchase a homestead for Brown's family; was that investment actually made?
Answer. It was actually made, I think.

Question. Was it made by passing that money through Brown's hands?
Answer. My impression is that it did not pass through his hands; on that point I cannot answer definitely.

Question. Then the fifty dollars spoken of in your note could not have been for that purchase?
Answer. About that I cannot say; I have ransacked my memory to know whether it was, and I cannot say distinctly whether it was or not; I contribute all the money I can for what I consider good purposes, and I am not accustomed to make any distinct memoranda about it.

By Mr. Doolittle:

Question. In all your conversation or communication with Brown, had you ever, at any time, from him any intimation of an organized attempt or effort, on his part to be made, to produce an insurrection among the slaves in the slave States of the South?
Answer. Never.

S.G. Howe.

I would add that, on careful consideration, I think I was mistaken about the application of the fifty dollars referred to in the torn paper. It could not have been part of the money for the purchase of the homestead. I am convinced, moreover, that the purchase of the homestead was a bona fide transaction, and the money was given mainly, I think, by persons who would not have countenanced any direct interference with slavery in the slave States.

S.G.H.

APPENDIX TO DR. HOWE'S TESTIMONY.

Boston, February 20, 1860.

Gentlemen: Agreeably to the request of your chairman, the Hon. J. M. Mason, in his note of the 3d instant, I have endeavored to obtain copies of the correspondence referred to in my testimony; also of the votes of the Kansas committee, touching the matter of the arms intrusted to John Brown.

Inclosed you will find copies of all the documents and letters bearing on the subject which I have been able to obtain.

No. 1 is a letter from the chairman of the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee, dated January 8, 1857, inclosing an order on the agent of the committee, to deliver to John Brown two hundred Sharp's rifles, with ammunition, &c. These he was directed to hold as agent of the committee, and subject to their order.

No. 2 is a letter, dated April 15, 1857, inclosing No. 3, being a vote of the committee, by which Brown was authorized to dispose of one hundred of the committee's rifles to free-State men in Kansas, at not less than fifteen dollars apiece; and to appropriate the proceeds to relieve the suffering inhabitants. Also, authorizing him to draw upon the treasurer for five hundred dollars, for the same purpose. These show the original destination of the arms and the money.

Next should be a letter from Hon. Henry Wilson, alluded to in my testimony, but the original cannot be found.

The correctness of the statement I made before the committee is confirmed by conversation with persons who saw the letter. It was dated May 9, 1858, and was very brief. It stated that he (Wilson) had been informed that Brown contemplated some unlawful expedition, and would use arms belonging to the Kansas Aid Committee. That he (Wilson) had considered the original purchase of those arms to be an unwise measure; but at any rate, he advised that they be taken from Brown, and that the committee keep clear of him.

Nos 4 and 5 are my replies to Mr. Wilson, in which are these words: "prompt measures have been taken, and will be followed up, to prevent any such monstrous perversion of a trust as would be the application of means, raised for the defense of Kansas, to a purpose which the subscribers to the fund would disapprove and vehemently condemn."

No. 6 is a letter of the chairman of the Kansas committee to John Brown, dated May 14, 1858, inclosing a copy of Mr. Wilson's letter, and containing these words: "You have the custody of the arms alluded to, to be used in the defense of Kansas, and it becomes my duty to warn you not to use them for any other purpose."

No. 7 is a letter, dated May 15, 1858, informing Captain Brown of arrangements made for taking possession of the arms.

Next should be a letter from Captain Forbes, but the copy sent to me was not preserved. That person's language was so intemperate and vituperative that I would not write to him a second time, or read his letters further than to see their abusive character. The New York Herald, October 27, 1859, contains what purports to be correct copies of them. The one dated May 6, 1858, is probably the one which I answered, though I think some sentences have been omitted in the printed copy.

No 8 is my answer to Captain Forbes's letter, in which are these words. "I said that I had confidence in the integrity and ability of Captain Brown," but it is utterly absurd to infer from that any responsibility for his acts. I have confidence in the integrity and ability of scores and hundreds of men for whose words and acts I am in no way responsible. Neither as a member of the Kansas committee, nor as an individual am I responsible, either legally or morally for any contract between Captain Brown and you. I never heard your name connected with Kansas until quite recently. I was an active member of the committee from its foundation, (until it ceased active operations which was long ago,) and never heard of any contact with you; and I know that the committee never delegated power over any one to bind it by any legal or even moral obligation with you. So! The brains are out of that charge; and I will not heed any ghosts of it which you may parade before me or the public.

"Your mistaken notion about my being in any way responsible for Captain Brown's actions is the key, I suppose, to certain enigmatical allusions in your last letter to some projected expedition of his; as though I was to be responsible through all time for him!

"I infer from your language that you have obtained [in confidence] some information respecting an expedition which you think to be commendable provided you could manage it; but which you will betray and denounce if he does not give it up!!

"You, sir, are the guardian of your own honor, but I trust that for your children's sake at least you will not let your passion lead you to an action which might make them blush."

It is my belief that Forbes or some one else, did inform the President, or the Secretary of War, of Brown's plans; and that the knowledge of this fact led Brown to abandon the plan whatever it was.

I think that satisfactory proofs of the first part of this statement are in existence, and can be obtained by the investigating committee.

The examination I have given to these matters enables me to correct some parts of my testimony before the committee, and I wish to do so. The memorandum shown to me by the chairman, which was in my handwriting, being a direction to Mr. Russell's house, and which I said might have been given to Mr. Sanborn, was not given to him, but to some person who accompanied Captain Brown, and whose name I cannot recollect.

The letter in my handwriting, mentioning fifty dollars sent to Brown, and promising more, I testified might refer to my subscription for purchasing a farm for Brown's family; but I could not tell certainly, because the date had been torn off.

I have examined the list of subscriptions for that purpose, and do not find my name there. The letter, therefore, must have referred to some other transaction.

As doubts have been expressed whether the purchase of the farm was a bona fide transaction, and as it is pertinent to your inquiry about funds raised for John Brown, I inclose an extract from the original correspondence:

"Boston, November 7, 1857.

"My Dear Friend: Your most welcome letter came to hand on Saturday. I am very glad to learn that, after your hard pilgrimage, you are in more comfortable quarters, with the means to meet present expenses. In my opinion, the free-State party should wait for the border ruffian moves, and check-mate them as they are developed. Don't attack them; but if they attack you "give them Jessie," and Fremont, too! You know how to do it.

"I inclose a copy of the subscription list that you may know who has been so kind to you, with their address, that you may write to them if you wish to do so. The original I will keep until I see you.

"Subscription list.

"The family of Captain John Brown, of Ossawatomie, have no means of support, owing to the oppression which he has been subjected to in Kansas.

"It is proposed to put them (his wife and five children) in possession of the means of supporting themselves, as far as is possible for persons in their situation. The undersigned, will pay the following sums, provided one thousand dollars shall be raised. With this sum a small farm can now be purchased in the neighborhood of their late residence, in Essex county, New York.
"Captain J. Brown, Kansas."

Then follow the names of sixteen subscribers, whose joint contributions amount to one thousand dollars, which sum was applied to the purchase of a small farm in New York State.

As neither the names of the writer nor of the subscribers are important for the purposes of the committee, they are not given.

S.G. Howe

The foregoing statement and extracts of letters are, to the best of my knowledge and belief, correct. I can make affidavit to this in a formal manner, if required.

S.G. Howe.

The Select Committee
Of the Senate of the United States.

No. 1.

Massachusetts State Kansas Committee Room,

Boston, January 8, 1857.

Dear Sir: Inclosed we hand you our order on Edward Clark, Esq., of Lawrence, K.T., for two hundred Sharp's rifled carbines, with four thousand ball cartridges, thirty-one military caps, and six iron ladles -- all, as we suppose, now stored at Tabor, in the State of Iowa.

We wish you to take possession of this property, either at Tabor or wherever it may be found, as our agent, and hold it subject to our order.

For this purpose your are authorized to draw on our treasurer, Patrick T. Jackson, Esq., in Boston, for such sums as may be necessary to pay the expenses as they accrue, to an amount not exceeding five hundred dollars.

Truly yours,
George L. Stearns,
Chairman of Massachusetts State Kansas Committee.

Mr. John Brown, of Kansas Territory.

No. 2.

Boston, April 15, 1857.

Dear Sir: By the inclosed vote of the 11th instant, we place in your hands one hundred Sharp's rifles, to be sold in conformity therewith, and wish you to use the proceeds for the benefit of the free-State men in Kansas, keeping an account of your doings as far as practicable.

Also, a vote placing a further sum of five hundred dollars ($500) at your disposal, for which you can, in need, pass your draft on our treasurer, P.T. Jackson, Esq.

Truly, yours,
George L. Stearns,
Chairman Massachusetts State Kansas Committee.

Mr. John Brown,
Massassoit House, Springfield, Mass.

No. 3.

Boston, April 15, 1857.

At a meeting of the executive committee of the State Kansas Aid Committee of Massachusetts, held in Boston, April 11, 1857, it was

Voted, That Captain John Brown be authorized to dispose of one hundred rifles, belonging to this committee, to such free-State inhabitants of Kansas as he thinks to be reliable, at a price of not less than fifteen dollars, ($15),) and that he account for the same agreeably to his instructions for the relief of Kansas.

George L. Stearns,
Chairman Massachusetts State Kansas Committee.

At the same meeting, it was

Voted, That Captain John Brown be authorized to draw on P.T. Jackson, treasurer, for five hundred dollars, ($500,) if, on his arrival in Kansas, he is satisfied that such sum is necessary for the relief of persons in Kansas.

George L. Stearns,
Chairman Massachusetts State Kansas Committee.

No. 4.

Copy of a letter to Hon. Henry Wilson, dated May 12, 1858.

Dear Sir: I have just received your letter of the 9th. I understand perfectly your meaning. No countenance has been given to Brown for any operations outside of Kansas by the Kansas committee. I had occasion, a few days ago, to send him an earnest message from some of his friends here, urging him to go at once to Kansas and take part in the coming election, and throw the weight of his influence on the side of the right.

There is in Washington a disappointed and malicious man, working with all the activity which hate and revenge can inspire, to harm Brown, and to cast odium upon the friends of Kansas in Massachusetts. You probably know him. He has been to Mr. Seward. Mr. Hale, also can tell you something about him. God speed the right!

Faithfully yours,
S. G. Howe.

No. 5.

Copy of a letter to Hon. Henry Wilson, dated May 15, 1858.

Dear Sir: When I last wrote to you, I was not aware fully of the true state of the case with regard to certain arms belonging to the late Kansas committee.

Prompt measures have been taken, and will be resolutely followed up, to prevent any such monstrous perversion of a trust as would be the application of means, raised for the defense of Kansas, to a purpose which the subscribers of the fund would disapprove and vehemently condemn.

Faithfully yours,
S. G. Howe.

No. 6.

Boston, May 14, 1858.

Dear Sir: Inclosed please find a copy of a letter to Doctor Howe, from Hon. Henry Wilson. You will recollect that you have the custody of the arms alluded to, to be used for the defense of Kansas, as agent of the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee. In consequence of the information thus communicated to me, it becomes my duty to warn you not to use them for any other purpose, and to hold them subject to my order as chairman of said committee. A member of our committee will be at Chatham early in the coming week, to confer with you as to the best mode of disposing of them.

Truly your friend,
George L. Stearns,
Chairman Massachusetts State Kansas Committee.

Mr. John Brown,
Chatham, Canada West.

No. 7.

Boston, May 15, 1858.

Dear Sir: I wrote to you yesterday, informing you that a member of the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee would visit you at Chatham, to confer about the delivery of the arms you hold.

As I can find no one who can spare the time, I have to request that you will meet me in New York city, some time next week. A letter to me, directed to care of John Hopper, 110 Broadway, New York, will be in season. Come as early as you can. Our committee will pay your expenses.

Truly yours,
George L. Stearns,
Chairman Massachusetts State Kansas Committee.

Mr. John Brown,
Chatham, Canada West.

Dr Howe will go on as soon as he knows you are in New York.

No. 8.

Copy of a letter to Hugh Forbes, dated Boston, May 10, 1858.

Sir: Some two or three weeks ago I received a long communication from you. I had scarcely read a dozen lines, when I saw that it was written in the passionate and vituperative style which had characterized some communications of yours to friends of mine. I therefore threw it aside without reading it. I did not wish to be drawn into correspondence with one who could rudely violate the courtesies becoming gentlemen. It was the same with your second letter. Your third arrived three days ago. I have reconsidered my determination, and read your letter. I have concluded to write to you, in the hope, though perhaps the vain one, of disabusing your mind of certain errors which seem to be growing into insane belief. Your railings at "New England humanitarians" do not affect me, for I make no profession to "humanitarianism" par excellence. Your vituperative epithets, intended to be insulting to me personally, pass me as the idle wind, which I respect not; for I long ago settled in the belief that what are called insults affect him only who utters them. "That which cometh out of the mouth defileth the man, and him only. I confess that I have been pained by the thought that one who must sometimes behave like a gentleman, in order to enjoy the respect of a dear friend of mine, should so lower himself and injure his children. Indeed, I cannot think about your children without being moved at the thought of your standing like a madman between them and aid. All the allegations and assertions and claims; all the superstructure, indeed, of your long letter to me, falls to the ground, because built on an entire fallacy. I said to Senator Sumner that I had confidence in the integrity and ability of Captain Brown; but it is utterly absurd to infer from that any responsibility for his acts. I have confidence in the integrity and ability of scores and hundreds of men for whose words and acts I am in no wise responsible. I never made myself responsible, as a member of the Kansas committee, or as an individual, neither legally nor morally, for any contract between Captain Brown and you. I never heard your name connected with Kansas until quite recently. I was an active member of the committee from its formation until it ceased active operations, (which was long, long ago,) and never heard of any contract with you; and I know that the committee never delegated power to any one to bind it by any legal or even moral obligation, with you. So the brains are out of that allegation, and I will not heed any ghosts of it which you may parade before me or the public. Your mistaken notion about my being in any way responsible for Captain Brown's actions is the key, I suppose, to certain enigmatical allusions in your last letter to some projected expedition of his; as though I was to be responsible through all time for him! I infer from your language that you have obtained (in confidence) some information respecting an expedition which you think to be commendable, provided you could manage it, but which you will betray and denounce if he does not give it up! You are, sir, the guardian of your own honor! But I trust that, for your children's sake, at least, you will never let your passion lead you to a course that might make them blush. In order, however, to disabuse you of any lingering notion that I, or any of the members of the late Kansas committee (whom I know intimately) have any responsibility for Captain Brown's actions, I wish to say that the very last communication I sent to him was in order to signify the earnest wish of certain gentlemen, whom you name as his supporters, (in your letter and in the anonymous one,) that he should go at once to Kansas and give his aid in the coming elections. Whether he will do so or not, we do not know. I may, perhaps, save you trouble by declaring that, though I am willing to do my uttermost to aid your family, or any distressed family, and though I am willing to listen to any supposed claim of yours upon me, or any of my friends, I will not read letters couched in such vituperative and abusive language as you have hitherto used to Mr. Sanborn and me. I will read only far enough to see the spirit of the communication, and if it is similar to that of your former letters, I shall put it in the fire, with a real feeling of regret at seeing a man of ability and acquirements willfully injuring himself and family by his own passions.

Yours,
S.G. Howe.


Chapter Six: The Eastern Connection

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History