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Senate Select Committee Report on the Harper’s Ferry Invasion
Testimony of George L. Stearns

Pp. 225-45


February 24, 1860.

George L. Stearns affirmed and examined.

By the Chairman:

Question. Will you state where you reside?
Answer. I reside in Medford, Massachusetts, about five miles from Boston.

Question. Will you state whether you were acquainted with John Brown, who was recently put to death in Virginia for offenses against that State?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Where did you make his acquaintance, and when?
Answer. I made his acquaintance early in January, 1857, in Boston. It might possibly have been the last of December, 1856; but I think it was after the 1st of January, 1857.

Question. Will you state in what way you made his acquaintance; what led you to his acquaintance; what was his object in forming your acquaintance, or yours in forming his?
Answer. I was introduced to him by one of our Kansas men, meeting him accidentally.

Question. Who was the man who introduced you?
Answer. I do not recollect now. It was entirely accidental.

Question. Did Brown tell you what was the object of his visit to Boston at that time?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Were you president of the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. What was the object of that committee?
Answer. The object was to relieve the wants and sufferings of the men in Kansas.

Question. In what way was that done? By contributions of money?
Answer. Contributions of money and other things.

Question. What other things?
Answer. Everything which was needed. I cannot specify.

Question. Do you recollect that in January, 1857, you gave to John Brown an order for certain Sharp's rifled carbines, as the property of the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. How was it that that committee were in possession of arms, if their object was only to relieve the sufferings of the people?
Answer. I have made a statement on paper, which, as I am unaccustomed to speak in public, or even to give evidence -- for it is very seldom that I have been in courts as a witness -- I would ask the permission of the committee to allow me to read as evidence, because it would be a clearer and more condensed statement than I could make in any other way.

[After consultation, the committee allowed the witness to read that part of his manuscript which he considers an answer to the question.]

Question. You say there, I think, that you made him your agent to receive those arms, and they consisted of two hundred rifled carbines, with a proportion of ammunition?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Were there any revolving pistols?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Did your committee possess any revolvers out in that country?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Were those the only arms held by your committee?
Answer. Yes, sir.

The Chairman. It has appeared elsewhere, in evidence taken before the committee, that, together with two hundred Sharp's rifled carbines, Brown was in possession of two hundred revolving pistols. Can you tell the committee where he got them?
Answer. I think that the better way would be for me to read my statement throughout. That would open the whole question, and give you a better understanding. These questions involve my connection with Kansas affairs, and hence it will be as well to give the whole statement.

After consultation, the committee agreed to allow the witness to read his statement, which is as follows:
In the spring of 1856, I went to the Boston committee for the relief of sufferers in Kansas, and offered my services. I worked for them until June of that year, and then, being willing to devote all my time to the cause, was made chairman of the State Kansas Committee of Massachusetts, which took the place of the first-named committee, and continued the work throughout the State. In five months, including August and December of that year, (1856,) I raised, through my agents, about $48,000 in money, and in the same time my wife commenced the formation of societies for contributions of clothing, which resulted in sending from $20,000 to $30,000 more, in supplies of various kinds. In January, 1857, our work was stopped, by advices from Kansas that no more contributions were needed except for defense. If we had not been thus stopped, our arrangements then made would have enabled us to have collected $100,000 in the next six months. Soon after our State committee had commenced work -- I think in August, 1856 -- a messenger from Kansas -- who came through Iowa (for the Missouri river was then closed by the Missourians to all free-State travelers) -- came to us asking earnestly for arms and ammunition for defense of the free-State party. Our committee met the next day, and immediately voted to send two hundred Sharp's rifles, and the necessary quantity of ammunition, which was procured and sent to the National Kansas Committee at Chicago, to be by them forwarded through Iowa to Kansas. From some cause, which I have never heard explained, these arms were delayed in Iowa; and in November or December of that year we directed an agent to proceed to Iowa at our charge, and take possession of them as our property. Early in January, 1857, John Brown, of whom I had heard, but had not seen, came to Boston and was introduced to me by one of our Kansas agents, and after repeated conferences with him, being strongly impressed with his sagacity, courage, and stern integrity, I, through a vote of our committee, made him our agent to receive and hold these arms and the ammunition, for the defense of Kansas, appropriating $500 to pay his expenses. Subsequently, in April of that year, we authorized him to sell 100 rifles, if expedient, and voted $500 more to enable him to proceed to Kansas with his armament.

About this time, on his representing that the force to be organized in Kansas ought to be provided with revolvers, I authorized him to purchase 200 from the Massachusetts Arms Company, and when they were delivered to him in Iowa, paid for them from my own funds; the amount was $1,300. At the same time I gave him, by a letter of credit, authority to draw on me at sight for $7,000 in sums as it might be wanted, for the subsistence of 100 men, provided that it should be necessary at any time to call that number into the field for active service in the defense of Kansas, in 1857. As the exigency contemplated did not occur, no money was drawn under it, and the letter was subsequently returned to me. In the summer of 1857, I contributed with others, $1,000 to purchase an addition to the farm then and now occupied by his family at North Elba. The money was paid by my agent for that purpose, and satisfactory evidence given me on his return that a proper conveyance of the land had been made to the family of John Brown. My subscription to that fund was $260, as appears by the subscription paper. Besides these transactions, which were for specific purposes, I have given him money from time to time, how much I do not know, as I never keep any account of my personal expenses, or of money I give to others; it is all charged to my private account as paid me. I should think it might amount to, say from $1,500 to $2,000. About May, 1858, I saw a letter from Henry Wilson to Dr. Howe, and also one or two from a Mr. Forbes. I had never heard of Forbes until I saw his letters, which were so coarse and insulting in their language, and incorrect, in ascribing to others what I had done, that I concluded he was an adventurer whose only aim was to extort money; but at Dr. Howe's request, I wrote the letter to John Brown, dated May 14, 1858, of which he has forwarded to you a copy. In addition to what I have before stated, I raised money and sent an agent to Kansas to aid the free-State party in the Lecompton election, and again for the election in 1858.

Question. Was it at Brown's request that you put him in possession of those arms in January, 1857?
Answer. No, sir; but because we needed an agent to secure them. They were left in Iowa, and under circumstances that made it doubtful whether they would not be lost entirely, and we put them into his hands because it was necessary to have some agent to proceed there and reclaim them from the hands they were in, and take proper care of them.

Question. It is stated in the writing, "I, through a vote of our committee, made him our agent to receive and hold these arms and ammunition for the defense of Kansas?"
Answer. Yes, sir; of course they were intended for the defense of Kansas, and that was the object for which they were to be held.

Question. Do you know that the pistols were delivered to Brown?
Answer. The exact statement of the case is, that upon the delivery of the railroad receipt to me, promising to deliver them to him in Iowa, I paid for them.

Question. Do you know, from the admission of Brown or otherwise, that he afterwards got those pistols?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. There are copies of two letters here, among those forwarded by Dr. Howe, did you read them?
Answer. I have not read the whole, but I have read my own letters.

Question. There is a copy of a letter purporting to have been written by you, as chairman of the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee, to John Brown, dated at Boston, January 8, 1857, and another to John Brown from you, dated at Boston, April 15, 1857, and the third dated Boston, April 15, 1857. I will read them to you. I only want to know if they are correct copies of your letters?

The following letters were then read to the witness:

Massachusetts State Kansas Committee Room
Boston, January 8, 1857.

Dear Sir: Inclosed we hand you our order on Edward Clark, Esq., of Lawrence, Kansas Territory, 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 to hold it subject to our order.

For this purpose you 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 Massachusetts State Kansas Committee.

Mr. John Brown,
Of Kansas Territory

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 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, Massachusetts.

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 not less than fifteen dollars, 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, 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.

The Witness. The first letter speaks of thirty one military caps. It should be thirty one thousand military caps meaning percussion caps.

Question. The first letter directs Brown to take possession of the arms as your agent, and hold them subject to your order. Did I understand you to say that this was voluntarily proffered to him, and not at his request?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Why did you desire to place these arms in his possession?
Answer. For safe-keeping.

Question. Were they not in safe-keeping where they were?
Answer. They were not substantially in our hands. We had passed them into the hands of the National Kansas Committee to be transported to Kansas, and they had an idea that they being called the National Kansas Committee, everything which was sent to them for transportation became their property the moment it passed into their hands, which we disputed; and after some letters had passed between us they gave them up to us again and we assumed the possession of them. That was a question which we had to settle with them -- whether the property we sent to Kansas was theirs the moment it got into their possession. We denied it.

Question. Were the 100 Sharp's rifles, referred to in the letter of April 15, a different weapon from the Sharp's rifled carbine before spoken of?
Answer. The same weapon. A part of the same lot.

Question. Then the 100 rifles mentioned here were part of the 200 mentioned in that?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Did he ever sell these rifles, as he was thus empowered?
Answer. I have no reason to suppose that he did. I never knew that he sold them. He never gave me any intimation that he sold them.

Question. Did he ever account with you for the proceeds?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Did he ever advise you that he had sold them?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Did he draw for the $500 that you authorized him to draw for?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. You saw Brown after that in 1857?
The Witness. After April, 1857?

Question. After April, 1857?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Was there any conversation then between you as to those arms that were in his possession? Was any reference made to them? Answer. I simply asked him if they were safe and in order. He told me they were.

Question. Did he tell you where they then were, in 1858? Answer. I do not think he did. I do not recollect that he did.

Question. I find in the manuscript sent by Dr. Howe a copy of a letter written by you to John Brown, dated at Boston, May 14, 1858, addressed to him at Chatham, Canada West, which I will read, and ask you if it is a correct copy.

The letter was read to the witness, as follows:

Boston, May 14, 1858.

Dear Sir: Inclosed please find a copy of a letter to Dr. 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.

The following letter was also read to the witness:

Boston, May 15, 1858.

Dear Sir: I wrote to you yesterday informing you that a member of the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee would visit 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.

Question. Will you give to the committee, as nearly as you can, the substance of Mr. Wilson's letter to Dr. Howe, which you inclosed in this letter to Brown?
Answer. It is so long since, that I do not recollect it. I cannot recall any expression of the letter.

Question. Do you remember what was the subject of it -- what it referred to?
Answer. I think, as near as I can recollect, it must have referred to some communication of a Mr. Forbes, or, if the name was not mentioned, to some information that Mr. Wilson had received that those arms were to be used improperly; but further than that I have no recollection of it at all.

Question. Do you recollect what was the impropriety of the use that it was suspected Brown would make of them? What was the nature of the improper use that it was feared he would make of them?
Answer. I can only give you the general impression. It was that Brown had other designs than that for which the arms were put into his hands; that is, that he might invade Missouri, or, instead of defending Kansas, as we proposed, that he might carry his plans beyond that, and perform the same work in Missouri that had been performed by Missourians in Kansas. General Wilson, from the first, even immediately after the attack on Lawrence, always strongly opposed, I think, even any attempts to repel outrage, except in the way of immediate defense. He opposed any organized system. He always said, "Don't you interfere with the United States troops; if you do, the United States will crush you." I have heard him use that expression time and again.

Question. This letter is addressed to Brown, at Chatham, Canada West. How did you derive the information that he was at that time in Chatham, in Canada?
Answer. I presume I must have received a letter from him, which I have not got; because, among my letters which I did not think it was necessary to bring here, was one about a fortnight or three weeks before, simply inquiring of him where I could find him.

Question. Did you know the object of his visit to Chatham, in Canada?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Were you aware that a convention was held there by Brown about that time?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. In this letter you requested him to meet you in New York city. Did he comply with that request to go to New York city?
Answer. No, sir; he did not. I was in New York, and he did not come there.

Question. Did you have any communication with him on the subject of these arms, after the date of these letters on the 14th and 15th of May?
Answer. Once only, when I asked him where they were, and he told me that they were stored in Ohio.

Question. When was it that you had that conversation with him?
Answer. That I cannot recollect. It was subsequent to these letters.

Question. Did you see John Brown in Boston, some time in May or June, 1858?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Mr. Collamer. Do you know the exact time you saw him in Boston, in 1858?
Answer. I think it must have been in June. At that time nearly all our regular operations had ceased.

By Mr. Fitch:

Question. Did the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee, through you or anybody else, ever withdraw those arms from Brown's charge?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Were the pistols paid for out of your own means?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Did the order addressed to Brown, at Chatham, to hold the arms subject to the future order of the committee, embrace the pistols as your private property?
Answer. They did not, perhaps, technically; but that was my understanding at the time.

Mr. Collamer. You supposed Brown would understand it so?
Answer. I presumed so.

By the Chairman:

Question. Did you see Brown in Boston, or that neighborhood, in the spring or summer of 1859?
Answer. Yes, sir; in the spring of 1859.

Question. Was he at your house?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Did you see his son, John Brown, jr., there in the summer of 1859?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Was he at your house?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Can you tell the committee, so far as you know, what was the object of young Brown's visit to Boston at that time?
Answer. He came to me one day, at my store, and introduced himself as the son of John Brown. I asked him what he came for, after some conversation, and he said he came to see his father's friends. I was at that time very busily engaged in building; and as he wanted to go out on the same railroad that I was going, I invited him to come and dine with me. We dined together. During that time he seemed to be interested in what I had about my house; and I was particularly struck with the fact that he inquired about some bas-reliefs I had put into the walls. He criticised them in a most remarkable manner. He looked at the garden, and picked one or two flowers, and asked that he might take them home to his wife. I told him that he might take as many as he chose. In a few minutes, I found that he was holding them up and contrasting the colors -- what not one man in five hundred would do. I was struck particularly with the natural love he showed not only for art but for nature. That was all that occurred at that time.

Question. Did he speak of his father, and say where he was, or what he was engaged in?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Was there no reference to his father in his conversation at that time, so far as you can recollect now?
Answer. I think there must have been, but I do not now recollect what it was.

Question. Was that the only time you saw him during his visit to Boston?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Was nothing said by young Brown of his desire to make collections in money for his father's use?
Answer. Nothing whatever.

Question. Did you give him any money?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. You saw John Brown the elder, in Boston, some time in the spring of 1859. Will you state under what circumstances you saw him there; what brought him there, so far as you know?
Answer. He came to Boston, as he told me, to get money for anti-slavery purposes.

Question. What were those anti-slavery purposes? Did he disclose them?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Did you give him any money at that time?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. How much?
Answer. I do not recollect how much. I have no means of knowing -- some hundreds of dollars.

Question. Will you state to the committee what were the anti-slavery purposes to which you intended that money to be devoted -- what sort of purposes?
Answer. Well, my object, in giving him the money was because I considered that so long as Kansas was not a free State, John Brown might again be a useful man there. That was one object. Another was a very high personal respect for him. Knowing that the man had an idea that he was engaged in a work that I believed to be a righteous one, I gave him money to enable him to live or to do whatever he thought was right. When I first talked with John Brown in regard to Kansas affairs, he told me that it was the worst possible policy for a man to reveal his plans. I recollect his taking several scraps of newspapers from his pocket and saying, "The United States government immediately disclose their orders to their military officers. Before the orders leave Washington, they are published all through the papers; well, now, that is not the way; if a man is to do anything, he must keep his plans to himself." Respecting that, I never inquired of him afterwards about his plans, and he never revealed them to me.

Question. I understand you to say that in the month of May, 1858, in consequence of a letter from Henry Wilson, you thought it prudent and wise to endeavor to control the use of those arms in Brown's hands? Did you not think it necessary when you met him again, in 1859, to take further steps to control the use of those arms and prevent him putting them to what you have spoken of as an improper purpose? Was no attempt of that sort made?
Answer. No, sir; I did not suppose they would be put to any such purpose, as it has since appeared they were put to.

Question. There is a letter from John Brown, jr., dated at Syracuse, New York, on the 17th of August, 1859, and addressed to a man named Kagi, in which he says:

"While in Boston, I improved the time in making the acquaintance of these staunch friends of our friend Isaac. First called on Dr. H. -- . He gave me a letter to the friend who does business on Milk street."

Is your place of business on Milk street?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. He goes on: "Went with him to his house, at Medford, and took dinner." Do you recollect whether he brought you a letter from Howe?
Answer. I think he did.

Question. He continues: "The last word he said to me was, 'Tell friend Isaac that we have the fullest confidence in his endeavor whatever may be the result.'" Do you remember that message sent to his father?
Answer. No, sir; I do not. I recollect sending a complimentary message to his father that I had confidence in him; but I have no recollection of that.

Mr. Davis. Was it his father who was called Isaac?
Answer. I do not know.

The Chairman. I was going to ask you whether you did or did not know that the father at that time passed by the name of Isaac, or Isaac Smith?
Answer. I did not.

Question. Did you never refer to old John Brown as Isaac or Isaac Smith?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Were you aware that Brown had ordered a parcel of pikes to be made in the preceding year, in Connecticut?
Answer. I think I heard him say something about pikes, but whether it was that he had ordered them to be made, or what he said about them, I do not recollect. I think I heard him say something about pikes.

Mr. Collamer. When?
Answer. That must have been in May, 1857.

The Chairman. Do you know whether he told you that he had ordered any pikes to be made in that region of country?
Answer. No, sir, I do not.

Question. Do you remember in what connection he spoke of having pikes at all?
Answer. He might have spoken of them as being useful for military purposes.

Question. Did you know a young man named Francis J. Meriam of Boston?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Did you ever hear of such a man?
Answer. I have heard of him in connection with this affair.

Question. Have you never met with him?
Answer. A man came and introduced himself to me as Mr. Lockwood who I supposed to be this Mr. Meriam, and he began to talk to me about the Harper's Ferry affair?

Question. Was that after the Harper's Ferry affair?
Answer. Yes, sir. I told him that I was very busy and could not attend to him. He still continued talking, and at last I was obliged to tell him "sir, my time is so occupied that I cannot have anything to say to you; you must let me go."

Question. You did not know who he was?
Answer. No, sir; but I suspected.

Question. Did you know his family in Boston?
Answer. No, sir; I have no acquaintance with them.

Question. Have you any acquaintance with his parents or grandparents?
Answer. I know Francis Jackson, who I believe is a connection of his. I know Wendell Phillips, who I think is related to him.

Question. Have you any information, derived from any proper source, as to whether Brown asked for authority or permission in any way to bring those arms to Harper's Ferry -- the carbines and the pistols?
The Witness. Asked it of our committee?

The Chairman. Of you or anybody else who had control of them?
Answer. He did not.

Question. Were you aware of where Brown was in the summer of 1859, say July, August, or September of that year?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Had you any correspondence with him?
Answer. I had no correspondence with him. I knew that he was moving about, but I did not know where.

Question. As to those pistols, which were your private property, have you ever taken any measures to reclaim them?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Have you never made any inquires as to where they were since Brown's death?
Answer. No, sir; I did not suppose it would be of any use to do so.

Question. Why did you suppose so?
Answer. I presumed that in the confusion at Harper's Ferry everything was distributed.

By Mr. Fitch:

Question. Was there any communication, either written or oral, between Brown and any member of your committee, to your knowledge, which enabled him to claim those arms as his property?
The Witness. Before I answer that, I wish to make this statement -- that I have no knowledge or evidence that the arms at Harper's Ferry were the same arms. Still, I suppose they were, because they were about the same number, and of the same character and description. Now I am ready to answer the question.

Mr. Fitch. The question was, whether as Brown claimed those arms as his private property, by virtue of any correspondence or communication with any member of your committee, to thus claim them?
Answer. I think he would have reason to consider the revolvers as his property, because I paid for them, not as something I intended to retain, but as something put into his hands for his use, expecting that they were to be used in Kansas. As to the other arms, the rifled carbines, if they were those that belonged to the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee, I see no reason why he should have claimed them, for they were never given to him as his property, but only intrusted to him.

Mr. Fitch. You think he had no other reason to claim them except the long silence of the committee on the subject?
Answer. That is all.

By the Chairman:

Question. Have any measures been taken to reclaim the 200 rifled carbines that were in his possession by your committee?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Can you state why it is that no steps have been taken, by yourself or by the committee, to reclaim this property, which was thus left in Brown's possession, since his death?
Answer. Because we thought it would be of no use. Mr. Sennott came to me and asked me about them, and at the same time exhibited a letter from Mr. Brown to him authorizing him to take possession of this property as his, for the benefit of his family?

Question. What property?
Answer. The property at Harper's Ferry, whatever was there. I think the statement was a general one. I told him that as his agent he had better, in my opinion, go to Harper's Ferry and gather up whatever could be found; that the Adams' Express Company would bring them to Boston, and receive payment for their freight on delivery, and that then he could dispose of them; so far as I had any concern, I should not claim any of that property; that I was perfectly willing, if any of it could be saved, it should go to the benefit of the family.

The Chairman. Did the property referred to in his conversation, by Mr. Sennott, include the pistols and rifles Brown had brought to Harper's Ferry?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Mr. Fitch. You recognized, then, his right to the arms, in the conversation with Mr. Sennot?
Answer. So far as I was individually concerned, that is all.

The Chairman. Is that Kansas committee still in existence?
Answer. No; it cannot be called in existence, though I do not recollect that it was ever formally dissolved. We have had no meeting dissolving it.

Question. Were any steps taken by that committee or by you, as its chairman, after Brown's death, to inquire what became of those two hundred rifled carbines that you have referred to in your testimony?
Answer. None whatever.

Mr. Fitch. You have spoken of a conversation with John Brown, jr., at your house; did you converse or correspond with him subsequent to that time?
Answer. I feel very sure that I did not. If I did, it must have been since the Harper's Ferry affair. I may have written him a letter, but I think not. I think I never corresponded with John Brown, jr., at all.

The Chairman. You speak of seeing John Brown the elder in Boston, in 1859. Can you recollect whether it was as late as August, 1859?
Answer. Oh no, sir. I think it was in May.

Question. Did he then remain for some time in Boston?
Answer. I think he remained several days.

Question. Had you frequent intercourse and communication with him?
Answer. Yes, sir; I saw him often while he was there; not every day, but quite frequently.

Question. Did he tell you the object of his visit?
Answer. As I stated to you, his object was to obtain money for general anti-slavery purposes.

Question. Can you state the places in which you saw him, in what association, and whereabouts?
Answer. I saw him in his room at the United States Hotel several times. I saw him at Dr. Howe's room. I do not now recollect anywhere else.

Mr. Davis. Do I understand you to say that you do not recollect seeing him at any other place than at his room?
Answer. I saw him at his room at the United States Hotel, and I saw him at Dr. Howe's office. I recollect once seeing him at a meeting of a club that dined at the Parker House. I went in there late in the afternoon and saw him there.

Mr. Davis. Was it a dining party?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Can you give any idea of who constituted it?
The Witness. At that time?

Mr. Davis. Certainly; at that dinner.
Answer. The only persons that I recollect, who were present at that time -- they were mostly strangers to me -- were F.W. Bird and, I think, Dr. Howe.

The Chairman. Did you say it was a club dining together?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. What was the name of the club?
Answer. There is no name to it. A number of gentlemen dine together; and, I believe, they are called Bird's club, from the name of Mr. Bird.

Question. Was it a party of gentlemen who meet periodically or occasionally to dine together?
Answer. Yes; they dine there every Saturday; a sort of half political club.

Question. Were you a member of that club?
Answer. No, sir; I was not at that time. Since that time I have dined with them.

Question. Was John Brown one of their guests on that occasion? Was he present at the dinner?
Answer. I cannot tell you whether he was or not.

The Chairman. I think you said you saw him there?
The Witness. I saw him there after the dinner. Whether he dined with them, or came in after the dinner, I cannot tell.

Mr. Davis. Had the company dispersed at all before you went there, or were all who had dined still there?
Answer. They were just about dispersing when I went in. Some of the gentlemen were standing and some were sitting at the table, and very soon they left.

The Chairman. The dinner was over?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Did you go there to see Brown? What took you there?
Answer. I went there to meet him as I had met him before.

Question. You knew he was there?
Answer. Yes, sir; I went there because he was there.

Question. Did any conversation take place there in the presence of those gentlemen who were assembled as to the object of his visit to Boston; his desire to collect money for anti-slavery purposes, as you express it?
Answer. I presume there had been; I presume he went there for that purpose.

Question. Can you recollect none others who were there except the two whom you have mentioned?
Answer. No, sir; I think they were the only two that I knew personally at that time; the others I should not be likely to have remembered.

Question. But you might have known who they were, without knowing them personally?
Answer. Yes, but I do not recollect them, because I was not personally acquainted with them.

Question. How long did you remain there with Brown?
Answer. I should think it might be twenty minutes.

By Mr. Davis:

Question. What kind of a house is this Parker House?
Answer. It is one of the best eating houses in the town.

Question. Are select dinners given there?
Answer. Yes, sir; it is a place where everybody goes for a good dinner. If a literary club wish to dine, they go to the Parker House; if a political club wish to dine, they go to the Parker House.

Question. Is it a place where fine and expensive dinners are given?
Answer. A place where you can get the rarities of the season, and cooked in the best manner.

By Mr. Fitch:

Question. Did the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee keep a list of its contributors?
Answer. No, sir; the contributions were mostly in small sums. The way in which we were enabled to make our contributions so large was because we made them general through the towns.

Question. Was there any distinction in the funds contributed? Was one fund contributed specially for the purpose of purchasing arms, with a knowledge on the part of those who contributed, that the money was to be devoted to that purpose?
Answer. No, sir. There were two committees; first, the Boston Relief Committee, for the relief of sufferers in Kansas; they collected in Boston chiefly in large sums, some $18,000 or $20,000. It was done under the spur of the moment, and I first worked with them; but very soon, when they had collected their large sums, they were not efficient, their operations stopped, and it was found necessary to make operations more extensive; that led to the establishment of the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee, who made general subscriptions, so far as they could, throughout the State. For instance, we could go into a town, appoint a lecture, organize a committee in that town for subscriptions, and in the course of one week, that committee would be sufficiently extensive to go to every house in the town; every individual would be approached and asked to give any sum -- five or ten cents, a dollar, or whatever he chose. The result of that was a large subscription.

Question. But with no attempt to discriminate, as to the use to which the money of different contributors was to be put?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Was it known that some of this was applied for the purchase of arms?
Answer. I do not think it was generally known; I do not think that the question was ever asked. I think, however, if it had been, the response would have been quite as large for arms as it would have been for other purposes.

Question. Do you remember the names of any prominent contributors? I do not mean prominent for the amount, but for their position, any men connected with the United State government in any capacity?
Answer. No, sir; I think that those men would not contribute at all.

Question. Not local officers, but members of Congress or any other body?
Answer. No, sir; you can see that in our operations we did not go in that way. Instead of getting money as you would in a political contest, in large sums from individuals, to distribute among the people, we went to the lower class of people. Our dependence was upon the laborers, the mechanics, the farmers, and such persons, much more than it was upon the professional men and merchants. As an instance of that, while we were collecting money freely in the country, the Boston merchants having made a heavy subscription in the spring, in May, I think, of 1856, an attempt being made in October or November, to get a further subscription was almost an entire failure. They said "we have given, and will not give any more." Those first subscriptions were given to the Boston committee; and I think the second subscription in Boston resulted, as near as I can recollect, in some two or three thousand dollars.

Question. There was no return of names then anywhere?
Answer. None, whatever.

By the Chairman:

Question. Did you ever know, or meet with Hugh Forbes?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Did you ever have any correspondence with him?
Answer. No, sir.

By Mr. Collamer:

Question. Was any distinction made between you and Brown at any time, or any difference in his holding the pistols and the rifles?
Answer. None, whatever; they were contributed for the same purpose.

Question. Then the arms alluded to in your letter to Brown at Chatham included both?
Answer. I so understood at the time.

Question. You supposed it to include the whole?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Did Mr. Brown to whom you gave the order to take those arms in Iowa, and also an order to procure the 200 revolvers, which you say afterwards paid for yourself, know there was any difference as to their being paid for by you or by the committee?
Answer. He knew that the rifles were put into his hands by the committee, and he knew that I paid for the pistols.

Question. But they were both subject to your order?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Did you at any time before the transaction at Harper's Ferry, in any way, directly or indirectly, understand that there was any purpose on the part of Brown to make any inroad upon the subject of slavery in any of the States?
Answer. No, sir; not except that Brown was opposed to slavery, and as he had in Kansas he would work again. I did not suppose that he had any organized plan.

Question. My idea is, making any forcible entry upon Virginia, or any other State?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Had you ever any intimation of that kind, any idea of it?
Answer. No, sir. Perhaps I do not understand you. I did suppose he would go into Virginia or some other State and relieve slaves.

Question. In what way?
Answer. In any way he could give them liberty.

Question. Did you understand that he contemplated doing it by force?
Answer. Yes, sir; by force, if necessary.

Question. Will you explain in what manner, by force, you understood he contemplated doing it?
Answer. I cannot explain any manner, because, as I say to you, I never talked with him on the subject?

Question. Had you any idea that these arms were to be used for any such purpose as making an inroad into any State?
Answer. I think I do not understand you.

Question. John Brown has made an inroad into Virginia, with force and arms, to relieve slaves; you understand that?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Now, did you ever, before that took place, have any intimation that that was contemplated to be done, intended to be done by him?
Answer. No, sir; I never supposed that he contemplated anything like what occurred at Harper's Ferry.

By the Chairman:

Question. What was your general information, then, if you did not know specifically what he intended to do?
Answer. I supposed that if he had an opportunity, and it came in his way to do what he did in Missouri, where he went in and took several slaves and ran them off, he would do that.

By Mr. Davis:

Question. And, if resisted, what then?
Answer. That is not for me to say?[sic]

Mr. Davis. He would have use for the arms that you furnished, if he were resisted; that was the idea, I presume. I intended to ask whether that was your idea.

Mr. Fitch. Was the supposition that Brown would resort to force a supposition of others as well as yourself?
The Witness. Let me explain what I mean by this?

The Chairman. Do so, fully; you have a right.
The Witness. I understood that John Brown --

Mr. Collamer. State the time when you understood it?
The Witness. From first to last, I understood John Brown to be a man who was opposed to slavery, and, as such, that he would take every opportunity to free slaves where he could; I did not know in what way; I only know that from the fact of his having done it in Missouri in the instance referred to; I furnished him with money because I considered him as one who would be of use in case such troubles arose as had arisen previously in Kansas; that was my object in furnishing the money; I did not ask him what he was to do with it, nor did I suppose that he would do anything that I should disapprove of.

Mr. Collamer. Then I ask you, do you disapprove of such a transaction as that at Harper's Ferry?
Answer. I should have disapproved of it if I had known of it; but I have since changed my opinion; I believe John Brown to be the representative man of this century, as Washington was of the last -- the Harper's Ferry affair, and the capacity shown by the Italians for self-government, the great events of this age. One will free Europe, and the other American.

I wish to insert a copy of my letter to John Brown, dated Boston, November 7, 1857, as evidence of my intentions in sending the arms to Kansas:

"Boston, November 7, 1857.

"My Dear Friend: Your most welcome letter of the 16th ultimo 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.

"Let me hear from you as often as you can, giving your impressions of passing events in Kansas.

"I have written Whitman, to whom I shall inclose this, that, 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 besides. You know how to do it. But I think, both in Kansas and in Congress, if we let the Democratic party try to play their game, we shall find that they will do themselves more harm than we can do them.

"Mrs. Stearns joins me in the heartiest respect for you, and the hope that soon you will turn up in our neighborhood. We are all well, and have only our share of the trouble that now sweeps over the land.

"Truly your friend,
"Geo. L. Stearns.

"John Brown, Topeka."

By Mr. Davis:

Question. When you last furnished him money, was there any trouble in Kansas?
Answer. No, sir; there was not; but until Kansas is admitted as a free State I do not feel sure that there will not be. I do not consider that there is a guarantee yet against trouble until she is able to take care of herself.

By Mr. Fitch:

Question. The witness gave us his own idea as to the use to which Brown might put means and money -- that he was to resort to force, if necessary. Now, I desire to know if that was the supposition of other members of the committee, as this gentleman has learned from conversation with them; whether they supposed, in placing arms and money at Brown's disposal, that he might use them to free negroes by force, if necessary?
Answer. I should answer that the committee did not place the arms in his possession for that purpose, and neither did I. They were placed in his hands for the defense of Kansas; they were continued in his hands for the defense of Kansas.

The Chairman. Do you know what the opinions, or views, or ideas of the other members of the committee were on the subject of Brown's using force to free negroes in the slave States?
Answer. No, sir; I do not.

Mr. Davis. At the time you wrote to Brown, withdrawing from him authority to use those arms as you understood he was about to use them, was it not the action of the committee?
Answer. The letter was signed by me as chairman of the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee, and of course carried their authority.

Mr. Davis. Were not the committee then aware of Brown's purpose to use the arms for some other end than that for which they were put in his possession?
Answer. I have answered that in my previous testimony, by stating that I wrote this letter at the request of Dr. Howe. It was not done by a regular committee meeting. We had no regular committee meetings in those days. He handed me this letter of Wilson, and requested me to write, or suggested the propriety of my writing to John Brown. I wrote the letter to John Brown simply because Wilson had written a letter to Dr. Howe -- not with any idea that there was any necessity for it.

The Chairman. Did you consult the committee about the propriety of writing such a letter?
Answer. No, sir.

Mr. Davis. Or afterwards, as to having written it?
Answer. No, sir; the committee did not know that such a letter was written, and I presume that most of them do not know it now. The committee was considered as virtually dissolved.

The Chairman. Did you communicate to any members of the committee, or to all of them, the substance of Wilson's letter to Howe, and Howe's request to you?
Answer. No, sir.

Mr. Davis. The committee, then, never did withdraw the authority from Brown?
Answer. Except so far as the letter of the chairman of the committee did it, in no other way. There was no action of the committee on the matter. The committee were not called together; no vote, no action of the committee, was taken upon it. It was an informal transaction.

Mr. Collamer. Had the committee before that time ceased to act?
Answer. Virtually.

George L. Stearns.

Note. -- I desire to add that John Brown sent word to his friends in Boston, by Mr. Hoyt, his counsel, not to make any attempt to rescue him, because his relations with his jailor (Mr. Avis) were such that he should not go out of the jail if he had an opportunity.

G.L.S.

In accordance with a request of Mr. Stearns, the following letters are appended to his testimony:

Boston, March 22, 1860.

Sir: By the testimony of Horace White, Assistant Secretary of the National Kansas Committee, as published in the newspapers, it would be inferred that John Brown, having been unsuccessful in his application to that committee for the Sharp's rifled carbines, proceeded to Boston to obtain them from the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee.

I have this morning received a letter from H.B. Hurd, Secretary of the National Kansas Committee, which explains the transaction, and agrees with my testimony taken before your committee, on reference to which you will find that, on the 8th day of January, 1857, I gave John Brown an order to receive the arms; consequently he, on the twenty-fourth of the same month applied to the National Kansas Committe [sic] as our agent.

Please allow me to add these letters to my testimony, and oblige your obedient servant,
George L. Stearns.

Hon. J.M. Mason,
Chairman of Select Committee of United States Senate.

Chicago, March 19, 1860.

There was only one meeting of the National Kansas Committee in the city of New York, and that was appointed for the 22d January, 1857, but on account of railroad accidents was delayed till 24th same month, when it commenced and continued in session for six days.

I wish to call your attention to one matter in connection with that meeting, and the application of John Brown for aid from that committee; it is this: When Mr. Brown was pressing his claim for the aid desired, I asked him this question: "If you get the arms and money you desire, will you invade Missouri or any slave territory?" To which he replied: "I am no adventurer; you all know me; you are acquainted with history; you know what I have done in Kansas; I do not expose my plans; no one knows them but myself, except, perhaps, one; I do not wish to be interrogated; if you wish to give me anything, I want you to give it freely; I have no other purpose but to serve the cause of liberty." This is the substance of what he said. I have not thought it over in some time, and could perhaps give more exactly his words.

Although it had been understood by the members of the committee that Mr. Brown intended to arm one hundred men to be scattered about in the Territory, and to be actual settlers and engaged in their several pursuits, only to be called out to repel invasion or defend the Kansas free-State settlers, yet this reply was not satisfactory to all, and the arms were voted back to your committee to be disposed of as you thought best.

It was thought by all present that, in making the inquiry above-mentioned, I was imagining a course of action that was out of the question.

I shall be happy to reply to any interrogations from you in regard to Kansas matters.

Yours, &c.,
H.B. Hurd.

Mr. George L. Stearns,
Boston, Massachusetts.


Chapter Six: The Eastern Connection

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History