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(A copyrighted publication of West Virginia Archives and History)

Plan For John Brown's Escape

By Isaiah A. Woodward

Volume 19, Number 1 (October 1957), pp. 66-68

Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, John Brown was under sentence for leading the Harpers Ferry insurrection. While Brown was awaiting trial in the Charles Town, Virginia prison, several abolitionists formulated a plan to effect his escape.

The plotters included their plan for the escape in a letter to be delivered by Colonel J. Lucius Davis to John Brown prison.1 This letter was supposed to have consisted of "words of religious consolation" to the insurrectionist, but in reality the words above the drawing as shown in the John Brown document referred to the plan for his escape. The secret writing at the top of the John Brown escape document states

Dear Brown. Be of good cheer. Now friends are coming. Say you are prepared. Five hundred will be at C. Say this was from Maria Child. Be watchful-For W. L. Garrison.2

On October 26, 1859, the Virginia Governor, H. A. Wise, was informed by a Virginian living in New York City that a group of abolitionists were planning "to rescue John Brown and confederates."3 Fearful of a plan to rescue the insurrectionist the Virginia authorities had a company of armed soldiers escort John Brown on a "litter" to the courthouse in Charleston Virginia.4 During the trial John Brown and his followers were closely guarded. As a result of the Virginia governor's security measure in Charlestown, John Brown's escape as planned the abolitionists did not materialize. Instead the death penalty of the court was carried out in 1859. Hence, Captain John Brown was prevented from escaping into freedom.


1 P. Mumfuss to Colonel J. Lucius Davis, New York, December 6, 1859. Brown Papers (MS). The John Brown Papers are in the Virginia State Library, Richmond, Virginia. These manuscripts cover the period of John Brown's life from 1857 to 1859.

2 Maria Child to John Brown, New York, December 6, 1859. John Brown Papers (MS).

3Alfred M. Barbour to Governor H. A. Wise, New York, October 26, 1859. John Brown Papers (MS).

4 The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, October 31, 1859. According to this paper John Brown had "a bayonet wound in his kidneys and three sabre cuts on the forehead," nevertheless, he was carried into the Charlestown court.

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