America in the 1850s

John Brown and Harpers Ferry

Where, meanwhile, was Frederick Douglass?

Twelve years had passed since he first met John Brown, and in that time Frederick Douglass had become even more successful and well known. He had never forgotten John Brown, of course, and when Brown sent an urgent message, asking to meet, Douglass left the relative safety of Syracuse, New York, and went to southern Pennsylvania. The plan was for him to meet John Brown at a point just on the Pennsylvania side of the Maryland border, where they could confer.

In the conversation—held along the side of the road—Brown asked, nearly begged, Douglass to join him. To have someone of Douglass’ stature would enhance the rebellion, he said, and the slaves would flock to him. Douglass shook his head, saying that it was the slaveholders who would flock to Harpers Ferry and they would kill everyone, including Brown, who, he said, was walking into a “perfect steel-trap.”

When Brown found he was unable to persuade Douglass to join him, he made ready to depart. A former black slave by the name of Shields Green had been listening. He decided to go with Brown, whose tiny force was now increased by one.


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