John Brown, catalyst


Facial Hair Friday: John Brown
Vincent Bartholomew, October 4, 2019, Pieces of History (National Archives)

Abolitionist John Brown, who was previously clean shaven, grew a robust beard during his preparations for the raid on Harpers Ferry as a way to disguise himself to keep it secret. The two years before the raid is the only time Brown had a beard.

After the raid and his arrest, Brown delivered his final address in a courtroom in Charleston, Virginia (now West Virginia), on November 2, 1859. His words echo through time: “I believe, that to have interfered as I have done in behalf of His despised poor, is no wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say ‘let it be done.’”

While antislavery advocates saw him as a pioneer, his willingness to die for his cause evoked fear in white Southerners. Even though Brown’s use of violence was seen as radical, abolitionists and antislavery activists enshrined Brown as a hero, martyr, and catalyst for the end of slavery.

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