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Cool Things - John Brown Pike

John Brown pike

Famed abolitionist John Brown bought this weapon to be used in a slave insurrection that never materialized.

As a child born in the northern United States, John Brown was taught that slavery was a sin. As an adult he took these values to Kansas where he was drawn into skirmishes along the Kansas-Missouri border prior to the Civil War. Brown often resorted to violence in an effort to ensure that Kansas Territory became a free state. Ultimately, he hoped all slaves would rise up against their masters.

During a trip East in 1857 to raise funds for his cause, Brown contracted with blacksmith Charles Blair of Collinsville, Connecticut for several hundred pikes (pikes are weapons with long wooden shafts ending in pointed steel heads, typically used by foot soldiers). Blair was a forge master working for Collins and Company who made quality edged tools. He agreed to make 1,000 pikes for Brown at $1 a piece, payable in installments.

After making 500 weapons, though, Blair halted production because Brown had failed to pay him. Blair held the pikes for two years. In 1859, Brown showed up at Blair's door with the needed funds to purchase 954 pikes and requested that they be forwarded to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Brown had other firearms shipped there as well).

John BrownFrom Chambersburg, Brown's friends forwarded the weapons to a farm in Maryland, just a few miles from the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. The pikes and other firearms were purchased for an insurrection Brown planned to lead on the federal arsenal. Brown's army of 20 slaves took a few hostages from the community and captured the arsenal in October of 1859. Armed with their pikes and guns, Brown's men were overwhelmed when troops, under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee, descended upon them. Captured and wounded, Brown was tried as a traitor and hanged on December 2, 1859.

The pikes Brown ordered consisted of a 9 ½ to 10-inch long double-edged blade of forged cast steel, a 4 ½ inch wide iron guard, a 3 ¼ inch long, tapering ferrule, and a screw. These were fitted onto six-foot ash handles. Serial numbers were stamped on three parts of the weapon. This pike is stamped 630. The Kansas Museum of History has two pikes associated with John Brown in its permanent collection. One is on display in the museum's main gallery.

Entry: Cool Things - John Brown Pike

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: April 2003

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.