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John Brown papers

Creator: Brown, John, 1800-1859

Date: 1826-1948

Level of Description: Coll./Record Group

Material Type: Manuscripts

Call Number: MICROFILM: MS 1245-MS 1247 (Entire collection at the Kansas Historical Society) (Ms. Coll. 299)
Ms. Coll. 299 (Use microfilm: MS 1245-MS 1247)
MICROFILM: MS 61 (Memoranda book, 1839-1859; original at the Boston Public Library) (Memoranda book, 1839-1859)
MICROFILM: MS 137 (Papers, 1849-1860; originals at the Kansas Historical Society) (Papers, 1849-1860)
MICROFILM: MS 204 (Papers, 1830-1932; originals at the Ohio Historical Society) (Papers, 1830-1932)
MICROFILM: MS 225 (Selected papers, 1849-1919; originals at the Kansas Historical Society) (Selected papers, 1849-1919)
MICROFILM: MS 799.03 (Letters, mss. articles, etc., 1832-1954; originals at the Kansas Historical Society) (Letters, manuscripts, articles, etc., 1832-1954)

Unit ID: 40299

Restrictions: Inter-library loan of microfilm and copying partially restricted

Biographical sketch: Merchant, farmer, famous abolitionist. Of Ohio; Osawatomie, Kan.; North Elba, N.Y.

Abstract: Letters from John Brown's activities in Ohio, Kansas, New York, and Virginia (including present West Virginia); correspondence with members of his family; business records; speeches; a memorandum book; documents relating to his execution; letters of sympathy to his widow; essays about Brown; correspondence of historians, biographers, & admirers; speeches by & about Brown; correspondence with the Kansas State Historical Society (Topeka); records of John Brown Memorial Park (Osawatomie, Kan.); copies of letters in other repositories; and articles about Brown. Correspondents include F. G. Adams, August Bondi, George W. Brown, Richard H. Hinton, George W. Martin, Luke Fisher Parsons, Horatio Nelson Rust, F. B. Sanborn, Geo. L. & Mary Stearns, Seth Thompson, and Oswald Garrison Villard.


Subgroup 1: Originals Held by the Kansas State Historical Society. 1835-1924. 1 ft. (760 items) (Folders 1.01-4.03)

This subgroup contains original documents given to the Kansas State Historical Society. Included are a few copies of documents in which the owners have given permission for additional copies to be made for research use.

  • Ser. A: John Brown. BUSINESS RECORDS. 1835-1860. 16 items (1 folder) (Folder 1.01)

    Receipts and other documents from Brown’s careers as a surveyor and a merchant of woolen goods. Most of this material relates to his activities in Ohio and New York. Several documents pertain to legal judgments against Brown; several others relate to land owned by the Brown family.

    Arranged chronologically.

  • Ser. B: John Brown. PERSONAL PAPERS. 1839-1924. 1 ft. (608 items) (Folders 1.02-3.27)

    Correspondence of John Brown with family, friends, and supporters. Following his execution in 1859, much of the correspondence is that of his wife, Mary Ann (Day) Brown, and his son, John Brown, Jr. Late-nineenth and early-20th century correspondence may also be that of supporters, biographers, and the Kansas State Historical Society as the latter attempted to secure information on Brown’s activities from his friends and acquaintances.

    Arranged chronologically with letters from unknown authors and undated items at the beginning of the series.

  • Ser. C: John Brown. AUTOGRAPHS. [undated] 2 items (1 folder) (Folder 3.28)

    Two autographs of Brown cut from letters or other documents not in the collection.

  • Ser. D: NATIONAL KANSAS COMMITTEE. [RECEIPTS.] 1857-1858. 0.1 ft. (110 items) (Folders 3.29-3.34)

    Receipts for goods and funds furnished drought-stricken Kansas settlers at Moneka, Osawatomie, Ottumwa, and Pottawatomie, Kan., by the National Kansas Committee, a free-state relief and defense organization of which John Brown served as an agent.

    These receipts were actually notes to be repaid within one year, and some of the documents contain endorsements or other annotations signifying that the value of the loaned goods was repaid.

    Arranged by location of agency, thereunder by series and/or receipt number.


    Correspondence between F. G. Adams, secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, and various participants in John Brown’s activities in Kansas and early Kansas history. Most of the correspondence is with postmasters and other officials as Adams attempted to contact some of Brown’s contemporaries at their last known locations.

    Arranged chronologically.

  • Ser. F: JOHN BROWN MEMORIAL PARK. RECORDS. 1909-1912. 10 items (1 folder) (Folder 4.02)

    Minutes of meetings and presentations and clippings of addresses given at the dedication of John Brown Memorial Park in Osawatomie, Kan., and at other commemorations at the park. Some of these items appear to have been originally bound into a scrapbook.

    Arranged chronologically with numbered items from the scrapbook arranged together numerically.

  • Ser. G: JOEL K. GOODIN. THE BATTLE OF BLACK JACK. [undated.] 2 items (1 folder) (Folder 4.03)

    Brief, narrative description of the Battle of Black Jack near Baldwin, Kan., in 1856.

Subgroup 2: Copies of Originals in Other Institutions. 1826-1948. 0.2 ft. (81 items) (Folders 4.03-4.10)

These documents were copied from collections in other institutions and furnished to the Kansas State Historical Society for research use. Researchers wishing copies of any of these documents should contact the institution holding the originals.

  • Ser. A: BOYD B. STUTLER, collector. JOHN BROWN LETTERS AND DOCUMENTS IN THE BOYD B. STUTLER COLLECTION, BROWN FAMILY LETTERS (1849-1882). 1849-1948. 10 items. (Folder 4.04)

    Calendar of John Brown letters and documents in the Boyd B. Stutler collection, now at the West Virginia Department of Archives & History (Charleston) and transcripts (typewritten) of 9 letters of Mary A. Brown and Ruth (Brown) Thompson, 1849-1882. The letters discuss family matters, the effect of John Brown’s execution upon the family, and the abolitionist cause.

    Arranged chronologically.

    The individual letters do not appear on the Kansas State Historical Society microfilm.

  • Ser. B: John Brown. LETTERS TO SETH THOMPSON. 1826-1847. 0.1 ft. (50 items) (Folders 4.05-4.06)

    Photocopies of 47 letters in the custody of the Atlanta University Center Archives, and a summary of their contents. The letters primarily concern joint business ventures of Brown and Thompson, particularly land speculation in Franklin, Ohio. One letter (1831 August 13) was written within a week of Brown’s first wife’s death and discusses his state of mind at that time.

    Arranged chronologically.

    The individual letters do not appear on the Kansas State Historical Society microfilm.

  • Ser. C: John Brown. [LETTER TO MARY ANN (DAY) BROWN.] 1854 Nov. 6. 1 item. (Folder 4.07)

    Photocopy of a letter owned by the University of Iowa Libraries (Iowa City) from John Brown at Vernon, New York, to his wife in Akron, Ohio. Brown instructs his wife when to have their sons sort potatoes and what the current price of oxen is. He also gives various directions for handling necessary duties at home.

    The letter does not appear on the Kansas State Historical Society microfilm.

  • Ser. D: BENJAMIN FRANKLIN SANBORN. LETTERS TO JOHN BROWN. 1857-1858. 18 items. (Folder 4.08)

    Photocopies of eighteen letters in the custody of the Atlanta University Center Archives, and a calendar summarizing their contents. The letters contain information in affairs in Kansas, the Kansas territorial government, efforts in Massachusetts to aid the anti-slavery cause, and action taken or being considered in Kansas.

    Arranged chronologically.

    The individual letters do not appear on the Kansas State Historical Society microfilm.

  • Ser. E: John Brown. LETTER TO HIS WIFE, SONS, AND DAUGHTERS. 1859 Nov. 30. 1 item. (Folder 4.09)

    Photocopy of one of John Brown’s final letters to his family from Charlestown Prison, Jefferson County, Virginia (now West Virginia). He asks for his wife to visit him if she receives the letter before his execution and is equal to the task, sends her money, describes his state of mind, and emphasizes the justice of the abolitionist cause. He admonishes his children to remain loyal to the Bible and the Christian faith and to abhor slavery. The original is owned by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia).

    The letter does not appear on the Kansas State Historical Society microfilm.

  • Ser. F: LUKE F. PARSONS. LETTER TO JOHN REDPATH. 1922 Aug. 13. 1 item. (Folder 4.10)

    Photocopy of a letter in the Chautauqua Collection of the University of Iowa Libraries (Iowa City). In it, Parsons discusses recent coverage of John Brown in the New York Herald and the Topeka Capital, James Redpath, and what he remembers of a skirmish with pro-slavery men near Baldwin, Kan.

    The letter does not appear on the Kansas State Historical Society microfilm.

Space Required/Quantity: 2.04 cubic feet

Title (Main title): John Brown papers

Titles (Other):

  • John Brown collection
  • Papers
  • John Brown collection, 1826-1964
  • Battle of Black Jack


Biog. Sketch (Full):

1800 May 9: Born at Torrington, Connecticut

1804: Moved to Hudson, Ohio

1820: Married Dianthe Lusk

1825: Moved to Randolph (now New Richmond), Pennsylvania

1831 August: Dianthe (Lusk) Brown died

1832: Married Mary Ann Day

1835: Moved to Ohio where Brown was a farmer, merchant and wool dealer

1849: Moved to North Elba, New York

1855 October: Moved to Miami County, Kansas

1856 May 20-2: Pro-slavery raid on Lawrence, Kansas

1856 May 24: Massacred pro-slavery forces on Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas

1858: Chatham (Ontario) Convention where Brown planned his provisional government

1858 autumn: Brown returned to Kansas under the alias Shubel Morgan, freed slaves in Missouri, and took them to Canada

1859 Oct. 16: Raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia)

1859 Oct. 19: Taken to Charlestown, Virginia (now Charles Town, West Virginia) prison

1859 Oct. 27-31: Tried

1859 Dec. 2: Executed

Many biographies have been written of John Brown. Some of these (with Kansas State Historical Society Library call numbers) are:

  • Filler, Louis. The Crusade Against Slavery, 1836-1860. 1960.

  • Hinton, Richard J. John Brown and His Men. 1894. (K B B81hi)

  • Malin, James C. John Brown and the Legend of Fifty-six. 1942. (K B B81ma)

  • Redpath, James. The Public Life of Capt. John Brown. 1860. (K B B81re)

  • Sanborn, F. B. The Life and Letters of John Brown. 1885. (K B B81sl)

  • Villard, O. G. John Brown. 1910. (K B B81v)

  • Warren, Robert Penn. John Brown: The Making of a Martyr. 1929. (K B B81wa)

Scope and Content

Scope and content:

This collection contains a number of letters to and from John Brown; many letters by and directed to other family members; and a large quantity of letters about Brown and his comrades by biographers, the Kansas State Historical Society, and other interested persons.

There is a small quantity of business records at the beginning of the collection. Most of these documents pertain to Brown’s various unsuccessful commercial ventures in Ohio and New York, particularly in land and wool.

The undated personal letters preceding the dated documents include a typewritten copy of Brown’s account of the Battle of Black Jack, a newspaper article of Luke F. Parsons’ story of John Brown, documents relating to objects related to Brown, J. K. Hudson’s “The John Brown League,” a bibliography of Brown’s writings, a stock certificate, and other documents.

John Brown’s personal correspondence for the decades of the 1830s and 1840s contains letters to and from the Brown family and a phrenological description of John Brown.

Most of the letters for the years 1850 through 1859 were written by John Brown. There is a certificate from an emigrant-aid company; letters to and from the Brown family; federal Court documents; a copy of John Brown’s account of the Battle of Black Jack and a casualty list from the battle; a circular “To the Friends of Freedom”; a contract; letters to John Brown; a photocopy of a Bible message by John Brown; “Old Brown’s Farewell”; documents relating to the Underground Railroad; John Brown’s “Parallels”; a reminiscence “Rescue of the Missouri Slaves, December 1858, by John Brown” with a 1901 biographical sketch of its author, James Townsend, by his son, J. R.; various letters and documents written prior to the Harper’s Ferry raid; John Brown’s last letters (originals and facsimiles) to his family; and letters of sympathy to Mrs. Brown after his execution.

Documents for the decade of the 1860s include items such as song lyrics in tribute to John Brown, personal letters, essays critical of Brown, a letter from the French John Brown Committee and copies of the presentation letter from Victor Hugo and company accompanying the John Brown medal (now in the Kansas State Historical Society’s museum collection).

Correspondence from the 1870s includes lengthy letters from H. L. Jones, a resolution for a John Brown statue in the United States Capitol, and literature relating to John Brown memorials.

Papers for the period 1880 through 1889 contain a statement of Edmund H. Chambers; correspondence of F. G. Adams, secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, about John Brown; the “John Brown Resolutions”; a lengthy letter from John Brown, Jr., to a newspaper; a letter from Sarah Brown, John Brown’s daughter, concerning her mother; correspondence of F. B. Sanborn; letters from John Brown, Jr., to Adams discussing the transfer of the French medal; letters to Sanborn; and correspondence between H. N. Rust and Sanborn.

Documents from the 1890s include correspondence from Sanborn to H. J. Holmes; more letters of Rust; a “John Brown’s Fort” card; a lengthy letter from John Brown, Jr.; a letter from Charles Green; and letters to Adams and Sanborn.

Items from the beginning years of the twentieth century include a copy of George Washington Brown’s editorial on Brown; letters from O. E. Morse, August Bondi, E. J. Partridge, M. V. Jackson, and O. G. Villard; and letters to G. W. Martin and Sanborn.

The collection includes receipts issued by the National Kansas Committee for goods and funds disbursed to needy Kansans during the drought year of 1857.

Records relating to John Brown Memorial Park at Osawatomie, Kansas, contain copies of speeches made at its opening and a report by the Board of Trustees.

There is also a brief history of the Battle of Black Jack by Joel Goodin.

The collection also includes copies and descriptions of documents to, from, and about John Brown and his family in the Boyd B. Stutler Collection in the West Virginia Department of Archives and History; letters and documents at the Atlanta University Center Archives from F. B. Sanborn to Brown and from the latter to Seth Thompson; and John Brown letters owned by the University of Iowa and several other institutions.

Oversized items filed separately include a letter and map of property by John Brown, Jr.; a statement by E. S. Coleman; and “Articles of Agreement for Shubel Morgan’s [John Brown’s alias] Company.”

Parts of this collection have been microfilmed on rolls MS 137, MS 225, and MS 799.03. The latter roll also contains pages of The Lawrence Daily Journal from 1879 featuring a debate about John Brown, much of which was written by G. W. Brown. MS 799.03 contains a number of typewritten transcripts of John Brown letters, some of which are a part of this collection. These rolls are available from the Kansas State Historical Society through inter-library loan.

Other John Brown documents microfilmed by other repositories are on rolls MS 61 (Memoranda book, 1839 – 1859, at the Boston Public Library), and MS 204 (Papers, 1830-1932, at the Ohio Historical Society, Columbus) and MS 212 — 219 (John Brown, Jr., papers collected by Boyd B. Stutler and filmed by the Ohio Historical Society). This microfilm is available for use in the Reference Room of the Kansas State Historical Society (KSHS) but is not available for inter-library loan from the KSHS.

Contents: Papers, 1826-1948 (on microfilm MS 1245-MS 1247) -- papers, 1830-1932 (microfilm MS 204, originals at Ohio Historical Society) -- letters, manuscripts, articles, etc., 1832-1954 (microfilm MS 799.03) -- memoranda book, 1839-1859 (microfilm MS 61, original at Boston Public Library) -- papers, 1849-1860 (on microfilm MS 137) -- selected papers, 1849-1919 (on microfilm MS 225) -- horse bill of sale certificate of authenticity, 1859 Mar. 24 (on Kansas Memory: http://www.kansasmemory.org/locate.php?query=204523).

Portions of Collection Separately Described:


Locator Contents
000-00-00-00  MICROFILM: MS 61 (Memoranda book, 1839-1859) 
000-00-00-00  MICROFILM: MS 1245-MS 1247 
000-00-00-00  MICROFILM: MS 137 (Papers, 1849-1860) 
000-00-00-00  MICROFILM: MS 799.03 (Letters, manuscripts, articles, etc., 1832-1954) 
000-00-00-00  MS 204 (Papers, 1830-1932 [at the Ohio Historical Society]) 
000-00-00-00  MICROFILM: MS 225 (Selected papers, 1849-1919) 
006-12-07-06  Box 3 
078-06-05-04 to 078-06-05-05  Boxes 1 and 2 
991-23-00-00  Use MICROFILM: MS 1247 


  • MS 61: Memoranda book 1839-1859
  • MS 137: John Brown papers 1849-1860
  • MS 204: Papers 1830-1932
  • MS 225: John Brown selected papers 1849-1919
  • MS 799 no. 3: Letters, manuscripts, articles, etc. 1832-1954
  • MS 1245: Orig. @ KSHS: Business records, 1835-60 ; personal papers : authors unknown [n.d], known 1839-59 Apr 1835-1859
  • MS 1246: Originals at KSHS: Personal papers : authors known 1859-1904
  • MS 1247: Orig. @ KSHS: personal papers: authors known 1905-24, other papers ; copies of documents elsewhere 1826-1948

Related Records or Collections

Associated materials: Other repositories holding significant John Brown collections (with National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections entry numbers in parentheses) include Allegheny College Library, Meadville, Pa. (MS 66-1013); Atlanta University Center Archives (formerly at Atlanta University) (MS 65-1); Chicago Historical Society Research Center (MS 62-1410); Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division (MS 62-4553); and Ohio Historical Society Archives / Library, Columbus (MS 62-4899).

Other Finding Aid/Index: Collection register, Notes on this microfilm copy, and other descriptions of the collection available in the repository, on each microfilm roll, and on the repository's website: http://www.kshs.org/p/john-brown-papers-1826-1948/13993

Related materials: Other collections containing significant quantities of John Brown material include those of Richard Josiah Hinton, Charles & Sara T. D. Robinson (microfilm MS 640 - MS 652), Samuel Lyle & Florella Brown Adair (microfilm MS 1230 - MS 1237), and George L. & Mary Stearns (microfilm MS 171). The microfilm may be borrowed from the Kansas State Historical Society through inter-library loan. Researchers may also wish to consult the John Brown, Jr., letters, 1861-1863, owned by the Kansas Historical Society and on Kansas Memory (http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/216668) and his microfilmed papers, 1821-1961 (originals at the Ohio Historical Society), on Kansas Historical Society microfilm rolls MS 204 and MS 212-MS 219.

Index Terms


    Kansas State Historical Society
    Brown family
    Business records -- Ohio
    Miami County (Kan.)
    New York (State)
    North Elba (N.Y.)
    Osawatomie (Kan.)
    United States -- History -- 1815-1861
    United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Causes
    West Virginia
    Brown, John, 1800-1859
    Brown, John, 1800-1859 -- Archives
    Brown, John, 1800-1859 -- Death and burial
    Brown, John, 1800-1859 -- John Brown collection, 1826-1964
    Goodin, Joel K. (Joel Kishler), 1824-1894 -- Battle of Black Jack
    Abolitionists -- Kansas
    Abolitionists -- United States
    Farmers -- United States
    Merchants -- United States
    Antislavery movements -- Kansas
    Antislavery movements -- United States
    Radicals -- United States
    American letters -- History -- 19th century

Creators and Contributors

Additional Information for Researchers

Restrictions: Inter-library loan of microfilm and copying partially restricted

Use and reproduction:

Microfilm acquired from other repositories: No inter-library loan. Requests for copies should be addressed to the repository holding the originals.

In accordance with copyright law (Title 17, U. S. Code) and Kansas State Historical Society policy, those wishing copies of documents in subgroup 2 of the papers on microfilm roll MS 1247 or the microfilmed papers at other repositories must contact the institutions holding the originals.

Remainder of collection: The subject of literary rights was not addressed at the time of donation, consequently copyright is presumed to belong to the heirs of John Brown or other authors of documents. Documents old enough to no longer be covered by copyright are in the public domain.

Cite as: [name of document], [date of document], [folder title, if applicable], [series], John Brown ms. collection, Kansas State Historical Society microfilm MS [roll number].

Box and folder numbers are not necessary but often can help archivists locate materials more quickly.

Some examples of specific citations:

  • John Brown to his wife and children, 1 Feb. 1856, Personal papers, folder 1.16, John Brown ms. collection, Kansas State Historical Society microfilm MS 1245.

  • National Kansas Committee, Receipt no. 2, 10 Nov. 1857, Moneka, Kans., folder 3.29, John Brown ms. collection, Kansas State Historical Society microfilm MS 1247.

  • John Brown to Mary Ann (Day) Brown, 6 Nov. 1854, folder 4.07, John Brown ms. collection, Library and Archives Division Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Copy of original in Iowa State University Libraries. [citation to photocopy in the collection but not on the microfilm]

Action note: This collection has been arranged to the item level, listed to the file-unit (folder) level, and cataloged to the subgroup level; the entire collection, with the exception of copies of originals held by other institutions and the Bill of sale of stallion horse to A. K. Lindsley signed by John Brown, March 24, 1859, has been microfilmed on microfilm rolls MS 1245 - MS 1247, available through inter-library loan.

Processed by [Lela Barnes?, 193-?]; reprocessed by Lee Benaka, intern, and Robert L. Knecht, 1988.