Letter written by John Brown and Frederick Douglass to Brown's wife and children

About the Project

Frederick Douglass was born in 1808 as Frederick August Washington Bailey, the son of an enslaved woman and possibly her white enslaver in Maryland. Douglass emancipated himself at the age of 20. Over the course of his life, he shared his experiences of enslavement in three autobiographies. Douglass was a leader of the abolition movement, fighting against slavery through speeches and writings. He passed away in 1874 at his home in Washington D.C.

In 1858, John Brown stayed with Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York, while planning the raid on Harper's Ferry. Brown was an American abolitionist who believed armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States. Douglass was close with John Brown and his family, inviting them to stay at his home at any time. Douglass supported Brown's mission, though he did not always agree with the militant abolitionist's tactics. Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry ultimately failed and the state of Virginia tried and hanged him for treason. Several of Brown's sons were involved in the raid, as were Dauphin and William Thompson, brothers of his daughter Ruth's husband Henry, who is mentioned in this letter. Henry did not participate in the raid. Abolitionists made Brown a martyr of their cause, and his actions were a catalyst for the American Civil War. Through your transcription, we can decipher the coded language Brown and Douglass used to disguise their abolitionist dealings.

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