Iowans Help Abolitionist John Brown

In the early to mid-1800s the famous abolitionist, John Brown, spent time in Iowa. He was aided by Iowans who favored his cause.


One of the leading abolitionists on the Iowa Underground Railroad was Josiah Grinnell, a Congregationalist minister, a wool merchant and founder of the town that bears his name. Grinnell had associated himself with the most notorious abolitionist in America, John Brown, so his opponents began to refer to him as John Brown Grinnell. John Brown was considered crazy by many people, others considered him a second Moses who would leave the slaves out of bondage. He even looked like a Biblical Prophet.

Prepare to charge… Charge!

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Brown believed violence was necessary to free the slaves. After training his men on a Quaker farm in Springdale, Iowa, Brown and his men raided Kansas; killing some white men and freeing some slaves. There was a large reward for Brown’s capture and for a while he hid out in Josiah Grinnell wool barn for rest. But the rest lasted only a few days. In July 1859 Brown called for his men to meet him in Ohio. They were preparing for the most drastic action of the Underground; to rush the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia and to secure enough arms and ammunition for every slave to blast his way to freedom.

(drums and gun fire)

On October 16, 1859 Brown and 20 of his followers attacked the arsenal. Two Iowans, Edwin Coppoc and his brother, Barklay, were among them.

(gun fire)

The uprising failed. When the United States Marines arrived, Brown and his men were captured. They were later tried and convicted for treason. Iowan Barklay Coppoc escaped. His brother, Edwin, was not so fortunate and was hanged along with John Brown.


Hated by the slave holding South, John Brown became a hero in the North and the Underground Railroad continued.


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