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Thomas Wentworth Higginson collection of correspondence regarding John Brown and the raid on Harpers Ferry

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Call Number: MS E.5.1

Scope and Contents

This collection contains correspondence collected by Thomas Wentworth Higginson relating to the abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859) and the armed rebellion led by Brown at the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in Virginia (later, West Virginia). Correspondence spans the years 1847 to 1904, with the bulk of materials dating between the years 1858 to 1860. Topics discussed include raising money in support of the raid and Brown’s subsequent trial; issues with Hugh Forbes and preparations for the uprising; the aftermath of the failed raid; and the rescue attempts made for Aaron Dwight Stevens and John Doy. The majority of the letters are addressed to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and many written by Higginson as well. Other correspondents include John Brown, Mary Ann Day Brown, Rebecca Buffum, Samuel Gridley Howe, John W. LeBarnes, Franklin Benjamin Sanborn, and Ruth Brown Thompson.


  • Majority of material found in 1847-1860


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Items in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. In most cases, the Boston Public Library does not hold the copyright to the items in our collections. It is the sole responsibility of the user to make their own determination about what types of usage might be permissible under U.S. and international copyright law.

Biographical / Historical

John Brown (1800-1859) was an abolitionist who led an unsuccessful armed rebellion on a government armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia as an attempt to initiate a revolt by enslaved people in the south. Brown was captured and convicted of both murder and treason. He was hanged on December 2, 1859.


200 Items

Language of Materials



The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by author's last name.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1904.

Related Materials

See Volumes 1 and 2 of the Memoranum [sic] book of John Brown, Franklin, Portage Co. Ohio (MS q Am.1996) for related materials on abolitionist John Brown.

Former Title

Collection formerly known as Brown, John - Correspondence relating to John Brown and the raid on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Former title in Polaris is: Correspondence relating to John Brown.

Processing Information

This electronic finding aid is transcribed from legacy data. In many cases, transcriptions were not verified against collection materials at the time of transcription. As a result, this finding aid could be incomplete and might only reflect a partial understanding of the material.

Statement on harmful description

Archival description reflects the biases of time periods and cultures in which it was created and may include direct quotations or descriptions that use inappropriate or harmful language. Creator provided descriptions may be maintained in order to preserve the context in which the collection was created and/or used. Legacy description and potentially offensive content may be made available online until a collection can be reprocessed because the access that they provide to primary source materials is uniquely valuable to the research community at large. Our efforts to repair outdated descriptions and to describe our collections more equitably are iterative and ongoing.

Guide to the Thomas Wentworth Higginson Collection of Correspondence Regarding John Brown and the Raid on Harpers Ferry
Rachel Stanton
2014 June
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2023-02-07: To comply with Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS) Version 2019.0.3, Crystal Rodgers, Archivist, adjusted the following field(s): title, finding aid filing title, finding aid date, finding aid author, scope and contents note, immediate source of acquisition note, arrangement note, processing information note, and related materials, and created the following field(s): EAD ID.

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