Contributed by Barbara Shaffer, local author & historian.
John Brown himself set up shop in Springfield from 1846-1849 as a wholesaler of wool. His thoughts, however, were focused more on social change than the price of wool and, as his business faltered, his cause became more pronounced. He was determined to see the end of slavery in the United States.
While living in Springfield, he often attended worship services at the Sanford Street Church, an Afro-American Methodist Church a stone’s throw from Court Square. There he became acquainted with many local blacks, many of whom would eventually sign up in 1851 when Brown returned to town to establish the League of Gileadites. The League was an armed resistance movement consisting of several dozen blacks (including at least one woman) united to ward off slave hunters.
The day Brown was hung for his raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, VA, many local black and white abolitionists wept unashamedly. Levi Rowland locked himself in the bell tower of Old First Church and tolled the bell incessantly in grief. Though many viewed Brown as a lunatic, those who knew him personally spoke years after his death of his integrity and dedication.
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For more about John Brown's time here in Western Massachusetts, here is a link to an article from the May, 1894, issue of The New England Magazine, 'John Brown in Springfield,' written by Harry Andrew Wright.