As a radical member of the antislavery movement fighting to keep "Bleeding Kansas" free of human bondage in the mid-1850s, John Brown was familiar with Underground Railroad routes and stations out of Missouri and northward through the free lands of Nebraska and Iowa.
In 1858 Brown led 11 men in a daring raid into the slave state of Missouri. Brown attacked two Missouri farms with the expressed purpose of freeing those enslaved. Brown’s group descended on the farms, demanded their surrender at gunpoint, and departed with thirteen African Americans. One slaveowner pulled a firearm and was killed by a member of Brown’s band.
Pursued by Missouri militia, Brown fled northward to Tabor, Iowa, home to Underground Railroad stations and a vital abolitionist stronghold. Brown met with a mixed reception; though the town received the freedom seekers, the Congregationalist townspeople condemned the deadly outcome of Brown’s raid.
Traveling north across Iowa, the group hid in various stations along the way. Once the group reached Des Moines, Brown ceded responsibility to another conductor. The freedom seekers eventually reached liberty in Canada.
Before Brown left the group, one African American woman gave birth to a boy whom she named "John Brown."