Mary Ann (Day) Brown (1816 – 1884)was more than a 19th century farmer's wife; she was freedom fighter John Brown's partner and confidant in direct action toward the abolition of slavery. Although her gravestone reads "wife of John Brown of Harpers Ferry", Mary A. Brown should be remembered for her personal sacrifices and contributions to the Underground Railroad movement and the abolition of slavery in the United States. The Brown family homes in Springfield, Massachusetts and North Elba, New York were used to shelter freedom seekers. Those who heard of John Brown' support found direct, practical and sympathetic assistance, whether he was at home or away. Mary was active in assisting freedom seekers who were directed to her home, sharing limited family resources, and the risk of possible persecution and prosecution for involvement with her husband's illegal activities. Mary and her family suffered poverty and hardship as a result of John Brown's frequent absences from home. Food and money were in short supply and sickness and death were a part of her life. In 1963, researcher Dr. Clarence Gee of Lockport, NY told wrote the following to Kansas City Times writer Velma West Sykes, "It is all true, the hardships she endured, that you have found in your research. But in nothing she ever said or in any of her actions is there any criticism expressed about her husband for the privations suffered by her and her family."
In 1839, Mary and the older Brown children took an oath of secrecy and commitment to fight against slavery. As she told abolitionist friends in November, 1859, while making her way to Virginia to see her husband before his hanging on December 2: "He had been waiting twenty years for some opportunity to free the slaves; we had all been waiting with him the proper time when he should put his resolve into action." Mary's sons, Oliver and Watson, were killed during this raid. Mary Brown was associated with notable figures of the Underground Railroad movement, including Geritt Smith, Frederick Douglass, J. Miller McKim, William Still, David Ruggles, Wendell Phillips, Frank Sanborn and Thomas W. Higginson. Before his execution, Brown appealed to his abolitionist friends to look after his family. Following the execution of her husband in 1859, Mary and her family frequently endured social ostracism, threats and physical danger from those seeking retribution for the actions of John Brown. The surviving family members became de facto freedom seekers who made a perilous 3,000 mile journey from New York to California to secure their safety and freedom of opportunity. In California after 1864, Mary first settled in Red Bluff. Daughter Annie was employed as a teacher in the colored school. Mary Brown's last home, purchased with community assistance led by the San Jose Mercury was in Saratoga, California. Mary died in 1884 and was buried in Saratoga, California.
Visitor Information: Currently open to public.
Location: Madronia Cemetery, 14766 Oak St., Saratoga, Santa Clara, 95070
Contact Information: 408-3717 (main phone) / firstname.lastname@example.org
National Park Unit: No
Ownership: Gary Reed
Location Type: Site
People/Organizations Associated with the site: Vigilance Committee
Freedom Seekers: Frederick Douglass
UGRR Operatives: Mary A. Brown