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Ulysses S. Grant's Connection to John Brown

bearded man wearing black suit.
John Brown

HF-00152, Historic Photo Collection, Harpers Ferry NHP

John Brown (1800-1859) is most famous for his failed attempt to overthrow slavery by overtaking the U.S. Armory, Arsenal, and Rifle Works at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (present-day West Virginia). Brown and eighteen other men were professed abolitionists who sought change through violent means. Although the plot eventually failed with Brown later hanged by the state of Virginia, a small minority of abolitioinsts considered Brown and his men to be heroes for the cause of ending slavery in the United States. To learn more about Brown and the Harpers Ferry raid, visit Harpers Ferry National Historical Park's web resources.

Did you know that Ulysses S. Grant had a small connection to John Brown?

The story begins in Grant's home state of Ohio. Prior to Ulysses' birth in 1822, his father, Jesse R. Grant, had been trained to work as a tanner. Jesse Grant had begun his training as an apprentice in Maysville, Kentucky, but later moved to Hudson, Ohio. While working in Hudson, Jesse lived with Owen Brown, the father of John Brown and also a tanner by trade. Jesse Grant lived with the Brown family for several years and got to know the family very well. Ulysses S. Grant vividly remembered his father's stories about the Brown family and made a point of mentioning this relationship in the first chapter of his Personal Memoirs (1885):

"I have often heard my father speak of John Brown, particularly since the events at Harper's Ferry. Brown was a boy when they lived in the same house, but he knew him afterwards, and regarded him as a man of great purity of character, of high moral and physical courage, but a fanatic and extremist in whatever he advocated. It was certainly the act of an insane man to attemp the invasion of the South, and the overthrow of slavery, whith less than twenty men."

Last updated: October 14, 2020