The Wives and Children of John Brown

sepia tone image of a woman and two girls; from the mid-1800s
Mary Ann Brown with Annie (left) and Sarah (right) about 1851.

Library of Congress

John Brown's Wives

John Brown married twice and had a total of twenty children, nine of whom died in childhood. In 1820, at the age of twenty, Brown married his housekeeper's daughter, Dianthe Lusk. His bride was amiable and quite, deeply religious and, according to Brown had "a most powerful and good influence over him." He cared for her with great gentleness during bouts of mental illness that came more often as she grew older. Brown often stayed up nights watching over his wife with a gentleness his children never forgot. Despite his efforts, she grew worse.

Tragedy struck in 1831 with the death of 4-year-old Frederick. Hardships continued as Brown, himself, fought sickness and fever for months on end. A little over a year after Frederick's death, Brown dug two more graves, this time for his wife and their newborn son. Dianthe was 31 when she died shortly after the birth of her seventh child. She was buried near their home in New Richmond, Pennsylvania.

Brown hired a new housekeeper and was attracted to her sister, Mary Ann Day. They were married in 1833 when Mary Ann was 17. She possessed great physical stamina and was devoted to her responsibilities managing the household and raising the children. She and John had 13 children, but only six survived to adulthood and just four survived their father.

Following Brown's capture, trial, and sentencing, Mary visited him at the jail in Charles Town. On December 1, 1859, they shared a final meal together and Mary returned to her lodging in Harpers Ferry where she waited for her husband's body. She obviously supported Brown's political views for she once asked, "Does it seem as freedom were to gain or lose this? I have had thirteen children, and only 4 are left; but if I am to see the ruin of my house, I cannot but hope that Providence may bring out of it some benefit to the poor slaves."

Mary died on February 29, 1884, at age sixty-seven, following a long illness. She was buried in Madronia Cemetery in Saratoga, California.

The Children
black and white image of John Brown Jr
John Brown, Jr.
Library of Congress
John Brown, Jr. was born July 25, 1821, in Hudson, Ohio. He attended the Grand River Institute in Austinburg, Ohio. He attempted to keep accurate records of his father's disorganized business proceedings in the 1840s and became a teacher later in life. He married Wealthy Hotchkiss in 1847. As a Captain in a Kansas cavalry unit, he was the only one of Brown's children to serve in the Civil War. He died May 3, 1895, and was buried in Put-in-Bay, Ohio.
black and white image of Jason Brown
Jason Brown
Library of Congress
Jason Brown was born January 19, 1823, in Hudson, Ohio. Jason was a humanitarian and did not greet violence with enthusiasm. He married Ellen Sherbondy in 1847 and died on December 24, 1912. He was buried in Akron, Ohio.
black and white image of Owen Brown
Owen Brown
Library of Congress
Owen Brown was born November 4, 1824 in Hudson, Ohio. He participated in the Kansas battles and came with his father to Harpers Ferry. During the raid, he stayed at the Kennedy Farm and led four others to safety when the failure of the raid became apparent. He died on January 8, 1889, and was buried on his property near Pasadena, California.

Frederick Brown (the first) was born January 9, 1827 in New Richmond, Pennsylvania. He died of unknown causes at age four and was buried on family property in Crawford Co., Pennsylvania.
black and white image of Ruth Brown
Ruth Brown
Library of Congress
Ruth Brown was born February 18, 1829, in New Richmond, Pennsylvania. She attended the Grand River Institute. She married Henry Thompson on September 26, 1850, and died January 18, 1904. She was buried in Mountain View Cemetery, Pasadena, California.

Frederick Brown (the second) was born December 31, 1830 in New Richmond, Pennsylvania. He was shot and killed by Martin White in Ossawatomie, Kansas, on August 30, 1856, and was buried there.

Infant son (unnamed) was born August 7, 1832, and died three days later. His mother, Dianthe Lusk, died shortly afterward. This infant son was buried in his mother's arms at New Richmond, Pennsylvania.
black and white image of Watson Brown
Watson Brown
Library of Congress
Sarah Brown was the first of 13 children born to Mary Ann Day and John Brown. She was born on May 11, 1834 in New Richmond, Pennsylvania and died of dysentery at age nine in Richfield, Ohio. She was buried there.

Watson Brown was born October 7, 1835 in Franklin, Ohio. He married Isabella Thompson in September, 1858. He died on October 19, 1859 of wounds inflicted during the Harpers Ferry Raid. His skeleton was preserved at the Winchester Medical College. His remains were returned to the family in 1882 and buried in North Elba, New York.
black and white image of Salmon Brown
Salmon Brown
Library of Congress
Salmon Brown was born October 2, 1836 in Hudson, Ohio. He married Abbie C. Hinckley in September, 1858. He took part in the Kansas fighting, but had grown tired of violence and did not participate in the raid on Harpers Ferry. Severe pain, illness, and paraplegia caused by a fall from a horse ultimately led to Salmon's suicide on May 10, 1919 in Portland, Oregon. He was buried in Portland.

Charles Brown was born November 3, 1837 in Hudson, Ohio. He died of dysentery on September 11, 1843 at age five, in Richmond, Ohio. He was buried there.
black and white image of Oliver Brown
Oliver Brown
Library of Congress
Oliver Brown was born March 9, 1839 in Franklin, Ohio. He married Martha Brewster on April 7, 1858. Oliver participated in the raid on Harpers Ferry and died an excruciating death from wounds received on October 17, 1859. He was hastily buried along the banks of the Shenandoah River. In 1899 his remains were exhumed and returned to the family.

Peter Brown was born December 7, 1840, in Hudson, Ohio. He died of dysentery at age two on September 22, 1843, and was buried in Richfield, Ohio.

Austin Brown was born September 14, 1842 in Richfield, Ohio. He died of dysentery at age one, September 27, 1843, and was buried in Richfield.
black and white image of Annie Brown
Annie Brown
Library of Congress
Annie Brown was born December 23, 1843 in Richfield, Ohio. She joined her father at the Kennedy Farm in 1859 prior to the raid on Harpers Ferry. Her job was to remain watchful for neighbors and alleviate their suspicions. She married Samuel Adams. Annie died October 5, 1926 and was buried in Shively, California.

Amelia Brown was born June 22, 1845 and was accidentally scalded to death by Ruth on October 30, 1846. She was buried in Akron, Ohio.
black and white image of Sarah Brown
Sarah Brown
Library of Congress
Sarah Brown (the second) was born September 11, 1846 in Akron, Ohio. She never married and died of unknown causes in 1916. She was buried in Saratoga, California.

Ellen Brown (the first) was born April 26, 1848 in Springfield, Massachusetts. She died of consumption in her father's arms on April 30, 1849 and was buried in Springfield.

Infant son (unnamed) was born April 26, 1852 in Akron, Ohio and died of whooping cough 21 days after his birth. He was buried in Akron.

Ellen Brown (the second) was born September 25, 1854 in Akron, Ohio. She married James Fablinger in 1876. She died of unknown causes on July 16, 1916 and was buried in Saratoga, California.

Jason, Ruth, Salmon, Annie, and Ellen (the second) are the only Brown children that have descendants.

"Brown ruled his growing household with a rod in one hand and the Bible in the other. He insisted that his small sons learn 'good order and religious habits' and refused to let them play or have visitors on the Sabbath."

"There was a paternalistic tenderness about him, brought on by hardships suffered together. Ruth remembered that he showed her 'a great deal of tenderness,' and when the children were ill he stayed up at night caring for them."

Stephen B. Oates, To Purge This Land With Blood

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Last updated: April 17, 2018