Vermont Legislature designates October 16th as "John Brown Day"


Recently the state legislature in Vermont, at the request of a Woodstock High School teacher, declared October 16th to be John Brown Day. That is the anniversary of John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, now West Virginia.

Here is a partial text of article I wrote for my local coin club:

On October 16, 1859 John Brown led a raid on the Harpers Ferry, Virginia Arsenal. Brown was a radical abolitionist who believed that violent acts were required to end slavery. His goal was to take over the arsenal and hold it until runaway slaves and other supporters came to the aid of his band of men. He also took hostages whom he would exchange for “any stout Negro.” He planned to arm his supporters with the rifles he captured from the armory and flee to the hills of Virginia. From there his guerilla force would establish a provisional government under a constitution that he had written and conduct raids against slaveholders. Brown thought that if he could conquer Virginia, the slaveholding South would collapse.

At first Brown and his men succeeded in capturing three buildings in Arsenal Square. Brown thought that the local slave population would flock to his cause, but the support he counted upon never materialized. Instead militiamen from the area surrounded his position and forced Brown and his forces to retreat to the firehouse. Brown and his men were trapped.

In the mean time Brown had allowed a Baltimore and Ohio express train safe passage though the town. Once the train reached the next station, the conductor wired Washington officials about the situation in Harpers Ferry. Fearing a wider insurrection, president James Buchanan ordered U.S. Marines, under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee to end the siege. Lee and his forces, with the aid of his lieutenant, J.E.B. Stuart, arrived on scene just before midnight on October 17. Brown attempted to bargain with Lee, but the following day Lee ordered his men to batter down the door of the engine, and Brown was forced to surrender.

Ten of Brown’s men were killed including two of his sons. Brown was severely injured, but he lived to stand trial for treason. Brown’s conviction was a foregone conclusion, and he was hanged on December 2, 1859. At the time of his execution, Brown handed a note to a supporter which read that the country would be bathed in blood for its sins over the issue of slavery.

The reactions to Brown’s actions and execution were mixed. In the South he was condemned as a dangerous traitor. In the North some intellectuals, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, hailed Brown as a hero. Author Nathanial Hawthorn, best known for the classic novel, The Scarlet Letter, said that he deserved to be hanged. Abraham Lincoln summed up the opinion of many when he stated that slavery was wrong, but that it could only be ended by lawful means and not by violence.

My take on John Brown was that he had the right cause, but the wrong methods. The man was a 19th century terrorist. I was surprised to note in an article appearing in “The Political Bandwagon” that they thought that a celebration of an end to slavery would be more appropriate that celebrating John Brown. Most of the membership of the American Political Collectors Club (APIC) are very liberal, so this was out of character.

At any rate here is a medalet that John Brown’s supporters issued just after he was hung for treason in December 1859. This is rather scarce piece, especially in brass, which is the composition of this piece.


Appreciate the history story, honestly.

Have noted your button collecting. Curious . . . where do you get these things?

Also, how many other collectors are there?


I belong to the American Political Items Collectors Club, A.K.A. APIC. They have shows and conventions around the country, but mostly in the Northeast. There are also on-line dealers who sell items via auctions and private sales. These guys deal mostly in buttons, which pretty much started in 1896. They get some of the older material, but they don’t know how to grade it and only have a general idea what it’s worth. Most APIC people are liberal Democrats.

The 19th century tokens and medalets I show were mostly bought from coin dealer type people. There are dealers who specialize in tokens and medals. Most coin dealers don’t know much about these pieces. Usually they over price them. Although there are some George Washington pieces, American political tokens mostly got started with Andrew Jackson’s 1824 presidential campaign.

I have been a coin collector for over 50 years, and was a dealer for over 10 years. I have had an interest in history since I was in the 5th grade.


I used to collect coins…primarily those with a high percentage of silver content so if the numismatic value isn’t what I thought it was, the silver value still lends the item SOME monetary value. I have about 50 pounds of various coins in my safety deposit box.


In my opinion, although Brown’s act was rash, and tactically unwise for many reasons, he should be honored as a great American hero.

And he was right in essence. Although legal, non-violent methods are the best way to press for social change when those avenues are open, the fact was that it would take great violence – the Civil War – to destroy slavery. The slavocracy was not about to give up peacefully. All it took was the election of a great Republican, who did everything he could to keep these people in the Union, to set them off.


Great American hero? Yea, he was great unless you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, like the free, African-American baggage handler who was the first person his men killed of his “raid.” He was a violent, insane terrorist, not an American hero.

As I said before, right cause, wrong methods.