This Day in History

Nov. 25, 1859: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Writes to John Brown in Prison

Time Periods: 1850
Themes: Slavery and Resistance

A week before John Brown was executed following his famous raid against a federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a Black abolitionist and writer, wrote him as he awaited his death in jail. She wrote on November 25, 1859 from Indiana,

Dear Friend: Although the hands of Slavery throw a barrier between you and me, and it may not be my privilege to see you in your prison-house, Virginia has no bolts or bars through which I dread to send you my sympathy.

. . . We may earnestly hope that your fate will not be a vain lesson, that it will intensify our hatred of Slavery and love of Freedom, and that your martyr grave will be a sacred altar upon which men will record their vows of undying hatred to that system which tramples on man and bids defiance to God.

. . . You have rocked the bloody Bastille; and I hope that from your sad fate great good may arise to the cause of freedom. Already from your prison has come a shout of triumph against the giant sin of our country. . . .

Source Frances Ellen Watkins, “A Free Black Woman Writes to Imprisoned John Brown,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed November 25, 2018.

Read more about Harper and other Black abolitionists.