6th Grade Lesson Plan




By Nancy Adams



After presenting the lesson on John Brown’s passion to end slavery leading up to and including the raid at Harpers Ferry, the students will have a better understanding of how one man could potentially change the course of history.  Escapee Osborne Perry Anderson will be presented as a helper in the raid, later moving on to serve as a Union soldier in the Civil War.


Objectives Covered:

Use pre-writing techniques (free writing, brainstorming, clustering, 5 how questions).


Follow the steps of the writing process (pre-writing, writing, revising, proofreading, and publishing.


Write to express thoughts or feelings.


Determine, based upon their opinion, when it is permissible to break the law in order to carry through with personal religious beliefs.


Identify factors that led to the rise and fall of slavery.


Interpret maps, time lines, and primary documents



Book – Harpers Ferry, The Story of John Brown’s Raid  by Tracy Barrett


Time Lines – Chronology of John Brown’s life

Primary sources – John Brown’s address to the court, Transcripts of the trial

      Newspaper article entitled “The Madness of Brown”

      Eyewitness accounts at the execution of John Brown taken from the

           VMI Archives



1.      Discuss slavery from the standpoint of the person living in the North and the person living in the South.

2.      Research the internet for primary documents on John Brown

3.      Formulate opinions on John Brown’s actions and reactions to slavery

4.      Make a timeline of the events leading up to the Raid on Harpers Ferry.

5.      Discuss escapee slave Osborne Perry Anderson who wrote the only account of the raid who was actually involved.  Why is this important?

6.      Travel to Harpers Ferry to discover why John Brown chose this location for his raid.  Visit the John Brown Museum and surrounding buildings.

7.      Write a paper taking a position whether the student believes John Brown was a terrorist/radical or a successful Underground operator.



Positions papers will be presented in class. 


Grammar aspects will be graded in positions paper.


Assessment will take place informally as teacher circulates among students during the field trip to Harpers Ferry.



































May 1800

John Brown is born in Torrington, Connecticut.



While in Michigan, John Brown lodges with a slave-owning man.  Brown's memory of seeing the man beat his slave with a shovel inspires his hatred of slavery.


June 21, 1820

Brown marries Dianthe Lusk.  His wife will bear five children, but the birth of the last child causes her death in 1832.


August 31, 1831

Nat Turner leads a slave rebellion in Virginia that results in the deaths of fifty-five white plantation residents and hundreds of blacks.  (Turner is captured and hanged with sixteen of his cohorts two months later.)  Turner's rebellion shocks the South and influences Brown's planning for his later attack at Harper's Ferry.


June 14, 1833

Brown weds the stable and stoical Mary Day, who is only sixteen at the time.  Mary will give Brown thirteen more children.  Only four of Mary's children will outlive her.


January 1836

Brown moves to central Ohio.  Although beset with economic difficulties, Brown establishes important connections in Ohio's abolitionist network.  His life's work begins to come into focus as he becomes a stationmaster of the Underground Railroad and gives speeches in support of repeal of state laws discriminating against blacks.


Summer 1837

Brown is expelled from his church for escorting blacks to pews reserved for white parishioners.


November 7, 1837

Anti-slavery minister and editor Elijah Lovejoy, who editorialized against the lynching of a black, is killed when a mob of angry whites storm his printing press in Alton, Illinois.  The murder of Lovejoy further radicalizes John Brown, and he vows during a memorial service to end slavery.


Summer 1839

Brown begins to consider a plan to lead a slave revolt.


September 28, 1842

Brown is adjudged bankrupt by a federal court.  He and his family is left only with the bare essentials necessary to survive.


March 1846

John Brown and two of his sons move to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he runs a wool distribution center.


November 1847

Black abolitionist leader Frederick Douglas visits the Brown home, where Brown lays out his plan to lead a group of men on raids of slave-holding southern plantations, followed by retreats into the mountains.


Spring 1849

Brown moves to a farm in North Elba, N. Y., near Lake Placid.  North Elba is perhaps the first American community where blacks and whites live together on generally equal terms.



Brown begins to focus on Harper's Ferry as the site of his attack, drawing sketches of log forts that he intended to build in the mountains surrounding the town.



The Kansas-Nebraska Act puts the decision of whether or not to allow slavery in the new territories into the hands of the settlers in those terrorities. 


June 28, 1855

At a convention of Radical Political Abolitionists, including Frederick Douglas, Gerrit Smith, and Lewis Tappan, Brown held raise money for the Free State settlers of Kansas.


October 7, 1855

John Brown and his party arrive in Brown's Station, Kansas.  A state of near anarchy exists in Kansas, after border ruffians from Missouri perpetuate voter fraud and organize a bogus legislature in Shawnee Mission that enacts draconian pro-slavery laws.  A competing Free State constitution is presented in Topeka and ratified by settlers opposed to slavery.


January 24, 1856

President Franklin Pierce decalres the proslavery legislature legitimate.


February 22, 1856

A Northern antislavery party, the Republican Party, is formed in Pittsburgh, largely in response to news of fraud and violence of proslavery forces in Kansas.


May 21, 1856

Proslavery forces storm the antislavery center of Lawrence, Kansas, ransacking Free State printing presses and looting homes.


May 22, 1856

After delivering an antislavery speech on the floor of the United States Senate, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts is severely beaten with a cane by proslavery Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina.


May 23, 1856

Enraged by news of the storming of Lawrence and the caning of Senator Sumner, John Brown and six other radical abolitionists arm themselves with guns and swords and leave Ottawa Creek, heading in the direction of a proslavery settlement.


May 26, 1856

Brown directs the murder of five proslavery settlers in Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas.  The massacre causes southerners to misread Brown's extremism as typical of the feelings of most northern abolitionists, greatly affecting the course of subsequent events on the national stage.


September 1856

Brown leaves Kansas for the East, the month after his badly outnumbered men won a battle against proslavery forces at Osawatomie, Kansas.  Brown is henceforth often referred to as "Osawatomie Brown."


January-March 1857

In Boston, Brown is introduced to important abolitionists who will provide financial and moral support for his antislavery activities.  This group becomes known as the "Secret Six."  Brown collects arms and hires Hugh Forbes, an experienced English military tactician, to be the drillmaster for the forces he is mustering for his planned attack at Harper's Ferry and elsewhere.


August 7, 1857

Brown arrives in Tabor, Iowa, where he and Forbes, for a period of weeks, refine the plans for an assault on slavery. He travels later to Kansas, where he finds the situation moving towards peaceful resolution, as antislavery voters become a substantial majority in the territory.


November 1857

Brown seeks recruits in Kansas for what by now is a clearly emerging plan to lead an attack on the federal arsenel in Harper's Ferry, Virginia.


February 1858

Concerned about possible arrest for his activities, Brown hides out for three weeks in the Rochester, New York home of his friend, Frederick Douglas.


April 1858

Brown proposes a new (rather utopian) constitution, based on complete equality of the races, at a convention in Chatham, Ontario. The convention elects Brown commander-in-chief, John Kagi as Secretary of War, and Richard Realf as Secretary of State.


June 1858

Brown, with Forbes now leaking information to key congressmen about Brown's plans to attack slaveholders, travels to Kansas.


December 1858

Brown and his followers invade Missouri and appropriate property and liberate slaves from two farms.  Brown begins leading the slaves on an 82-day one-thousand-mile journey to freedom in Canada.


Spring 1859

Brown travels through the northeast raising money and increasing support for his cause.


June 1859

Brown leaves his home in North Elba for the last time.


July 3, 1859

Brown and three of his soldiers arrive in Harper's Ferry, Virginia to scout out the federal arsenal for his planned attack.


July 1859

Brown rents a Maryland farmhouse near Harper's Ferry from Dr. Booth Kennedy.  He and various of his forces will stay at the Kennedy farm until their attack.


August 16, 1859

Brown meets secretly with Frederick Douglas at a rock quarry in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where Brown unsuccessfully tries to convince Douglas to join him at Harper's Ferry.


October 16, 1859

Brown leads 21 men on an attack on the armory at Harper's Ferry.  They meet little early resistance and capture the armory.  Hostages are rounded up from nearby farms.  In an effort to prevent news of the attack from reaching Washington, the baggage master of an eastbound train is shot, but then the train is allowed to proceed.


October 17, 1859

With the arrival of the Baltimore & Ohio train in Washington, news of the attack at Harper's Ferry reaches officials.  Local citizens begin to fire on the arsenal, effectively pinning down Brown and his men.  The bridge is seized cutting off Brown's escape route, and he is forced to move with his hostages into the engine house, a small brick building in the armory. 


October 18, 1859

U. S. marines, under the command of Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, surround the engine house.  Brown refuses to surrender and the marines storm the building.  Brown and six of his men are captured.  Ten of his men (including two of his sons) are killed.  Brown is questioned for three hours.


October 27, 1859

After being declared fit for trial by a doctor, John Brown faces the first day of trial for murder, conspiracy, and treason in Charlestown . 


October 31, 1859

The defense concludes its case, having argued that Brown killed no one and he owed no duty of loyalty to Virginia, and thus could not be guilty of treason against the state.


November 2, 1859

After 45 minutes of deliberation, the jury finds Brown guilty of conspiracy, murder, and treason.  Brown in sentenced to be hanged in public on December 2.


December 1, 1859

After declining rescue attempts, Brown has a last meal with his wife.


December 2, 1859

Brown writes a final letter to his wife.  Around 11:00 he is led through a crowd of 2,000 spectators and soldiers to the scaffold.  He is pronounced dead at 11:50 AM.  His body is later taken to North Elba for burial at the family farm.


April 12, 1861

Confederate forces fire on Fort Sumter and the Civil War begins.


December 6, 1865

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery, is ratified.


Source for the timeline above: 




John Brown's address to the court


Address of John Brown to the Virginia Court at Charles Town, Virginia on November 2, 1859

I have, may it please the court, a few words to say.

In the first place, I deny everything but what I have all along admitted, -- the design on my part to free slaves. I intended certainly to have made a clean thing of that matter, as I did last winter, when I went into Missouri and took slaves without the snapping of a gun on either side, moved them through the country, and finally left them in Canada. I designed to do the same thing again, on a larger scale. That was all I intended. I never did intend murder, or treason, or the destruction of property, or to excite or incite slaves to rebellion, or to make insurrection.

I have another objection; and that is, it is unjust that I should suffer such a penalty. Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case), -- had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends -- either father, mother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class -- and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.

The court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me further to "remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them." I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done -- as I have always freely admitted I have done -- in behalf of His despied poor, was not wrong, but right. Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments. -- I submit; so let it be done!

Let me say one word further.

I feel entirely satisfied with the treatment I have received on my trial. Considering all the circumstances, it has been more generous than I expected. I feel no consciousness of my guilt. I have stated from the first what was my intention, and what was not. I never had any design against the life of any person, nor any disposition to commit treason, or excite slaves to rebel, or make any general insurrection. I never encouraged any man to do so, but always discouraged any idea of any kind.

Let me say also, a word in regard to the statements made by some to those conncected with me. I hear it has been said by some of them that I have induced them to join me. But the contrary is true. I do not say this to injure them, but as regretting their weakness. There is not one of them but joined me of his own accord, and the greater part of them at their own expense. A number of them I never saw, and never had a word of conversation with, till the day they came to me; and that was for the purpose I have stated.

Now I have done.


Source for John Brown’s Address to the Court: