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Interpreting the Evidence

Plaque at John Brown Grave Site, North Elba, 1920

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Civil War

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    North Country
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Plaque at John Brown Grave Site, North Elba, 1920 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Grave marker for John Brown and twelve of his followers, North Elba, New York.  Plaque erected in 1916. Photograph taken circa 1920.
Historical Context
John Brown was born in Connecticut.  As an adult, he moved to North Elba in New York's Adirondack Mountains, where he raised his family.  As a child, Brown was raised to believe that slavery was wrong. He continued this philosophy by working most of his life to fight slavery.  His activity took many forms, from giving land to fugitive slaves to actively participating in the Underground Railroad.  

Yet Brown thought he could do more, so on October 16, 1859, he led twenty-one men on a raid of a federal government weapons storage building at Harper's Ferry, Virginia.  Brown planned to give the weapons to slaves, but he and his companions were stopped by local farmers, militiamen, and U.S. Marines.  Most of Brown's men were killed or captured in the raid.  Brown was wounded, captured, and taken to Charlestown, Virginia, where he was convicted of treason. John Brown was hanged on December 2, 1859.

Following Brown's execution, his body was returned to his farm in North Elba, New York, which he founded to assist unfortunate African American men. Many years later, the bodies of his sons and followers who died in the Harper's Ferry raid were removed to the farm. In 1895, the property was given to New York State, and a memorial was established. The farm has become a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public.

Essential Question
How do individuals influence culture and society?
Check for Understanding
Describe the object in the photograph and explain how John Brown influenced American culture and society.
Historical Challenges
Research the details of John Brown’s fight against slavery. What made him such an active abolitionist?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Science: What materials is a tombstone made of? What other objects are made of this same material(s)?
English Language Arts: Write a letter to John Brown letting him know what you think of his actions against slavery. Was he selfish? Was he heroic? Admirable? Criminal? Explain why you feel the way you do.
English Language Arts: Pretend you are the prosecuting or defending attorney in John Brown's trial. Write an opening statement to the jury.