Owen Brown in Altadena California

Owen Brown Homestead

Owen Brown rancho looking south. The following information sighted here.

Owen was named for his grandfather, a prosperous Connecticut tanner, strong abolitionist, and one of the first settlers in Hudson, Ohio.

He described himself as “an engineer on the Underground Railroad” and a “woodsman almost all my life”. By this he meant not that he was a lumberjack, but that he was could hike through woody terrain—a skill that later saved his life, escaping from the Harper’s Ferry debacle.  (“[S]o strong is the woodsman in him, that he gave me not only the direction and probable extent of every mountain and valley he passed, night or day, but the nature and quality of the timber almost everywhere in his way.” He never married, and referred to his one-room cabin in Ohio as “bachelor hall”. When asked later in life if he had been too busy to marry, his reply was: “Hardly; there are men who fix their affections on one, and losing that one remain single ever after.”  According to a writer who felt that Owen “seems to have been a bachelor from principle”, he “went so far as to divulge the fact that there was one maiden near Springdale [Iowa] whom he would marry, if he ever married at all, but to whom, out of abundant caution, he had resolved never even to speak.” 

Historic Timeline

They (the Browns) are the collective conscience of the United States that slavery was wrong, that it was inhumane and really that it was against the Constitutional provisions for free people.

Click images to enlarge.

1824

Owen Brown Born

Owen Brown was born May 9, 1800, in Torrington, Connecticut. The fourth of the eight children of Owen Brown (1771–1856) and Ruth Mills (1772–1808), he described his parents as “poor but respectable”

1850’s

Abolitionist

Owen fought with his father in Kansas and was present at the sack of Lawrence. Border ruffians from Missouri burned his house and stole his cattle. He participated, along with brother-in-law Henry Thompson, in the Pottawatomie massacre. “He was imprisoned, ill-treated, and finally driven from the State, for the sole reason that he was an abolitionist.”

1856

Kansas

Brown first gained national attention when his father led anti-slavery volunteers during the Bleeding Kansas crisis of the late 1850s, a state-level civil war over whether Kansas would enter the Union as a slave state or a free state.

1859

Harpers Ferry

Owen was the only child of Brown to participate in the Chatham, Ontario, meeting in which the raid was planned. He was chosen as treasurer of the organization, of which John Brown was president.

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Owen, as he told it later, before the raid “spent many months in the mountains of the South, searching out suitable places for the rendezvous and concealment of liberty-seeking slaves”. During the three months before the raid, his father, under cover of prospecting for minerals, examined and approved of a number of them.

Owen participated in his father’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. He was guarding weapons at the Kennedy Farm, in Maryland, and did not enter Harpers Ferry itself. When the raid failed, with a $25,000 reward on his head (equivalent to $814,259 in 2022),  he escaped capture and underwent what has been called “the most difficult and tedious flight that ever occurred in this country”. After nearly three months of hiding and travelling at night, living on raw potatoes and uncooked corn taken from fields and nearly starving, his shoes having given out, he arrived at Crawford County, Pennsylvania, where he had lived as a child (see John Brown (abolitionist)#Pennsylvania). There he was fed and helped recuperate by a Quaker who remembered his father. Now near the Ohio border, he reached the safety of the home of his brother John Jr., at that time in Dorset, Ashtabula County, Ohio, some 300 miles (480 km) from Harpers Ferry. Together with him in John Jr.’s home for three weeks were fellow escaped raiders Barclay Coppock and Francis Jackson Meriam, as well as Brown’s first biographer, James Redpath.

1870 – 1885

Put-In-Bay, Ohio

The so-called “Cooke Castle”, Gibraltar Island, Ohio
Owen was “extremely averse to talking at all about the exciting adventures of his early days”. A reporter had to make many visits to get him to tell the story of his difficult escape, which he said he had never told in 12 years. 

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Mark Twain’s comment on this report was: “Three different times I tried to read it but was frightened off each time before I could finish.”

At that time Owen and his older brother John Jr. were farming at Put-in-Bay, Ohio, Owen in a “one-roomed shanty”, full of mementos, near his brother’s house. “Everything in the room was neat and tidy, but very cheap and rude. He had a cot for a bed, and heat was supplied by a little stove fed with dry cuttings from the grapevines.” Ruth Brown, their sister, and her husband lived there as well, having moved in 1882 from Wisconsin to another “very small, unpainted” house.

Locals described Owen as “extremely eccentric”. He spent the winter months, and sometimes the summer months as well, alone, except for a dog, as a hermit on neighboring Gibraltar Island, caretaker for the home of Ohio financier Jay Cooke. He spent much of his time fishing.[40] John Henry Kagi had taught him shorthand while they were training in Iowa in 1857–58.  He continued his study from books and copied the Bible in shorthand twice. He remained there until 1885, when the Cooke property was sold.

1885

Pasadena

In 1885, his health failing, Owen moved to Pasadena, California, joining his brother Jason, who emigrated in 1881 after his Akron, Ohio, home was destroyed by fire, and sister Ruth, a teacher, and her husband Henry Thompson, who moved there with their family in 1884;
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Henry had bought 15 acres (6.1 ha) of land.They were seeking to escape “the increasingly negative broad popular memory of Brown.”  John Jr. came to visit subsequently, to see if he should move there too, but he decided not to.

Jason had a wife and children in the east. “He goes to visit them occasionally, and they have been here, but why they are separated no one seems to know.”

Pasadena was sympathetic to the memory of John Brown; it was a Republican city, settled by immigrants from Indiana.  Owen, Jason, and to a lesser extent Ruth and her husband were treated as celebrities, the men “eccentric and charming”.  However, Owen “suffered from the celebrity which his adventures and his father’s fame gave him; and this was one reason why be retired with his brother to a remote cabin, where, nevertheless, sight-seers and importunate friends followed him, and left him very little of that solitary leisure which he so much valued.” A different source says the brothers “delighted in having callers”; yet another, that they were guides for tourists. “They were much visited by tourists and citizens, some from mere curiosity and other[s] from a warm sympathy with the heroic career of the family.” They were “often” visited by the naturalist Charles Frederick Holder, who talked with them about their experiences and the Underground Railroad. According to one report, “it was difficult to get Owen to speak of the tragic events of his life”, but another says that “to listen to his recital of their escape was as thrilling and much more interesting than stories of the most daring of fictitious heroes.” “Owen Brown had related to his sister Ruth all the particulars of the expedition to the South with a colored man named Green, and she will publish this with many valuable memorandas of her father not yet printed”; this publication never took place.

1889

Funeral and Gravesite

Owen Brown fueral street procession. Original gravesite with cedar tree.