John Brown’s Telescope


John Brown was born in Torrington, Connecticut in 1800 but raised in Ohio. Although Brown had always opposed slavery, he was not committed to the cause until he attended an abolitionist meeting in Cleveland in 1837. Upon the conclusion of the meeting, Brown swore that he would dedicate his life to the abolition of slavery.

From 1855 through 1858, Brown and his sons were involved in a series of raids in the Kansas Territory, including the Pottawatomie massacre of May 24-25, 1856 and the Battle of Osawatomie, after which Brown vowed, “I will die fighting for this cause. There will be no more peace in this land until slavery is done for.”

In October 1856, Brown returned to the East, where he soon began a speaking tour to raise money for his military company. By this time Brown had nearly finalized his plan to lead 25 men to seize the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia and start a slave insurrection. On October 16, 1859, John Brown led his men in the failed attack on Harpers Ferry. His force was overwhelmed and he was captured by a company of U. S. Marines under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant J. E. B. Stewart. On November 2, 1859, Brown was convicted of treason, murder and insurrection, and sentenced to death. He was hanged on December 2, 1859, convinced that he was “worth inconceivably more to hang than for any other purpose.”

This brass collapsible telescope with lens cover and mahogany-colored wood sections was used by John Brown in Kansas and western Virginia in the 1850s. The telescope was most likely used in preparation for Brown’s attack on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry on October 19, 1859. Lieutenant Edwin G. Lee found the telescope in Brown’s hut on Maryland Heights, near Harpers Ferry. Lee used the telescope during the Civil War while serving as a general in the Confederate army.

Object Details

Categories: War & Conflict

Date: 1850s

Contributing Institution: Wilson's Creek National Battlefield

Accession Number: WICR 30001

Copy Request: Contact Wilson's Creek National Battlefield at: (417)-732-2662; 6424 West Farm Road 182 Republic, MO 65738.

Rights: The Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Civil War Museum is providing access to these materials for educational and research purposes only. The written permission of the copyright owner(s) and/or other right holder(s) (such as publicity and/or privacy rights) is required for distribution, reproduction, or other use of protected images(s) beyond that allowed by fair use or other statutory exemptions. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of an image(s) and securing any necessary permission ultimately rests with person(s) desiring to use the image(s). Images that are the property of Wilson's Creek National Battlefield should be cited as: Image Credit: Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Civil War Museum.

Latitude: 37.115684

Longitude: -93.41942

Photographer: Steve Ross