On May 24, 1856, John Brown and his followers killed five slaveholders at Pottawatomie Creek, Kansas—a prelude to his more ambitious raid on Harpers Ferry three years later. Deeply religious, Brown committed himself in the 1850s to abolishing slavery through violent action. He took an Old Testament view of his cause, believing that the great sin of human bondage had to be purged from the land by the shedding of blood.
Brown’s murder of the slaveholders at Pottawatomie took place during a small-scale civil war being fought in the Kansas Territory over slavery. After Pottawatomie, Brown became the nation’s most prominent advocate for the violent abolition of slavery
In 1858, Brown met in Ontario, Canada, with like-minded abolitionists, to begin planning for an armed insurrection of slaves. By raiding weapons from the U.S. Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, he hoped to arm slaves and launch a major revolt throughout the South.
John Brown’s subsequent raid on Harpers Ferry in October 1859 failed, but it did succeed in further polarizing North and South and bringing the nation closer to Civil War.