On this day, 2 December 1859, US abolitionist John Brown was executed by the state of Virginia for his leadership of an armed rebellion against slavery.
Brown and a small band of Black and white fellow abolitionists attempted to seize the federal arsenal of weapons at Harpers Ferry. The weapons would be used to arm enslaved people and abolitionist whites, and set up a chain of forts across the country which could launch raids on enslavers, helping free large numbers of enslaved people then funnel them north to Canada, meanwhile disrupting the slave economy.
On December 2, after a battle with US troops, Brown and his men were defeated. Two of them managed to escape – Osborne Anderson and Albert Hazlett – and the survivors were put on trial for treason, murder and "conspiring with Negroes to produce insurrection".
Brown was hanged at 11:15 AM outside the Charles Town jail. On his way to the scaffold he handed a note to one of the guards, which declared: "I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land: will never be purged away; but with blood."
In the wake of the attempted uprising, fearing further such attempts, pro-slavery militias formed across the US South. These would soon fight for the Confederacy in the civil war which would break out less than two years later, during which Union troops would sing: "John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on."