Cemetery of the Week #125: John Brown’s Grave

Vintage postcard of John Brown's grave

Vintage postcard of John Brown’s grave

John Brown Farm State Historic Site
115 John Brown Road
Lake Placid, New York 12946
Telephone: (518) 523-3900
Size: small
Number of interments: 15?
Open: The grounds are open year round, but the cottage and other buildings are only open May 1 through October 31 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.
Admission: Adults $2, Seniors/Students/ Groups $1. Children 12 and under are free.

To protest New York’s law that black men must own $250 worth of property in order to vote, abolitionist Gerrit Smith announced in 1846 that he would grant 40 acres of land to any black man who wanted to farm it. In 1849, fellow abolitionist John Brown bought an additional parcel of land for $1 an acre with the promise that he would move to the area and teach farming to the grantees. Many of them had worked previously as coachmen, cooks, and barbers and had no idea how to farm.

The land in New York’s Adirondack Mountains was rocky and difficult to work. Most of the black families gave up quickly. Brown himself stayed on his farm only briefly before heading off to oppose slavery in a more personal fashion. Some of his sons were homesteading in Kansas, which was vacillating between entering the Union as a slave or free state, so Brown joined them in 1855. He served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, guiding runaway slaves to freedom in the North.

Vintage postcard of john Browns's gravesite

Vintage postcard of john Browns’s gravesite

Even that wasn’t bringing change quickly enough. On the night of October 16, 1859, Brown led 19 men in an assault on the US Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry (now in West Virginia). His plan had been to use the weapons to liberate slaves in the South.

He was captured two days later, imprisoned at Charlestown, Virginia, convicted of treason, and hanged on December 2, 1859.

Brown’s second wife, Mary, escorted his body back home from Virginia. On the journey home, his body lay in state, under guard, at the Elizabethtown Court House. On December 8, 1859, he was buried in front of his home near a boulder where he’d carved his initials in case he did not return home from the raid.

Captain john Brown's Revolutionary-era gravestone

Captain john Brown’s Revolutionary-era gravestone

At some point later, the gravestone of his grandfather Captain John Brown, who fought and died in the American Revolution, was moved to the farm from Connecticut. Brown’s name and Oliver’s — his son who’d died in the Harper’s Ferry raid — were added at the bottom.

In 1870, Kate Field discovered that the property was about to be sold by the Brown family. She collected donations and purchased the farm and graveyard as an historic site. The farmstead was acquired by the State of New York in 1895. The house and barn have been restored to circa 1859. Some original furnishings remain.

In 1899, the bodies of 12 of Brown’s followers, who fought and died at Harper’s Ferry, were reinterred in this small graveyard. A picket fence was added, to be replaced later by an ornate iron fence. The Revolutionary War gravestone was protected by a wooden frame. Around 1900, a bronze plaque was added to the boulder, to mark Brown’s actual gravesite.

The farm remains a popular tourist destination near Lake Placid. Outdoor displays provide photos of Brown’s men and explain their fates. In May, Civil War re-enactors camp out, paying homage to a man who had hoped that a small insurrection might stave off all-out civil war.

Useful links:

NY State Parks listing on the John Brown Farm

African American history in the Adirondacks

New York History Net entry on Gerrit Smith

Photos of the site: http://www.lakeplacid.com/do/activities/john-browns-farm-state-historic-site

Trail map of the John Brown property.  The cemetery is marked on the map by a cross.

Pete Seeger singing John Brown’s Body/The Battle Hymn of the Republic:

About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. Scribner published my favorite essays from Morbid Curiosity magazine as Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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3 Responses to Cemetery of the Week #125: John Brown’s Grave

  1. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says:

    That is awesome history!

  2. Jen says:

    Great post! Interesting and informative. :)

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