The Heart of John Brown with Dr. Richard Bell - Context Travel

The Heart of John Brown with Dr. Richard Bell


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John Brown's 1859 raid on the federal arsenal in Harper's Ferry was a fiasco—a hopelessly unrealistic plan to ignite a slave revolt that would destroy chattel slavery in America. Why, then, University of Maryland historian Richard Bell asks, was John Brown’s raid so significant?

"Men, get on your arms; we will proceed to the Ferry,” ordered John Brown on the night of October 16, 1859.

The Ferry was Harpers Ferry in Virginia, a tiny settlement in the Blue Ridge mountains, sixty miles from Washington DC, that was home to the federal arsenal–the single largest arsenal of rifles, sidearms, and gunpowder anywhere in the United States.

By attacking Harper’s Ferry, Brown planned to stir the largest slave revolt in America history. It was a desperately unrealistic plan, and it went wrong almost immediately. Forty-eight hours after it had begun, federal troops captured Brown and his accomplices. They were each tried for treason, insurrection, and murder in Virginia court, found guilty, and executed. Brown was hanged, having failed to free a single enslaved Virginian.

Led by an expert on American history, Dr. Richard Bell, this interactive seminar will explore why John Brown’s raid is so famous. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of the history of slavery in America.

Richard Bell is Professor of History at the University of Maryland and author of the new book "Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and their Astonishing Odyssey Home" which is shortlisted for the George Washington Prize and the Harriet Tubman Prize. He has held major research fellowships at Yale, Cambridge, and the Library of Congress and is the recipient of the National Endowment of the Humanities Public Scholar award. He serves as a Trustee of the Maryland Center for History and Culture, as an elected member of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, and as a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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