The John Brown farm in New York and how it helped freed slaves earn a living

Francis Akhalbey February 07, 2019
John Brown Farm State Historic Site

In the spirit of Sankofa – an Ashanti metaphorical symbol that means reaching back to the knowledge of the past and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress – we celebrate Black History Month throughout the month of February.

Face2Face Africa takes you through the 28-day journey by highlighting 28 landmarks in the United States that are significant to African American history.

For today’s instalment, we spotlight the John Brown Farm State Historic Site.

John Brown Farm State Historic Site — Photo Credit: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Located in North Elba near Lake Placid, New York, John Brown Farm State Historic Site was once a safe haven for freed slaves where they were taught how to farm for a livelihood.

John Brown Farm in Lake Placid, NY — Photo Credit: John Brown Farm State Historic Site

It was owned by radical abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor, John Brown, who first moved to Lake Placid in 1849 from Springfield, Massachusetts where he was actively involved in the Underground Railroad movement.

John Brown

Brown’s decision to relocate came about after hearing of fellow abolitionist and well-to-do businessman Gerrit Smith’s initiative of granting parcels of land to freed slaves around the area to help them earn livelihoods.

After purchasing several acres of land from Smith, Brown developed it into a farm and together with his family, used the facilities to teach and lead the freed slaves in self-sufficient farming.

Photo Credit: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

According to The National Park Service, the land was not fertile enough for farming and as a result, caused some inhabitants, including John Brown to leave the area. In 1855, he left his wife and children on the farm and moved to Kansas to join his two other sons who were involved in an armed insurrection against proslavery forces. Brown occasionally returned to the farm to visit his wife and other children.

Bedroom area

In 1859, after a failed attempt to seize arms at the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in Virginia for an armed rebellion to set enslaved African Americans in the South free, he was captured, tried for treason and hanged.

John Brown tombstone on the farm

He was buried on the farm on December 8, 1859. Brown’s family, according to the NPS, ultimately moved to California when the Civil War started.

John Brown Farm graveyard

The property was subsequently purchased by the John Brown Association in 1870 and then bought by the New York State in 1896.

Statue of John Brown on the farm

The farm was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1998.

Photo Credit: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation


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