Accession number: 1983.31
This Bowie knife was taken from John Brown by Lt. J. E. B. Stuart at Harpers Ferry in 1859. Stuart had met Brown in Kansas in 1856 when prisoners were taken at Black Jack. Brown was too unforgettable a figure for Stuart not to recognize him three years later, saying in a letter to his mother: "I immediately recognized, Old Ossawottomie Brown, who had given us so much trouble out here in Kansas . . . I got his bowie knife from his person while he was 'possuming' and have it yet." Stuart also boasted that
capturing Brown was "the greatest service I
rendered the State."
John Brown and his followers easily seized the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, but soon afterwards Brown was captured, and a number of his men were killed. He did succeed, however, in initiating a national debate about slavery.