Wealthy Northern agitator Gerritt Smith collaborated with John Brown as did Frederick Douglass, who last met with Brown at Christmas, 1856 in Rochester, New York. As soon as news of Brown’s failed 1859 Harper’s Ferry uprising reached Douglass, he fled to Canada and was hidden by black families. Fearing extradition for treason and certain to be hung, he sailed for England to be welcomed by British abolitionists.
Igniting John Brown and Fred Douglass
“With several other young Whigs, [Charles] Sumner bought a Boston newspaper to agitate against the [Mexican] war, charging that its promoters were slaveholders linked to the New England mill owners.
A wave of propaganda, in which attacks on the war were intermingled with attacks on the large mill owners of New England, washed across New England and the North. John Brown, for the first time, was situated in an urban setting where meetings, speeches, and agitators were present. For the first time Brown also began to meet free blacks — including two militants: Reverend J.W. Loguen of Syracuse and Reverend Highland Garnet of Troy. Brown probably listened to them preach violent rebellion.
With its propensity for creating paper heroes – men of words and writing and instant celebrities – propaganda was irresistible to Brown. Not a man to admire anyone’s success without trying to emulate that person, Brown sat down and wrote a crude, semiliterate satire called “Sambo’s Mistakes,” and sent it to the Ram’s Horn, a newspaper published by blacks in New York City. Whether the editors ever knew it was contributed by a white man seems dubious. But it appeared in the Ram’s Horn, and there is something about it that still disturbs. The hatred it exuded – natural enough, under the circumstances of the day, in a black – was twisted in a white man.
Brown also began to talk about a “plan” for freeing the slaves. Word trickled through to the black community, through letters and conversations. In due course these interesting rumors reached Frederick Douglass.
[Meeting with Brown and spending the night at his home, Douglass] was deeply shaken. He had been spouting the Garrison line of peaceful resistance: that was one of the reasons he was welcome on so many different platforms. Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and many ministers managed to make that line sound plausible, reasonable, and even hopeful.
In Salem, Ohio, he said openly, for the first time, that slavery “could only be destroyed by bloodshed.” Sojourner Truth interrupted him, and asked, “Frederick, is God dead?” “No,” he answered, “and because God is not dead slavery can only end in blood.
John Brown, a white man, had introduced a new note that encouraged violence by blacks against whites.”
(The Secret Six: John Brown and the Abolitionist Movement, Otto Scott, Uncommon Books, 1979, excerpts pp. 161—164)