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by Max H. Peters

John Brown's Birthplace
Above: Old stone fences seperate what once were fields and pastures.
Below: Where the Brown House stood is a National Historic Site.

    I’d read that John Brown’s birth-site was an empty spot in the woods in Torrington. I always wanted to go there and finally made it on a mild, partly-sunny Saturday this past June.  A rough stone marked where the old farmhouse stood until a chimneyfire burned it to the ground in 1918.

   Much to my surprise and delight the Torrington Historical Society had teamed up with Northwest Connecticut YMCA’s Trails Network and had just opened a .75 mile trail around and through the 40 acres that was the Brown farm. The entire time I was there I had the place to myself.
John Brown's Birthplace

   From the site of the house the land slopes down gently into a sort of hollow. The land is covered in third-growth timber, but walking the new trail it iseasy to imagine the ground as fields and pastures. Stone walls still stand tall after more than 200 winters. Birds sang all afternoon without let up.  Every time a breeze blew, the tops of the trees would erupt in anavalanche of rustling that reminded me of what Walt Whitman said, that when Emerson came out for John Brown, “it was with the power, the overwhelmingness of an avalanche.”

John Brown
This Windsor chair is attributed as being an original furnishing of the Brown House.
Courtesy of Torrington Historical Society

John Brown
The John Brown Trail follows the perimeter of the Brown family's 160 acre farm.

   Not too many years after the Civil War, Emerson was to give a speech at the University of Virginia. The students hadn’t forgotten Emerson’s strong support of John Brown and what that had meant for the Southern cause. As Emerson came on the stage he was jeered and yelled at. Emerson, nonplussed, tried to continue for half an hour as yells and threats of violence rained down on him. Finally admitting to himself that he wasn’t getting anywhere, he turned and walked off the stage. “They are very brave down there,” he told someone. “They say just what they think.” And it was true; anyone who loved the Southern Cause couldn’t help hating Emerson who, along with Henry David Thoreau, had changed the Northern public image of John Brown from madman to martyr. Emerson was into the John Brown violence up to his neck. In 1855, Emerson arranged for young Frank Sanborn to teach in Concord. By 1857, Sanborn was Thoreau’s favorite hiking buddy, his future biographer, and, at the same time, John Brown’s New England agent, one of the “Secret Six.” Before John Brown hung, Emerson predicted that his execution would “make the gallows glorious like the cross.”

John Brown

John Browns Birthplace
The farmhouse in Torrington where John Brown was born. The house burned down in 1918


John Brown
Shingle attributed to original Brown House. Courtesy of Torrington Historical Society

For information on the John Brown Birthplace go to

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