John Brown Pike Head – Numbered 949



John Brown Pike Head – Numbered 949 – These pikes were ordered by the abolitionist, John Brown, in 1857; Brown had traveled to Connecticut to raise funds for his cause; while in Connecticut, Brown contracted with blacksmith Charles Blair of Collinsville, Connecticut to get Blair to forge several hundred pikes. Blair, a master metal forger, was working for Collins and Company, manufacturer of high quality, edged tools; this company would later make swords for the Union. Brown contracted with Blair to make 1,000 pikes, at the cost of $1 per pike; Brown agreed to pay in installments. After making 500 pikes, Blair ceased production, as Brown had failed to pay him. In 1859, Brown, after Blair had held the pikes for two years, finally obtained sufficient funds to get 954 pikes; the pikes, per Brown’s instructions, were shipped to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania; additional weapons, to include multiple firearms, were also shipped to that same location, in preparation for Brown’s attempt to foment a slave rebellion. In accordance with instructions, by Brown, the pikes and firearms were transported from Chambersburg, to a farm in Maryland, for ultimate use in Brown’s attack on the U.S. Arsenal, at Harper’s Ferry.

The pikes Brown purchased, had a 9 ½ to 10-inch long, double-edged blade of forged cast steel, a 4 ½ inch wide iron guard, and a 3 ¼ inch long, tapering ferrule, and a screw, to affix the pike to a wooden shaft. These pike blades were fitted onto six-foot ash shafts; serial numbers were stamped on three parts of the weapon –the blade’s tang, the cross guard and the shaft ferrule; the numbers were commensurate with when the blade was forged. This example is numbered “949” which appears, as originals exhibit, on the tang, cross guard and ferrule. As enumerated, Brown ultimately purchased and transported, to Maryland, 954 pikes; this pike blade was amongst the last group forged by Charles Blair for John Brown. The pike head remains in overall good condition; the blade edges are not nicked and remain sharp. This is a rare artifact associated with one of the more significant events that helped foment the onset of the Civil War.

John Brown

As a child born in the northern United States, John Brown was taught that slavery was a sin. As an adult he took these values to Kansas where he was drawn into skirmishes along the Kansas-Missouri border prior to the Civil War. Brown often resorted to violence in an effort to ensure that Kansas Territory became a free state. Ultimately, he hoped all slaves would rise up against their masters.

During a trip East in 1857 to raise funds for his cause, Brown contracted with blacksmith Charles Blair of Collinsville, Connecticut for several hundred pikes (pikes are weapons with long wooden shafts ending in pointed steel heads, typically used by foot soldiers). Blair was a forge master working for Collins and Company who made quality edged tools. He agreed to make 1,000 pikes for Brown at $1 a piece, payable in installments.

After making 500 weapons, though, Blair halted production because Brown had failed to pay him. Blair held the pikes for two years. In 1859, Brown showed up at Blair’s door with the needed funds to purchase 954 pikes and requested that they be forwarded to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Brown had other firearms shipped there as well).

Kennedy Farm


Washington County, Maryland

The Kennedy Farm House

Kennedy Farm, located in Washington County, Maryland, served as John Brown’s headquarters during his 1859 raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). Although Brown and his fighters failed to capture the town, news of Brown’s actions intensified both southern fears of black rebellion and northern opposition to slavery. Besides the engine-house at Harpers Ferry where Brown staged his final defense, Kennedy Farm is the most closely-associated structure with the famous raid.

John Brown had long been a fanatic abolitionist and a deeply religious Christian. As early as 1847, he had developed a plan for the forcible liberation of enslaved people. With his family’s assistance, Brown organized resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which deprived runaways of legal rights and imposed harsh penalties on those who aided them. In 1855, Brown moved his family to Kansas in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which stipulated that settlers to the territory could vote to determine if the state would enter the Union as a slave state or a free one. He began to violently defend his cause. One year later, he would rise in notoriety for the revenge slaying of five pro-slavery men.

Brown’s ultimate plan was to establish a sort of fugitive slave republic in the mountains of Virginia or Maryland. With good armed defense, he hoped, this refuge might maintain itself against attack. He believed that what he needed was a bold stroke that would startle the nation to action, draw adherents to his cause, and leave no room for compromise. That striking action was to be a raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry and the capture of the town.

Along with a small band of followers, he rented the two-story Kennedy farmhouse, located approximately seven miles from Harpers Ferry. During the three months leading up to the raid, Brown divided his time between Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and this farm, living under the alias of Isaac Smith, a cattle buyer from New York. The Kennedy farmhouse served as the center of operations where Brown stockpiled weapons and studied local maps. He stored 15 boxes of guns and hundreds of pikes to arm future liberated enslaved recruits from the Virginia countryside.

Twenty-one men gathered at the farm in preparation for the attack just across the Potomac River. To not alarm neighbors, the men hid in the attic during the day and only emerged after dark. Brown’s family helped keep appearances by tending to the farm and household duties.

On October 16, 1859, Brown’s small band seized the Harpers Ferry armory and took several hostages. The following day U.S. Army Colonel Robert E. Lee arrived with a company of Marines and cornered Brown and his men in the armory’s engine house. Brown eventually surrendered. By the end of the altercation, eighteen people had died—two enslaved people, three townsmen, one Marine, and ten of Brown’s men. A free black man named Heyward Shepherd, who worked for the B&O Railroad, was also killed. Brown was brought to trial in Charles Town (now West Virginia) for insurrection against the State of Virginia. The court found him guilty and he was hanged on December 2, 1859.

Although the three-day raid failed to gain him recruits or liberate enslaved people, Brown’s insurrection further deflated the possibility of a peaceful settlement of the American slavery issue. Brown accelerated the polarization between pro-slavery advocates and abolitionists and intensified the inevitability of violent conflict between the North and South. Less than two years after the raid planned at Kennedy Farm, the country would erupt in civil war.


A Pike Made for John Brown

This fearsome pike, nearly seven feet tall with a ten-inch steel blade, is a memento of John Brown’s unsuccessful 1859 raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). In 1857 Brown contracted with blacksmith Charles Blair of Collinsville, Connecticut, to produce one thousand such weapons at the cost of a dollar a piece. Brown wanted the weapons to be designed in the shape of a Bowie knife, like the one he had confiscated from a captured pro-slavery Missourian during the Kansas-Missouri border war. Brown agreed to pay for the pikes in installments, but when he failed to keep up with the payments, the manufacturer halted production after making 500 of them. Blair held onto the pikes for two years, when Brown suddenly reappeared with enough money for 954 of them. Blair forwarded the pikes to Brown, who intended to issue them to the army of slave insurgents he thought would rise up after his raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. The weapons, stockpiled at a Maryland farm not far from the arsenal, were never distributed by the fiery abolitionist, who was convicted and hanged for his failed attack.

Despite Brown’s failure to spark a revolution, his raid—and the fact that five of his “soldiers” were African Americans—touched off a frenzy among Southern slave owners. After Brown’s capture—and in the midst of the presidential election of 1860—slavery defender Edmund Ruffin got hold of Brown’s cache of weapons and sent a pike to the governor of every slave state. Affixed to each weapon was the tagline “SAMPLE OF THE FAVORS DESIGNED FOR USE BY OUR NORTHERN BRETHREN.” Ruffin hoped that these tangible symbols of Northern aggression would be displayed in Southern statehouses and would help enflame secessionist sentiment.