Monday, March 21, 2011

John Brown's Tannery (Part 1)

John Browns Tannery Crawford Co. PA (Click to Enlarge)Crawford County, PA

Marker Text:  On the side road, a short distance south, are the remains of the tannery and home built by the noted abolitionist of Harper's Ferry fame. Here, he lived and worked from 1825 to 1835, employing as many as 15 men in producing leather.

Location: Twelve miles northeast of Meadville, PA following PA Route 77, just west of intersection with John Brown Road at New Richmond. Erected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 1969.

“Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life... and mingle my blood... with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say, let it be done.” John Brown, 1859, before being sentenced to hang.

John Browns Tannery on Route 77 looking southeast (Click to Enlarge)

Photo taken looking southeast on Route 77 going toward Meadville, PA

  John Brown is most notably remembered as one of the nation’s greatest abolitionist’s, for his failed raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in 1859 and his hanging in Charlestown, WV.  As all historical figures, they also had lives apart from what they are most notably remembered and shaped what was to come in the future.

  John Brown was a businessman, entrepreneur, community leader, civic minded, interested in the welfare of his neighbors and a respectable citizen during much of his life.

  If you read a short biography of John Brown's life, they may not mention or offer only a brief explanation that Brown ever lived in Crawford County, Pennsylvania in a small community called New Richmond (which he helped to start) northeast of Meadville, PA. They might also fail to mention that John Brown lived here south of where this marker is located longer than he lived anywhere else as an adult (1825-1835).

John Brown Tannery - Old Tannery Foundation and marker  It was in May 1826 that John Brown moved his family from Hudson, Ohio, to a 200 acre uncleared tract of wilderness, No. 1432 after he had visited earlier in 1825 to find the land he was about to live  for the next 10 years and built a tannery and farm.  Brown's family at the time included his wife, Dianthe, whom he married in 1820 and their three sons, John Jr., Jason and Owen. Land was cheap in northwest Pennsylvania and still a mostly unsettled frontier at the time and offered the perfect conditions for operating a tannery. It was less settled than the area where the Browns used to live, the northeastern corner of Ohio known as the Western Reserve.

  Brown's new property had plenty of oak and hemlock. The bark he could use in tanning, a trade learned from his father in Hudson, Ohio. His property was situated immediately south of this marker. Here Brown erected a tannery, a quaint, stone structure on the first floor and wood on the second floor. The large sections of the stone foundation of the tannery can still be seen and visited today. (This is one of two similar markers and several photos of the tannery, I will cover John Brown in two parts.)

John Brown Marker in front of Tannery foundation  Brown was already an outspoken abolitionist when he moved to Crawford County, PA.  John Brown served the local community in a variety of ways, he surveyed roads, he established a post office in the new Richmond Township, formed in 1829 from part of Randolph and became the first postmaster for the village of New Richmond.

  He served as the town's postmaster for seven years, often making the 20 mile trip from Meadville to Riceville carrying the mail. Brown helped organize and hire a teacher for a neighborhood school that rotated at his home and that of the Thomas Delamater family. He started a reading community, circulating “good moral books and papers.” After previously attending a church in Guys Mills, six miles away, he founded and sometimes preached for an Independent Congregational Society that worshiped on his tannery's upper floor. To the sick and poor, he sent his workers with provisions.

Inside Foundation Wall of John Brown's Tannery

  Many communities in the north and particularly in Pennsylvania were active in the Underground Railroad and the great abolitionist John Brown while living in Crawford County established several “depots” and assisted approximately 2,500 slaves pass through the area. James Foreman, who came with Brown from Ohio said Brown was always of one mind when it came to the subject of slavery. “He looked upon it as a great sin against God and a menace to the morals of the country.”

  His social concern also sparked controversy, he was not one to stay quiet when he saw a wrong. A land agent in Erie complained that Brown urged squatters near Meadville to resist eviction by a company claiming title to the occupied ground. At another time, his son, John Brown Jr. told the story that a mob in Meadville nearly lynched his father for speaking out against the alleged abuses of Freemasonry. Those who personally knew John Brown described him as an honest and enterprising man who was useful to the country.

Location of Brown's Home and Barn across from Tannery  John Brown made regular trips to Jamestown, New York, and to Meadville, a small frontier community along the banks of French Creek, where he met up with other anti-slavery men. Brown's tannery and farm were a major stop on the Underground Railroad, and played a key role due to its position between the South and Lake Erie/Canada.

  In 1837, a year after leaving Crawford County, he openly consecrated his life to the destruction of slavery. His pronouncement came after the murder of an abolitionist newspaperman, Elijah Lovejoy, by a proslavery mob in Illinois. Apparently, Brown continued to make visits to Crawford County, after he moved back to Ohio. On one visit Brown told his friend George McFadden of his plans to strike a blow against slavery. McFadden replied, “If you do you will hang for it.”  “Well then,” said John Brown. “I will hang.”

  In part two about John Brown's Tannery, I will have more photos and more background on his family life while here.


  1. Greetings from Western Pennsylvania! Thanks for parts one and two! I am teaching HIS 339 Pennsylvania History and your work is very helpfull.

  2. Thank you for sharing the history that text books do not teach. Our family has been to John Brown Tannery with the 150th PA Bucktails for a living history weekend. As a homeschooling family in PA I knew it was important to share this part of John Brown's life with my 10th grade son as he begins learning about the Civil War.

  3. Thank you for such an interesting story about John Brown; as I have been searching for anything that I can find about John Brown.
    My maternal grandmother was Florence Brown Ongley; and she was from Meadville, Pennsylvania.
    I never got to meet her because she was killed in a car accident February 20, 1946; ten days after my mother, Verna's 13th birthday.