Owen Brown in Pasadena

GAR Encampment
On August 17, 1886, the National G.A.R. Encampment visited Pasadena. “An event that will live in history is the hauling in a carriage by enthusiastic ‘vets’ of four members of the ‘Old John Brown’ family, who live here. Jason and Owen Brown, Mrs. Ruth Brown Thompson and her husband, Henry Thompson …were objects of the enthusiastic admiration of the boys-in-blue ...” Pasadena Union

January 10, 1889 was a significant date in early Pasadena history – the funeral of Owen Brown, son of abolitionist John Brown.  Owen was the last survivor of the historic raid in October, 1859, on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, an event widely credited with the beginning of the Civil War.

About 2,000 people attended the services at the Methodist Tabernacle on South Marengo.  Before describing the pall bearers, the Pasadena Standard noted “It is quite remarkable that there should be found in Pasadena so many men who were associated with John Brown in his mighty work, which up-heaved the nation and proved the entering wedge for the overthrow of slavery, thirty years ago.”

It was also quite remarkable that Owen Brown was highly honored in death at Pasadena, California.  Almost thirty years earlier, as one of five men who escaped from Harper’s Ferry, he had been vigorously pursued as an accomplice to murder and insurrection in one of the most famous manhunts of the 19th century.

Owen Brown funeral
The funeral of Owen Brown at the Methodist Tabernacle on South Marengo on January 10, 1889 was “a historic day in Pasadena. The tabernacle was well filled – about 2000 people in attendance.” Pasadena Standard

The story of his amazing escape was published in the Atlantic Monthly in March, 1874. The Pasadena Standard said that it “excels in thrilling pathos … the most vivid conceptions of fiction.”  Mark Twain commented  “Three different times I tried to read it but was frightened off each time before I could finish.  The tale was so vivid and so real that I seemed to be living those adventures myself and sharing their intolerable perils.”

By 1884, four members of the John Brown family were living in Pasadena – Owen and his brother Jason, who were homesteading in the hills north of Pasadena, and their sister Ruth Brown Thompson and her husband Henry, who had been one of John Brown’s soldiers in Kansas.  Owen died of pneumonia on January 8, 1889 at his sister’s home, far away from the tumultuous event that brought him to the forefront of history.  

- Kirk Myers

This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of West Pasadena Residents' Association's The News.