Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    John Brown's "Secret Six"

    Franklin Benjamin Sanborn Archive Pertaining to John Brown's Raid, containing three fair copies of Sanborn's letters to fellow "Secret Six" conspirator Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Sanborn's personal copy of the U.S. Senate's bound report on the Harpers Ferry raid.

    Sanborn's first letter (3pp., 5.25" x 8.25") is dated Concord, Massachusetts, November 10, 1859:"...I have no intention of going to Canada to avoid arrest - as a criminal, nor for any cause, if I felt reasonably sure of being protected here. If I am summoned as a witness I shall refuse to attend, if then they issue a capios, and I am likely to be taken out of the State as a witness, I shall disappear rather than go...My personal safety is of little account to me, but an annoying legal process would be vexations to the last degree... I am sorry Mrs. Brown is not to see her husband and don't exactly see why she should not..." John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry had failed on October 18, 1859. Brown's trial hurriedly began on October 27, and after a seven day trial, he was found guilty of murder, treason, and conspiracy. At the date of this letter, Brown's wife had not arrived in Washington. She would finally arrive on December 1, a day before his execution.

    Sanborn's second letter (1 page, 5.25" x 8.25") written from Worcester, Massachusetts on November 24, 1859 is brief and urgent in tone: "I have just come from Boston and go to Concord tonight. Redpath must go to Ohio - that is our only chance of rescuing Brown, and I have written him to do so..." Redpath is no doubt fellow abolitionist and journalist James Redpath. He would later write a sympathetic biography of Brown after his execution.

    The last letter (2pp, 5.25" x 8.25") dated December 25 [1859] is written two weeks after the Senate has begun investigating Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, the final report of which is included in this lot: "...You are not allowed to withhold evidence which criminates yourself in your examination before the Senate Committee. This is an important fact; before I knew it I determined to go to Washington, now I shall not if I can help it. You are liable to a year's imprisonment and a fine of $1000, if you refuse to answer any question...I hope you burn all my letters about these things..." Light age toning, else very good condition.

    Included is the Senate Report to inquire into the late invasions and seizure of the public property at Harper's Ferry. (Washington: U.S. Government, June 15, 1860), 256 pages, octavo, brown boards embossed with eagle motif, front free endpaper in which Sanborn has noted that he received the copy from Charles Sumner: "F. B. Sanborn / From Hon C. Sumner". Described is the raid on Harper's Ferry followed by testimony. Edge chipping to covers, duct tape on spine, bleed-through from the inscription, light internal browning. Overall good condition.

    Journalist and social reformer Franklin Benjamin Sanborn was one of the "Secret Committee of Six" abolitionists who funded John Brown's illicit activities. Sanborn, in fact, briefly fled to Canada in order to avoid prosecution as an accessory to the Harper's Ferry Raid. Higginson, another member of the "Secret Six", was an Unitarian minister. He would later serve as colonel of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the first federally authorized African American regiment.

    Sanborn has added the following notations at the top of two of the letters: "Letters from F.B.S. to T.W. Higginson." Although he had originally requested that Higginson burn the letters upon receipt, he later recognized the value of preserving the content as a record of what had transpired. These fair copies likely date from the late 1860s, as is evidenced from the paper.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2011
    8th-9th Friday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 3
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 636

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $14) per lot.

    Sold for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2019 December 8 Civil War, Militaria, Arms & Armor Signature Auction - Dallas.

    Learn about consigning with us

    Thanks a million for getting approval to sell my Civil War Hospital Death Ledger! You made them AND ME , a nice profit. You are the best!
    Ed W.,
    Mount Vernon, OH
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search

    Recent auctions

    2019 July 16 - 18 The Armstrong Family Collection III Space Exploration Signature Auction - Dallas
    2019 July 16 - 18 The Armstrong Family Collection III Space Exploration Signature Auction - Dallas
    REALIZED SO FAR $4,640,331