John Brown Bell

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John Brown Bell
John Brown Bell.jpg
The bell on display in Marlborough, Massachusetts
General information
LocationMarlborough, Massachusetts
CountryUnited States
Coordinates42°20′51″N 71°32′44″W / 42.34747°N 71.54549°W / 42.34747; -71.54549Coordinates: 42°20′51″N 71°32′44″W / 42.34747°N 71.54549°W / 42.34747; -71.54549

The John Brown Bell, in Marlborough, Massachusetts, is a distinguished American Civil War-era bell that has been called the "second-most important bell in American history", after the Liberty Bell.[1]


At one time the bell was kept in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, but since 1862 the John Brown Bell has been in Marlborough, Massachusetts, and is currently located in a special tower built for the bell on Union Common in downtown Marlborough.[2]

In 1859, abolitionist John Brown led a raid on the Harpers Ferry Armory, the second armory built in the U.S. Brown had intended to use the bell to alert slaves in the surrounding countryside that the revolt had begun. The raid ended when Marines under the command of Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee stormed the building. Brown and 10 of his men were later hanged for murder and treason.

Two years later, with the Civil War beginning, a Marlborough unit in the Union Army took the bell from the Harpers Ferry Armory after being ordered to seize anything of value to the U.S. government to prevent it from falling into the hands of Lee's Confederate army.

Knowing their hook and ladder company in Marlborough needed a bell, the soldiers removed the 700-to-800-pound (320 to 360 kg) device and got permission from the War Department to keep it.[1]

Controversy over ownership[edit]

Over the years, citizens of Harpers Ferry have tried in vain to have the bell returned to be exhibited in the John Brown Wax Museum or the reconstructed firehouse where John Brown was captured by Col. Robert E. Lee. "In the past, several mayors have tried to have it returned, but basically it's difficult to do. I suppose it requires a lot of energy that, frankly, no one has," James A. Addy, mayor of the Appalachian town of 310 that is about 60 miles (97 km) from Washington, D.C., said. "I believe the bell is wired with an alarm, so it can't be surreptitiously taken, like at night."[3] "Oh, they've wanted it back," said Joan Abshire, a member of the Marlborough Historical Society who recently finished a comprehensive study of the bell. "When I went down there (for research), they always said, 'Well, where's the bell?" The men from Marlborough saved it from obliteration, claimed Gary Brown, chairman of the city's Historical Commission, "Had they not taken the bell, it wouldn't exist. Virtually every bell in the South was melted down for munitions."[1]


Further reading[edit]