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Harpers Ferry Revolver

John Brown follower Albert Hazlett used this revolver at the Harpers Ferry rebellion

Albert Hazlett wanted to start a rebellion. Armed with this Colt revolver, Hazlett followed radical abolitionist John Brown to Harpers Ferry, Virginia, to incite a slave revolt. Their actions helped provoke the Civil War--a dramatic rebellion indeed, although not the type Hazlett had envisioned.

"I am willing to die in the cause of liberty, if I had ten thousand lives I would willingly lay them all down for the same cause."--Albert Hazlett, 1859

Albert Hazlett's journey to Harpers Ferry began in Kansas, where he had settled in 1856 at a turbulent time in the territory's history. During the 1850s, anti- and proslavery forces battled over whether Kansas would become a free or slave state. Hazlett settled near Prescott, in southeastern Kansas, and soon befriended James Montgomery, a local abolitionist known to conduct violent assaults against proslavery Missourians.

Albert Hazlett

Meeting John Brown

Hazlett was fully dedicated to the antislavery cause by the time he met Montgomery's most notorious associate, John Brown. Since his arrival in Kansas, Brown had been a nationally recognized (although controversial) leader in the free state movement. Unlike most abolitionists, Brown advocated using violence to end slavery. His conduct in Kansas led to deadly clashes with proslavery forces at Pottawatomie Creek and Osawatomie, resulting in national headlines, allegations of murder, and the death of one of his own sons.

The charismatic Brown enlisted Hazlett in his most dramatic plan: a slave revolt. The fiery abolitionist rejected slavery on moral and ethical grounds. Not only did he want to prevent its spread, but he sought its complete destruction. Brown believed slaves would rise up against their oppressors if properly armed. He assumed the revolt, once begun, would spread throughout the South.

Harpers Ferry

John Brown and 21 followers, including Hazlett, descended on the community of Harpers Ferry, Virginia on October 16, 1859. Their goal was to seize the town's federal arsenal and distribute weapons to slaves throughout the countryside. After their initial success at capturing the arsenal, Hazlett was assigned to guard it while Brown and the other men dealt with resistance from townspeople and a local militia. Federal soldiers soon arrived and began to overwhelm Brown's forces.

Hazlett, standing, with fellow conspirators in a jail cell after Harpers FerrySensing failure, Hazlett fled to the nearby hills at nightfall. From there, he witnessed Brown's capture. Hazlett then headed north on foot, but quickly developed debilitating blisters that forced him to remain overnight at a nearby tavern. On the run and strapped for cash, Hazlett bartered away his only possession, the revolver pictured here.

Four days later, Hazlett was apprehended near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and extradited to Charles Town, Virginia. There he stood trial and was executed along with Brown and the other conspirators. While the assault on Harpers Ferry did not lead to a larger slave rebellion, the potential for such plots by abolitionists sparked paranoia throughout the South and helped fuel the secessionist movement in 1861.

In 1915 this revolver was donated to the collections of the Kansas State Historical Society. It is in the collections of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.

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Entry: Harpers Ferry Revolver

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2009

Date Modified: September 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.