John Brown’s Women

As the United States wrestles with its besetting sin—slavery—abolitionist John Brown is growing tired of talk. He takes actions that will propel the nation toward civil war and thrust three courageous women into history.

Wealthy Brown, married to John Brown’s oldest son, eagerly falls in with her husband’s plan to settle in Kansas. Amid clashes between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, Wealthy’s adventure turns into madness, mayhem, and murder.

Fifteen-year-old Annie Brown is thrilled when her father summons her to the farm he has rented in preparation for his raid. There, she guards her father’s secrets while risking her heart.

Mary Brown never expected to be the wife of John Brown, much less the wife of a martyr. When her husband’s daring plan fails, Mary must leave her isolated home for hostile territory, where she finds the eyes of the nation riveted upon John—and upon her.

Spanning three decades and half the breadth of a nation, John Brown’s Women is a tale of love and sacrifice, and of the ongoing struggle for America to achieve its promise of liberty and justice for all.


Deep in the night, something awoke Mary—a light playing on the walls of the room where she slept. She looked out the window and saw a lantern-carrying figure—nay, two figures—heading in the direction of the barn. Presently, the two of them disappeared into the barn, and after a longish interval, a single figure headed back from whence it had come. Mary heard the door open and a quiet step make its way to the room where the three older boys slept. Silence fell upon the house.

Mary lay back down and frowned up at the ceiling. She was certain the figure that had stayed inside the barn was a woman, and if she were not mistaken, the other figure had been John Jr. But why on earth would he sneak off with a woman? If he had been a few years older, the answer would have been shamefully obvious, but he was not even twelve yet and did not strike Mary as being a particularly worldly youth anyway. Mary was tempted to wake Betsy, who would not have hesitated to barge into the boys’ room and find out what was going on, but she did not want to get young John in trouble with his father. Betsy had informed her that Mr. Brown was a strict disciplinarian, though Mary had yet to see him whip one of the children.

Nothing was amiss when Mary woke the next morning. John Jr. was as bright-eyed as ever as Betsy served him breakfast. Still, Mary noticed that he did not eat his bread and butter; when he left the table, he wrapped it up in a napkin and left the house.

Mary was quiet, but she was as curious as any other sixteen-year-old girl. After a decent interval, she left the house. Sure enough, John Jr. was walking to the barn.

Mary followed at a discreet distance. She and Betsy were opposites in almost every way, but they had one thing in common: the Brown children hadn’t really warmed to them. Oh, they were polite, and they did what Betsy bid, but it was clear their hearts weren’t in it. Mary could understand; their mother had been dead for less than six months. She and Betsy were poor substitutes, and hired substitutes at that. Even the younger two children treated them warily, although Frederick, who had a fey quality about him, would occasionally forget himself and snuggle in Betsy’s lap. The chances of John Jr. confiding in Mary were not high.

When John Jr. went inside the barn, Mary remained outside—there was such a thing as being too obvious. Finally, he reappeared, and she tried to look as if it was pure chance that she happened to be outside the barn.

To her surprise, John hastened up to her. “Miss Day, how fast can you make a dress?”

Praise for John Brown’s Women

“An absolutely fantastic read with characters who will stay with you long after you’ve put the book down.”

—Michelle Moran, internationally bestselling author of MADAME TUSSAUD

“[A] new and refreshing perspective on John Brown, the abolitionist who was hanged in Virginia to end slavery in 1859—soon before the Civil War, which he is often credited (or blamed) for beginning. . . . The historical accuracy of events in the John Brown story footnoted in biographies is enriched with the author’s expertise of life in the 19th century. . . . Highly recommended.” 

—Jean Libby, retired history instructor, author of John Brown’s Family in California (2006) and John Brown Photo Chronology; catalog of the exhibition at Harpers Ferry 2009 (2009,2016)



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