The Price of Freedom: Americans at War Home Collection Search

Object Record

    New Search

John Brown Pike
Armed Forces History, Division of History of Technology, National Museum of American History

John Brown Pike

Date: 1856
Catalog #: 7738    Accession #: 35097
Credit: Division of Military History & Diplomacy, National Museum of American History


Charles Blair (Manufacturer)

In 1857 on a fundraising trip to the East, John Brown contracted with blacksmith Charles Blair of Collinsville, Connecticut to make several hundred pikes. Brown had the pikes designed in the fashion of a Bowie knife he had taken from a captured pro-slavery Missourian during the Kansas-Missouri Border War. Blair was a forge master working for Collins and Company who made quality edged tools. He agreed to make 1000 pikes for Brown at $1 a piece, payable in installments. After making 500 weapons, Blair halted production because Brown failed to pay him. Blair held the pikes for two years. In 1859, Brown reappeared at Blair's door with the needed funds to purchase 954 pikes and requested that they be forwarded to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Brown intended to issue these inexpensive weapons to an army of slave insurgents.

Dimensions / Weight

Dimensions: 71" H x 4.5" W x 1.25" D

Physical Description

Forged metal on wooden shaft.

General History

As a boy of five, John Brown witnessed a slave his own age being beaten with a fire shovel. He vowed to become a foe of slavery. By the mid-1800s, Brown was fulfilling his vow. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 allowed the two territories to decide the issue of slavery by a popular ballot. The fight in Kansas was so intense that the state earned the nickname of “Bleeding Kansas.” As Missouri pro-slavery, “Ruffians” flocked to Kansas, New England abolitionists bankrolled “Free-Soilers” to move to the settlement of Lawrence, Kansas. Henry Ward Beecher raised money to purchase Sharp's rifles for use by antislavery forces in Kansas. Rifles, said Beecher, are “a greater moral agency than the Bible” in the fight against slavery. The guns were packed in crates labeled "Bibles" so they would not arouse suspicion. Soon the Sharps rifles sent to Kansas were referred to as “Beecher’s Bibles.” In 1856, after abolitionists were attacked in Lawrence, John Brown led a raid on scattered cabins along the Pottawatomie Creek, killing five people. Kansas would not become a state until 1861, after the Confederate states seceded. John Brown had another plan to bring about an end to slavery, a slave uprising. Brown contracted with Charles Blair, a forge master in Collinsville, Connecticut, to make 950 pikes for a dollar a piece. Brown would issue the pike to the slaves as they revolted. On 16 October 1859, Brown led his group to Harpers Ferry where he took over the arsenal and waited for the slaves to revolt. The revolt never came. Two days later Robert E. Lee and his troops overran the raiders and captured John Brown. Brown was found guilty of murder, treason, and of inciting slave insurrection and On 2 December 1859, he was hanged.


Country: United States
State: Virginia
War: Civil War
Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Printable ScriptVisit the MuseumEducationCredits