John Brown (1800-1859) was a great abolitionist who dedicated his life to putting an end to slavery. After failing as a businessman, Brown turned abolitionist and first earned his reputation in Kansas during that state's free-state pro-slavery struggles. Brown visited St. Catharines in 1858 and met with Harriet Tubman, the great conductor of the Underground Railroad. Brown nicknamed Harriet "General Tubman" and later travelled to Boston with her. Brown felt that he could overthrow the American government and end slavery through militant action. It was his objective to develop a base in the Appalachian Mountains from which "guerilla warfare" style raids could be executed.
Brown believed that freed slaves would immediately enlist with his band and help to force plantation owners and government officials into submission. Brown chose Chatham in Canada West as the place to devise his military strategies and constitution of the provisional government that he felt would later exist.