On the evening of December 3rd, 1859, a steamboat arrived from Philadelphia. On board was Theodore Tilton, a Brooklyn abolitionist and friend and colleague of Henry Ward Beecher. The ship carried the body of abolitionist John Brown, executed by hanging the previous day in Charles Town Virginia for his armed raid at Harper’s Ferry. The body was taken to an undertaker at 163 Bowery, McGraw and Taylor. A Quaker named Jacob Hopper dressed the body, along with Charley Carpenter, a sexton at St. Marks Church in the Bowery. The next day, word got out of the presence of John Brown’s body, and many onlookers came to get a glimpse of this figure. Brown was then shipped up the Hudson River to North Elba, New York, where he was buried.
Brown was considered a hero by many abolitionists and freed slaves, and praised in eulogies by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was also vilified by many, especially in the South. His raid and execution contributed to the tensions that led to the American Civil War less than two years later.