Open main menu

John Henry Kagey, also spelled John Henrie Kagi (March 15, 1835 – October 17, 1859), was an American attorney, abolitionist and second in command to John Brown in Brown's failed raid on Harper's Ferry. He bore the title of "Secretary of War" in Brown's "provisional government." At age 24, Kagi was killed during the raid.[1] He had also been active in fighting on the abolitionist side in 1856 in "Bleeding Kansas".

Early lifeEdit

John H. Kagi

John Henry Kagi was born in Bristolville, Ohio, in 1835, the second child of blacksmith Abraham Neff Kagy (as spelled on his gravestone) and Anna Fansler, who were of Swiss descent. John Henry Kagi adopted the Swiss spelling of the family name.

Though largely self-taught, he was the best educated of Brown's raiders. Several of his letters to national newspapers survive, including those to the New York Tribune, the New York Evening Post, and the National Era. He was an able businessman, totally abstained from alcohol, and was agnostic.

In 1854-55 he taught school in Hawkinstown, Shenandoah County, Virginia near his father's birthplace, but he was compelled to leave due to his anti-slavery views. A relative, the Virginia historian Dr. John W. Wayland, wrote the most complete monograph on Kagi and his activities.

Abolitionist activitiesEdit

In 1855, Kagi traveled west and stayed at the cabin of his sister Barbara Kagy Mayhew and her husband Allen in Nebraska City. He helped them create a cave under their cabin to be used by fugitive slaves as a station of the Underground Railroad. Today the Mayhew Cabin is the only site in Nebraska recognized by the National Park Service as part of that escape system.[2]

Kagi was admitted to the Nebraska bar that year, but he soon went south to join the fighting in Bleeding Kansas on the abolitionist side with General James H. Lane. New settlers were coming in on both sides of the slavery issue before the state voted for admission to the Union. Later Kagi enlisted in Aaron Stevens's ("Captain Whipple's") Second Kansas Militia, and met the abolitionist John Brown in Lawrence. Deeply influenced by the man, Stevens and Kagi became two of Brown's closest advisers.[3]

On August 16, 1856, Kagi participated in the attack on "Fort Titus," the homestead of pro-slavery leader Henry Theodore Titus, a mile from Lecompton, Kansas. He was captured a month later by United States Army troops along with 100 men of Col. Harvey's company, who had just attacked Hickory Point. Kagi was charged with eight counts, including arson, manslaughter and murder.[4] He was imprisoned in Lecompton, then at Tecumseh, both in Kansas, escaping from the later place with other indicted Freestate prisoners. Kagi was slightly wounded in the chest in a gun fight with pro-slavery Judge Rush Elmore on January 31, 1857, but shot Elmore in the thigh. Later that year Kagi tried to help Brown organize a military school in Tabor, Iowa. He undertook military training in the Quaker community of Pedee, in Cedar County, Iowa.

Brown and his group went to Upper Canada to organize their effort. On May 8, 1858 in a black church in Chatham, Ontario, they adopted Brown's "Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the people of the United States", and Kagi was named Secretary of War.[3]

Kagi and Brown returned with their men to Kansas, where they lived in a reinforced cabin on Little Sugar Creek, near Mound City. In November 1858, Kagi and others defended the cabin from an armed posse while Brown was away. On December 20, 1858 Brown led twelve men, and Kagi led another party of eight men, into Missouri to free slaves. Brown's party freed ten slaves, but Kagi's freed only one and killed the slave's owner.[3][5]

While they planned the raid on Harper's Ferry, Kagi acted as the business agent of the Brown's group, buying and storing weapons in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. At Chambersburg he lived with Brown at the Mary Ritner house, which still stands at 225 East King Street. On August 19, Brown (using the name Isaac Smith) and Kagi met with Frederick Douglass and Shields Green at an abandoned quarry outside of Chambersburg to discuss the raid.[6][7] According to Douglass's later account, Brown described the planned raid in detail and Douglass advised him against it.

Kagi was killed by militia forces during the Harper's Ferry raid as he tried to escape across the Shenandoah River from Hall's Rifle Works.[1] In 1899 the remains of Kagi and nine other raiders were reinterred in a common grave near John Brown's grave at North Elba, New York.

In popular cultureEdit

As a character in the novels:


  1. ^ a b Karen Whitman, "Re-evaluating John Brown's Raid at Harpers Ferry" Archived 2007-09-29 at the Wayback Machine, West Virginia Culture, accessed April 12, 2007
  2. ^ Mayhew Cabin[permanent dead link] accessed April 12, 2007
  3. ^ a b c William G. Cutler, "Old John Brown", In Memoriam, Era of Peace: Part 40, History of the State of Kansas, Chicago, Illinois: A. T. Andreas, 1883, accessed 27 January 2011
  4. ^ "Washington-National-Era_11-27-1856-191.pdf" (PDF). 1856-11-05.
  5. ^ "John Brown in Linn County" Archived 2007-04-21 at the Wayback Machine accessed April 12, 2007
  6. ^ "John Brown House", Aboard the Underground Railway, National Park Service, accessed 3/25/2007
  7. ^ excerpt from The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, (1881, reprint New York: Pathway Press, 1941), pp. 350-354 accessed 3/25/2007

External linksEdit