After Brown’s first wife, Dianthe Lusk, died after giving birth to their seventh child, he hired a new housekeeper. This housekeeper’s sister was Mary Ann Day. Brown fell in love with her, and they married in 1833. Together, the couple had thirteen children, only six of which survived to adulthood. Only four of those children outlived Brown  [1][2].

Mary was an active in the anti-slavery cause in her own right; she took part in Brown’s efforts to aid African Americans. In a letter to his brother Frederick in late 1834, Brown wrote “that he had been trying to devise ways to help those in bondage” [3]. Brown then stated that he, “his wife, and three sons had agreed to seek out a Black boy and bring him up as one of the family, giving him a good education”. They hoped, Brown continued, “that such a boy be obtained without charge from a Christian slave holder.” If that did not work, they would try to raise a free Black boy. If that also did not work, “they would suggest themselves to considerable privation in order to buy a young [enslaved] boy” [4], [5].

Nothing came of this, but it is important to note that Mary was part of this plan and supported and influenced Brown in his endeavors to help the enslaved. Although there is no written record regarding just how much information Brown shared with Mary, she “had ‘always been the sharer of his plans’ and was as convinced as John was that he was an ‘instrument in the hands of Providence’” [6], [7].

Even when Brown was away from his family, he wrote to Mary and shared his thoughts and plans. In one letter, dated January 8, 1847, Brown, living in Springfield, MA at the time, wrote that his long absence from his family “made him even more sensitive to the lot of the vast number of slaves who experienced separation from their loved ones with almost no hope of seeing them again in this life” [8].

Use the StoryMap below to learn more about Mary Brown and her travels with and without her husband.

Visualization created by Jessica Thelen and edited Michelle Byrnes. 


[1] “The Wives and Children of John Brown.” Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, National Park Service, .

[2] “The Wives and Children of John Brown.”

[3] Quarles, Benjamin. Allies For Freedom: Blacks and John Brown. Oxford University Press, 1974, p. 16. 

[4] Quarles 16. 

[5] Quarles 16. 

[6] Toledo, Gregory. The Hanging Of Old Brown: A Story Of Slaves, Statesmen, And Redemption. 

Praeger, 2002, p. 237. 

[7] Toledo 237. 

[8] Toledo 18.