The government of Virginia executed the abolitionist John Brown because of his role as the leader in the Harper's Ferry raid. In this attack, Brown and a group of 21 men seized a federal armory and held several dozen hostages in an attempt to inspire a slave insurrection.
John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry took place on Oct. 16, 1859. The raid was a failure. No slaves revolted as a result of his actions, and a militia quickly surrounded Brown's positions and attacked, killing 10 of Brown's men and wounding and capturing Brown himself. His execution on Dec. 2, 1859, sparked outrage from abolitionists, who considered him a martyr for the cause, and many analysts credit his trial and death as one of the catalysts of the Civil War.