Historical Markers
John Brown's Tannery Historical Marker
Mouse over for marker text

John Brown's Tannery

Lake Erie Region


Marker Location:
Township Road of PA 717, New Richmond

Dedication Date:
November 18, 1946

Behind the Marker

Best known for his failed raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, John Brown (1800-1859) was a businessman as well as a revolutionary. This marker serves as an important reminder that the abolitionist was not always the commercial failure that popular legend suggests.
John Brown's New Richmond tannery was successful for several years, employing 15 people. Its ruins are still visible today.
Remains of John Brown's tannery, New Richmond, PA, circa 2000.

According to biographer Stephen Oates, Brown was the first entrepreneur, or independent businessman, in New Richmond, Pennsylvania. To build a small factory with fifteen employees was an impressive accomplishment and his neighbors recognized his abilities by treating him as a respectable citizen and community leader. Although he was already an outspoken abolitionist, Brown served as the town's postmaster for seven years. He also ran a private school for local children and organized religious services conducted in his tannery.

The business, however, did not thrive for long. While in Richmond, Brown suffered a severe illness, lost his wife Dianthe and a newborn son, and became "more and more unfit for everything." His neighbors helped, sending a housekeeper to help care for his five surviving children. Before long, he recovered and remarried sixteen-year-old Mary Ann Day, but he could not save his tannery. In 1835, Brown moved his family to Kent, Ohio, where he started another tannery, hoping for better luck. He never again found much financial success, but he became increasingly determined to make his mark in the campaign against slavery.