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Dear Wife and Children Every One


John Brown's commitment to end slavery

Grade Level:

7th - 8th


The purpose of this lesson is to examine one aspect of John Brown’s life using a primary source. John Brown made a personal commitment when he decided to move to Kansas Territory to support the free-state cause. His commitment to ending slavery ultimately cost him his life. The primary source chosen for this lesson marks a turning point in John Brown’s life, the Battle of Osawatomie.

Primary sources are valuable tools to use when learning about the past. Types of primary sources include diaries, photographs, census records, letters, and maps.

Primary source materials are used as the basis for drawing conclusions or interpretations of past events. They are pieces from which we form a picture of the past.

Primary sources are not unbiased. They are influenced by the point of view of the person telling the story. For example, if two of your friends had a disagreement and e-mailed you about it each would probably tell only his, or her, side of the story. Both e-mails probably contain true information, but most likely neither contains all the information you need to fully understand what happened. It is important to learn to analyze primary sources for bias and credibility.

Standards addressed:

Kansas History, Government, and Social Studies Standards:

Standard 1: Choices have consequences.

  • Benchmark 1.2:  The student will analyze the context under which choices are made and draw conclusions about the motivations and goals of the decision-makers.

KCCRS Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies:

  • RH.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary sources; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
  • RH.6: Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).

KCCRS Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies:

  • WHST.2: Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events.
  • WHST.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.



  • John Brown believed violence was justified if it made Kansas a free state.
  • John Brown made a personal commitment to the abolitionist cause.


  • Primary source
  • Evaluate a written source
  • Writing
  • Retelling

Essential Questions:

  • What actions did John Brown take to support his
    abolitionist beliefs?
  • What sacrifices did John Brown make in his
    efforts to make Kansas a free state?


  • worksheet analysis of the John Brown letter
  • class discussion
  • newspaper article writing assignment


  1. Introduce theme of Kansas Territory, free-state, the struggle over the slavery issue.
  2. Introduce students to John Brown with the “Student Reading” worksheet.
  3. Explore Brown’s actions and personal commitment to the abolitionist cause in Kansas Territory with the worksheet “John Brown Speaks.”
  4. Using the focus questions for this lesson, lead a discussion about the students’ exploration of John Brown through this letter from John Brown to his family, September 7, 1856.
  5. The Battle of Osawatomie propelled John Brown to national recognition as accounts of it appeared in newspapers throughout the nation. Have students write a newspaper article about the Battle of Osawatomie from John Brown’s perspective.

Download the Complete Lesson Plan

This lesson plan was originally prepared by the Education and Outreach Division, Kansas State Historical Society for Territorial Kansas Online. The standards cited in the pdf form of the lesson plan were those from the 1999 Kansas State Standards. On this preview of the lesson we have made every attempt to match them to the 2013 Kansas History, Government, and Social Studies Standards and Kansas College and Career Ready Literacy Standards.