Today I’m delighted to be sharing an excerpt from Susan Higginbotham’s new novel, John Brown’s Women, as part of a blog tour hosted by by The Coffee Pot Book Club. John Brown’s Women spans three decades and follows the lives of three women in the life of Abolitionist John Brown – his wife Mary, his daughter Annie, and his daughter-in-law Wealthy.
For the time being, though, no one else at North Elba showed much inclination for Father’s plan. Oliver went to Connecticut to work for a man there—a venture supported by both his parents, who thought that the guerilla life in Kansas had made him a bit wild.
Watson and Salmon were busy with their farm duties and with their girls, not necessarily in that order. Brother John and Jason, back in Ohio, were farming. Henry Thompson, still feeling some effects from his wound, did what he could on his farm and enjoyed his new daughter.
The boys are resolved to learn and practice war no more, Mother wrote to Father. His return letter, which Mother of course read to the family, was philosophical enough, but still Annie brooded over the matter. Was he disappointed in the boys? It was a pity she couldn’t make it up to him by going herself. Even Wealthy had wielded a weapon in Kansas, albeit without having to use it. Annie knew, though, that Father wouldn’t approve of her going at her age—just over thirteen—even if she wasn’t laboring under the disability of being a girl. He had been reluctant to let young Oliver go to Kansas, although in the end, Oliver had just up and went anyway.
Annie felt even worse when Father, who had fallen ill with the ague that still plagued him from time to time, came home in early April to recuperate. But he said little about his plans and allowed Mother to nurse him, much to her gratification. With her ministrations, he was soon well enough to stand in the Thompson parlor and watch Watson marry Bell. “It’s good to have another Thompson in the family,” he said, surprising Bell by kissing her on the cheek.
Annie studiously ignored Dauphin’s glance in her direction. She was way too young to worry herself with that sort of thing.
The wedding was barely over when Father announced his intention to set off; he planned to do a little more fundraising before finally heading to Kansas. When he might return to North Elba, no one knew, so this time, Annie watched for her chance to catch him alone. “Father,” she asked coaxingly, “what happened with those men in Kansas? Doyle and the rest?”
To her father’s credit, he didn’t tell her that it was nothing for her to trouble her silly girlish head about. “It is something about which I care not to speak.”
“But can you tell me if you and the boys killed them, yes or no? I won’t blame you if you say yes.”
Her father gave a glimmer of a smile. “That is very rational and thoughtful of you. Still, it is a question I prefer not to answer.”
“You’re a clever girl. I think you know the answer to that question already.”
She did, in fact. It was written on the faces of all the boys, and it explained their war-weariness now. With her father all but confirming her belief, she found that her love for all of them had not lowered a whit. “I wish I could help in Kansas.”
“You’re better off staying here and going to school. This country needs more sensible women. And the conditions there were very, very hard. The ague is as vicious as the Border Ruffians.”
“Wealthy and Ellen went.”
“They were grown women. I had no say over their choices. I’m not sure their husbands did either; they can be rather forceful ladies when they care to be. You are too young and, to be quite frank, you would be a drag upon the rest because our first concern would have to be your safety. I cannot let you go to Kansas.” Seeing her scowl, he added, “But that does not mean I may not need your help in other ways, or that you cannot be of use when you are older. In the meantime, you can be most helpful by assisting your mother with the farm. I think I have made it quite clear that her service is valuable.”
It was clear that they had reached an impasse. Annie nodded, but as she began to retreat, her father said, “We never know what we may be called upon to do or when. Remember that, Annie.”
As the United States wrestles with its besetting sin—slavery—abolitionist John Brown is growing tired of talk. He takes actions that will propel the nation toward civil war and thrust three courageous women into history.
Wealthy Brown, married to John Brown’s oldest son, eagerly falls in with her husband’s plan to settle in Kansas. Amid clashes between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, Wealthy’s adventure turns into madness, mayhem, and murder.
Fifteen-year-old Annie Brown is thrilled when her father summons her to the farm he has rented in preparation for his raid. There, she guards her father’s secrets while risking her heart.
Mary Brown never expected to be the wife of John Brown, much less the wife of a martyr. When her husband’s daring plan fails, Mary must travel into hostile territory, where she finds the eyes of the nation riveted upon John—and upon her.
Spanning three decades, John Brown’s Women is a tale of love and sacrifice, and of the ongoing struggle for America to achieve its promise of liberty and justice for all.
John Brown’s Women is available at
Susan Higginbotham is the author of a number of historical novels set in medieval and Tudor England and, more recently, nineteenth-century America, including The Traitor’s Wife, The Stolen Crown, Hanging Mary, and The First Lady and the Rebel. She and her family, human and four-footed, live in Maryland, just a short drive from where John Brown made his last stand. When not writing or procrastinating, Susan enjoys traveling and collecting old photographs.
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Book Title: John Brown’s Women: A Novel
Author: Susan Higginbotham
Publication Date: 7th December 2021
Publisher: Onslow Press
Page Length: 402 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction