The John Brown Bell – Marlboro, Massachusetts - Atlas Obscura

The John Brown Bell

Marlboro, Massachusetts

America's "second most important bell" is a contentious spoil of the Civil War. 


Often called “the second most important bell in America”, the John Brown Bell now stands in the town of Marlborough, Massachusetts.

In 1859, abolitionist John Brown led a raid on the armory in the town of Harpers Ferry seeking to spark an anti-slavery rebellion, but this effort ended when Marines under the command of Robert E. Lee stormed the building. Brown and ten of his men were later hanged for murder and treason.

Several years later, at the height of the Civil War, the valuable transportation hub of Harpers Ferry changed hands more than 50 times. A company of Union soldiers from the town of Marlborough, Massachusetts, ended up removing the armory bell and burying it in a nearby farmhouse. In 1892, following a soldiers’ reunion, the men remembered the bell and went back to recover it. They received permission from the War Department to keep their trophy, and since that time the bell has been on display in Marlborough.

In recent years there have been several campaigns, albeit unsuccessful ones, seeking the bell’s recovery. The two towns remain locked in a bitter feud, with Harpers Ferry seeking the return of its history, and Marlborough resorting to alarms and other advanced security systems to look after their prize. Although only time will tell where the John Brown Bell will eventually end up, it doesn’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon. 

Know Before You Go

Located in a park on the corner of Main and Bolton. On-street parking is available nearby.

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