Before Brown left Springfield in 1850, the United States passed the Fugitive Slave Act , a law which mandated that authorities in free states aid in the return of escaped slaves and imposed penalties on those who aided in their escape. In response Brown founded a militant group to prevent slaves' capture—the League of Gileadites. In the Bible, Mount Gilead was the place where only the bravest of Israelites would gather together to face an invading enemy. Brown founded the League with these words, "Nothing so charmes the American people as personal bravery. [Blacks] would have ten times the number [of white friends than] they now have were they but half as much in earnest to secure their dearest rights as they are to ape the follies and extravagances of their white neighbors, and to indulge in idle show, in ease, and in luxury."  Upon leaving Springfield in 1850, Brown instructed the League to act "quickly, quietly, and efficiently" to protect slaves that escaped to Springfield—words that would foreshadow Brown's later actions preceding Harper's Ferry.  From Brown's founding of the League of Gileadites onward, not one person was ever taken back into slavery from Springfield. Brown gave his rocking chair to the mother of his beloved black porter, Thomas Thomas, as a gesture of affection. 
The Van Wickle Gates, dedicated on June 18, 1901, have a pair of smaller side gates that are open year-round, and a large central gate that is opened two days a year for Convocation and Commencement. At Convocation the gate opens inward to admit the procession of new students. At Commencement the gate opens outward for the procession of graduates.  A Brown superstition is that students who walk through the central gate a second time prematurely will not graduate, although walking backwards is said to cancel the hex. Members of the Brown University Band famously flout the superstition by walking through the gate three times too many, as they annually play their role in the Commencement parade.