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Title: John Brown's Raid - National Park Service History Series
Author: Service, National Park
Language: English
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                           JOHN BROWN’S RAID

                 _National Park Service History Series
             Office of Publications, National Park Service,
           U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C._

  John Brown’s Raid                                                     1
  The Road to Harpers Ferry                                             2
  Rendezvous for Revolution                                            12
  To Free the Slaves                                                   25
  The Tiger Caged                                                      35
  The Trap is Sprung                                                   43
  John Brown’s Body                                                    49
  Epilogue                                                             61
  Appendix: The Capture of John Brown                                  65
  Selected Reading List                                                70

    [Illustration: _John Brown's Fort, Harpers Ferry_]

  Publications and is based on National Park Service reports by William
  C. Everhart and Arthur L. Sullivan._

  _National Park Handbooks are published to support the National Park
  Service’s management programs and to promote understanding and
  enjoyment of the more than 350 National Park System sites, which
  represent important examples of our country’s natural and cultural
  inheritance. Each handbook is intended to be informative reading and a
  useful guide before, during, and after a park visit. More than 100
  titles are in print. They are sold at parks and can be purchased by
  mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing
  Office, Washington, DC 20402._

  _Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is administered by the
  National Park Service, US. Department of the Interior. A
  superintendent, whose address is Harpers Ferry, WV 25425, is in
  immediate charge._

           Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

  United States National Park Service.
  John Brown’s raid.
  National Park Service history series
  Supt. of Docs. no.: 129-2: J61/4.
  1. Harpers Ferry. W. Va. John Brown Raid. 1859.
    I. Title.
    II. Series: United States. National Park Service. History series.
  E451.U58 1974 973.7’116 73-600184

  “_All through the conflict, up and down
  Marched Uncle Tom and Old John Brown,
  One ghost, one form ideal;
  And which was false and which was true,
  And which was mightier of the two,
  The wisest sibyl never knew.
  For both alike were real._”
                                                 _Oliver Wendell Holmes_
                                                         _June 14, 1882_

    [Illustration: This view of Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights in
    1859 appeared in _Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper_ shortly
    after John Brown’s raid brought the town to national prominence.]

                           JOHN BROWN’^S RAID

Through the gloom of the night, Sunday, October 16, 1859, a small band
of men tramped silently behind a horse-drawn wagon down a winding
Maryland road leading to Harpers Ferry, Va. From the shoulder of each
man hung loosely a Sharps rifle, hidden by long gray shawls that
protected the ghostly figures against the chilling air of approaching
winter. A slight drizzle of rain veiled the towering Blue Ridge
Mountains with an eerie mist. Not a sound broke the stillness, save the
tramping feet and the creaking wagon.

Side by side marched lawyer and farmer, escaped convict and pious
Quaker, Spiritualist and ex-slave, joined in common cause by a hatred of
slavery. Some had received their baptism of fire in “Bleeding Kansas,”
where a bitter 5-year war between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions
left death and destruction in its wake and foreshadowed a larger
conflict to come. Most were students of guerrilla tactics; all were
willing to die to free the slaves.

This strange little force, five Negroes and 14 whites, was the
“Provisional Army of the United States,” about to launch a fantastic
scheme to rid the country of its “peculiar institution” once and for
all, a scheme conjured up by the fierce-eyed, bearded man seated on the
wagon—“Commander in Chief” John Brown. He was the planner, the
organizer, the driving force, the reason why these men were trudging
down this rough Maryland road to an uncertain fate.

                       THE ROAD TO HARPERS FERRY

This man who would electrify the Nation and bring it closer to civil war
by his audacious attack on slavery was born at Torrington, Conn., on May
9, 1800, the son of Owen and Ruth Mills Brown. The Browns were a simple,
frugal, and hard-working family. They had a deep and abiding interest in
religion, and from earliest childhood John Brown was taught the value of
strong religious habits. He was required, along with his brothers and
sisters, to participate in daily Bible reading and prayer sessions.
“Fear God & keep his commandments” was his father’s constant admonition.
It was also his father who taught him to view the enslavement of Negroes
as a sin against God.

    [Illustration: Owen Brown]

    [Illustration: The future abolitionist and martyr in the cause of
    Negro freedom was born in this stark, shutterless farmhouse in
    Torrington, Conn. He lived here only 5 years. In 1805 his father,
    Owen Brown (above), sold the farm and moved the family west to

In 1805 the Browns, like many other families of the period, moved west
to Ohio. There, in the little settlement of Hudson, about 25 miles south
of Cleveland, John grew to manhood. He received little formal education;
most of what he learned came from what he afterwards called the “School
of adversity.” He cared little for studies, preferring life in the open.
Consistently choosing the “hardest & roughest” kinds of play because
they afforded him “almost the only compensation for the confinement &
restraints of school,” he was extremely proud of his ability to
“wrestle, & Snow ball, & run, & jump, & knock off old seedy Wool hats.”

    [Illustration: John Brown probably never saw a slave auction,
    portrayed here in an illustration from the 1852 edition of Harriet
    Beecher Stowe’s _Uncle Tom’s Cabin_, but his horror and hatred of
    slavery made its destruction the “greatest or principle object” of
    his life.]

When John was 8 years old his mother died, and for awhile he believed
that he would never recover from so “complete & permanent” a loss. His
father remarried, but John never accepted his stepmother emotionally and
“continued to pine after his own Mother for years.”

An indifferent student, and “not ... much of a schollar” anyway, John
quit school and went to work at his father’s tannery. Owen Brown, who
had been a tanner and a shoemaker before moving to Hudson, had already
taught his son the art of dressing leather from “Squirel, Raccoon, Cat,
Wolf, or Dog Skins,” and John soon displayed remarkable ability in the
trade. When the War of 1812 broke out, Owen contracted to supply beef to
the American forces in Michigan. He gave John the task of rounding up
wild steers and other cattle in the woods and then driving them, all by
himself, to army posts more than 100 miles away. Contact with the
soldiers and their profanity and lack of discipline so disgusted young
Brown that he later resolved to pay fines rather than take part in the
militia drills required of all Hudson males of a certain age.

It was during the war, or so Brown later claimed, that he first came to
understand what his father meant about the evil of slavery. He had just
completed one of his cattle drives and was staying with a “very
gentlemanly landlord” who owned a slave about the same age as John. The
Negro boy was “badly clothed, poorly fed ... & beaten before his eyes
with Iron Shovels or any other thing that came first to hand.” Outraged
by this, John returned home “a most determined Abolitionist” swearing
“Eternal war with Slavery.”

    [Illustration: John Brown had not yet grown his famous beard when
    this picture was taken in Kansas in 1856. Though 3 years away from
    the deed that would make his name immortal, he had already begun his
    private war against slavery.]

    [Illustration: Mary Ann Day, Brown’s loyal and self-sacrificing
    second wife, stoically endured her husband’s constant wanderings in
    business and anti-slavery activities. She is shown here about 1851
    with two of their daughters, Annie and Sarah.]

In 1816 John joined the Congregational Church in Hudson and soon
developed a strong interest in becoming a minister. For a while he
attended a divinity school in Plainfield, Mass., then transferred to
another school in Litchfield, Conn. At that time Litchfield was a center
of abolitionist sentiment; it was also the birthplace of Harriet Beecher
Stowe, whose book _Uncle Tom’s Cabin_, published in 1852, would stir
passions North and South, win international support for the anti-slavery
cause, and help to bring on civil war in 1861. How much of Litchfield’s
abolitionist atmosphere young Brown absorbed is not known. A shortage of
funds and an inflammation of the eyes forced him to return to Ohio in
the summer of 1817. His dream of becoming a minister was forever
shattered, but he never lost his religious fervor.

When he was 20 years old, “led by his own inclination & prompted also by
his Father,” Brown married Dianthe Lusk, a “remarkably plain” and pious
girl a year younger than himself. She died 12 years later, in August
1832, following the birth of their seventh child. Brown remarried within
a year, and fathered 13 children by his second wife, Mary Ann Day. In a
never-ending struggle to feed and clothe his growing family, Brown
drifted through Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and
Massachusetts plying many trades. He worked at tanning, surveying, and
farming; at times he was shepherd, cattleman, wool merchant, and
postmaster; for a while he bred race horses and speculated in real
estate. Uniformly unsuccessful in these ventures, Brown’s debts mounted,
and he was barely able to keep his large family from starvation.

Despite his frequent business reversals and his strenuous and consuming
efforts to support his family, Brown never abandoned his intense desire
to free enslaved Negroes from bondage. His first opportunity to strike a
blow at the institution he hated so much came in Kansas, where,
following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, pro-slavery
“Border Ruffians” clashed brutally with anti-slavery “Jayhawkers” over
the extension of slavery to Kansas and Nebraska Territories.

    [Illustration: John Brown, Jr., the oldest of Brown’s sons, fought
    alongside his father in Kansas. The Pottawatomie murders, in which
    he took no part, caused him to suffer a mental collapse from which
    he never fully recovered. Nevertheless, in 1859 he was entrusted
    with forwarding the weapons for the attack on Harpers Ferry from
    Ohio to Chambersburg, Pa.]

Five of Brown’s sons—Owen, Jason, Frederick, Salmon, and John, Jr.—had
emigrated to Kansas and joined the free-soil cause. When they appealed
to their father for help in May 1855, Brown, another son Oliver, and
son-in-law Henry Thompson rushed to Kansas and plunged into the conflict
with a fury. As captain of the “Liberty Guards,” a quasi-militia company
that he himself formed, Brown shortly gained national notoriety as a
bold and ruthless leader.

For the next several years, murders, bushwhackings, lynchings, and
burnings were common occurrences, and the territory was aptly named
“Bleeding Kansas.” Atrocity matched atrocity. When pro-slavery forces
sacked and burned the town of Lawrence in May 1856, Brown was outraged.
Proclaiming himself an instrument of God’s will, he, with four of his
sons and three others, deliberately and brutally murdered five
pro-slavery men along the banks of Pottawatomie Creek. In the months
that followed, Brown terrorized the Missouri-Kansas border by a series
of bloody guerrilla attacks that brought him to the attention of the
Nation’s abolitionist faction. In late August 1856, about a month before
he left Kansas, Brown and his men clashed with pro-slavery Missourians
at the small settlement of Osawatomie. That action earned him the
nickname “Osawatomie” and cost him the life of his son Frederick. It
also hardened his stand against slavery. “I have only a short time to
live—only one death to die,” he said, “and I will die fighting for this
cause. There will be no more peace in this land until slavery is done
for. I will give them something else to do than to extend slave
territory. I will carry this war into Africa.”

    Three of John Brown’s most trusted lieutenants in the Harpers Ferry

    [Illustration: John E. Cook]

    [Illustration: Aaron D. Stevens]

    [Illustration: John H. Kagi]

The attack on Harpers Ferry was the culmination of a plan Brown had
evolved many years before he went to Kansas. By the early 1850’s he had
come to believe that a location within the slave States should be
selected where raids on slave plantations could be easily carried out
and the freed bondsmen sent to safety in the North. Convinced that
mountains throughout history had enabled the few to defend themselves
against the many, he believed that even against regular Army troops a
small force operating from a mountain stronghold could hold out
indefinitely and provide sanctuary for freed slaves, who would be
supplied with arms to fight for their liberty. Brown had decided, from
studying European fortifications and military operations, that somewhere
along the Allegheny Mountain chain a small force could achieve those

In the autumn of 1857, on his second trip to Kansas, Brown began
recruiting his force for the projected raid. Among the first to join him
were three young veterans of the Kansas fighting: John E. Cook, Aaron D.
Stevens, and John H. Kagi. Each would play an important role in the
attack on Harpers Ferry.

Cook, 27-year-old member of a wealthy Connecticut family, had attended
Yale University and studied law in New York City before going to Kansas
in 1855. He stood about 5 feet 5 inches tall, had long, silk-blond hair
that curled about his neck, and “his deep blue eyes were gentle in
expression as a woman’s.” Brown’s son Salmon, who knew Cook in Ohio and
Kansas, characterized him as “highly erratic” in temperament “and not
overly stocked with morality. He was the best pistol-shot I ever saw ...
[and] just as much of an expert in getting into the good graces of the
girls.” He loved to “talk and rattle on about himself.”

Stevens, then 26 years old, was, like Cook, a native of Connecticut. He
ran away from home at the age of 16 and joined the Massachusetts
Volunteer Regiment to fight in the Mexican War. Honorably discharged at
the end of that conflict, he found civilian life so boring that he
enlisted as a bugler in a United States dragoon regiment in the West and
took part in several campaigns against the Navaho and Apache Indians.
Stevens possessed an explosive temper, and at Taos, N. Mex., in the
mid-1850’s, he nearly killed an officer in a drunken brawl and was
sentenced to death. President Franklin Pierce commuted the sentence to 3
years’ hard labor at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In January 1856 Stevens
escaped and joined the Free-State cause. As colonel of the Second Kansas
Volunteer Regiment, he fought in some of the territory’s bloodiest
battles. Standing just over 6 feet tall, Stevens was a powerfully built
man who could wield a saber with deadly skill. He had black curly hair,
“black, brooding eyes,” and a full beard. In his youth he had been a
choir boy (his father and elder brothers taught singing), had a rich
baritone voice, and liked to sing. Totally dedicated to the overthrow of
slavery, he once told a Kansas sheriff: “We are in the right, and will
resist the universe.”

Kagi, an Ohio lad of 22, was largely self-educated and had taught school
in Virginia until his abolitionist views got him into trouble with local
officials and he had to flee the State. Traveling to Kansas in 1856, he
became a lawyer in Nebraska City. Occasionally he served as a court
stenographer or shorthand reporter. He also functioned as a
correspondent for several Eastern newspapers and John Brown dubbed him
“our Horace Greeley.” While riding with Stevens’ Second Kansas Regiment
in 1856, Kagi was taken prisoner by Federal troops and served 4 months
in jail before being released on bail. In January 1857 he was shot by a
pro-slavery judge during a disagreement and was still suffering from his
wounds when he joined Brown. Tall, with angular features, Kagi was
usually unkempt, unshaven, and generally unimpressive in appearance; but
he was articulate and highly intelligent, of serene temperament, and not
easily aroused. “His fertility of resources made him a tower of strength
to John Brown,” wrote George B. Gill, an Iowa youth who signed up for
the raid but defected before it took place. “He was a logician of more
than ordinary ability. He was full of wonderful vitality and all things
were fit food for his brain.”

    [Illustration: Brown’s target was the United States Armory and
    Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, shown here in an 1857 lithograph.]

When he enlisted them, Brown told Cook, Stevens, and Kagi only that he
was organizing a company of men to resist pro-slavery aggressions. He
did not tell them where he planned to take them. When seven more
volunteers joined the group at Tabor, Iowa, he informed his recruits
that their “ultimate destination was the State of Virginia.” Shortly
afterwards the men finally learned that Harpers Ferry was the probable
target. Kagi, who had once taught school in the area, gave Brown
valuable information about the town. The place fitted Brown’s
requirements perfectly. It lay near the mountains he counted upon to
afford a hiding place, and it was on the border of Virginia, a slave
State, only 40 miles from the free State of Pennsylvania. It also
contained an United States armory and arsenal, where much-needed arms
were stored.

After a trip to New England to raise funds, Brown called a
“Constitutional Convention” of his followers to meet on May 8, 1858, at
Chatham, Ontario, Canada. Besides Brown’s group, 34 Negroes attended the
meeting and heard the Kansas guerrilla chieftain outline his plan for
the deliverance of their enslaved brethren. First, he told them, he
intended to strike at a point in the South. This blow would be followed
by a general slave uprising in which even free Negroes in the Northern
States and Canada would flock to his banner. He would lead them into the
mountains and “if any hostile action ... were taken against us, either
by the militia of the separate States or by the armies of the United
States, we purposed to defeat first the militia, and next, if it were
possible, the troops of the United States....”

The convention unanimously adopted a “Provisional Constitution and
Ordinances for the People of the United States” to serve as the law of
the land while the army of liberation instituted a new government—one
that would not supplant but exist side-by-side with the U.S. Government
and which would explicitly prohibit slavery. John Brown was elected
“Commander in Chief” of the new provisional army to be formed, other
officers were appointed, and the convention adjourned. Before leaving
again for New England to gather supplies and money for the attack, Brown
sent Cook to Harpers Ferry to act as a spy; the others scattered,
seeking employment to maintain themselves until called together for the
march into Virginia.

    The moral and financial backing of these men, known as “The Secret
    Six,” made the raid on Harpers Ferry possible.

    [Illustration: Samuel Gridley Howe]

    [Illustration: Thomas Wentworth Higginson]

    [Illustration: Franklin B. Sanborn]

    [Illustration: George Luther Stearns]

    [Illustration: Gerrit Smith]

    [Illustration: Theodore Parker]

To equip, maintain, and transport the men needed to carry out his plan,
Brown required a considerable amount of money and weapons. He had
neither, but because of his Kansas activities, he was able to enlist the
support of Northern abolitionists in his fight against slavery.
Philosophers, scholars, religious leaders, philanthropists, and
businessmen gave freely but discreetly to the cause. Chief among Brown’s
backers was a secret committee of six: Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, Boston,
Mass., educator, minister, and reformer; Thomas Wentworth Higginson,
militant clergyman of Worcester, Mass.; Theodore Parker, Boston’s
outstanding Unitarian minister; Franklin B. Sanborn, editor and
schoolmaster of Concord, Mass.; Gerrit Smith, former New York
Congressman and a great Peterboro, N.Y., landowner; and George L.
Stearns, industrialist and merchant of Medford, Mass. Through them Brown
received most of the money and weapons that enabled him to launch his

                       RENDEZVOUS FOR REVOLUTION

By the summer of 1859 Harpers Ferry was a quietly thriving little
industrial and transportation community sitting on a narrow shelf of
land at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in the Blue
Ridge Mountains of northern Virginia. Until its selection as the site
for a Federal armory at the end of the 18th century, the town’s growth
had been slow. What growth it did experience was due to its location on
the wilderness route to the Shenandoah Valley. The land on which the
town sat was first settled in 1733 by a Pennsylvania Dutchman named
Peter Stephens, who operated a small ferryboat service across the
rivers. At that time the place was called “Peter’s Hole” because it was
dominated by three towering bluffs—Maryland Heights to the north,
Loudoun Heights to the south, and Bolivar Heights to the west. When
Robert Harper, a skilled Philadelphia architect and millwright, bought
the land in 1747, he improved the ferry service and built a gristmill.
Around these facilities at the base of Bolivar Heights the village of
Harpers Ferry gradually developed.

In 1794, when relations between the United States and England were
strained, Congress grew uneasy over the country’s military posture.
Uncertain of the ordnance-producing capabilities of private
manufacturers in time of need, it directed President George Washington
to establish a number of armories where guns could be made and stored.
One of the sites he chose was Harpers Ferry.

Washington was well acquainted with Harpers Ferry. As a young man during
the middle part of the century, he had accompanied surveying parties
that inspected the vast holdings of the Virginia aristocracy in this
area. He considered Harpers Ferry “the most eligible spot on the
[Potomac] river” for an armory. Abundant water power was available, iron
ore was plentiful nearby, hardwood forests insured a steady supply of
charcoal to fuel the forges, and the place was far enough inland to be
secure from foreign invasion.

In June 1796 the Government purchased from the Harper heirs a 125-acre
tract of land and began constructing workshops on the benchland between
the Potomac River and what would later become Potomac Street. Waterpower
was harnessed by building a dam upstream from the armory and channeling
the water through a canal into the workshops. Although a critical
shortage of gunsmiths and ordnance-making machinery restricted
operations for several years, limited arms production began late in 1798
under the direction of an English Moravian named Joseph Perkin, the
armory’s first superintendent.

The first muskets, based on the old French infantry type of 1763, were
completed in 1801. In 1803 production was expanded to include rifles,
and 2 years later the manufacture of pistols. (The Model 1805 pistol,
made at Harpers Ferry, was the first hand weapon to be produced at a
United States armory.) At first the rate of musket production was
meager, but by 1810 the armory was turning out 10,000 annually, storing
them in two arsenal buildings nearby on Shenandoah Street.

In 1819 John Hall, a Maine gunsmith, received a contract from the
Federal Government to manufacture 1,000 breech-loading flintlock rifles
of his own design. Sent to Harpers Ferry, he set up the Hall Rifle Works
in two buildings on Lower Hall Island, which adjoined Virginius Island
in the Shenandoah River about ½ mile from its junction with the Potomac.
Hall’s rifles were made on so exact a scale that all the parts were
interchangeable—a factor that helped to pave the way for modern mass
production methods. The War Department was elated with Hall’s success
and his contract was repeatedly renewed. When the Hall rifle was
discontinued in 1844, the Government tore down the old buildings and
erected a new rifle factory on the same site. Standard U.S. Model rifles
were produced there until the industry was destroyed, along with the
armory complex, at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

The abundance of water power that had attracted the arms industry soon
brought others. Besides the rifle factories on Hall Island, Virginius
Island boasted an iron foundry, flour mill, cotton mill, and machine
shop, all powered by water diverted through the island by a dam in the
Shenandoah River and a series of sluiceways and underground water
tunnels. More than 200 persons made their home around the prospering
island industries.

The formation, development, and expansion of the United States Armory
and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry (its complete, official designation) was
the chief stimulus for the growth of the town. From a simple beginning
the armory by 1859 had spread to include 20 workshops and offices, lined
in a neat double row over an area 600 yards long. At its peak, the
armory provided employment for more than 400 men, mostly transplanted
Northerners whom local residents classified as “foreigners.” In the
65-year history of this major industry, the U.S. Government invested
nearly $2 million in land, water power improvements, walls and
embankments, hydraulic machinery, and buildings.

    [Illustration: HARPERS FERRY AND VICINITY 1859]

After 1830 Harpers Ferry, already recognized as an important industrial
center, attained prominence as a vital link in the transportation and
communications line between the Ohio and Shenandoah Valleys and the
East. By 1830 a semi-weekly stagecoach service connected the town with
Washington, D.C. The one-way trip usually required a full day’s travel.
That same year a turnpike company was founded to construct a 16-mile
macadamized toll road from Harpers Ferry to Middleway, 5 miles west of
Charles Town. A turnpike being built from Frederick, Md., about 20 miles
to the east, reached the town in 1832. Still another turnpike company,
organized in 1851, ran a road from Harpers Ferry southeastward to
Hillsborough, about 10 miles away.

But the signal impetus to the establishment of the town’s commercial
position was the arrival of canal and railroad. Waging a bitter battle
to reach the rich Ohio Valley and carry its trade to the East, impeding
each other’s progress at every opportunity, the Chesapeake and Ohio
Canal (originating in Washington, D.C.) and the Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad (originating in Baltimore, Md.) reached Harpers Ferry in the
early 1830’s. Following the winding Potomac River northward and westward
from Georgetown, the C & O Canal arrived at Harpers Ferry in November
1833, more than a year ahead of its rival. But the railroad pushed on to
the Ohio Valley while the canal stopped at Cumberland, Md. The
establishment of these two arteries provided shippers with a cheaper
carrier for their products and assured travelers of a more efficient and
economical means of reaching their destinations.

With the expansion of industry and the development of superior
transportation facilities, the population of the community swelled to
nearly 3,000 by 1859. Of these about 150 were “free coloreds” and 150
were slaves. The total number of slaves in the entire six-county area
around Harpers Ferry was just slightly more than 18,000, of which less
than 5,000 were men. There were no large plantations because the land
and the climate could not sustain a plantation economy. The few
slaveholders maintained farms, and their blacks were mainly “well-kept

Most of the white residents of Harpers Ferry worked at the armory or at
the manufacturing plants on Virginius Island. Because land was at a
premium, the houses, saloons, hotels, and shops were tightly aligned
along Shenandoah, Potomac, and High Streets, and sprawled up the slopes
of Bolivar Heights. In some places the rocky cliffs were blasted away to
make room for another building. Most of the homes were of simple design,
but the Government-built residences of the armory officials were more

The inhabitants of the town were chiefly of Irish, English, and German
descent. Besides building six churches of varying faiths (one of which,
St. Peter’s Catholic Church, is still standing and in use today), they
established five private girls’ schools. A man could get a drink at the
Gault House or take a meal at the Potomac Restaurant or the Wager House.
If he so desired, he could join the Masons, the Odd Fellows, or the Sons
of Temperance. Nearly everyone was prosperous. It was a good time for
the town and its people.

    [Illustration: This photograph of Harpers Ferry from the Maryland
    side of the Potomac shows the town as it appeared about the time of
    the raid. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bridge, by which John
    Brown and his raiders entered the village, is at the left.]

John Brown arrived amidst this prosperity on July 3, 1859. Not yet 60
years old, the rigors of frontier living had nevertheless left their
imprint upon him and there were those who said he looked and walked more
than ever “like an old man.” In March a Cleveland, Ohio, newspaper had
described him as “a medium-sized, compactly-built and wiry man, and as
quick as a cat in his movements. His hair is of a salt and pepper hue
and as stiff as bristles, he has a long, waving, milk-white goatee,
which gives him a somewhat patriarchal appearance, his eyes are gray and
sharp.” He had grown the beard before his last trip to Kansas in 1858,
and it covered his square chin and straight, firm mouth, changing his
appearance markedly. When he arrived in Harpers Ferry the beard had been
shortened to within an inch and a half of his face, because, his
daughter Annie later recalled, he thought it “more likely to disguise
him than a clean face or than the long beard.”

With Brown were two of his sons—34-year-old Owen and 20-year-old
Oliver—and Kansas veteran Jeremiah G. Anderson. The 26-year-old,
Indiana-born Anderson was the grandson of Southern slaveholders and had
joined the abolitionist cause in 1857 after working several unproductive
years as a peddler, farmer, and sawyer. Determined to eliminate slavery,
Anderson once vowed to “make this land of liberty and equality shake to
the centre.”

After consulting briefly with Cook, who had been serving as a
schoolteacher, book salesman, and canal-lock tender, and had even
married a local girl since being sent to Harpers Ferry the year before,
Brown and his three companions took up residence in a private home in
Sandy Hook, a small village about a mile down the Potomac on the
Maryland shore. The names they gave their landlord were “Isaac Smith &
Sons.” To anyone asking their business in the area, Brown told them they
were simple farmers looking for good farmland to develop.

Brown arose early on July 4 and began exploring the Maryland side of the
Potomac to find a suitable hideout for his raiders. Local inquiry led
him to a farm owned by the heirs of a Dr. R. F. Kennedy about 5 miles
north of Harpers Ferry. A cursory inspection convinced him that the
place, though small, was conveniently located and admirably suited for
concealment. The farm was remote from other settlements, and it was
surrounded by woods and hidden by undergrowth—an ideal situation for
hiding men and supplies from the gaze of inquisitive neighbors.

    [Illustration: John Brown in May 1859.]

For $35 in gold Brown rented the farm, which consisted of two log
structures, some outbuildings, and a pasture. The main house sat about
100 yards off the public road connecting Harpers Ferry with
Boonesborough and Sharpsburg, Md., and contained a basement kitchen and
storerooms, a second-floor living room and bedrooms, and an attic. The
second floor was used as kitchen, parlor, and dining room, and the attic
served as a storeroom, drilling room, and “prison” to keep the men out
of sight. Near the farmhouse stood a small cabin that later became a
storage place and sleeping quarters for some of the raiders.

    [Illustration: The isolated character of the Kennedy farm did not
    prevent curious neighbors from “dropping in” for a visit.]

    [Illustration: To help avert suspicion, Brown’s daughter Annie and
    Oliver’s wife Martha (shown here with her husband in 1859) lived at
    the farm while the arms and men were being assembled. Martha did the
    cooking and helped Annie with household chores.]

Brown’s chief fear was that neighbors would become suspicious of “Isaac
Smith & Sons” and possibly uncover his revolutionary plans. Reasoning
that nearby families would be less distrustful with women among the
group, he appealed to his wife and daughter Annie at their home in North
Elba, N.Y., to come live with him, saying that “It will be likely to
prove the most valuable service you can ever render to the world.” Mrs.
Brown was unable to make the long journey, but Annie and Oliver’s wife
Martha did join him in mid-July. Their presence proved of inestimable
value not only in alleviating suspicion but in contributing to the
morale of the men. Martha served as cook and housekeeper, preparing
meals on a wood stove in the upstairs living room; Annie kept constant
watch for prying neighbors. “When I washed dishes,” noted Annie many
years later,

  I stood at the end of the table where I could see out of the window
  and open door if any one approached the house. I was constantly on the
  lookout while carrying the victuals across the porch, and while I was
  tidying or sweeping the rooms, and always at my post on the porch when
  the men were eating. My evenings were spent on the porch or sitting on
  the stairs, watching or listening.

    [Illustration: The Kennedy farmhouse served as the base of
    operations for John Brown’s raiders.]

    [Illustration: Annie Brown]

His base established, Brown laid plans to assemble his arms and supplies
and to gather in his followers. On July 10 he wrote to John Kagi at
Chambersburg, Pa., where an arms depot had been set up, giving him
directions for forwarding the waiting men and the “freight”—200 Sharps
rifles, an equal number of pistols, and a thousand pikes. The weapons,
crated in large wooden boxes marked “Hardware and Castings,” were
shipped from Ohio to Chambersburg where Kagi sent them by wagon to Brown
at the Kennedy farm. Supplies were acquired at various places between
Chambersburg and Harpers Ferry.

Alone and in twos and threes, Brown’s followers began to assemble at the
farm. Watson Brown arrived on August 6. “Tall and rather fair, with
finely knit frame, athletic and active,” the 24-year-old Watson brought
with him two of his brothers-in-law and North Elba neighbors, William
and Dauphin Thompson. The Thompsons had not previously taken active
roles in the anti-slavery movement but they were dedicated
abolitionists. William, 26 years old, was fun-loving and good natured.
He had started for Kansas in 1856 but turned back before reaching there.
His 20-year-old brother Dauphin had never been away from home before.
Handsome, inexperienced, with curly, golden hair and a soft complexion,
he seemed “more like a girl than a warrior” and was “diffident and
quiet.” Both had come to the Kennedy farm because they were firmly
convinced of the justness of John Brown’s cause.

Next came Aaron Stevens and Charles Plummet Tidd, a 25-year-old former
Maine woodsman. Tidd was a Kansas veteran. He had been one of the first
to join Brown at Tabor, Iowa, in 1857 and had remained one of his
closest associates ever since. He was quick-tempered, but according to
Annie Brown, “His rages soon passed and then he tried all he could to
repair damages. He was a fine singer and of strong family affections.”

    [Illustration: Edwin Coppoc]

    [Illustration: Dauphin Thompson]

    [Illustration: Charles Plummer Tidd]

Tidd and Stevens were followed by 22-year-old Albert Hazlett, another
veteran of the Kansas fighting, Canadian-born Stewart Taylor, and two
brothers from Iowa, Edwin and Barclay Coppoc. Hazlett had worked on his
brother’s farm in western Pennsylvania before joining Brown at the
Kennedy farm. He was totally committed to the overthrow of slavery. “I
am willing to die in the cause of liberty,” he said; “if I had ten
thousand lives I would willingly lay them all down for the same cause.”
Taylor, 23 years old, was once a wagonmaker. He had met Brown in Iowa in
1858 and was “heart and soul in the anti-slavery cause.” Scholarly, a
good debater, and “very fond of studying history,” Taylor, like Stevens,
was a spiritualist and had a premonition that he would die at Harpers
Ferry. The Coppocs were Quakers by birth and training. They were in
Kansas during the troubles there but took no part in the fighting.
Edwin, at 24, was 4 years older than his brother Barclay. Both had
joined Brown initially in 1858 at Springdale, Iowa, where they were
living with their mother, shortly before the Chatham Convention.

Twenty-year-old William H. Leeman arrived near the end of August. Born
and educated in Maine, he had worked in a Haverhill, Mass., shoe factory
before going to Kansas in 1856 where he served in Brown’s “Liberty
Guards” militia company. Impulsive, hard to control, the 6-foot-tall
Leeman “smoked a good deal and drank sometimes,” but he had “a good
intellect with great ingenuity.” Shortly before the raid he wrote his
mother that he was “warring with slavery, the greatest curse that ever
infected America. We are determined to strike for freedom, incite the
slaves to rebellion, and establish a free government. With the help of
God we will carry it through.”

After Leeman came Dangerfield Newby, a mulatto born a slave but freed by
his Scotch father, and Osborn P. Anderson, a 33-year-old free Negro who
had worked as a printer before joining Brown in Canada in 1858. Newby,
at 44 the oldest of the group save for Brown himself, had a wife and
several children in bondage in the South. He came to the Kennedy
farmhouse convinced that the only way to free them was with rifle and
bullet. Week after week he would read and reread a worn letter from his
wife in which she begged him to “Buy me and the baby, that has just
commenced to crawl, as soon as possible, for if you do not get me
somebody else will.”

“Emperor” Shields Green, a 23-year-old illiterate escaped slave from
Charleston, S.C., joined up at Chambersburg where Brown had gone in
mid-August to enlist the aid of the famed Negro abolitionist, orator,
and journalist, Frederick Douglass. Brown and Douglass had first met at
Springfield, Mass., in 1847. Since then they had become good friends.
When the Negro leader learned the details of the planned assault on
Harpers Ferry, he refused to participate, arguing that an attack on the
Government would “array the whole country” against him and antagonize
the very people to whom the abolitionists looked for support. Moreover,
Douglass believed that the plan could not succeed, that Brown “was going
into a perfect steel-trap, and that once in he would never get out
alive.” Before leaving, Douglass asked Shields Green, who had
accompanied him to the meeting, what he intended to do. Green replied
simply, “I b’lieve I’ll go wid de ole man.”

Life at the Kennedy farm was wearing and tedious. Brown’s most trying
task was to keep his slowly increasing force occupied and out of sight.
Forced to remain in the two small buildings during the day, the men had
little to do. The long summer days were mostly spent reading magazines,
telling stories, arguing politics and religion, and playing checkers and
cards. They drilled frequently and studied the art of guerrilla warfare
from a specially prepared military manual.

Meals were served downstairs in the farmhouse, with Annie and Martha
standing guard while the men ate. After breakfast each morning, John
Brown would read from the Bible and utter a short prayer. Occasionally
he would travel into Harpers Ferry to pick up a Baltimore newspaper to
which he subscribed or to purchase flour from the mill on Virginius
Island. If a neighbor arrived unexpectedly during mealtime, the men
would gather up the food, dishes, and table cloth and carry them to the

    [Illustration: Famed Negro abolitionist Frederick Douglass supported
    Brown’s Kansas activities but warned him against attacking Harpers
    Ferry. Douglass refused to participate in the raid, but his friend
    Shields Green decided to go with Brown.]

    [Illustration: Shields Green.]

At night the men could go outdoors for fresh air and exercise.
Thunderstorms were especially welcomed, for then they could move about
with little fear of making noise. These brief interludes served to
release tensions built up during long periods of confinement and
inactivity, but the secret living in such close quarters proved almost
too much to bear. Restiveness and irritations were bound to occur. Twice
there was a near revolt against the planned raid. On one occasion Tidd
became so infuriated that he left the farm and stayed with Cook in
Harpers Ferry for 3 days. So serious was the opposition that Brown
tendered his resignation as commander in chief. He withdrew it only
after the men gave him a renewed vote of confidence.

As September ended and the time for the attack approached, Annie and
Martha were sent back to North Elba. Brown and his men busied themselves
overhauling the rifles and pistols and attaching pike-heads to shafts.
The pikes were Brown’s own idea. Preparing for a return to Kansas in
1857, he had negotiated with a Connecticut blacksmith to manufacture
1,000 of these weapons—a two-edged dirk with an iron blade 8 inches long
fastened to a 6-foot ash handle. Originally they were intended for the
defense of free-soil settlers in Kansas, but Brown was unable to pay for
them until the spring of 1859, when he made final arrangements to use
them at Harpers Ferry. Knowing that most of the slaves he expected to
join him were unskilled in the use of firearms, he decided they could
handle a pike. A thousand men armed with pikes and backed by Brown’s
more experienced “soldiers” could constitute a formidable army.

Because so many people knew about Brown’s intentions, it was inevitable
that the secrecy would be broken. In late August Secretary of War John
B. Floyd received an unsigned letter reporting “the existence of a
secret association, having for its object the liberation of the slaves
at the South by a general insurrection.” Brown was named as its leader
and “an armory in Maryland” its immediate objective. Because the
informant mistakenly placed the armory in Maryland instead of Virginia
and because Floyd could not bring himself to believe such a scheme could
be entertained by citizens of the United States, the Secretary put the
letter away and forgot about it until subsequent events reminded him of
the warning.

October arrived. Still Brown delayed, hoping that more men would come.
Many upon whom he had counted failed to join him for a variety of
reasons. Even two of his sons, Jason and Salmon, refused to participate.
Though disappointed, Brown realized that the longer he delayed, the
greater were the chances that his plan would be discovered and thwarted.
Finally, on October 15, with the arrival of 22-year-old Francis J.
Meriam and two Ohio Negroes, John Copeland and Lewis S. Leary, both 25,
the ranks of the “Provisional Army of the United States” were completed.
In all there were 21 men besides the commander in chief. Of these, 19
were under 30, three not yet 21. Brown could wait no longer. Calling his
men together, he announced that the attack would take place the next
night, October 16, and cautioned them about the needless taking of human

  You all know how dear life is to you ... consider that the lives of
  others are as dear to them as yours are to you; do not, therefore,
  take the life of anyone if you can possibly avoid it, but if it is
  necessary to take life in order to save your own, then make short work
  of it.

                           TO FREE THE SLAVES

The daylight hours of Sunday, October 16, 1859, were quiet ones at the
Kennedy farm as the long period of inactivity and uncertainty neared its
climax. Early in the morning John Brown held worship services, the
impending attack invoking “deep solemnity” upon the gathering. After
breakfast and roll call a final meeting was held and instructions were
given. Then everything was in readiness.

About 8 p.m. Brown turned to his followers. “Men,” he said, “get on your
arms; we will proceed to the Ferry.” The men, ready for hours, slung
their Sharps rifles over their shoulders, concealing them under long,
gray shawls that served as overcoats, and waited for the order to march.
A horse and wagon were brought to the door of the farmhouse. In the
wagon the men placed a few items that might be needed for the work
ahead: a sledge hammer, a crowbar, and several pikes. Owen Brown,
Barclay Coppoc, and Meriam were detailed to remain at the farm as a
rearguard. In the morning they were to bring the rest of the weapons
nearer the town where they could be passed out to the slave army Brown
expected to raise.

Donning his battered old Kansas cap, symbol of the violence to which he
had contributed in that strife-torn territory, Brown mounted the wagon
and motioned his men to move out. From the farmhouse the group moved
down the lane and onto the road leading to Harpers Ferry. Tidd and Cook,
who were best acquainted with the route, preceded the main body as
scouts. Upon reaching the town they were to cut the telegraph lines on
both the Maryland and Virginia sides of the Potomac.

    [Illustration: Owen Brown]

    [Illustration: Francis J. Meriam]

    [Illustration: Barclay Coppoc]

    [Illustration: Brown used this schoolhouse near Harpers Ferry as an
    arsenal after the raid began. The drawing was made about 1859 by
    David Hunter Strother, known to readers of _Harper’s New Monthly
    Magazine_ as “Porte Crayon,” one of the most popular illustrators of
    mid-19th century America.]

For more than 2 hours the men tramped along behind the wagon, strictly
adhering to Brown’s order to maintain silence. About 10:30 p.m. they
reached the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bridge that would carry them
into Harpers Ferry. It was a long wooden-covered structure that spanned
the Potomac River a little upstream from where the Shenandoah comes
spilling in from the south. Kagi and Stevens entered first and
encountered watchman William Williams, who approached with a lantern.
They quickly took Williams prisoner. The rest of the raiders, except for
Watson Brown and Stewart Taylor who were told to stay on the Maryland
side as a rearguard, fastened cartridges boxes to the outside of their
clothing for ready access and followed the wagon onto the bridge.

Crossing quickly, the raiders stepped from the tunnel’s black throat
into the slumbering town. Before them lay a large structure that doubled
as the railroad depot and the Wager House. Just beyond, to the left, was
the U.S. Arsenal buildings where thousands of guns were stored. To the
right the armory shops stretched in a double row along the Potomac.
Brown turned the horse and wagon toward the armory.

Daniel Whelan, the armory’s nightwatchman, heard the wagon coming down
the street from the depot. Thinking it was the head watchman, he came
out from his station in the fire enginehouse (a one-story, two-room
brick building that doubled as a guard post just inside the armory
grounds) to find several rifles pointed at him. “Open the gate!” someone
yelled. Out of sheer cussedness, or perhaps fright, Whelan refused. One
of the raiders took the crowbar from the wagon and twisted it in the
chain until the lock snapped. The gate was thrown open and the wagon
rolled into the yard. To his prisoners, Whelan and Williams, Brown
announced his purpose:

  I came here from Kansas, and this is a slave state; I want to free all
  the Negroes in this state; I have possession now of the United States
  armory, and if the citizens interfere with me I must only burn the
  town and have blood.

Once in control of the armory, Brown detailed his men to other
objectives. Oliver Brown and William Thompson were sent to watch the
bridge across the Shenandoah River, while Hazlett and Edwin Coppoc moved
into the unguarded arsenal. Another group of raiders under Stevens made
its way down Shenandoah Street to the rifle factory on Lower Hall
Island. Again the watchman was surprised and easily captured. Telling
Kagi and Copeland to watch the rifle works—Leary would join them
later—Stevens marched the watchman and several young men picked up on
the street back to the armory grounds.

So far Brown’s occupation of the town had been quiet and peaceful. It
did not last. About midnight another watchman, Patrick Higgins, a Sandy
Hook resident, arrived at the Maryland end of the B & O bridge to
relieve Williams. Finding the structure dark he called out loudly; he
was answered quietly by Taylor and Watson Brown, who took him prisoner.
As he was being escorted across the bridge, Higgins suddenly lashed out,
struck Brown in the face, and raced toward the town. Taylor fired after
him. The ball grazed the watchman’s scalp, but he reached the Wager
House safely. The first shot of the raid had been fired.

About this same time Stevens led several raiders on a special mission to
capture Col. Lewis W. Washington, the 46-year-old great-grandnephew of
George Washington. The colonel, a small but prosperous planter, lived
near Halltown just off the Charles Town Turnpike about 5 miles west of
Harpers Ferry. He owned a pistol presented to General Washington by the
Marquis de Lafayette and a sword reportedly presented by the Prussian
King Frederick the Great. Brown wanted these weapons. When he struck the
first blow to free the slaves he rather fancied the idea of wearing the
sword and brandishing the pistol once owned by the man who had led the
fight to free the American colonists from a similar kind of tyranny.

Battering down Washington’s door, Stevens, Tidd, Cook, and three
Negroes—Anderson, Leary, and Green—summoned the colonel from his bed.
Washington offered no resistance. Calmly surrendering the sword and
pistol, he then dressed and climbed into his carriage for the trip to
Harpers Ferry. The raiders and Washington’s three slaves crammed into
the colonel’s four-horse farm wagon and followed along behind the

    [Illustration: “Beallair,” the home of Col. Lewis Washington. Late
    on the night of October 16, several raiders broke into this house in
    search of a pistol and sword once owned by the colonel’s great
    grand-uncle, George Washington. Colonel Washington (inset) was taken

    [Illustration: HARPERS FERRY 1859]

    [Illustration: HARPERS FERRY 1859]

    A Armory Employee Dwellings
    P Private Dwellings
    V Vacant at Time of Raid

On the way the procession stopped at the home of another slaveholder,
John Allstadt, just west of Bolivar Heights. Again using a fence rail to
gain entrance, the raiders forced Allstadt and his 18-year-old son into
the wagon while the terror-stricken women of the house shrieked
“Murder!” from the upstairs windows. Allstadt’s four slaves were also
added to the group.

While Stevens’ party was gathering hostages, the first note of tragedy
was sounded. At 1:25 a.m. the Baltimore and Ohio passenger train
eastbound for Baltimore arrived at Harpers Ferry and was stopped by a
clerk from the Wager House who told conductor A. J. Phelps of the recent
“startling” events. Phelps refused to allow the train to cross the
bridge until it had been checked, and he sent engineer William McKay and
baggagemaster Jacob Cromwell out to investigate. They were halted by
Brown’s guards, who turned them back at gunpoint.

Hayward Shepherd, the station baggageman, heard the commotion and walked
out to see what was going on. Shepherd, a free Negro, was highly
respected and well-liked by all who knew him. As he approached the
bridge a raider told him to halt. Instead, Shepherd turned around and
started back toward the station. A shot rang out and he fell gravely
wounded. He dragged himself back to the station where he died the next
afternoon. The first person to die at the hands of the men who had come
to free the slaves was, in fact, a Negro already free.

    [Illustration: “Porte Crayon’s” drawing of Hayward Shepherd, the
    free Negro baggageman killed by one of Brown’s men on October 17, is
    the only known portrait of this tragic figure.]

Between 4 and 5 a.m. the caravan containing Colonel Washington and the
Allstadts arrived at the armory. Brown armed the frightened slaves with
pikes and told them to guard the prisoners, who were placed in the
enginehouse and now numbered about a half-dozen. “Keep these white men
inside,” he said. Turning to Washington, Brown explained that he had
taken him hostage because “as the aid to the Governor of Virginia, I
knew you would endeavor to perform your duty, and perhaps you would have
been a troublesome customer to me; and, apart from that, I wanted you
particularly for the moral effect it would give our cause, having one of
your name our prisoner.” As dawn approached the number of Brown’s
prisoners increased as unsuspecting armory employees reporting for work
were seized as they passed through the gate. Perhaps as many as 40
hostages were eventually jammed into the two rooms of the enginehouse.

    [Illustration: Brown kept his growing number of hostages in the fire
    enginehouse at left, just inside the entrance to the U.S. Armory
    grounds. The machine shops where the muskets were assembled are at
    the right.]

Near dawn, John Cook, with two raiders and a handful of pike-carrying
Negroes, took the wagon across the bridge into Maryland to bring the
weapons closer to the town to arm the hundreds of slaves soon expected
to join the fight. The rest of Brown’s “army” settled down at their
posts in the waning darkness to await the coming of day, the last for
many of them.

Thus far the citizens of Harpers Ferry had offered no resistance to the
invasion of their town, primarily because most of the townspeople knew
nothing of what was taking place. At the first streak of daylight, Dr.
John Starry, a 35-year-old local physician who had maintained an
all-night vigil beside the dying Hayward Shepherd, began to alert the
people to the danger. After arousing the residents of Virginius Island,
he rode to warn Acting Armory Superintendent A. M. Kitzmiller. Next he
ordered the Lutheran Church bell rung to assemble the citizens and
ascertain what arms were available for defense. Then he sent a messenger
off to Shepherdstown and another to Charles Town to alert their militia
companies of the armed occupation of Harpers Ferry.

Among the townspeople there were only one or two squirrel rifles and a
few shotguns, none of which were really fit for use. All other weapons
were in the arsenal buildings, and they were occupied by the raiders.
Knowing it would be futile to confront Brown’s men unarmed, Dr. Starry
headed for Charles Town, 8 miles away, to hurry its militia along. But
no prompting was necessary. To Charles Town residents the news from
Harpers Ferry was frightening, for it awakened memories of the 1831 Nat
Turner slave rebellion in Virginia’s tidewater region when more than 50
whites, mostly women and children, were murdered before the bloody
uprising was put down. The Jefferson Guards and another hastily formed
company would march as soon as possible.

At daylight on October 17 Brown allowed the B & O passenger train to
continue its journey to Baltimore. Conductor Phelps wasted no time in
sounding the alarm. At Monocacy, Md., at 7:05 a.m. he telegraphed his
superiors about the night’s events, adding:

  They say they have come to free the slaves and intend to do it at all
  hazards. The leader of those men requested me to say to you that this
  is the last train that shall pass the bridge either East or West. If
  it is attempted it will be at the peril of the lives of those having
  them in charge.... It has been suggested you had better notify the
  Secretary of War at once. The telegraph lines are cut East and West of
  Harper’s Ferry and this is the first station that I could send a
  dispatch from.

John W. Garrett, president of the railroad, saw the message when it came
in and immediately sent word to President James Buchanan and Virginia
Governor Henry A. Wise. At the same time he alerted Maj. Gen. George H.
Stewart, commanding Baltimore’s First Light Division of the Maryland
Volunteers. Word was also flashed to Frederick, Md., and that town’s
militia was soon under arms.

By 7 a.m. the residents of Harpers Ferry had discovered a supply of guns
in a building overlooked by the raiders, and some of the townspeople
began to move against Brown and his men. Alexander Kelly, armed with a
shotgun, approached the corner of High and Shenandoah Streets, about 100
yards from the armory. Before he could fire, several bullets whizzed
past his head, one putting a hole through his hat. Shortly afterwards,
groceryman Thomas Boerly, a man of great physical strength and courage,
approached the same corner and opened fire on a group of Brown’s men
standing in the arsenal yard, diagonally across the street from the
armory gate. A return bullet knocked him down with a “ghastly” wound,
from which he soon died.

A lull followed the shooting of Boerly. Brown, having made no provision
to feed his men and hostages, released Walter Kemp, an infirm Wager
House bartender captured earlier, in exchange for 45 breakfasts. But
when the food came, few ate it. Many, including Washington, Allstadt,
and Brown himself, feared it had been drugged or poisoned.

Meanwhile, Kagi, still at the rifle factory, was anxiously sending
messages to Brown urging him to leave Harpers Ferry while they still had
the chance. Brown ignored the pleas and continued to direct operations
with no apparent thought that outside forces would be moving against him
once the alarm had spread. Why, is anybody’s guess. Up until noon of
October 17, despite the erratic fire from the townspeople, the raiders
could have fought their way to safety in the mountains. Instead, Brown
waited, doing nothing. By mid-day it was too late, and the jaws of the
“steel-trap” foreseen by Frederick Douglass closed swiftly.

                            THE TIGER CAGED

The Charles Town militia, consisting of the regular company of the
Jefferson Guards and a specially formed volunteer company, was armed and
on its way by train to Harpers Ferry by 10 a.m. The militia commander,
Col. John T. Gibson, had not waited for orders from Richmond but had set
out as soon as the men could be gotten ready. Arriving at Halltown,
about midway between Charles Town and Harpers Ferry, Gibson, fearing the
track ahead might be torn up, took the militia off the train and marched
by road to Allstadt’s Crossroads west of Bolivar Heights.

    [Illustration: Watson Brown]

    [Illustration: William Thompson]

At Allstadt’s, Gibson divided his force. He sent Mexican War veteran
Capt. J. W. Rowan with the Jefferson Guards in a wide sweep to the west
of Harpers Ferry to capture the B & O bridge. Gibson himself would take
the volunteer company on into town. Rowan’s men crossed the Potomac
about a mile above Harpers Ferry and, advancing along the towpath of the
Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, arrived at the Maryland end of the bridge by
noon. With little difficulty they drove its defenders—Oliver Brown,
William Thompson, and Dangerfield Newby—back toward the armory yard.
Only Brown and Thompson made it. Newby, the ex-slave who had joined John
Brown to free his wife and children, was killed by a 6-inch spike fired
from a smoothbore musket. He was the first of the raiders to die.

In the meantime, Colonel Gibson’s force had arrived in Harpers Ferry and
he sent a detachment of citizens under Capt. Lawson Botts, a Charles
Town attorney, to secure the Gault House Saloon at the rear of the
arsenal and commanding the Shenandoah bridge and the entrance to the
armory yard. Another detachment under Capt. John Avis, the Charles Town
jailer, took up positions in houses along Shenandoah Street from which
to fire into the arsenal grounds.

The attack of the Charles Town militia cut off Brown’s escape route and
separated him from his men in Maryland and those still holding the rifle
factory. At last, perhaps realizing the hopelessness of his situation,
Brown sought a truce. But when hostage Rezin Cross and raider William
Thompson emerged from the enginehouse under a white flag, the
townspeople ignored the flag, seized Thompson, and dragged him off to
the Wager House where he was kept under guard.

Still not convinced, Brown tried again. This time he sent his son Watson
and Aaron Stevens with Acting Armory Superintendent Kitzmiller, taken
hostage earlier in the day. As the trio marched onto the street and came
opposite the Galt House, several shots rang out and both raiders fell.
Stevens, severely wounded, lay bleeding in the street; Watson Brown,
mortally wounded, dragged himself back to the enginehouse. Joseph Brua,
one of the hostages, volunteered to aid the wounded Stevens. As bullets
richocheted off the flagstone walk, Brua walked out, lifted up the
wounded raider, and carried him to the Wager House for medical
attention. Then, incredibly, he strolled back to the enginehouse and
again took his place among Brown’s prisoners. Kitzmiller escaped.

About the time Stevens and Watson Brown were shot, raider William Leeman
attempted to escape. Dashing through the upper end of the armory yard,
he plunged into the frigid Potomac, comparatively shallow at this point,
and made for the Maryland shore. Soon spotted, a shower of bullets hit
the water around him and he was forced to take refuge on an islet in the
river. G. A. Schoppert, a Harpers Ferry resident, waded out to where
Leeman lay marooned, pointed a pistol at his head, and pulled the
trigger. For the rest of the day Leeman’s body was a target for the
undisciplined militia and townspeople.

    [Illustration: Oliver Brown, William Thompson, and Dangerfield Newby
    were forced to abandon their post at the Maryland end of the
    Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bridge when they were attacked by the
    Jefferson Guards. Brown and Thompson reached the armory grounds
    safely, but Newby (below) was shot and killed as he came off the

    [Illustration: Dangerfield Newby]

When a raider shot and killed George W. Turner about 2 p.m., the crowd
grew ugly. Turner, a West Point graduate, was a prominent and highly
respected area planter. When Fontaine Beckham, the mayor of Harpers
Ferry and agent for the B & O Railroad, was killed, the townspeople
turned into a howling, raging mob.

Beckham, a well-liked man of somewhat high-strung temperament, had been
greatly disturbed by the earlier shooting of Hayward Shepherd, his
friend and faithful helper at the depot. Despite warnings from friends
to keep away, Beckham, unarmed, walked out on the railroad to see what
was going on. He paced up and down the B & O trestle bordering the
armory yard about 30 yards from the enginehouse. Several raiders spotted
him peering around the water tower in front of their stronghold and
thought that he was placing himself in position to fire through the
doors. Edwin Coppoc, posted at the doorway of the enginehouse, leveled
his rifle at the mayor.

“Don’t fire, man, for God’s sake!” screamed one of the hostages.
“They’ll shoot in here and kill us all.”

Coppoc ignored the warning and pulled the trigger. Beckham fell, a
bullet through his heart. Oliver Brown, standing beside Coppoc in the
partly opened doorway, aimed his rifle at another man on the trestle,
but before he could fire he keeled over with “a mortal wound that gave
horrible pain.” Both of Brown’s sons now lay dying at their father’s

Enraged by the shooting of Beckham, the townspeople turned on prisoner
William Thompson. Led by Harry Hunter, a young Charles Town volunteer
and the grandnephew of the murdered mayor, a group of men stormed into
the Wager House, grabbed Thompson, and dragged him out onto the B & O
bridge. “You may kill me but it will be revenged,” Thompson yelled;
“there are eighty thousand persons sworn to carry out this work.” These
were his last words. The mob shot him several times and tossed his body
into the Potomac to serve, like Leeman’s, as a target for the remainder
of the day.

While Brown’s situation at the fire enginehouse was growing
progressively worse, his three-man detachment holding the rifle works
came under fire. Under Kagi’s leadership these men had held the works
uncontested during the morning and early afternoon. About 2:30 p.m. Dr.
Starry organized a party of “citizens and neighbors” and launched an
attack against the raiders from Shenandoah Street. After a brief
exchange of shots, Kagi, Lewis Leary, and John Copeland dashed out the
back of the building, scrambled across the Winchester and Potomac
Railroad tracks, and waded into the shallow Shenandoah River. Some
townspeople posted on the opposite bank spotted the fleeing men and
opened fire. The raiders, caught in a crossfire, made for a large flat
rock in the middle of the river. Kagi, Brown’s most trusted and able
lieutenant, was killed in the attempt and Leary was mortally wounded.
Copeland reached the rock only to be dragged ashore, where the excited
crowd screamed “Lynch him! Lynch him!” But Dr. Starry intervened, and
the frightened Negro was hustled off to jail.

At the enginehouse, the raiders continued to exchange occasional shots
with the Charles Town militia and the townspeople. By now Brown had
separated his prisoners. Eleven of the more important hostages who might
be used for bargaining purposes were moved into the engineroom with his
dwindling band, while the others remained crowded into the tiny
guardroom. The two rooms were separated by a solid brick wall.

    [Illustration: Lewis S. Leary]

    [Illustration: William H. Leeman]

About 3 p.m., shortly after the raiders were driven out of the rifle
works, a militia company arrived by train from Martinsburg, Va. Headed
by Capt. E. G. Alburtis and comprised mostly of B & O Railroad
employees, this company marched on the enginehouse from the upper end of
the armory yard and came close to ending the raid. Brown positioned his
men in front of the building to meet the attack. Alburtis’ contingent,
advancing briskly and maintaining a steady fire, forced the raiders back
inside. Smashing the windows of the guardroom, the militiamen freed the
prisoners but were forced to withdraw after eight of their number were
wounded from the constant fire pouring from the partly opened
enginehouse door. Alburtis later complained that had his men been
supported by the other militia companies present, John Brown’s raid
would have been ended.

Other militia units now began to arrive. Between 3 and 4 p.m. the
Hamtramck Guards and the Shepherdstown Troop, both from Shepherdstown,
Va., came in. At dusk three uniformed companies from Frederick, Md.,
appeared, followed later in the evening by a Winchester, Va., company
under R. B. Washington, and five companies of the Maryland Volunteers
under General Stewart from Baltimore. None of them made any attempt to
dislodge Brown and his men from the enginehouse, but all added to the
general confusion and hysteria gripping the town.

    [Illustration: The attack on the enginehouse by Baltimore and Ohio
    Railroad employees led by Capt. E. G. Alburtis is shown in this
    contemporary engraving from _Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper_.
    Alburtis’ attack failed to dislodge the raiders, but his men did
    manage to free several of Brown’s hostages.]

On the other side of the Potomac, Cook, Owen Brown, Barclay Coppoc,
Meriam, Tidd, and several Negroes had been transferring weapons to a
tiny schoolhouse midway between Harpers Ferry and the Kennedy farm. As
the day wore on and the firing from town became heavier, they began to
suspect that something might have gone wrong. At about 4 p.m. Cook
headed for the B & O bridge to see what was happening. To get a better
vantage point, he climbed the craggy face of Maryland Heights where he
could look directly into the center of the town. Seeing that his
compatriots were “completely surrounded,” he decided to try to take some
of the pressure off by firing across the river at men posted in the
houses along High Street overlooking the armory. His shot was instantly
answered by a volley of bullets that severed a branch he was clutching
for support and sent him tumbling down the rocky cliff. Badly cut and
bruised from the fall, he limped back to the schoolhouse and joined the
others. Realizing there was nothing they could do to aid their comrades
trapped in the enginehouse, they reluctantly gathered their belongings,
climbed the mountain and headed north.

    [Illustration: Stewart Taylor]

    [Illustration: John A. Copeland]

    [Illustration: Jeremiah G. Anderson]

Time was quickly running out for John Brown. As resistance became
partially organized at Harpers Ferry, steps were taken to seal off any
possibility of support reaching the raiders. Fearing that Brown’s raid
might be part of a general uprising, all approaches to the town were
guarded, and all travelers not familiar to residents of the area were
immediately arrested and shipped off to the county jail at Charles Town.

As night approached, the firing sputtered out. Brown, knowing escape was
impossible, again attempted to bargain for freedom. In verbal and
written pleas he offered to release his hostages if he and his men were
allowed to leave unmolested. Col. Robert W. Taylor, now commanding the
Virginia militia units at Harpers Ferry, rejected the offers, sending
back word that if the prisoners were immediately released he would let
the Government deal with Brown and his men. But the old abolitionist
would not yield, and prisoners, slaves, and raiders alike settled down,
as best they could, to what would be a long and depressing night.

Brown paced up and down like a caged tiger. It had been hours since he
or any of them had tasted food or drink. The cold night air chilled
their bones and the pungent odor of gunpowder stung their nostrils. The
large-scale slave support that he had counted upon and for which the
pikes were intended had not materialized. This was largely his own
doing, however, for in his desire for absolute secrecy he had given no
advance word that he was coming. The slaves had no idea that a raid was
in progress. The few his men had picked up at the Washington and
Allstadt farms were of no use to him. They were frightened and preferred
to remain with the white hostages rather than take an active part in
their own salvation. Most likely they would not have joined him at all
had they not been taken from their homes at gunpoint.

From time to time Brown called out, “Men, are you awake?” Only five of
the raiders were still unwounded and able to hold a rifle: Brown
himself, Edwin Coppoc, J. G. Anderson, Dauphin Thompson, and Shields
Green. Stewart Taylor, the Canadian soldier of fortune, lay dead in a
corner, his presentiment of death come true. He had been shot like
Oliver Brown while standing at the enginehouse doorway. Oliver himself,
writhing in pain, begged to be killed and put out of his misery. “If you
must die, then die like a man,” snapped his father. After awhile Oliver
was quiet. “I guess he is dead,” Brown said. Nearby, Watson Brown lay
quietly breathing his last. The attack that had begun but 24 hours
before was fast coming to an end.

                           THE TRAP IS SPRUNG

The somberness that permeated the fire enginehouse contrasted sharply
with the din outside. Hundreds of militiamen and townspeople jammed the
streets, which echoed with whoops and yells. Anxious and hysterical
friends and relatives of Brown’s hostages added to the confusion. While
the quasi-military operations ended at nightfall, the non-military
activities continued with increasing fervor. The bars in the Wager House
and Gault House Saloon were enjoying an unprecedented business. Many men
were intoxicated, and they fired their guns wildly into the air and
occasionally at the enginehouse. All semblance of order was gone and the
“wildest excitement” prevailed throughout the night.

    [Illustration: Albert Hazlett]

    [Illustration: Osborn P. Anderson]

During this confusion two of Brown’s men made their escape. Of the
raiders caught in Harpers Ferry when the Jefferson Guards seized the B &
O bridge at midday on October 17, Albert Hazlett and Osborn P. Anderson,
occupying the arsenal, went unnoticed during the day. At night they
crept out, mingled with the disorderly crowds, crossed the Potomac into
Maryland, and fled north.

Into the midst of the chaos created by the drunken and disorderly
militia and townspeople marched 90 U.S. Marines led by a 52-year-old
Army colonel, Robert E. Lee. Lee had been at his home in Arlington, Va.,
that afternoon when Lt. J. E. B. Stuart brought him secret orders to
report to the War Department at once. There President Buchanan and
Secretary of War Floyd told him of Brown’s attack and ordered him to
leave immediately for Harpers Ferry with the only Federal troops readily
available, a detachment of Marines at the Washington Navy Yard. Upon his
arrival at Harpers Ferry, Lee was to take command of all forces in the
town. Lieutenant Stuart, scenting excitement, asked for and received
permission to accompany Lee, who, in the hurry of departure, had no time
to return home and don his uniform.

The Marines, under the immediate command of Lt. Israel Green, left
Washington before Lee and arrived at Sandy Hook in late afternoon. Lee
and Stuart joined them at 10:30 p.m. Marching into Harpers Ferry, the
Marines entered the armory yard about 11 p.m. and replaced the
disorganized militia. Lee would have ordered an immediate attack on the
enginehouse “But for the fear of sacrificing the lives of some of the
gentlemen held ... as prisoners....”

About 2:30 a.m., October 18, Lee wrote a surrender demand and handed it
to Stuart for delivery to Brown under a white flag when so directed. He
hoped that the raider chieftain could be persuaded to surrender
peaceably and avoid further bloodshed, but he expected that he would be
taken only by force and laid his plans accordingly. In the early morning
hours, Lee, believing the raid to be chiefly aimed against State
authority and not the Federal Government, offered the honor of
assaulting the enginehouse to Colonel Shriver of the Maryland
Volunteers. Shriver declined. “These men of mine have wives and
children,” he said. “I will not expose them to such risks. You are paid
for doing this kind of work.” Lee then offered the task to Colonel
Baylor of the Virginia militia. Baylor promptly declined it for the same
reasons. Lieutenant Green was then asked if he wished “the honor of
taking those men out.” Green lifted his cap, thanked Lee, and picked a
storming party of 12 men. He instructed them to use only their bayonets,
as bullets might injure some of the hostages.

    [Illustration: Trapped inside the armory enginehouse, the raiders
    and their hostages await the attack by U.S. Marines under Col.
    Robert E. Lee.]

By 7 a.m. there was enough light for operations. All arrangements for
the assault had been completed. The militia formed up outside the armory
wall to keep the street clear of spectators and to prevent
indiscriminate firing that might injure the storming party. The Marines
took position at the northwest corner of the enginehouse, just out of
the line of fire from the door. Then Lieutenant Stuart moved forward
with the surrender demand. Brown opened the door a few inches and placed
his body against the crack so the lieutenant could not see inside. He
held a cocked rifle in one hand. Stuart read the terms offered by Lee:

  Colonel Lee, United States Army, commanding troops sent by the
  President of the United States to suppress the insurrection at this
  place, demands the surrender of the persons in the Armory buildings.
  If they will peaceably surrender themselves and restore the pillaged
  property, they shall be kept in safety to await the orders of the
  President. Col. Lee represents to them, in all frankness, that it is
  impossible for them to escape; that the Armory is surrounded on all
  sides by troops; and that if he is compelled to take them by force he
  cannot answer for their safety.

    Robert E. Lee and J. E. B. Stuart are pictured here about the time
    of the raid.

    [Illustration: Robert E. Lee]

    [Illustration: This little-known portrait of Stuart shows him in
    civilian dress and with trimmed beard.]

According to Stuart, the parley was “a long one.” Brown refused to
surrender. Instead he presented his own propositions “in every possible
shape, and with admirable tact,” insisting that he, his men, and his
hostages be permitted to cross the river unmolested.

Stuart, instructed not to accept any counter-proposals, sensed that
further discussion was useless. Stepping back from the door, he waved
his hat, a pre-arranged signal for the Marines to attack. Brown slammed
the door shut and the troops came on. Three men with sledge hammers
pounded the center door of the enginehouse, but it would not yield; the
raiders had placed the fire engines against it. Spotting a heavy ladder
nearby, Lieutenant Green directed his men to use it as a battering-ram.
On the second blow the door splintered and a small opening was effected.

    [Illustration: Lt. Israel Green led the Marine attack on the
    enginehouse and was the first man to enter the building.]

    [Illustration: The engraving below shows the Marines battering the
    enginehouse door while under fire from raiders inside.]

Lieutenant Green was the first man through. Maj. W. W. Russell, armed
only with a rattan cane, followed immediately. Pvt. Luke Quinn squeezed
through behind Russell and fell dead at the door, shot through his
groin. Another Marine, Pvt. Mathew Ruppert, stepped over Quinn, then
dropped his gun and clawed his face in pain where a bullet had torn
through his cheek. The rest of the storming party entered without

The hostages cowered at the rear of the building; Brown knelt between
the fire engines, rifle in hand. As Green came through the row of
engines, Colonel Washington greeted him and pointed at Brown. Green
raised his sword and brought it down with all his strength, cutting a
deep wound in the back of the raider chieftain’s neck. As Brown fell,
Green lunged with his sword, striking part of the raider’s accouterments
and bending the blade double. Green then showered blow after blow upon
Brown’s head until he fell unconscious. Two of the raiders were killed
almost immediately after the Marines entered the building: Dauphin
Thompson, pinned against the rear wall by a bayonet, and Jeremiah
Anderson, run through by a saber as he sought refuge under one of the
fire engines. Edwin Coppoc and Shields Green surrendered. The fight was
over in about 3 minutes.

    [Illustration: After their capture, Brown and his surviving men were
    placed under guard outside the enginehouse, where they were
    subjected to taunts and threats of angry militia and townspeople.]

None of the hostages was injured, although Lieutenant Green considered
them the “sorriest lot of people I ever saw.” The dead, dying, and
wounded raiders were carried outside and laid in a row on the grass. As
Brown slowly regained consciousness, the Marines had trouble keeping
back the throngs of militia and townspeople who wanted to see the
wounded raider leader. After noon, Brown and Stevens, still suffering
from the wounds he received on October 17, were carried to the
paymaster’s office where a group of inquisitors, including Virginia’s
Governor Henry A. Wise and Senator James M. Mason, and Ohio Congressman
Clement L. Vallandigham, questioned them for 3 hours in an effort to
learn their purpose and the names of their supporters in the North.

During the interrogation Brown lay on the floor, his hair matted and
tangled, his face, hands, and clothes soiled and smeared with blood. He
talked freely, and while he readily admitted his intention to free the
slaves, “and only that,” he refused to divulge the names of his Northern
backers. “No man sent me here,” he said; “it was my own prompting and
that of my Maker, or that of the devil, whichever you ascribe it to. I
acknowledge no man in human form.” He continued:

  I want you to understand, gentlemen ... that I respect the rights of
  the poorest and weakest of colored people, oppressed by the slave
  system, just as much as I do those of the most wealthy and powerful.
  That is the idea that has moved me, and that alone. We expect no
  reward, except the satisfaction of endeavoring to do for those in
  distress and greatly oppressed, as we would be done by. The cry of
  distress of the oppressed is my reason, and the only thing that has
  prompted me to come here.

Brown then issued a prophetic warning:

  I wish to say furthermore, that you had better—all you people at the
  South—prepare yourselves for a settlement of that question that must
  come up for settlement sooner than you are prepared for it. The sooner
  you are prepared the better. You may dispose of me very easily; I am
  nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settled—this
  negro question I mean—the end of that is not yet.

                           JOHN BROWN’S BODY

The day after their capture, Brown and his surviving followers—Stevens,
Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—were taken to Charles
Town under heavy guard and lodged in the county jail. The cell doors had
hardly banged shut when they learned that they were to receive speedy
trials. The grand jury was then in session, and the semiannual term of
the circuit court, presided over by Judge Richard Parker, had begun.

The five raiders were arraigned on October 25, just one week after their
capture. The next day they were indicted for treason against the
Commonwealth of Virginia, for conspiring with slaves to rebel, and for
murder. Each defendant pleaded “Not guilty” and each asked for a
separate trial. The court consented and elected to try Brown first. Two
court-appointed attorneys, 36-year-old Lawson Botts, who had helped to
capture the raiders, and Thomas C. Green, the 39-year-old Mayor of
Charles Town, were called upon to defend him. Charles Harding,
Commonwealth Attorney for Jefferson County, and Andrew Hunter, a veteran
Charles Town lawyer, served as prosecutors for the State.

The trial began on October 27. It lasted 3½ days. Still suffering from
his wounds, Brown was carried back and forth from jail to courthouse,
and lay on a cot during much of the proceedings. Judge Parker had hardly
brought the court to order when defense counsel Botts astounded the
packed courtroom (including Brown himself) by reading a telegram from A.
H. Lewis of Akron, Ohio, dated October 26:

  John Brown, leader of the insurrection at Harper’s Ferry, and several
  of his family, have resided in this county for many years. Insanity is
  hereditary in that family. His mother’s sister died with it, and a
  daughter of that sister has been two years in a Lunatic Asylum. A son
  and daughter of his mother’s brother have also been confined in the
  lunatic asylum, and another son of that brother is now insane and
  under close restraint. These facts can be conclusively proven by
  witnesses residing here, who will doubtless attend the trial if

    [Illustration: John Brown was tried in the courthouse at Charles
    Town, about 10 miles from Harpers Ferry. The trial was presided over
    by the Hon. Richard Parker (below), circuit judge for Jefferson

    [Illustration: Richard Parker]

After receiving the telegram, Botts had gone to the jail to talk with
Brown about it. The raider leader had readily admitted that there were
instances of insanity in his mother’s side of the family (in fact, his
mother had died insane), but asserted that there was none at all on his
father’s side. He said his first wife had shown symptoms of it, as had
two of their sons, Frederick and John, Jr. Clearly, by introducing the
Lewis telegram, the defense hoped to save Brown’s life by having him
declared insane and committed to an institution. But the old
abolitionist refused to sanction such a plea. Rising up on his cot, he

  I will add, if the Court will allow me, that I look upon it as a
  miserable artifice and pretext of those who ought to take a different
  course in regard to me, if they took any at all, and I view it with
  contempt more than otherwise. As I remarked to Mr. Green, insane
  persons, so far as my experience goes, have but little ability to
  judge of their own sanity; and, if I am insane, of course I should
  think I know more than all the rest of the world. But I do not think
  so. I am perfectly unconscious of insanity, and I reject, so far as I
  am capable, any attempt to interfere in my behalf on that score.

    Lawson Botts and Thomas C. Green were appointed by the court to
    defend the raider leader. Brown, however, did not trust them to
    provide him an adequate defense.

    [Illustration: Lawson Botts.]

    [Illustration: Thomas C. Green.]

    Brown had more faith in the three lawyers provided by his Northern
    friends. Their efforts to save him from the gallows, however, proved

    [Illustration: George Hoyt, shown here as an officer during the
    Civil War.]

    [Illustration: Samuel Chilton.]

    [Illustration: Hiram Griswold.]

Judge Parker ruled out the insanity plea on the basis that the evidence
had not been presented in a reliable form. He also rejected Bott’s
request for a delay in the proceedings to allow new counsel of Brown’s
own choosing to come from Ohio. The trial continued.

The defense lawyers were increased to three when George Hoyt joined
Botts and Green. Hoyt, a 21-year-old Boston lawyer, was sent to Charles
Town by some of Brown’s Northern supporters ostensibly to defend the
raider chieftain; his real mission was to gather information that might
be useful to those plotting Brown’s escape.

As the trial progressed, Brown became more and more irritated with his
court-appointed lawyers and openly expressed his lack of confidence in
them. Botts and Green thereupon withdrew, leaving Hoyt, the woefully
inexperienced “beardless boy” who was entirely unacquainted with the
code and procedure of the Virginia courts and knowing very little about
the case, burdened with the sole responsibility for conducting the
defense in one of the most sensational trials the country had ever
witnessed. He was soon reinforced, however, by more seasoned counsel.
Samuel Chilton of Washington, D.C., and Hiram Griswold of Cleveland,
Ohio, were persuaded by Brown’s influential friends to join the fight to
save the abolitionist’s life. But their arrival made little difference;
the outcome of the trial was inevitable.

The prosecution’s parade of witnesses recounted the story of the attack
on Harpers Ferry, the arming of the slaves, and the deaths of Hayward
Shepherd, Fontaine Beckham, and George W. Turner. Brown’s contention
that, as commander in chief of a provisional army, he should be tried
according to the laws of war and not as a common criminal was rejected.
Other arguments offered by the defense met with equally fruitless
results. Finally, on October 31, closing arguments by the prosecution
and the defense were heard and at 1:45 p.m. the case went to the jury.
Deliberations lasted for 45 minutes. The verdict: guilty on all three
counts. A newspaper correspondent described the reaction:

  Not the slightest sound was heard in the vast crowd as this verdict
  was thus returned and read. Not the slightest expression of elation or
  triumph was uttered from the hundreds present, who, a moment before,
  outside the court, joined in heaping threats and imprecations upon his
  head; nor was this strange silence interrupted during the whole of the
  time occupied by the forms of the Court. Old Brown himself said not
  even a word, but, as on previous days, turned to adjust his pallet,
  and then composedly stretched himself upon it.

    [Illustration: Andrew Hunter, special prosecutor for the State of
    Virginia, vowed to see Brown “arraigned, tried, found guilty,
    sentenced and hung, all within ten days.”]

    [Illustration: The courtroom in which Brown was tried was not as
    large as this drawing would indicate, but it was packed with
    witnesses and spectators. Brown lay on a cot during most of the
    proceedings, rising only occasionally to make a point in his

    [Illustration: Jefferson County Sheriff James Campbell.]

    [Illustration: The jailer, John Avis.]

Sentence was passed on November 2: John Brown would hang on Friday,
December 2, 1859. The other raiders—Coppoc, Stevens, Copeland, and
Green—were tried subsequently, found guilty, and received like
sentences. Of the seven raiders who escaped from Harpers Ferry, John
Cook and Albert Hazlett were captured in Pennsylvania, brought to
Charles Town for trial, convicted, and hanged.

In the days following Brown’s sentencing, Virginia’s Governor Wise was
swamped with mail. Many letters pleaded for clemency, some contained
outright threats, while others warned of fantastic plots to effect the
abolitionist’s escape. Martial law was declared in Charles Town.
Militiamen were everywhere, and armed patrols kept a vigilant watch on
all roads leading into town. The day of execution came, and not one of
the schemes to free Brown materialized.

    [Illustration: Henry A. Wise, Governor of Virginia]

    [Illustration: Proclamation]


IN pursuance of instructions from the Governor of Virginia, notice is
hereby given to all whom it may concern,

That, as heretofore, particularly from now until after Friday next the
2nd of December, STRANGERS found within the County of Jefferson, and
Counties adjacent, having no known and proper business here, and who
cannot give a satisfactory account of themselves, will be at once

That on, and for a proper period before that day, stangers[sic] and
especially parties, approaching under the pretext of being present at
the execution of John Brown, whether by Railroad or otherwise, will be
met by the Military and turned back or arrested without regard to the
amount of force, that may be required to effect this, and during the
said period and especially on the 2nd of December, the citizens of
Jefferson and the surrounding country are _EMPHATICALLY_ warned to
remain at their homes armed and guard their own property.

On the afternoon before the execution, Brown’s grief-stricken wife was
allowed to visit him in his cell. They spent several hours talking.
Toward evening they parted, and Mary Brown went to Harpers Ferry to
await the delivery of her husband’s body. It would be her agonizing duty
to return Brown’s remains to their North Elba home for burial.

A few minutes after 11 a.m. on December 2, 1859, John Brown walked down
the steps of the Charles Town jail, climbed into the back of a
horse-drawn wagon, and sat down on his own coffin. Flanked by files of
soldiers, the wagon moved off toward a field a short distance from the
town where a scaffold had been erected. No civilians were permitted near
the execution site. The field was ringed by 1,500 soldiers, among them a
company of Virginia Military Institute cadets commanded by a
stern-looking professor who would soon gain fame and immortality as the
Confederate Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson. In the ranks of a Richmond company
stood another man who, in a few short years, would also achieve
immortality by committing one of the most infamous deeds in American
history—John Wilkes Booth.

    [Illustration: With soldiers lining the streets, John Brown comes
    down the steps of the Charles Town jail on the way to his execution,
    December 2, 1859. The wagon containing his coffin stands nearby.]

As the hushed military watched, Brown climbed the scaffold steps.
Sheriff John W. Campbell pulled a white linen hood over the prisoner’s
head and set the noose. John Avis, the jailer, asked Brown to step
forward onto the trap. “You must lead me,” Brown replied, “for I cannot
see.” The abolitionist’s last words were directed to Avis as one final
adjustment of the noose was made. “Be quick,” he said.

At 11:30 a hatchet stroke sprung the trap and John Brown died. The voice
of a militia colonel broke the stillness: “So perish all such enemies of
Virginia! All such enemies of the Union! All such enemies of the human

But the end was not yet. True, Brown was dead; but he had helped to
arouse popular passions both North and South to the point where
compromise would be impossible. The raid created a national furor and
generated a wave of emotionalism that widened the sectional breach that
had divided the country for so many years. Although conservative
Northern opinion quickly condemned the raid as the work of a madman, the
more radical hailed it as “the best news America ever had” and glorified
Brown as “the new saint” whose martyrdom in the cause of human freedom
would make the gallows “glorious like the cross.”

    [Illustration: The hanging of John Brown took place at 11:30 a.m.,
    December 2, 1859, in a field just outside Charles Town. The field no
    longer exists, but the site is identified by a simple stone marker.]

Southerners shuddered. For decades they had been defending their
“peculiar institution” of slavery against the ever-increasing attacks of
Northern abolitionists, but anti-slavery agitation had always followed a
course of non-violence. Then Brown had come with his pikes and guns to
change all that. In the false atmosphere of crisis that gripped the
South in the wake of the raid, the small voices of moderates were lost
in the din of extremists who saw Brown’s act as part of a vast Northern
conspiracy to instigate servile insurrections throughout the slave

To meet this threat, real or imagined, vigilance committees were formed,
volunteer military companies were organized, and more and more
Southerners began to echo the sentiments of the Richmond Enquirer: “if
under the form of a Confederacy our peace is disturbed, our State
invaded, its peaceful citizens cruelly murdered ... by those who should
be our warmest friends ... and the people of the North sustain the
outrage, then let disunion come.”

Disunion sentiment increased during the presidential campaign of 1860,
stimulated by a split in the Democratic Party that practically
guaranteed a Republican victory in the November elections. When Abraham
Lincoln was elected President, the secessionist movement could no longer
be contained. On December 20, unable to tolerate a President “whose
opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery,” South Carolina severed
her ties with the Union. By February 1, 1861, Mississippi, Florida,
Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas had followed her lead. One week
later the Confederate States of America was formed at Montgomery, Ala.,
and the country drifted slowly toward civil war. Before many months had
passed, soldiers in blue would be marching south to the tune of “John
Brown’s Body” as if to fulfill the prophecy Brown had left in a note to
one of his Charles Town guards shortly before the execution:

    [Illustration: Charlestown, Va, 2^d, december, 1859 I John Brown am
    now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty, land: will never
    be purged away; but with Blood. I had as I now think: vainly
    flattered myself that without very much bloodshed; it might be


The war that John Brown predicted would come, and which his raid helped
to precipitate, began in April 1861. When it ended almost 4 years to the
day later, slavery had been destroyed along with some 600,000 lives and
millions of dollars worth of property. Among the casualties of the war
was Harpers Ferry. The town’s strategic position on the Baltimore and
Ohio Railroad at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley made it a
prime target for both Union and Confederate forces. It changed hands
again and again, and by war’s end in 1865 the place was a shambles.

As early as February 1862 a young Union staff officer assigned to the
Harpers Ferry area could write of the town: “The appearance of ruin by
war and fire was awful. Charred ruins were all that remain of the
splendid public works, arsenals, workshops and railroads, stores,
hotels, and dwelling houses all mingled in one common destruction.” Much
the same observation was made 3 years later in the summer of 1865 by
John T. Trowbridge, a New England writer, during a tour of the South:
“[T]he town is the reverse of agreeable. It is said to have been a
pleasant and picturesque place formerly. The streets were well graded,
and the hill-sides above were graced with terraces and trees. But war
has changed all. Freshets tear down the centre of the streets, and the
hill-sides present only ragged growths of weeds. The town itself lies
half in ruins.... Of the bridge across the Shenandoah only the ruined
piers are left; still less remains of the old bridge over the Potomac.
And all about the town are rubbish, filth and stench.”

The once-imposing armory complex along the Potomac River and the rifle
works on Hall Island in the Shenandoah were burned-out hulks. Only the
armory enginehouse remained basically intact, “like a monument which no
Rebel hands were permitted to demolish.” Large sections of the town had
been burned by various troop contingents to prevent their use by enemy
soldiers. Many homes, churches, schools, and business establishments
were damaged beyond repair by shot and shell fired from the surrounding
heights. Still other buildings, subjected to long military use, were on
the verge of ruin. The industries on Virginius Island—the iron foundry,
the flour mill, the sawmill, the machine shops, the cotton mill—were
also gone, and Harpers Ferry no longer had the activity and bustle of an
economically healthy community.

Besides the material damage inflicted by powerful weaponry and by the
seemingly endless procession of soldiers who filched or requisitioned
everything that could be carried away, the town suffered an even greater
loss—its people. During the war most of the townspeople moved away, some
to escape the dangers of military operations, some to seek employment
elsewhere after the armory and the industries were destroyed, and some
to join one or the other opposing armies. Many never came back. Those
who did return found their town in ruins and themselves the citizens of
a new State.

In 1861 the people in the mountainous western counties of Virginia
strongly opposed secession. When the rest of the State voted
overwhelmingly in a statewide referendum on May 23, 1861, to withdraw
from the Federal Union, the loyal western residents, in a series of
conventions at Wheeling, voted to “secede” from Virginia and set up
their own State. The bill for admission passed Congress on December 11,
1862, and on June 30, 1863, by Presidential proclamation, West Virginia
became the 35th State. For years, however, many Jefferson County
residents refused to use “West” as part of the designation.

Harpers Ferry never recovered from the devastation of the Civil War.
Staring at the stark chimneys and charred remains of once impressive
buildings, one of the townspeople concluded: “This place will never be
anything again unless the government rebuilds the armory—and it is
doubtful if that is ever done.” The Government never did, and the ground
on which it stood was auctioned off in 1869. Mills and factories
remained closed. The railroad did a small percentage of its previous
business. Hopes for a renewal of the town’s former prosperity were
dashed in 1870 when a flood destroyed or badly damaged nearly every
building on Virginius Island and along the south side of Shenandoah
Street. Subsequent floods destroyed still more of the town and ruined
the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The canal was finally abandoned after the
flood of 1924.

Inundated too often by high water, the residents of Harpers Ferry
eventually left the old buildings in the lower town and moved up the
heights to the high ground of Camp Hill and toward Bolivar. For years
the old shops and stores, those that remained, stood empty, neglected,
and deteriorating. When Harpers Ferry became a national historical area,
the National Park Service began an intensive campaign to preserve the
fragile remains of the 18th- and 19th-century industries, homes,
churches, stores, and shops, and to restore much of the old town to its
pre-Civil War appearance, a time when it was at its peak as a thriving,
bustling industrial community and transportation center.

Today, while much of the old historical town remains, few of the
structures that figured prominently in John Brown’s raid survive. (See
maps on pp. 29 and 30.) The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad bridge across
the Potomac, by which Brown and his raiders entered Harpers Ferry in
October 1859, was destroyed by Confederate soldiers early in the Civil
War. More modern structures span the river now, but the stone supports
of the old bridge can still be seen. Nothing at all remains of the
bridge across the Shenandoah. The stone piers now standing in the river
near the Point section of the town are from a later structure.

The ruins of the armory buildings stood for many years after the war and
eventually disappeared. In 1893 the site itself disappeared under 30
feet of fill when the B & O Railroad changed the line of its tracks. The
outlines of two of the armory buildings have been marked by flat stones
and the spot where the enginehouse was located is marked by a small
monument. The enginehouse itself (now called “John Brown’s Fort”) stands
nearby on the old arsenal grounds, and is little changed from its
appearance at the time of the raid. Here also can be seen the excavated
remains of the small U.S. arsenal and some of the partially exposed
burned muskets destroyed when the building was gutted by Federal troops
in April 1861.

In February 1862 Federal soldiers burned the Point area of Harpers Ferry
to keep Confederate sharpshooters from using the buildings. Among the
structures destroyed were the railroad depot, the water tower around
which Mayor Fontaine Beckham was peering when he was shot by one of the
raiders, several stores and shops, the Potomac Restaurant, the Wager
House Hotel, and the Gault House Saloon. The Wager House (not to be
confused with another structure of the same name that still exists) was
the scene of several notable events. It was here that many of the
wounded were carried, including two of the raiders, Aaron Stevens and
William Thompson. Many of the militiamen did their “best fighting” at
its bar. From the Wager House porch, Gov. Henry Wise of Virginia read
letters taken from Brown’s men to the angered townspeople. Wise also
lived here during his brief stay in Harpers Ferry. Mrs. John Brown
stayed here when she came to Harpers Ferry in December 1859 for her last
visit with her husband, and it was here that she received his body after
the execution.

The Shenandoah islands are deserted today except for the line of the
Winchester and Potomac Railroad. All of the buildings are gone now
except for the foundations of some of the mills and the retaining walls
of the rifle factory, nestled in among the weeds, brush, and trees. Many
disappeared through neglect after the industries were destroyed during
the Civil War, some washed away in the many floods with which Harpers
Ferry has been plagued, and others, like Herr’s flour mill and the rifle
works, were deliberately destroyed by Union and Confederate troops.

Several structures associated with the raid still exist outside Harpers
Ferry. The courthouse at Charles Town, W. Va., is little changed since
John Brown was tried and sentenced there more than a century ago. The
Kennedy farm, Brown’s headquarters during the months he was planning the
raid, lies in the Maryland countryside about 5 miles from Harpers Ferry.
Col. Lewis Washington’s home, “Beallair,” which several raiders broke
into on the night of October 16 and took its owner hostage, stands near
Halltown, about 4 miles west of Harpers Ferry. And nearby, at the foot
of Alstadt Hill, west of Bolivar, is the home of John H. Alstadt,
another hostage taken by Brown’s men on October 16.

                      The Capture of John Brown[1]
                            by Israel Green

At noon of Monday, October 18, 1859, Chief Clerk Walsh, of the Navy
Department, drove rapidly into the Washington Navy-yard, and, meeting
me, asked me how many marines we had stationed at the barracks available
for immediate duty. I happened to be the senior officer present and in
command that day. I instantly replied to Mr. Walsh that we had ninety
men available, and then asked him what was the trouble. He told me that
Ossawatomie Brown, of Kansas, with a number of men, had taken the
arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, and was then besieged there by the Virginia
State troops. Mr. Walsh returned speedily to the Navy Department
building, and, in the course of an hour, orders came to me from
Secretary Tousey to proceed at once to Harper’s Ferry and report to the
senior officer; and, if there should be no such officer at the Ferry, to
take charge and protect the government property. With a detachment of
ninety marines, I started for Harper’s Ferry that afternoon on the 3:30
train, taking with me two howitzers. It was a beautiful, clear autumn
day, and the men, exhilarated by the excitement of the occasion, which
came after a long, dull season of confinement in the barracks, enjoyed
the trip exceedingly.

At Frederick Junction I received a dispatch from Colonel Robert E. Lee,
who turned out to be the army officer to whom I was to report. He
directed me to proceed to Sandy Hook, a small place about a mile this
side of the Ferry, and there await his arrival. At ten o’clock in the
evening he came up on a special train from Washington. His first order
was to form the marines out of the car, and march from the bridge to
Harper’s Ferry. This we did, entering the enclosure of the arsenal
grounds through a back gate. At eleven o’clock Colonel Lee ordered the
volunteers to march out of the grounds, and gave the control inside to
the marines, with instructions to see that none of the insurgents
escaped during the night. There had been hard fighting all the preceding
day, and Brown and his men kept quiet during the night. At half-past six
in the morning Colonel Lee gave me orders to select a detail of twelve
men for a storming party, and place them near the engine-house in which
Brown and his men had intrenched themselves. I selected twelve of my
best men, and a second twelve to be employed as a reserve. The
engine-house was a strong stone [actually brick] building, which is
still in a good state of preservation at the Ferry, in spite of the
three days’ fighting in the building by Brown and his men, and the
ravages of the recent war between the States. The building was ...
perhaps thirty feet by thirty-five. In the front were two large double
doors, between which was a stone abutment. Within were two
old-fashioned, heavy fire-engines, with a hose-cart and reel standing
between them, and just back of the abutment between the doors. They were
double-battened doors, very strongly made, with heavy wrought-iron
nails. Lieutenant J. E. B. Stewart [Stuart], afterwards famous as a
cavalry commander on the side of the South, accompanied Colonel Lee as a
volunteer aid. He was ordered to go with a part of the troops to the
front of the engine-house and demand the surrender of the insurgent
party. Colonel Lee directed him to offer protection to Brown and his
men, but to receive no counter-proposition from Brown in regard to the
surrender. On the way to the engine-house, Stewart and myself agreed
upon a signal for attack in the event that Brown should refuse to
surrender. It was simply that Lieutenant Stewart would wave his hat,
which was then, I believe, one very similar to the famous chapeau which
he wore throughout the war. I had my storming party ranged alongside of
the engine-house, and a number of men were provided with sledge-hammers
with which to batter in the doors. I stood in front of the abutment
between the doors. Stewart hailed Brown and called for his surrender,
but Brown at once began to make a proposition that he and his men should
be allowed to come out of the engine-house and be given the length of
the bridge start, so that they might escape. Suddenly Lieutenant Stewart
waved his hat, and I gave the order to my men to batter in the door.
Those inside fired rapidly at the point where the blows were given upon
the door. Very little impression was made with the hammers, as the doors
were tied on the inside with ropes and braced by the hand-brakes of the
fire-engines, and in a few minutes I gave the order to desist. Just then
my eye caught sight of a ladder, lying a few feet from the engine-house,
in the yard, and I ordered my men to catch it up and use it as a
battering-ram. The reserve of twelve men I employed as a supporting
column for the assaulting party. The men took hold bravely and made a
tremendous assault upon the door. The second blow broke it in. This
entrance was a ragged hole low down in the right-hand door, the door
being splintered and cracked some distance upward. I instantly stepped
from my position in front of the stone abutment, and entered the opening
made by the ladder. At the time I did not stop to think of it, but upon
reflection I should say that Brown had just emptied his carbine at the
point broken by the ladder, and so I passed in safely. Getting to my
feet, I ran to the right of the engine which stood behind the door,
passed quickly to the rear of the house, and came up between the two
engines. The first person I saw was Colonel Lewis Washington, who was
standing near the hose-cart, at the front of the engine-house. On one
knee, a few feet to the left, knelt a man with a carbine in his hand,
just pulling the lever to reload.

“Hello, Green,” said Colonel Washington, and he reached out his hand to
me. I grasped it with my left hand, having my saber uplifted in my
right, and he said, pointing to the kneeling figure, “This is

As he said this, Brown turned his head to see who it was to whom Colonel
Washington was speaking. Quicker than thought I brought my saber down
with all my strength upon his head. He was moving as the blow fell, and
I suppose I did not strike him where I intended, for he received a deep
saber cut in the back of the neck. He fell senseless on his side, then
rolled over on his back. He had in his hand a short Sharpe’s-cavalry
carbine. I think he had just fired as I reached Colonel Washington, for
the marine who followed me into the aperture made by the ladder received
a bullet in the abdomen, from which he died in a few minutes. The shot
might have been fired by some one else in the insurgent party, but I
think it was from Brown. Instinctively as Brown fell I gave him a saber
thrust in the left breast. The sword I carried was a light uniform
weapon, and, either not having a point or striking something hard in
Brown’s accouterments, did not penetrate. The blade bent double.

By that time three or four of my men were inside. They came rushing in
like tigers, as a storming assault is not a play-day sport. They
bayoneted one man skulking under the engine, and pinned another fellow
up against the rear wall, both being instantly killed. I ordered the men
to spill no more blood. The other insurgents were at once taken under
arrest, and the contest ended. The whole fight had not lasted over three
minutes. My only thought was to capture, or, if necessary, kill, the
insurgents, and take possession of the engine-house.

I saw very little of the situation within until the fight was over. Then
I observed that the engine-house was thick with smoke, and it was with
difficulty that a person could be seen across the room. In the rear,
behind the left-hand engine, were huddled the prisoners whom Brown had
captured and held as hostages for the safety of himself and his men.
Colonel Washington was one of these. All during the fight, as I
understood afterward, he kept to the front of the engine-house. When I
met him he was as cool as he would have been on his own veranda
entertaining guests. He was naturally a very brave man. I remember that
he would not come out of the engine-house, begrimed and soiled as he was
from his long imprisonment, until he had put a pair of kid gloves upon
his hands. The other prisoners were the sorriest lot of people I ever
saw. They had been without food for over sixty hours, in constant dread
of being shot, and were huddled up in the corner where lay the body of
Brown’s son and one or two others of the insurgents who had been killed.
Some of them have endeavored to give an account of the storming of the
engine-house and the capture of Brown, but none of the reports have been
free from a great many misstatements, and I suppose that Colonel
Washington and myself were the only persons really able to say what was
done. Other stories have been printed by people on the outside,
describing the fight within. What they say must be taken with a great
deal of allowance, for they could not have been witnesses of what
occurred within the engine-house. One recent account describes me as
jumping over the right-hand engine more like a wild beast than a
soldier. Of course nothing of the kind happened. The report made by
Colonel Lee at the time, which is now on file in the War department,
gives a more succinct and detailed account than any I have seen.

I can see Colonel Lee now, as he stood on a slight elevation about forty
feet from the engine-house, during the assault. He was in civilian
dress, and looked then very little as he did during the war. He wore no
beard, except a dark mustache, and his hair was slightly gray. He had no
arms upon his person, and treated the affair as one of no very great
consequence, which would be speedily settled by the marines. A part of
the scene, giving color and life to the picture, was the bright blue
uniform of the marines. They wore blue trousers then, as they do now,
and a dark-blue frock-coat. Their belts were white, and they wore French
fatigue caps. I do not remember the names of the twelve men in the
storming party, nor can I tell what became of them in later life. We had
no use for the howitzers, and, in fact, they were not taken from the

Immediately after the fight, Brown was carried out of the engine-house,
and recovered consciousness while lying on the ground in front. A detail
of men carried him up to the paymaster’s office, where he was attended
to and his wants supplied. On the following day, Wednesday, with an
escort, I removed him to Charleston [Charles Town], and turned him over
to the civil authorities. No handcuffs were placed upon him, and he
supported himself with a self-reliance and independence which were
characteristic of the man. He had recovered a great deal from the
effects of the blow from my saber, the injury of which was principally
the shock, as he only received a flesh wound. I had little conversation
with him, and spent very little time with him.

I have often been asked to describe Brown’s appearance at the instant he
lifted his head to see who was talking with Colonel Washington. It would
be impossible for me to do so. The whole scene passed so rapidly that it
hardly made a distinct impression upon my mind. I can only recall the
fleeting picture of an old man kneeling with a carbine in his hand, with
a long gray beard falling away from his face, looking quickly and keenly
toward the danger that he was aware had come upon him. He was not a
large man, being perhaps five feet ten inches when he straightened up in
full. His dress, even, I do not remember distinctly. I should say that
he had his trousers tucked in his boots, and that he wore clothes of
gray—probably no more than trousers and shirt. I think he had no hat
upon his head.

None of the prisoners were hurt. They were badly frightened and somewhat
starved. I received no wounds except a slight scratch on one hand as I
was getting through the hole in the door. Colonel Lee and the people on
the outside thought I was wounded. Brown had, at the time, only five or
six fighting men, and I think he himself was the only one who showed
fight after I entered the engine-house. There were no provisions in the
building, and it would have been only a question of time when Brown
would have had to surrender. Colonel Washington was the only person
inside the house that I knew.

I have been asked what became of Brown’s carbine. That I do not know. My
sword was left in Washington, among people with whom I lived, and I lost
trace of it. A few years ago, after having come out of the war and gone
west to Dakota, where I now live, I received a letter from a gentleman
in Washington, saying that he knew where the sword was, and that it was
still bent double, as it was left by the thrust upon Brown’s breast. He
said that it was now a relic of great historic value, and asked me to
assent to the selling of it upon the condition that I should receive a
portion of the price of the weapon. To me the matter had very little
interest, and I replied indifferently. Since then I have heard nothing
of the matter. I presume the saber could be found somewhere in

                         SELECTED READING LIST

Joseph Barry, _The Strange Story of Harper’s Ferry With Legends of The
Surrounding Country_, Martinsburg, W. Va., 1903.

Richard O. Boyer, _The Legend of John Brown: A Biography and A History_,
New York, 1973.

Louis Filler, _The Crusade Against Slavery, 1830-1860_, New York, 1960.

Stephen B. Oates, _To Purge This Land With Blood: A Biography of John
Brown_, New York, 1970.

Louis Ruchames, ed., _John Brown: The Making of a Revolutionary_, New
York, 1969. (Originally published under the title _A John Brown

Franklin B. Sanborn, _Life and Letters of John Brown_, Boston, 1885.

Kenneth M. Stampp, _The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum
South_, New York, 1956.

Edward Stone, ed., _Incident at Harper’s Ferry_, Englewood Cliffs, 1956.

Oswald Garrison Villard, _John Brown, 1800-1859: A Biography Fifty Years
After_, Boston and New York, 1911 (2d edition, 1943).

                            PICTURE CREDITS

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park: Title page, 8-9, 16-17, 24
(right), 26 (drawing), 28 (inset), 31, 32-33, 37 (drawing), 40-41, 45,
47 (drawing), 48, 53, 54-55, 56, 58-59; Library of Congress: 2, 3, 6,
19, 20, 21, 22 (left & center), 24 (left), 26 (portraits), 28, 36, 37
(inset), 39, 42, 44, 46, 50, 51, 52, 57; Kansas State Historical
Society, Topeka: 4, 5, 22 (right); U.S. Marine Corps Museum: 47
(portrait); Boyd B. Stutler Collection, through the courtesy of Stephen
B. Oates: 11 (Howe & Stearns); John Brown Collection, Columbus
University Libraries: 11 (Sanborn & Parker); Public Library, City of
Boston: 11 (Smith); Boston Atheneum: 11 (Higginson); Robert Lautman:
cover (John Brown’s Fort).

                         ★U.S. Government Printing Office 1973 0 521 267
                                                            Reprint 1990


[1]Originally published in _The North American Review_, December 1885.

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—Added a Table of Contents.

—Relocated all image captions to be immediately under the corresponding
  images, removing redundant references like “preceding page”.

—Silently corrected a few palpable typos.

—This book was printed mostly in italic, with emphasized text in roman;
  the eBook reverses those fonts.

—In the text versions only, text in roman is delimited by _underscores_.

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