AT HARPER’S FERRY
About a century and a half ago, Robert Harper, a master-carpenter and mill-wright, born in English Oxford, emigrated to Philadelphia, where he built mills, churches, and Quaker meeting-houses, and began to accumulate wealth thereby. In the year 1747 he undertook to build for the Quakers of Virginia a meeting-house on the Opequan River, near the present town of Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley, now famous for the battles fought there in the late civil war. Traveling on horseback through the mountain wilderness that separated the Pennsylvania farms from the tobacco plantations of Virginia, Robert Harper lodged one night at a tavern in Frederick, Maryland, where he heard of a short route to the Opequan, leading through a remarkable region called “The Hole,” on the bank of the Potomac; and so, turning aside from the road to Antietam and Shepherdstown, which he had meant to take, he rode the next day to the junction of the Potomac and the Shenandoah, and saw for the first time the striking scenery which years afterwards he showed to Thomas Jefferson, who has described it. The only white man then resident in that vicinity was a squatter named Peter Stevens, who had “taken up a claim,” like so many others, on the broad acres of Lord Fairfax’s woodland manor between the Potomac and the Rappahannock. Without waiting for the formality of a survey, Robert Harper, who saw the advantages of the situation, determined to buy out the squatter’s cabin and claim, and did so at once, paying Stevens fifty English guineas for such rights as he possessed under squatter law.
In the year 1748, while Washington was exploring and surveying the Shenandoah Valley, Harper went to Lord Fairfax’s hunting-lodge at Greenway Court (not far from The Hole), and obtained a patent for the lands he had purchased of Stevens. Probably the first survey of this tract was made by Washington himself, who also is said to have selected “the Ferry,” in 1794, as the site of a national armory. The scenery of this region in the days of Washington and Jefferson has been described by the latter, in a passage often quoted from his Notes on Virginia, written shortly before the death of Robert Harper in 1782, and presenting the view as it shows itself from “Jefferson’s Rock,” on a hill above the village of Harper’s Ferry. “You stand,” says Jefferson, “on a very high point of land; on your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to find a vent; on your left approaches the Potomac, in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea. The scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic. Yet here are people who have passed their lives within half a dozen miles, and have never been to survey these monuments of a war between rivers and mountains which must have shaken the earth itself to its centre.” And in this same region, which bears the names and is inhabited by the kindred of Washington and of Jefferson, a generation grew up after their death who had as little concern for the principles of these great men as Jefferson’s rustics for the scenery that thrilled and delighted him.
Around this junction of the two rivers, in the sixty years that followed the deal h of Washington, had grown up a village of three or four thousand inhabitants. On the northern side of the Potomac rise the Maryland Heights almost perpendicular to the rivers bank, and some thirteen hundred feet above it. The Loudon Heights, across the Shenandoah, are lower, but both rides overtop the hill between them, and make it untenable for an army, as was more than once demonstrated during the civil war. Yet this hill itself commands all the region below it, and makes the town indefensible against a force occupying that position. Therefore when John Brown, on the night of Sunday, October 16, 1859, entered and captured Harper’s Ferry, he placed himself in a trap where he was sure to be taken, unless he should quickly leave it. His purpose, beyond question, was to hold the village but a few hours, make such disposal as he should think best of the government armory and arsenal there, with its tens of thousands of muskets and rifles, get together the principal persons of the whole neighborhood to be detained as hostages, and then to move forward into the mountains of Virginia, keeping open a communication, if he could, with the mountain region of Maryland and so with the Northern States. His first mistake (and he made many in this choice of his point of attack and his method of warfare) was in crossing the Potomac at a place so near the cities of Washington and Baltimore, which are distant but sixty and eighty miles respectively from the bridge over which he marched his men. This bridge is used both by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and by the travelers along the public highway; and the only approach to it from the Maryland side is by a narrow road under the steep cliff or by the railroad itself. On the Virginia side there are roads leading up from the Shenandoah Valley (where also was a railroad in 1859, as now), and both up and down the Potomac. Harper’s Ferry is indeed the Thermopylæ of Virginia. Robert Lee, the Hector of the Southern Troy, came here with soldiers of the national army to capture John Brown, in 1859; he came here again and repeatedly as commander of the Southern armies, during the five years that followed. His soldiers and their opponents of the Union army cannonaded, burnt, pillaged, and abandoned the town, which has never recovered from the ruin of the war. The armory workshops are abandoned, both those beside the Potomac, where Brown fought and was captured, and those beside the Shenandoah, where his comrade Kagi fought and was slain. The title to the soil on which these ruined buildings stand is in dispute, and the industry of the town languishes until the dispute is settled. The fine houses of the officers who directed the armory work before the war are turned over to the directors of a school for the colored people, young and old, almost the only thing that flourishes now at Harper’s Ferry. The population of the two or three villages crowded together there is but little more than half what it was in 1859.
Brown’s attention was turned towards Harper’s Ferry and the Virginia counties adjacent or within easy reach, not only by the natural advantages of the place, anti its historical associations with the heroes of Virginia, but also by the number of slaves held there. In the village itself there were few, but in Jefferson County there were four thousand slaves and five hundred free blacks, while the white population was but ten thousand; and within a range of thirty miles from the Ferry there were perhaps twenty thousand slaves, of whom four or five thousand were capable of bearing arms. Brown may well have supposed that out of this population he could obtain the few hundred recruits that he desired for the first operations of his Virginia campaign; and could he have succeeded in fortifying himself in the Blue Ridge, as he proposed, it is quite possible he would have had these recruits. A colored clergyman, who heard him unfold his plan in 1858, at a secret meeting of colored people in one of the Western cities, has given this version of what he then. said: “I design to make a few midnight raids upon the plantations, in order to give those who are willing among the slaves an opportunity of joining us or escaping; and it matters little whether we begin with many or few. Having, done this fur two or three times, until the neighborhood becomes alarmed and the generality of the slaves encouraged, we will retire to the fastnesses of the mountains, and, ever and anon,. strike unexpected though bloodless blows upon the Old Dominion; in the mean time sending away those slaves who may desire to go to the North. We shall by this means conquer without bloodshed, awaken the slaves to the possibility of escape, and frighten the slave-holders into a desire to get rid of slavery.”
It was the possibility of success in such a plan as this that so alarmed the slave-holders of the whole South, and caused Vallandigham of Ohio to say, as he did a few days after Brown’s capture, “Certainly it was one of the best planned and best executed conspiracies that ever failed.”
We thus see with what expectations John Brown entered upon his campaign. Above all, he meant never to allow his whole force to be exposed to death or captivity at once. This was the fatal risk of his position at Harper’s Ferry, and it was for this that he afterwards blamed himself most severely. Had he gone forward as he purposed, he might have secured a foothold for his operations, and it is possible that he could not only have made slavery insecure, and emancipation desirable, but gradually have extended forcible emancipation over a large part of the South. That this was a perilous undertaking, Brown and his men well knew, but they did not believe it hopeless. Thus young Anderson, who was killed by the side of his captain in the engine-house at Harper’s Ferry, wrote to his brother in Iowa less than three weeks before the outbreak, in terms of great confidence: “Our mining company will consist of between twenty-five and thirty, well equipped with tools. You can tell Uncle Dan it will be impossible for me to visit him before next spring. If my life is spared, I will be tired of work by that time, and I shall visit my relatives and friends in Iowa, if I can get leave of absence. At present, I am bound by all that is honorable to continue in the course. We go in to win, at all hazards. So if you should hear of a failure, it will be after a desperate struggle, and loss of capital on both sides. But that is the last of our thoughts. Everything seems to work to our hands, and victory will surely perch upon our banner. The old man has had this operation in view for twenty years, and last winter1 was just a hint and trial of what could be done. This is not a large place,2 but a precious one to Uncle Sam, as he has a great many tools here. I expect (when I start again traveling) to start at this place and go through the State of Virginia and on South, just as circumstances require; mining and prospecting, and carrying the ore with us. …
“I suppose this is the last letter I shall write before there is something in the wind. Whether I will have a chance of sending letters then, I do not know, but when I have an opportunity, I shall improve it. But if you don’t get any from me, don’t take it for granted that I am gone up till you know it to be so. I consider my life about as safe in one place as another.”
This letter confirms the statements already made about the smallness of the force with which Brown intended to begin his work. He would gladly have raised a hundred men (or more) for his first operations, but he was quite ready to commence with thirty, hoping to increase their number by recruits from the freed slaves and accessions from the North, both white and black. He had several persons at the North engaged to enlist and forward recruits, the most active of these being his son, John Brown, Jr., then living at West Andover, Ohio. During the summer of 1859, John Brown, the younger, had visited Boston, and there made arrangements for receiving recruits from Massachusetts. I did not see him at this time, being absent from home, but he called on Mr. Stearns and Dr. Howe, and also imparted his father’s plans to one of the leading colored men of Boston, a fugitive from Kentucky, Mr. Lewis Hayden,3 who since the civil war has been a member of the Massachusetts legislature. Mr. Hayden entered warmly into the work, and undertook to enlist a few colored men in Massachusetts, to serve under Brown in Virginia. According to his recollection he did enlist six such recruits, besides Francis J. Merriam, a young gentleman of Boston, who contributed money at Mr. Hayden’s request, and afterwards joined Brown in person. Only one of the six colored recruits from Massachusetts reached Harper’s Ferry before the attack, and even he took no part in the fight. The others were delayed at home, from one cause or another, until the enterprise had failed. The same thing happened with regard to a few other recruits enlisted by John Brown, Jr., or under his direction, while a few persons who had been counted on to join the expedition at last refused or hesitated to do so. Had it been delayed, as some of the party expected, until the following spring, it is possible that the number of men would have been increased to fifty; but I have never had reason to think that more than fifty were at any time pledged to join in this particular expedition. Probably it would have been unsafe to trust more persons with the secret, which was so often on the point of being disclosed, yet never really became public.4 It would appear from a letter of John Brown, Jr., dated September 8, 1859, that he was not informed, until early in September, that the attack would be made in October. “I had supposed,” he writes to Kagi, “that you would not think it best to commence opening the coal banks before spring, unless circumstances should make it imperative. However, I suppose the reasons are satisfactory to you.”
Having mentioned Merriam and his connection with Lewis Hayden and John Brown, it may be well at this point to speak of him more fully; since it was his presence and his money which in fact enabled the movement upon Harper’s Ferry to be made when it was, and but for him it might, after all, have waited until the spring of 1860. He was the grandson of Francis Jackson, of Boston (long associated with William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, and Theodore Parker, as a leader of the abolitionists), and had inherited his family’s detestation of American slavery. In other respects he resembled his grandfather but little, hem weak of body, erratic and impulsive, and too often the victim of those around him. As Owen Brown said of him, “The only thing very positive about Merriam was his hatred of slavery”. His age at this time was but twenty-two; he had been well educated, had traveled in Europe and in Hayti, spoke French, was bred to no business, and had inherited a small property from his father. One day early in October, Lewis Hayden got word at the State House in Boston, by a letter either from Chambersburg or from John Brown, Jr., in Ohio, that Captain Brown’s men were in need of more money, and could not begin their movement until it reached them. Going down from the State House to the post-office, which was then in State Street, he met Merriam near the old Province House, and it occurred to him that here was a friend who would perhaps contribute something. He therefore accosted Merriam, and, after a few words, said, “I want five hundred dollars and must have it.” Merriam, startled at the manner of the request, replied, “If you have a good cause, you shall have it.” Hayden then told Merriam briefly what he had learned from John Brown, Jr., that Captain Brown was at Chambersburg, or could be heard of there, that he was preparing to lead a party of liberators into Virginia and that he needed money; to which Merriam replied, “If you tell me John Brown is there, you can have my money and me along with it.” For it was well known to Merriam that Brown had the general purpose of freeing the slaves by force, and he had even written to him the winter before, offering to join the party upon his return from Hayti in the spring. Being thus prepared in mind for Mr. Hayden’s communication, he received it as a call from heaven, and prepared at once to obey.
Within a day or two—probably that same day—Merriam, whom I had never seen before, made me an evening visit in Concord, where he spent the night. He came to say that he had learned something of Captain Brown’s plans, that he knew where to find him, and that he would like to join him with such money as he had to contribute, which was something less than one thousand dollars. He returned to Boston the next morning, began at once to make arrangements for visiting Brown, and also, through Mr. Hayden, for raising recruits among the colored men of Boston and New Bedford. To effect this he placed money in Hayden’s hands, some of which was to be laid out in raising recruits and paying for their outfit and traveling expenses until they should join Brown.5 Other persons were associated with Hayden in this effort, and some of the money may have been furnished by them, or at least promised, — for no great amount was expended in this way.
On arriving at Chambersburg, about the 9th of October, Merriam went to an attorney there and had his will drawn, representing himself as a tourist on his way South, and fearful of accidents in his journey. He met Kagi and Brown at Chambersburg, and perhaps went with them to Philadelphia. During the week before the attack he was in Philadelphia and Baltimore purchasing military supplies, and on the Saturday before was a guest at the Wager House in Harper’s Ferry. From there he was taken by one of Brown’s sons to the Kennedy Farm, where, on Sunday morning, the plan of attack was explained to him, to the other new-comers, and to Edwin and Barclay Coppoc. The Provisional Constitution was read to these novices by Stevens, and the oath of fidelity and secrecy was administered by Captain Brown himself. On Sunday evening, Merriam received his orders from Brown like the rest; he was to remain with Owen Brown and Barclay Coppoc at the Kennedy Farm, and guard the arms left there until orders should come to remove them either to the Ferry or to the schoolhouse on the Maryland side, where the rifles and pistols were found on Friday. He therefore had no hart in the fight. his adventures while escaping have been described by Owen Brown in The Atlantic for March, 1874, and a later incident in his career was also related in The Atlantic for July, 1872. He was preserved from death and imprisonment, and lived to render service in the Union army during the civil war, as did his companions Tidd and Coppoc. All three died in the service.6
The actual force with which Captain Brown undertook his Virginia campaign consisted of twenty-three men, including himself; but four of these never crossed the Potomac, nor had they all been mustered together on the Kennedy Farm or elsewhere. Six of them (including John Anderson) were colored men, of whom three were fugitive slaves. In the following list those who did not cross the river are marked with an asterisk, and the names of the colored men are in italics. Of the whole number only one, Owen Brown, now survives. Ten of them were killed or died of their wounds in Virginia, seven were hanged, and six escaped. Six of the white men were members of the Brown family or connected with it by marriage, and five of these died in Virginia. The list is as follows: —
1. John Brown, commander-in-chief; 2. John Henry Kagi, adjutant, and second in command; 3. Aaron C. Stevens, captain; 4. Watson Brown, captain; 5. Oliver Brown, captain; 6. John B. Cook, captain; 7. Charles Plummer Tidd, captain; 8. William H. Leman, lieutenant; 9. Albert Hazlett, lieutenant; 10. Owen Brown,* lieutenant; 11. Jeremiah G. Anderson, lieutenant; 12. Edwin Coppoc, lieutenant; 13. William Thompson, lieutenant; 14. Dauphin Thompson, lieutenant; 15. Shields Green; 16. Dangerfield Newby; 17. John A. Copeland; 18. Osborn P. Anderson; 19. Lewis Leery; 20. Stewart Taylor; 21. Barclay Coppoc; * 22. Francis Jackson Merriam; * 23. John Anderson.*7
It will at once be seen that this company was but the skeleton of an organization, which it was intended to fill up with recruits gathered from among the slaves and at the North; hence the great disproportion of officers to privates. According to the general orders issued by Brown, dated at Harper’s Ferry, October 10, 1859, a week before his capture of the town, his forces were to be divided into battalions of four companies, which would contain, when full, seventy-two officers and men in each company, or two hundred and eighty-eight in the battalion. Provision was made for officering and arming the four companies of the first battalion, which, in the event of Brown’s success, would have been filled up as quickly as possible. Each company was to be divided into “bands” of seven men, under a corporal, and every two “bands” made a “section” of sixteen men, under a sergeant. Until the companies were filled up, the commissioned officers seem to have been intended to act as corporals and sergeants in these bands and sections, and they did so during the engagement at the village and the operations in Maryland and Virginia.
Brown’s first appearance in the neighborhood of Harper’s Ferry, for the purpose of organizing his attack upon the place, was on the 30th of June, 1859, when he went down from Chambersburg in Pennsylvania to Hagerstown in Maryland, accompanied by his lieutenant Anderson. They spent the night at a tavern in Hagerstown, and there passed for Yankees going through the mountains to search for minerals. On the 3d of July Brown was at the Ferry with Anderson, and his sons Watson and Oliver, and they spent that night at a tavern in Sandy Hook, a hamlet on the Maryland side of the Potomac, about a mile below. On the 4th of July they went up the river road toward the house of Mr. John C. Unseld, a Maryland slave-holder, who lived in Washington County about a mile from the Ferry, on one of the mountain roads. Between eight and nine o’clock that morning, as Mr. Unseld was riding down to the Ferry, he met the party strolling along the edge of the mountain. Falling into conversation with them, in the country fashion, he learned that the old man was named Smith, that these were his sons, Watson and Oliver Smith, and that the shorter youth was named Anderson. “Well, gentlemen,” said the Marylander, “I suppose you are out hunting minerals, gold and silver, perhaps.” “No,” said Brown, “we are out looking for land. We want to buy land; we have a little money, and want to make it go as far as we can. How much is land worth an acre, here-abouts? Being told that it ranged from fifteen dollars to thirty dollars in that neighborhood,” he said, “That is high; I thought I could buy for a dollar or two an acre.” “No,” said the Marylander, “not here; if you expect to get land for that price, you’ll have to go farther West, to Kansas, or some of those Territories where there is Congress land. Where are you from?” “The northern part of New York State.” “What have you followed there?” “Farming,” said Brown; but the frost had been so heavy of late years it had cut off their crops; they could not make anything there, so he had sold out, and thought they would come farther South and try it a while. Having thus satisfied a natural curiosity, Mr. Unseld rode on, and, as we may suppose, took his morning drain among his Virginia acquaintances. Returning, some hours afterward, he again met Mr. Smith and his young men not far from the same place. “I have been looking round your country up here,” said he, “and it is a very fine country, — a pleasant place, a fine view. The land is much better than I expected to find it; your crops are pretty good.” As he said this he pointed to where the men had been cutting grain, — some white men and some negroes at work in the fields, as the custom is there. For in Washington County there were few slaves even then, and most of the field work was done by whites or free colored men.8 Brown then asked if any farm in the neighborhood was for sale. “Yes, there is a farm four miles up the road here, towards Boonsborough, owned by the heirs of Dr. Booth Kennedy; you can buy that.” “Can I rent it?” said Brown; then turning to his companions he said, “I think we had better rent a while, until we get better acquainted, so that they cannot take advantage of us in the purchase of land.” To this they appeared to assent, and Mr. Unseld then said, “Perhaps you can rent the Kennedy Farm; I do not know about that, but it is for sale, I know.” Brown then turned again to his sons and said, “Boys, as you are not very well, you had better go back and tell the landlord at Sandy Hook that Oliver and I shall not be there to dinner, but will go on up and look at the Kennedy place; however, you can do as you please.” Watson Brown looked at Anderson and then said, “We will go with you.” “Well,” said the friendly Marylander, “if you will go on with me up to my house, I can then point you the road exactly.” Arrived there, he invited them to take dinner, for by this time it was nearly noon. They thanked him, but declined, nor would they accept an invitation to drink something.” “Well,” said Unseld, “if you must go on, just follow up this road along the foot of the mountain; it is shady and pleasant, and you will come out at a church up here about three miles. Then you can see the Kennedy house by looking from that church right up the road that leads to Boonsborough, or you can go right across and get into the county road, and follow that up.” Brown sat and talked with Unseld for a while, who asked him “what he expected to follow, up yonder at Kennedy’s,” adding that Brown “could not more than make a living there.” “Well,” said Brown, “my business has been buying up fat cattle and driving them on to the State of New York, and we expect to engage in that again.” Three days later, the genial Unseld, again jogging to or from the Ferry, again met the gray-bearded rustic, who said, “Well, I think that place will suit me; now just give me a description where I can find the widow Kennedy and the administrator,” which Unseld did. A few days after, he once more met the new-comer, and found Mr. Smith had rented the two houses on the Kennedy Farm, — the farm-house, about three hundred yards from the public road on the west side, where, as Unseld thought, “it makes a very pretty show for a small house,” and “the cabin,” which stood about as far from the road on the east side, “hidden by shrubbery in the summer season, pretty much.”9 For the two houses, pasture for a cow and horse, and firewood, from July till March, Brown paid thirty-five dollars, as he took pains to tell Unseld, showing him the receipt of the widow Kennedy.
How was it possible to doubt or mistrust a plain Yankee farmer and cattle-drover who talked in that way, and had no concealments, no tricks, and no airs? Evidently the Marylander did not once mistrust him, though he rode up to the Kennedy Farm nearly every week from the middle of July till the first of October. “I just went up to talk to the old man,” said he to Senator Mason, when telling the story before the Senate Committee, “but sometimes, at the request of others, on business about selling him some horses or cows. He was in my yard frequently, perhaps four or five times. I would always ask him in, but he would never go in, and of course I would not go in his house. He often invited me in; indeed, nearly every time I went there he asked me to go in, and remarked to me frequently, ‘We have no chairs for you to sit on, but we have trunks and boxes.’ I declined going in, but sat on my horse and chatted with him.” Before the 20th of July he saw there “two females,” who were Martha, the wife of Oliver Brown, and Anne, the eldest unmarried sister of Oliver, then a girl of not quite sixteen years. “Twice I went there,” says Unseld, “and found none of the men, but the two ladies, and I sat there on my horse—there was a high porch on the house, and I could sit there and chat with them—and then I rode off and left them. They told me there were none of the men at home, but did not tell me where they were. One time I went there and inquired for them, and one of the females answered me, ‘They are across there at the cabin; you had better ride over and see them.’ I replied it did not make any difference, and I would not bother them, and I rode back home.”
I quote all this gossip because it pictures, as no description of mine could, the quiet and drowsiness of this woodland, primitive, easy-going, hard-living population, amid the hills and mountains of Maryland, where John Brown spent the last three months of his free life, and gathered his forces for the battle in which he fell. It is a region of home-keeping, honest, dull country people, like that which Tennyson has sketched:
A land of trees and poppy-mingled corn,
Little about it stirring save a brook
A sleepy land, where under the same wheel
The same old rut would deepen, year by year.
And so completely did Brown make himself one of its denizens, that he was accepted as part and parcel of it, even when plotting his most audacious strokes.
His wife did not visit him there, but his daughter and daughter-in-law—a bride of the year before, a widow, a mother, and in her grave with her infant beside her when the next winters snows were falling—made his cabin cheerful, and softened with feminine tenderness and tact the rough features of their rustic life.
Osborn Anderson, who spent the last three weeks before the attack at the Kennedy Farm, has pictured the impression made upon him, one of the despised people of color, by the circle in which he found himself: “All the men concerned in the undertaking were on hand when I arrived, except Copeland, Leary, and Merriam; and when all had collected, a more earnest, fearless, and determined company of men it would be difficult to get together. There, as at Chatham, I saw evidence of strong and commanding intellect, high-toned morality, and inflexibility of purpose in the men, and a profound and holy reverence for God, united to the most comprehensive, practical, systematic philanthropy and undoubted bravery, in the patriarch leader. There was no milk-and-water sentimentality, no offensive contempt for the negro while working in his cause; the pulsations of each and every heart beat in harmony for the suffering and pleading slave. Every morning when the noble old man was at home, he called the family around, read from his Bible, and offered to God most fervent and touching supplications for all flesh. … I never heard John Brown pray, that he did not make strong appeals to God for the deliverance of the slave. This duty over, the men went to the loft [of the farm-house], there to remain all the day long. … We were, while the ladies remained, often relieved of much of the dullness growing out of restraint, by their kindness. We were well supplied with grapes, paw-paws, chestnuts, and other small fruits, besides bouquets of fall flowers, through their thoughtful consideration.”
Just before Captain Brown expected to begin his campaign, he sent back to their mother in the Adirondack wilderness his daughter and daughter-in-law, under the escort of his son Oliver, who accompanied them as far North as New York. The father soon sent after them this touching and most characteristic letter, which he then thought might be the last he should write to his wife and family. I think it has never before been printed.
CHAMBERGSBURG, PA., October 1, 1859.
Dear wife and children all, — I parted with Martha and Anne at Harrisburg, yesterday, in company with Oliver, on their way home. I trust, before this reaches you, the women will have arrived safe. I have encouragement of having fifty dollars or more sent you soon, to help you to get through the winter; and I shall certainly do all in my power for you, and try to commend you always to the God of my Fathers.
Perhaps you can keep your animals in good condition through the winter on Potatoes mostly, much cheaper than on any other feed. I think that would certainly be the case if the crop is good, and is secured well and in time.
I sent along four pair Blankets, with directions for Martha to have the first choice, and for Bell, Abbie, and Anne to cast lots for a choice in the three other pairs. My reason is that I think Martha fairly entitled to particular notice.10
To my other daughters I can only send my blessing just now. Anne, I want you, first of all, to become a sincere, humble, earnest, and consistent Christian; and then acquire good and efficient business habits. Save this letter to remember your Father by, Annie.
You must all send to John hereafter anything you want should get to us, and you may be sure we shall all be very anxious to learn everything about your welfare. Read the Tribune carefully. It may not always be certainly true, however. Begin early to take good care of all your animals, and pinch them at the close of the Winter, if you must at all.
God Almighty bless and save you all!
Your affectionate Husband and Father.
* * *
Soon after his return to the Kennedy Farm, Oliver Brown wrote this letter to his wife, from whom he had just parted for the last time. Before she received it he was dead, having been shot on the 17th of October.
HOME, October 9,1859.
My dear Martha, — Having opportunity to write you once more, I improve it, with the greatest pleasure to myself, and with the hope of pleasing you. I arrived here two days sooner than father and Watson. They have gone back once more. We are all well at present.
You can hardly think how I want to see you, or how lonesome it was the day I left you. That day I never shall forget. I passed some good resolutions on my way to New York. I mean to live up to them. Nothing else could strengthen me to do the right so much as the thought of you. It is when I look at your picture that I am wholly ashamed of my every meanness, weakness, and folly. I would not part with that picture for anything on earth—but the original. I have made a morocco case for it and carry it close around my body. I am more and more determined every day to live a more unselfish life.
Now, Martha, you can hardly conceive my great anxiety about you in your present situation, and you will certainly allow me to suggest some ideas to you for your own good. Let me ask you to try and keep up good, cheerful spirits. Take plenty of sleep and rest, plenty of outdoor exercise. Bathe often. And, finally, do read good books, such as Parker’s Sermons, and Combe’s Constitution of Man. These books will do much to keep you from being lonesome. Finally, Martha, do try to enjoy yourself. Make the most of everything.
Remember your affectionate husband,
* * *
The writer of this letter was not yet twenty-one. His next older brother, Watson, was just twenty-four, and had been married for three years to Isabel Thompson, whose brothers, William and Dauphin Thompson, like her husband and brother-in-law, were killed at Harper’s Ferry. In letters to his wife at various dates from September 3d to October 14th, Watson Brown shows himself to have been the same tender and unselfish husband that Oliver was. He wrote thus: —
I received your letter of September 14th, the night the girls got home, which I was very glad to get. Oh, Bell, I do want to see you and the little fellow [the young babe born in the father’s absence] very much, but I must wait. There was a slave near here whose wife was sold off South the other day, and he was found in Thomas Kennedy’s orchard, dead, the next morning. Cannot come home so long as such things are done here. …
We are all eager for the work and confident of success. There was another murder committed near our place the other day, making in all five murders and one suicide within five miles of our place since we have lived there; they were all slaves, too. … Give my regards to all the friends, and keep up good courage; there is a better day a-coming. I can but commend you to yourself and your friends, if I should never see you again.
Your affectionate husband,
His last letter was written on the 14th of October, but two days before the attack on Harper’s Ferry was made. On that day (Friday) Watson Brown, waited at Chambersburg until it was late enough to escort the two latest recruits, John Copeland and Lewis Leary, from the Pennsylvania line, near Middletown, through Maryland to the Kennedy Farm, — a work which must always be done by night, if the recruits were negroes. He reached the farm at daybreak on the 15th, bringing the two recruits and accompanied by Kagi. On the 16th he and his brothers, Oliver and Owen, received their orders from Captain Brown for the night attack. Owen Brown, with Merriam and Barclay Coppoc, were to remain at the farm as a guard till morning, when, upon the arrival of horses and men from the Ferry, they were to move the arias by wagon-loads to an old school-house, now destroyed, about three miles from the Ferry, on the Maryland side. This place had been selected a few days before by Captain Brown, and it was in fact seized and held by Owen Brown during most of the 17th, while the fighting was going on across the Potomac. Watson Brown, with Stewart Taylor, was to hold the bridge across the Potomac, and Oliver Brown, with William Thompson, the bridge across the Shenandoah, a duty which they performed until the morning of the 17th, when the village of Harper’s Ferry was fully in possession of Brown and his men. It was Watson Brown who stopped the train for Washington, on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, not long after midnight on the 16th. Both Watson and Oliver were with their father early in the afternoon of the 17th, when he repulsed the sharp attack of the Virginia militia, after intrenching himself in the engine-house, where he was captured on Tuesday morning, the 18th. Shortly before noon on Monday, Watson was sent out with a flag of truce, in company with Stevens and one of Brown’s hostages, named Kitzmiller; was fired upon and severely wounded, but returned to his father, while Stevens was captured. At first he took shelter in that part of the engine-house known as “the watch-house,” where most of Brown’s prisoners were, but when the attack on the building began, he “asked for his rifle and moved in himself from the watch-house to the engine-house,” as one of the hostages testified.
Edwin Coppoc, writing to Captain Brown’s wife from his cell in Charlestown a month afterward, said, “I was with your sons when they fell. Oliver lived but a very few moments after he was shot [during the charge of Monday afternoon]. He spoke no word, but yielded calmly to his fate. Watson was shot at ten o’clock on Monday morning and died about three o’clock on Wednesday morning. He suffered much. Though mortally wounded at ten o’clock, yet at three o’clock Monday afternoon he fought bravely against the men who charged on us. When the enemy were repulsed, and the excitement of the charge was over, he began to sink rapidly. After we were taken prisoners he was placed in the guard-house with me. He complained of the hardness of the bench on which he was lying. I begged hard for a bed for him, or even a blanket, but could obtain none. I took off my coat and placed it under him, and held his head in my lap, in which position he died without a groan or struggle.”11
I have digressed from the course of narration in order to complete the story of these two youths, fair examples as they were of the Brown family and of the men whom John Brown gathered about him. Of these men much might be written, but only a few of them can here be specially mentioned. John Henry Kagi, the second in command, was a native of Virginia, and a man of more education in books than most of the company; in Kansas he had been the correspondent of The New York Evening Post and other newspapers, as well as a follower of Brown in some of his boldest adventures. John E. Cook, a native of Connecticut (who lost caste among his comrades on account of his confession after capture, and the reproof which Brown addressed to him on the morning of his execution), was a man of less strictness of principle than most of his companions, but of great courage and skill in arms, — the best shot in the company, which was much to say, — and in many ways most useful to his captain. It was through Cook’s acquaintance with the neighborhood of Harper’s Ferry, on the Virginia side especially, that Brown was enabled to seize and bring in so promptly the slave-holding farmers from their estates (luring the night and morning of the attack. Cook had previously visited the house of Colonel Lewis Washington, great-grandson of a brother of George Washington, and learned where to put his hand upon the sword of Frederick the Great and the pistols of Lafayette, presented by them to General Washington, and by him transmitted to his brother’s descendants. With that instinctive sense of historical association which led Brown to make his first attack upon slavery in Virginia and amid the scenes of Washington’s early life, this liberator of the slaves had determined to appear at their head wielding Washington’s own sword, and followed by freedmen who had owed service in the Washington family. He therefore assigned to Stevens and to Cook, as their first duty after Harper’s Ferry should be taken, to proceed to Colonel Washington’s plantation of Bell-air, about four miles south of the Ferry, seize him, with his arms, set free his slaves, and bring him as a hostage to the captured town; and he even went so far as to direct that Osborn Anderson, a free black, should receive from Washington the weapons of his illustrious kinsman. The order was executed to the letter, and before daybreak on Monday morning Colonel Washington was a prisoner in the hands of Brown, who belted on the sword of Washington and wore it from that time until his own capture, twenty-four hours after. When Virginia awoke on that October morning, the haughty commonwealth, mother of presidents and of slaves, beheld a gray-bearded old man, wearing the sword of Washington, standing amid the broken fetters of Virginia slaves, with a town of three thousand Virginians, white and black, at his mercy. No wonder that people went wild with terror and rage at the spectacle.12
It will be remembered that Brown crossed the Potomac with nineteen men; the slaves whom he released and armed were perhaps twelve or fifteen in all; but his effective force in Virginia never exceeded thirty at any one time, and there were never more than twenty of these together in one place, either for attack or for resistance. How much this small force was magnified by the fears and fancies of the slave-holders may be seen by the statements which appeared in The Baltimore Patriot and American on the 17th and 18th of October, 1859:
“We learn by telegraph from Frederick that a negro insurrection of a very serious nature had broken out at Harper’s Ferry at ten o’clock Sunday night, the negroes being headed by some two hundred and fifty whites, supposed to be abolitionists. The insurgents have taken possession of the United States arsenal, carried off a wagon-load of rifles, and sent them over into Maryland; they have also cut the telegraph wires east and west of the Ferry. … The leader of the party called himself S. C. Anderson, and had about two hundred men, all armed with minié rifles, spears, and pistols; he said he expected a reinforcement of fifteen hundred men by seven o’clock the next morning. The band appeared to be well drilled, and Captain Anderson had entire control, his men being very obedient to his orders. It is thought some hundred negroes were engaged in the insurrection. These banded ruffians act with great coolness in all their movements. No one of them was known about the Ferry, and where they came from none could tell. Captain Anderson is about sixty years of age, with a heavy white beard, cool, collected, but with a determined and desperate demeanor. … The baggage-master of the eastern-bound train was taken prisoner and carried to the armory, where he found six hundred negroes and from two to three hundred white men in arms. Nearly all the inhabitants of the town had deserted it. Almost all the leading people of Harper’s Ferry are in jail, and several have been killed.”
The simple facts were startling enough—all the more startling when the Virginians began to see with how small a force their territory had been invaded and their slaves set free. But much more impressive to the Southern imagination was the wild theory then and for some weeks generally prevalent in the slave States, that Brown was the emissary of an organization at the North which could raise and maintain an army, and which might excite insurrection at any other point as secretly and effectively as Brown had made his foray upon the county of Jefferson. At no time during the civil war, even when the national government was pouring soldiers into the South by hundreds of thousands and emancipating the slaves by millions, was there greater fear and commotion among the slave-holders than when they first learned of Brown’s success at Harper’s Ferry. How simply and in what a plain country fashion Brown made his foray ought to be related; since, like all he did, it was in keeping with his primitive and ideal character.
At the Kennedy farm-house, about eight o’clock on the evening of Sunday, the 16th of October, — a cold and dark night, ending in rain, — Brown mustered his eighteen followers, saying, “Men, get on your arms; we will proceed to the Ferry.” His horse and wagon were brought to the door of the farm-house, and some pikes, a sledge-hammer, and a crowbar were placed in the wagon. Brown “put on his old Kansas cap,”13 mounted the wagon, and said, “Come, boys!” at the same time driving his horse down the rude lane into time main road. His men followed him on foot, two and two, Charles Plummer Tidd, a Maine farmer who had joined him in Kansas, and John B. Cook taking the lead. At a proper time they were sent forward in advance of the wagon to tear down the telegraph wires on the Maryland side of the Potomac. The other couples walked at some distance apart, and in silence, making no display of arms. Now and then some of them rode beside Brown. When overtaken by any one, the rear couple were to detain the stranger until the party had passed on or concealed themselves, and the same order was given if they were met by any one. The road was unfrequented that night, and they passed down through the woods to the bridge across the Potomac without delay or adventure. Upon entering the covered bridge, they halted and fastened their cartridge-boxes, with forty rounds of ammunition, outside their coats, and brought their rifles into view. Kagi and Stevens were at this time at the head of the company, Tidd and Cook having tarried in Maryland to cut the wires. As they approached the Virginia side, the watchman who patrolled the bridge met them and was arrested by Kagi and Stevens, who took him with them to the armory gate, leaving Watson Brown and Stewart Taylor to guard the bridge. The rest of the company proceeded with Brown, in his wagon or on foot, to the armory gate, which was but a few rods from the Virginia end of the bridge. There they halted, at about half past ten o’clock, broke open the gate with the crowbar in the wagon, rushed inside the armory yard, and seized one of the two watchmen on duty. Brown himself, with two men, then mounted guard at the armory gate and the other fourteen men were sent to different parts of the village. Oliver Brown and William Thompson occupied the bridge over the Shenandoah, and there arrested a few prisoners. Kagi, with John Copeland, went up the Shenandoah a half-mile or more to that part of the armory called “the rifle works,” where he captured the watchmen, sent them to Brown, and occupied the buildings. Edwin Coppoc and Albert Hazlett went across the street from the armory gate and occupied the arsenal, which was not in the armory inclosure. All this was done quietly and without the snapping of a gun; and before midnight the whole village was in the possession of Brown and his eighteen men. He then dispatched Stevens, Cook, and others, six in all, on the turnpike towards Charlestown to bring in Colonel Washington and some of his neighbors, with their slaves. This was done before four o’clock in the morning, and then some of the same party went across into Maryland and brought in Terence Byrne, a small slave-holder, at whose house they had expected to find slaves, but did not. In the mean time, at 1.30 A. M., the railroad train from the West had reached Harper’s Ferry, and a negro porter, who was crossing the bridge to find the missing watchman, was stopped by Watson Brown’s guard. Turning to run back and refusing to halt, he was shot and mortally wounded by one of the bridge guard, which was now increased to three. This was the first shot fired on either side, and was three hours after the entrance of Brown into the village. Shots were fired in return by some of the railroad men, and then no more firing took place until after sunrise. Before sunrise the train had been allowed to go forward, Brown and one of his men walking across the bridge with the conductor of the train to satisfy him that all was safe, and that the bridge was not broken down.14 The work of gathering up prisoners as hostages had also been pushed vigorously, and before noon Brown had more than twice the number of his own force imprisoned in the armory yard. None of his own men were killed or captured until ten or eleven o’clock on Monday morning, when Dangerfield Newby, the Virginia fugitive, was shot near the armory gate. Shortly afterward Stevens was wounded and captured, Watson Brown was wounded, and William Thompson was captured. For from nine o’clock (when the terrified citizens of Harper’s Ferry found a few arms and mustered courage enough to use them) until night, the Virginians, armed and officered, had been surrounding Brown’s position, and before noon had cut off his retreat into Maryland. During the four or five hours after daybreak when he might have escaped from the town, he was urged to do so by Kagi, by Stevens, and by others; but for one reason or another line delayed his movements until it was too late. For twelve hours he held the town at his mercy; after that he was firmly caught in the trap he had entered, and the defeat of his foray was only a question of a few hours’ time. He drew back his shattered forces into the engine-house near the armory gate, soon after noon, but neither his men at the rifle works, nor those at the arsenal across the street, nor his son Owen, on the Maryland side of the Potomac, could join him. He fought bravely, and so did Kagi and his few men on the bank of the Shenandoah, but the latter were all killed or captured before the middle of the afternoon, and at evening, when Colonel Lee arrived from Washington with a company of United States marines, nothing was left of Brown’s band except himself and six men, two of whom were wounded, in his weak fortress, and two unharmed and undiscovered men, Hazlett and Osborn Anderson, in the arsenal not far off. His enterprise had failed, and apparently through his own fault.
And here again the question rises, so often asked, and so variously answered, Why did Brown attack Harper’s Ferry, or, having captured it, why did he not leave it at once and push on into the mountains of Virginia, according to his original plan? His own explanation is characteristic: it was foreordained to be so. “All our actions,” he said to one who visited him in prison, “even all the follies that led to this disaster, were decreed to happen ages before the world was made.” He declared at the same time that had he betaken himself to the mountains, he could never have been captured, “for he and his men had studied the country carefully, and knew it a hundred times better than any of the inhabitants.” He ascribed his ruin to his weakness in listening to the entreaties of his prisoners and delaying his departure from the captured town. “It was the first time,” somebody reports him as saying, “that I ever lost command of myself, and now I am punished for it.” But he soon began to see that this mistake was leading him to his most glorious success, a victory such as he might never have won in his own way. A month after his capture he wrote thus to his old school-master in Connecticut: “I have been a good deal disappointed, as it regards myself, in not keeping up to my own plans; but I now feel entirely reconciled to that, even; for God’s plan was infinitely better, no doubt, or I should have kept to my own. Had Samson kept to his determination of not telling Delilah wherein his great strength lay, he would probably have never over-turned the house. I did not tell Delilah, but I was induced to act very contrary to my better judgment; and I have lost my two noble boys, and other friends, if not my two eyes. But God’s will, not mine, be done.” Thus his thoughts took recourse, as often before, to the story and the fate of Samson, whose last victory over the enemies of Israel was more than paralleled by the short and defeated campaign of John Brown in Virginia.
The story of Brown’s capture, of the slaughter of his men, of his own fearless bearing and heroic sayings during his captivity, and of his final martyrdom, “making the gallows glorious like the cross,” — all this is too familiar to be told here. It has become a part of the world’s history and literature, a new chapter added to the record of heroism and self-devotion, a new incident in the long romance which has been for three hundred years the history of Virginia. It was little to the honor of Virginia then; but so heavy has been the penalty since, visited on that State and her people, that we may omit all censure upon what was done. God has judged between them and John Brown, and his judgment, as always, will be found not only just but merciful, since it has removed from a brave and generous people the curse of human slavery. It was for this result, and this alone, that Brown plotted and fought, prayed and died, and even before his death he saw that his prayers would be answered.
Through his grandfather, a captain in the army of Washington in 1776, John Brown was related to Dr. Humphrey, once president of Amherst College, and to the Rev. Luther Humphrey. They were his cousins, and to the latter, not lone before his execution, Brown wrote one of those remarkable letters which did so much, during his six weeks’ imprisonment, to change the public opinion concerning him into that which now prevails. His conversation with Senator Mason at Harper’s Ferry and his speech to the court after his conviction are better known than this letter (which, indeed, has seldom been printed), but neither of them gives a nobler image of the “plain heroic magnitude of mind” with which he accepted his fate and explained his course of life. The letter also contains some touches of autobiography which add to its value. It is as follows: —
CHARLESTOWN, JEFFERSON Co., VA., 19th November, 1859.
REV. LUTHER HUMPHREY:
My dear Friend, — Your kind letter of the 12th instant is now before me. So far as my knowledge noes as to our mutual kindred, I suppose I am the first, since the landing of Peter Brown from the Mayflower, that has either been sentenced to imprisonment or to the gallows. But, my dear old friend, let not that fact alone grieve you. You cannot have forgotten how and where our grandfather [Captain John Brown] fell in 1776, and that he too, alight have perished on the scaffold, had circumstances been but a very little different. The fact that a man dies under the hand of an executioner (or otherwise) has but little to do with his true character, as I suppose. John Rogers perished at the stake, a great and good man, as I suppose; but his doing so does not prove that any other man who has died in the same way was good or otherwise.
Whether I have any reason to “be of a good cheer” (or not) in view of my end, I can assure you that I feel so; and I am totally blinded if I do not really experience that strengthening and consolation you so faithfully implore in my behalf. The God of our fathers reward your fidelity. I neither feel mortified, degraded, nor in the least ashamed of my imprisonment, my chain, or near prospect of death by hanging. I feel assured “that not one hair shall fall from my head without the will of my heavenly Father.” I also feel that I have long been endeavoring to hold exactly “such a fast as God has chosen.” See the passage in Isaiah which you have quoted.15 No part of my life has been more happily spent than that I have spent here, and I humbly trust that no part has been spent to better purpose. I would not say this boastingly; but “thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory through infinite grace.”
I should be sixty years old, were I to live to May 9,1860. I have enjoyed much of life as it is, and have been remarkably prosperous; having early learned to regard the welfare and prosperity of others as my own. I have never, since I can remember, required a great amount of sleep; so that I conclude that I have already enjoyed full an average number of working hours with those who reach their threescore years and ten. I have not yet been driven to the use of glasses, but can see to read and write quite comfortably. But more than that, I have generally enjoyed remarkably good health. I might go on to recount unnumbered and unmerited blessings, among which would be some very severe afflictions, — and those the most needed blessings of all. And now, when I think how easily I might be left to spoil all I have done or suffered ill the cause of freedom, I hardly dare wish another voyage, even if I had the opportunity.
It is a long time since we met; but we shall come together in our Father’s house, I trust. Let us hold fast that we already have, remembering we shall reap in due time, if we faint not. Thanks be unto God, who giveth us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord. And now, my old, warm-hearted friend, good-by!
Your affectionate cousin,
* * *
It will be fitting here to mention one phase of Brown’s life in prison which is now seldom remembered: his constant testimony in words as well as by acts against American slavery. A few days before this letter to his cousin Humphrey he had written to another old friend, “I wish I could tell you about a few only of the interesting times I here experience with different classes of men, clergymen among others. Christ, the great captain of liberty as well as of salvation, and who began his mission, as foretold of him, by proclaiming it, saw fit to take from me a sword of steel after I had carried it for a time; but he has put another in my hand (the sword of the Spirit); and I pray God to make me a faithful soldier wherever he may send me.” In explanation of this passage it is to be said that during Brown’s imprisonment he was often visited by Virginian clergymen and itinerant preachers, desirous of praying with him and of converting him from his errors. One of these afterward said that when he offered to pray with Brown the old man asked if he was willing to fight, in ease of need, for the freedom of the slaves. Receiving a negative reply, Brown then said, “I will thank you to leave me alone; your prayers would be an abomination to my God.” To another he said that he “would not insult God by bowing down in prayer with any one who had the blood of the slave on his skirts.” A Methodist preacher named March having argued to Brown in his cell in favor of slavery as “a Christian institution,” his hearer grew impatient and replied, “My dear sir, you know nothing about Christianity; you will have to learn its A, B, C; I find you quite ignorant of what the word Christianity means.” Seeing that his visitor was disconcerted by such plain speaking, Brown added, “I respect you as a gentleman, of course; but it is as a heathen gentleman.” To these interviews lie has alluded in some of his letters of that period, and to a lady who visited him in prison he said, “I do not believe I shall deny my Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, — as I should, if I denied my principles against slavery. Why, I preach against it all the time; Captain Avis knows I do;” whereat his jailer smiled and said, “Yes.”16 A citizen of Charlestown, named Blessing had dressed Brown’s wounds while in prison, and had shown him other kind attentions, for which Brown, who was very scrupulous about acknowledging and returning favors, desired to make him some acknowledgment. On one of the last days of November, therefore, in the last week of his life, Brown sent for Mr. Blessing, and asked him to accept his pocket-Bible, as a token of gratitude. In this book, which was a cheap edition in small print, much worn by use, Brown had marked many hundred passages (bearing witness more or less directly against human slavery) by turning down the corner of a page and by heavy pencilings in the margin. On the fly-leaves he had written this:
To Jno. F. Blessing, of Charlestown, Va., with the best wishes of tile under-signed, and his sincere thanks for many acts of kindness received. There is no commentary in the world so good, in order to a right understanding of this blessed book, as an honest, childlike, and teachable spirit.
CHARLESTOWN, 29th November, 1859.
He had written his own name as owner of the book on the opposite page, and immediately following it was this inscription: —
“The leaves were turned down by him while in prison at Charlestown. But a small part of those passages which in the most positive language condemn oppression and violence are marked.”
Except a codicil to his will, and a note to his wife inclosing it, the very last paper written by John Brown was this sentence, which he handed to one of his guards in the jail on the morning of his execution.
CHARLESTOWN, VA., December 2, 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 done.
A week before this, Brown’s friend and supporter in his Virginia campaign, Theodore Parker, had written from Rome, to Francis Jackson in Boston, the same declaration, to the truth of which the event has fully borne witness. “A few years ago,” wrote Parker, on the 24th of November, 1859, “it did not seem difficult first to check slavery, and then to end it, without any bloodshed. I think this cannot be done now, nor ever in the future. All the great charters of Humanity have been writ in blood. I once hoped that of American Democracy would be engrossed in less costly ink; but it is plain now that our pilgrimage must lead through a Red Sea, wherein many a Pharaoh will go under and perish.” So it happened, and not only the Pharaohs, but the leaders of the people perished. Standing on the battle-field at Gettysburg, just four years after the date of Brown’s letter to Humphrey (November 19, 1863), Abraham Lincoln pronounced that immortal eulogy on those who “gave their lives that the nation might live,” in which he called upon his hearers to resolve “that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” — echoing in this last period the very words of Parker, so often heard in prayer and sermon from his Boston pulpit. Not long afterward Lincoln himself fell, the last treat victim in the struggle, as John Brown had been its first great martyr. Henceforth their names will be joined and their words will be remembered together, the speeches of the condemned convict at Charlestown and of the successful statesman at Gettysburg going down to posterity as the highest range of eloquence in our time. But those brave men whom Lincoln commemorated in his funeral oration went forth to battle at the call of a great people; they were sustained by the resources and by the ardor of millions. When I remember my old friend, lonely, poor, persecuted, snaking a stand with his handful of followers on the outpost of freedom, our own batteries trained upon him as the furious enemy swept him away in the storm of their vengeance, I see that history will exalt his fame above that of all the soldiers in the civil war.
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- This alludes to the incursion made by Brown into Missouri in December, 1858, whence he carried off a dozen slaves safely to Canada. ↩
- The place referred to is Harper’s Ferry, where, probably, this letter was written. It is dated September 28, 1859, evidently after Brown had communicated to his men his purpose of attacking the town and armory. ↩
- Mr. Hayden was then employed in the office of the Secretary of State, at the State house in Boston. He had been concerned in the rescue of Shadrach, a fugitive slave, in 1851, and in other enterprises of that nature. I had made no communication to him concerning Brown’s affairs, nor received any from him, until a few weeks before the outbreak. The statements concerning him are his own, and in some respects I may have misunderstood him, or his memory may he at fault, lie is very clear and positive, however, in respect to most of the facts stated on his evidence. ↩
- In Mr. Keeler’s account (The Atlantic, March, 1874) of Owen Brown’s escape, he asserts that John Brown, Jr., “would have been at Harper’s Ferry, if his father had not been driven to begin operations before the appointed time. The reason for striking the blow so soon was that he had been betrayed to the government. Moreover, the people in the neighborhood had begun to suspect him.” There is some foundation for this last statement, but very little, I think, for the other two. Brown did not know that he had been “betrayed to the government” by the anonymous letter-writer from Cincinnati, in the previous August, and he had no longer any fear from Forbes, whom he supposed to be dead, although then living in New York. The work of John Brown, Jr., required his presence at the North, not in Virginia, though he would gladly have joined his father in person.
Still another reason for hastening the attack was given by John E. Cook, one of Brown’s captains, in his confession, he then said, “The attack was made sooner than was intended, owing to some friends in Boston writing a letter finding fault with the management of Captain Brown, and what to them seemed his unnecessary delay and expense.” So far as I know, this statement is quite unfounded. The only fact known to use (and I should have known such a thing if it happened) which could serve as a basis for this statement is the tone of censure in Higginson’s last letter to me before the outbreak. But Brown never saw this letter, nor can I suppose that Higginson wrote to him on the subject. Possibly Merriam may have reported to Brown some remark made in conversation, but it will be seen by Anderson’s letter above quoted that the movement was fixed for the first week in October, before Merriam had left Boston, or even been informed of the expedition on foot. I suppose that the attack was really delayed two weeks, instead of being hastened at all. ↩
- It was probably in relation to this recruiting fund that Merriam sent to Hayden his telegraphic dispatch of October 16 from Harper’s Ferry, which was published and excited remark soon after the capture of Brown. It was as follows: “Orders disobeyed—conditions broken. Pay S—— immediately balance of my money. Allow no further expense. Recall money advanced if not spent.” It was surmised at the time that this indicated Merriam’s dissatisfaction with the management of things by Brown and his men, but in fact it related to the raising and forwarding of recruits, who had not come along so fast as Merriam had anticipated. I have forgotten (if I ever knew) who was the “S——“ named in the dispatch, but it was probably either Mr. Stearns or myself. ↩
- Truth required me to say what has been written unfavorable to Merriam; but it should also he said that he was generous, brave, and devoted, qualities that far outweigh his defects of temperament and training. He played an important part, above his capacity at the time, but not above his aspirations. Peace and honor to his memory! ↩
- I have added this name upon the information of Mr. Lewis Hayden, who declares that John Anderson was a different person from Osborn Anderson; that he was the only one of the colored recruits from Massachusetts who reached the Potomac, but that he took no part in the fight, and returned to Boston, where he has since died. Perhaps the publication of this name may lead to further information concerning John Anderson. In ranking some of the band as lieutenants, I have followed an indistinct impression in my own mind, which may not prove to be correct. ↩
- In walking up the valley road to the Kennedy Farm last May, a distance of nearly five miles I saw scarcely any negroes cultivating the farms, and but one colored woman who was at work out-doors; while I saw and talked with several white men plowing or planting their own land. It was not very different from this in 1859, for, out of 31,000 inhabitants in Washington County then, only 1435 were slaves, while 1677 were free colored persons. ↩
- It was at this cabin, since torn down, that Brown kept his boxes of rifles and pistols, after they reached him from Ohio. The pikes from Connecticut, a thousand in number, were stored in the loft or attic of the farm-house, where Brown and his family lived. ↩
- Martha was the wife of Oliver, and was to be confined in March. Belle was the wife of Watson, and the sister of William and Dauphin Thompson; Abbie was the wife of Salmon Brown, who stayed at home with his mother. ↩
- When a few months ago I visited Harper’s Ferry, I found that it was not known there which of the bodies boned by the Shenandoah was that of Watson Brown, and which was Anderson’s. Oliver Brown was not buried at all, but thrust roughly, after death, into a barrel, and carried away to the medical college in Winchester. It is said that his body was there dissected and treated with insult. At any rate, an attempt made by their mother to obtain the bodies of her two sons, in December, 1859, for burial at North Elba, was unsuccessful. They have monuments at North Elba, near their fathers, but their bodies do not lie beside his. ↩
- The interview between Brown and colonel Washington (who was one of the military staff of the Governor of Virginia, and thence derived his title) is worth describing in the words of Washington himself. “We drove to the armory gate. The person on the front seat of the carriage said, ‘All’s well,’ and the reply came from the sentinel at the gate, ‘All’s well.’ Then the gates were opened, and I was driven in and was received by old Brown. He did not address me by name, but said, ‘You will find a fire in here, sir; it is rather cool this morning.’ Afterwards he came and said, ‘I presume you are Mr. Washington. It is too dark to see to write at this time, but when it shall have cleared off a little and become lighter, if you have not pen and ink I will furnish them, and shall require you to write to some of your friends to send a stout, able-bodied negro. I think after a while, possibly, I shall be able to release you, but only on condition of getting your friends to send in a negro man as a ransom. I shall be very attentive to you, sir, for I may get the worst of it in my first encounter, and if so, your life is worth as much as mine. My particular reason for taking you first was that, as an aid to the Governor of Virginia, I knew you would endeavor to perform your duty; and apart from that I wanted you particularly for the moral effect it would give our cause having one of your name as a prisoner.’ I supposed at that time, from his actions, that his force was a large one; that he was very strong. Shortly after reaching the armory I found the sword of General Washington in old Brown’s hands. He said, ‘I will take especial care of it, and shall endeavor to return it to you after you are released.’ Brown carried it in his hand all day Monday; when the attacking party came on, Tuesday morning, he laid it on the fire-engine, and after the rescue I got it.” Colonel Washington survived the civil war, in which he took no part, but is now dead. His widow lives in Charlestown and has sold this sword, with other mementos of Washington, to the State of New York. ↩
- This was a fur cap with a patent-leather visor, which had been bought for him in Chicago in December, 1856, as he came from Kansas to Massachusetts. He wore also a gray overcoat with a cape, a soldier’s overcoat which had seen equal service. No shepherd-king or peasant-captain ever went forth to war more plainly clad. ↩
- This failure to detain the train was one of Brown’s mistakes; for had he kept the conductor and passengers at Harper’s Ferry, much less would have been known about his movement, He could not break down the bridge, for then be would have had no means of bringing his men and arms from the Maryland side over to Virginia; but he might have made the railroad temporarily impassable in some other way. This, however, was but a small mistake, and did not cause his ruin. ↩
- The reference here is to the familiar text in the fifty-eighth chapter of the prophet, who may be said to have foretold Brown as clearly as he predicted any event in Hebrew history: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? ... Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, here I am. … Thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The Repairer of the breach, The Restorer of paths to dwell in.” ↩
- This jailer, John Avis, who had also been one of the Virginia militia that surrounded him in Harper’s Ferry and made escape impossible, is still living in Charlestown, where I saw him last May, a hale old man of sixty and upward, who sat in his shop with his young child on his knee, and talked with me of Brown’s prison-life. He was a captain in the confederate army during the civil war, and had a son in the same service. ↩