150 years ago this week, John Brown was executed and his body was returned to the Adirondacks. Had Brown escaped from Harpers Ferry rather than been captured he might well today be just a footnote, one of the tens of thousands that struggled to undermine the institution of slavery in America before the Civil War. It’s often said that just one thing secured Brown’s place in the hearts of millions of Americans that came after him – his execution and martyrdom. There is another equally important reason Americans will celebrate the life of John Brown this week however – he was right slavery would end at a heavy price. » Continue Reading.
Posts Tagged ‘Last Days of John Brown’
One hundred and fifty years ago, while John Brown waited to hang for leading the raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, his compatriots were led to the Charles Town court and tried before Judge Andrew Parker.
Edwin Coppoc, who served under Brown’s command in the engine house, was tried on the same charges as Brown: conspiracy to incite a slave insurrection, treason against the State of Virginia, and first degree murder. His trial began the day before Brown was sentenced and ended the next day with convictions on all counts. Before he was sentenced, Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise appealed to the Virginia legislature to reduce his maximum sentence to life in prison, apparently on account Coppoc was a Quaker. That request was rejected. » Continue Reading.
There were about 4 million slaves in the United States at the time of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859. Slavery in the South rested on complex and often convoluted political, social, and economic systems, enforced by violence. Perhaps because forcing people to work for you for free was so dependent on violence, the south was continuously racked with fear – fear that one’s slaves (or someone else’s) would rise up against them. » Continue Reading.
For reasons of political expediency, Republicans in the North initially distanced themselves from John Brown and his raiders. Many joined the chorus of (often pro-slavery) voices proclaiming Brown insane, no doubt in part to protect their own political party, for as John Brown’s biographer David S. Reynolds put it, “the implication was that republicans, and by extension many Northerners, were lawbreakers who threatened national peace.” The truth of course, was that Brown had probably already planned a raid into Virginia to free slaves there before the Republican Party was founded in 1854. » Continue Reading.
Following the capture of John Brown and his associates at Harpers Ferry they were first held in the armory’s guardhouse. The next day, October 19th, 1859, they were taken to the County Jail in Charles Town, about eight miles away. On October 25th (after being questioned by Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise, Virginia Senator James M. Mason, and Representative Clement Vallandigham of Ohio) John Brown was led into court for arraignment. He was manacled to Edwin Coppoc and escorted by some 80 militiamen with bayonets fixed. Brown was still suffering from his wounds and needed to be supported at the bench. » Continue Reading.
Ten men were killed during John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia in October 1859. All but two were buried in a common grave on the Shenandoah River, across from Harpers Ferry. The body of Jeremiah Anderson, who was bayoneted in the final storming of the engine house, was handed over to a local medical school – his last resting place remains unknown. Watson Brown’s body was given over to Winchester Medical College where it remained until Union troops recovered it during the Civil War and burned the school in reprisal. » Continue Reading.
As the first full day of John Brown’s raid dawned almost no one in the village of Harpers Ferry knew what was happening. Charles White for instance, a Presbyterian minister who had spent the evening the raid began on an island between the rifle works, and the armory and arsenal reported that he “knew nothing until daylight when the gentleman with whom we were staying came into our room and notified us.” » Continue Reading.
Friday, October 16th, will be the 150th anniversary of the anti-slavery raid on Harpers Ferry that ended in the trial and execution of John Brown of North Elba. An “Anniversary Procession” will take place from the Kennedy Farm, where Brown and his compatriots spent there last weeks before the raid, to Harpers Ferry. Tim Rowland, 46er, author of High Peaks: A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene, and a regular reader of Adirondack Almanack who lives about 10 miles from the Kennedy Farm, sent this anecdote about the annual John Brown procession: » Continue Reading.
In early October, John Brown and his small militia were making their final preparations for a raid on the slaveholders of Virginia. The time and place for a raid seem right even now. It was the harvest season in the south and the fields would be filled with disgruntled and overworked slaves bringing in the crops, a perfect opportunity to turn them to revolt. Harpers Ferry was lightly guarded and the arsenal there contained about 100,000 muskets and rifles – enough to carry on a lengthy guerrilla war against southern slaveholders. » Continue Reading.
One of the familiar attacks on John Brown (and by extension his anti-slavery legacy) involves his failed business ventures and accusations that he was a swindler and a drifter, roaming from place to place – only briefly and uneventfully staying in North Elba. “Over the years before his Kansas escapade Brown had been a drifter, horse thief and swindler,” Columbia University historian John Garraty once wrote. Garraty served as the president of the Society of American Historians and was co-author of the high school history textbook The American Nation (he died in 2007). A closer look at Brown and the his family, however, reveals an experience typical of many Americans, then and today, and the importance of North Elba on Brown’s plans for a raid into Virginia. » Continue Reading.
John Brown’s raid on the slaveholders of Virgina is often considered a hopeless fool’s errand, but it was far from it. Brown’s plan was simple enough: capture weapons and ammunition form the Harpers Ferry federal Armory, retire to the countryside and conduct nighttime border raids to free Southern slaves. The principal goal of the actual raid was to free slaves, not attack and hold a Southern state. Brown, well-armed and experienced in the type of raid he was planning, was fairly confident in its success. » Continue Reading.
John Brown has often come down to us as a lone nut, bent on an suicidal mission, but this is far from the truth. Brown was part of a larger movement to free slaves that grew with passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (which required the return of escaped slaves to their masters with all its potential for torture and death at their hands) and the large Underground Railroad movement. It’s little understood that Brown was intimate with northern politicians, industrialists, ministers, and folks from all walks of life, including the leading intellectuals of the era – the Transcendentalists. » Continue Reading.
This is the second installment of a series of posts marking the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s anti-slavery raid on the Harpers Ferry Armory, his subsequent execution and the return of his body to North Elba in December of 1859. I’ll be writing each week to retrace the steps of Brown and his followers. You can read all the posts in the series here. » Continue Reading.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s October 16, 1859 anti-slavery raid, during which he led 19 men in an attack on the Harpers Ferry Armory. He was charged with murder, conspiring with slaves to rebel, and treason against Virginia (West Virginia was not yet a state) and after a week-long trial was sentenced to death in early November. Brown was hanged on December 2nd (John Wilkes Booth snuck in to watch) and his body was afterward carried to North Elba in Essex County to “moulder in his grave.” » Continue Reading.