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John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry

John Brown’s Raid in American Memory

As a major part of the national acknowledgment of the 150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid on the Federal Armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, the Virginia Historical Society presents the exhibition “The Portent: John Brown’s Raid in American Memory.” The exhibition was on display at the VHS October 2009 through April 2010. (View the online exhibition at http://www.vahistorical.org/johnbrown). John Brown and his followers easily seized the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, but soon afterwards Brown was captured, and a number of his men were killed. He did succeed, however, in initiating a national debate about slavery. The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities have generously supported the John Brown exhibition.

300px-HWFireHouseBrownHarper’s Weekly illustration of U.S. Marines attacking John Brown’s “Fort”

John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry (also known as John Brown’s raid or The raid on Harpers Ferry; in many books the town is called “Harper’s Ferry” with an apostrophe-s. was an attempt by the white abolitionist John Brown to start an armed slave revolt in 1859 by seizing a United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown’s raid, accompanied by 20 men in his party, was defeated by a detachment of U.S. Marines led by Col. Robert E. Lee. John Brown had originally asked Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, both of whom he had met in his formative years as an abolitionist in Springfield, Massachusetts, to join him in his raid, but Tubman was prevented by illness, and Douglass declined, as he believed Brown’s plan would fail.

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John Brown, 1854

John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry (also known as John Brown’s raid or The raid on Harpers Ferry; in many books the town is called “Harper’s Ferry” with an apostrophe-s. was an attempt by the white abolitionist John Brown to start an armed slave revolt in 1859 by seizing a United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown’s raid, accompanied by 20 men in his party, was defeated by a detachment of U.S. Marines led by Col. Robert E. Lee. John Brown had originally asked Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, both of whom he had met in his formative years as an abolitionist in Springfield, Massachusetts, to join him in his raid, but Tubman was prevented by illness, and Douglass declined, as he believed Brown’s plan would fail.

Brown’s Preparation

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John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry

John Brown rented the Kennedy Farmhouse, with a small cabin nearby, 4 miles (6.4 km) north of Harpers Ferry in Washington County, Maryland, and took up residence under the name Isaac Smith. Brown came with a small group of men minimally trained for military action. His group included 21 men (16 white men, 3 free blacks, 1 freed slave, and 1 fugitive slave). Northern abolitionist groups sent 198 breech-loading .52 caliber Sharps carbines (“Beecher’s Bibles”) and 950 pikes (obtained from Charles Blair, in late September), in preparation for the raid. The arsenal contained 100,000 muskets and rifles.[citation needed] Brown attempted to attract more black recruits. He tried recruiting Frederick Douglass as a liaison officer to the slaves. Douglass declined, indicating to Brown that he believed the raid was a suicide mission. The plan was “an attack on the federal government” that “would array the whole country against us.” You “will never get out alive,” he warned.

The Kennedy Farmhouse served as “barracks, arsenal, supply depot, mess hall, debate club, and home.” It was very crowded and life there was tedious. Brown was worried about arousing neighbors’ suspicions. As a result, the raiders had to stay indoors during the daytime, without much to do but study, drill, argue politics, discuss religion, and play cards and checkers. Brown’s daughter-in-law Martha served as cook and housekeeper. His daughter Annie served as lookout. Brown wanted women at the farm to prevent suspicions of a large all-male group. The raiders went outside at night to drill and get fresh air. Thunderstorms were welcome since they concealed noise from Brown’s neighbors.

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On the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown led a group of radical abolitionists against the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry in Jefferson County, Virginia

Brown did not plan to have a sudden raid and escape to the mountains. Rather, he intended to use those rifles and pikes he captured at the arsenal, in addition to those he brought along, to arm rebellious slaves with the aim of striking terror in the slaveholders in Virginia. He believed that on the first night of action, 200-500 black slaves would join his line. He ridiculed the militia and regular army that might oppose him. He planned to send agents to nearby plantations, rallying the slaves. He planned to hold Harpers Ferry for a short time, expecting that as many volunteers, white and black, would join him as would form against him. He would move rapidly southward, sending out armed bands along the way. They would free more slaves, obtain food, horses and hostages, and destroy slaveholders’ morale. Brown planned to follow the Appalachian Mountains south into Tennessee and even Alabama, the heart of the South, making forays into the plains on either side.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brown’s_raid_on_Harpers_Ferry

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