Monday, May 17, 2010


John Brown organized blacks to take arms in hand and force the powers that be to end the owning of slaves. He aimed to take over the armory located at Harpers Ferry and use those arms for his revolt. He failed, and after a 36 hour siege in a small Firehouse, his heartfelt blow for freedom was over. They shot three of his raiders and captured them all. Brown was hung first after a trial in nearby Charles Town. He sat on his coffin on his way to the gallows. Three more raiders were tried and hung after him. His raid was downed by the local militia and Federal Troops under Robert E. Lee.
Afterward, the famous Firehouse was vandalized by souvenir seekers; it was dismantled, rebuilt, and over time,  moved to  four different sites before being returned to Harpers Ferry by the National Park Service, within 150 feet of its original location.While Brown went to his death thinking he failed, it was the eve of the Civil War, the swirling change of ideas about the owning of slaves fed his revolution and struck fear in slave owners that  this bold move may signify the first of more to come.  His actions further divided the nation over the issue of slavery and his actions helped launch the Civil War.

We walked the riverside that gave Harpers Ferry its strategic importance in History. Supplies were moved by water and the Shenandoah River meets the Potomic here, crashing together on their way to the ocean.
President Washington surveyed this area as a young man and chose it as a site for a Federal Armory to protect the area from insurgents. Thomas Jefferson extolled the virtues of this wonderful town. Black Freedman worked and thrived here along with whites with slaves.   

This bucolic town, now a National Park, once housed 3,000 people, all gainfully employed at a rifle factory, grist mill, cotton mill, taverns, a foundry, tannery, and all the small service industries, clothing, tobacco, butchers, candle and soap makers, schools and teachers, bakeries and hardware, plus the Federal Armory located here. By all accounts a successful and thriving city.
 This beautiful Church has a commanding view of town.
Hilly country side made land precious and the houses were tightly jammed together. But this touristy view was once a place where manure littered the streets, hogs ran free, outdoor toilets accompanied every building, working men spit tobacco in the streets and the butchers blood drained freely down the hillside into the river, attracting flies and vermin. A cholera epidemic killed 147 people one year.

White Hall Tavern didn't hold many customers, but it was a place for social gatherings essential to colonial life.

This  three story boarding house had amazingly roomy bedrooms. Soldierly types had to hang their canteens and arms in the foyer. The Appalachian Trail also runs through Harpers Ferry, and again we set foot on it out of curiosity. It actually goes over this Potomic Bridge at one point.

What an amazing place.
Lewis and Clark outfitted here. The rifles he took from this renowned factory may have meant the difference between success and failure. He invented a boat and tried it here, but it failed. A small museum tells the story.
Appreciating this strategic place, its position, the railroads and canals that pushed goods all the way into Ohio, and the issue of slavery on the dividing line of slave and free states is complex. The whole area, to do it well, takes two or three days and well worth the time. We spent one day. Every building is basically a museum. Two African American Museums, a John Brown museum and many interpretive exhibits and places to visit make this a must see if you are in the area. Its great to refurbish your sense of history and remember , John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Dred Scott, J.E.B. Stuart, George Armstrong Custer, W.E.B. Du Bois, Stonewall Jackson among the notables that played their part in this small town.
For an album of more pictures click the link below: