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Senate Select Committee Report on the Harper’s Ferry Invasion
Testimony of John H. Allstadt

Pp. 40-45

January 6, 1860.

John H. Allstadt sworn and examined.

By the Chairman:

Question. Will you state your age, and where you reside, and what your occupation is?
Answer. I am fifty-one; I reside two and a half miles above Harper's Ferry, in the county of Jefferson, State of Virginia; I am a farmer.

Question. Are you a landholder and an owner of slaves?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Will you state whether a party of armed men came to your house at some time in October, what they did after they got there, and who they were, as far as you learned?
Answer. There was a party of men came there on the 17th of October, at three o'clock in the morning.

Question. What was the first information you had of their being present?
Answer. The first information I had of them was a rapping at our chamber door. I was in bed. I immediately got up, and inquired who was there; they told me to open the door directly or they would burn me up. I did not open the door, but at that moment they bursted the door open with a rail. The door was locked. When the door was bursted open I could see out; I had gotten up by that time, and my wife had gotten up also. I tried to shut the door. I saw five or six men with arms, rifles, standing right at the door, but three of them came into the room and told me to dress myself directly. I asked them their object. They told me they intended to free the country of slavery. I asked what they were going to do with me. They said they were going to take me to Harper's Ferry; that they had the armory in their possession, and they told me they had Colonel Washington. They asked me if there were any more men about the house. I told them none but my son. In the meantime my son had come down stairs, and they seized him by the collar, and held him until I dressed myself. My son is eighteen or nineteen years old. When I dressed myself they told me to march on, and when I went to the door they had all my black men and boys -- they were all men except one -- at the door waiting for me. I mean my slaves. There were seven of them. They were all grown but one. We were ordered out to the turnpike, which was just across the yard, and ordered to get into a four-horse wagon -- my son, myself, and my negroes. I recognized the wagon to be Colonel Washington's. I inquired of them where Colonel Washington was. They said he was in his carriage, and that was right in front of us, driving down by the side of the fence, and they remarked they were ready.

Question. Were all those men armed?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. With what?
Answer. With Sharp's rifles. The carriage moved up on the pike and we followed. Four walked in front of the wagon armed, and two in the wagon. We went on in that way until we got over the hill near Bolivar. There is a skirt of woods to the left. They told the wagon to halt, and they went up into the woods and held a consultation, and came back and said, "Boys, mind; we may have a little fight," or something of that account, and then told them to drive on. They went on before and drove to Harper's Ferry, and drove into the armory yard. There my son and myself were ordered out. John Brown delivered us over to a man, who took us into the watch-house.

Question. Did he take all your negroes into the watch-house with you?
Answer. No, sir; not all of them; they were backwards and forwards; sometimes some of them would come into the watch-house. They had armed the negroes with spears, and they would occasionally walk in to the stove and they would go out again, though the most of them were placed in the engine-house. As I walked out, I could see them in the engine-house, standing there, some of their men with them. When I went into the watch-house I met with Colonel Washington; that was the first time I had seen him; I asked him what this meant; he said he did not know.

Question. How did these men get into your house, do you know?
Answer. They bursted the chamber-door open with a rail.

Question. How did they get into the house?
Answer. We lie in the front; our chamber was in the front.

Question. Did the chamber-door open out of doors?
Answer. Yes, sir; out on the porch. The chamber is on the first floor; the door of that is not the front door, either; the front door is next to the turnpike; that is not the room we occupy; we occupy the back room at the other end of the house; they went round to the other end of the house.

By Mr. Davis:

Question. Was the front door open or shut?
Answer. It was locked.

By the Chairman:

Question. Did you recognize or know any of those men who appeared at your chamber-door when it was broken open?
Answer. I did not; I did not know any of them.

Question. Had you known Cook before?
Answer. No, I never knew him before; I had seen Brown before.

Question. Where had you seen him?
Answer. I had seen him at Harper's Ferry, on the street; and I had seen him also at the cars when the cars would land there; I inquired who he was; he was walking up and down; he was a stranger to me, and I asked who that old gentleman was; they told me his name was Smith, but they called him Brown then.

Question. When you first saw him at the cars, how long was that before this affair?
Answer. I had seen him at different times, perhaps a month before that, and perhaps I saw him not two weeks before that; I do not recollect exactly; I saw him at different times.

Question. You say that your negroes had pikes put in their hands and were walking about the engine-house and the watch-house from time to time. Do you know what other use was made of them by Brown or his party?
Answer. No, sir; I do not. The negroes laid the pikes down at last, and did not use them any more at all; they had not them in their hands except in the first instance.

Question. Did you get all your negroes back?
Answer. All but one.

Question. What became of him?
Answer. He was taken to Charlestown, to the jail.

Question. What ultimately became of him?
Answer. He died.

Question. How? From what cause?
Answer. I do not know. He was frightened very much, I suppose, and exposed very much that day; it was a very bad day; it rained very hard; I suppose he was exposed to the rain and cold; he was taken sick after he had been in jail a few days, and died.

Question. Were you kept in the engine-house until you were rescued by the marines?
Answer. Yes, sir; Brown came in and selected three men; I do not know what ones they were exactly, and he took them out; I think Mr. Daingerfield was one; I do not know the others; he took them out of the watch-house; I did not know what he was going to do with them; after awhile, he came back and he came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder, saying "I want you," and pointed out two or three others, "I want you," "I want you," and we followed him up and he took us right out of the watch-house into the engine-house; there we were kept all the time.

Question. You remained there until you were released by the marines on Tuesday morning?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. At what time did you get home?
Answer. I suppose it must have been the middle of the day on Tuesday.

Question. Were your negroes at home then?
Answer. No, sir; there were three of my negroes in the engine-house with us; they got home pretty soon after I did; there were three in the mountain in Maryland who were sent over with the wagon; two of them got home that evening pretty soon after; I do not know what time; the middle of the evening, I suppose; the other one got home in the evening, but he was at Harper's Ferry; they had brought him down there, I understood.

Question. Then your negroes all got home that night, except one who was taken to Charlestown?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Did you see him in jail?
Answer. Yes, sir; I took cold in the engine-house; it was very cold there through the night, and when we wanted to sit down we had either to sit on the engines or sit on the brick floor; I was very hoarse when I came out of the engine-house on Tuesday; I thought I had better take care of myself, or else I might be taken sick; I did not go to Charlestown for some few days; I do not know how long; I saw the negro there when I went; he was very sick when I went there, so much so that I could not move him home.

Question. Do you know why he was taken to jail?
Answer. I inquired why he was taken to jail, and they said they did not know they had committed him to jail; the magistrate had committed him to jail, and I would see further about him when I went to town.

Question. Did you hear of any charges being made against him?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. The negro died from sickness in jail?
Answer. Yes, sir; he was too sick to carry home.

Question. What was his age?
Answer. He was about twenty years old; he was a very valuable fellow; the most valuable one I had.

By Mr. Davis:

Question. A negro of good character?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. What was the conduct of those negroes at the time they were walking about with pikes in their hands? Did they appear hostile to you?
Answer. Not at all; they did not appear hostile to any one.

Question. Did they appear to understand their condition?
Answer. No, sir; I do not know that they did.

By the Chairman:

Question. Did you hold any conversation with your negroes while you were in the watch-house or engine-house?
Answer. No, sir; I did not.

Question. What was their conduct after they got home? Were they submissive and tractable as usual, or were they insubordinate?
Answer. They were pretty much as usual, except that they seemed to be pretty much frightened. For instance, there was one of the troops from Charlestown called there one night, and I could see that they were frightened at that time; that was two or three weeks afterwards.

Question. Where did your negroes lodge; where were their cabins; how far from your house?
Answer. They were very close, almost adjoining the house. The porch ran from our room to the kitchen.

Question. After you dressed yourself and came out, did you find your negroes on the road?
Answer. They were guarded there right at the porch in front of the door.

By Mr. Davis:

Question. And a standing guard over them?
Answer. Yes, sir.

By the Chairman:

Question. Did the white men tell you what they intended to do with the negroes?
Answer. No, sir; they did not say what their object was.

Question. Did they disclose no reason for taking them along with you to the Ferry?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. While you were a prisoner did you hear Brown at any time say what he intended to do with the negroes; what his object was in catching them?
Answer. No, sir; I did not.

By Mr. Doolittle:

Question. Or his object in coming there to Harper's Ferry and taking the armory?
Answer. No, sir; only that he intended to free the country of slavery -- that was all.

By Mr. Davis:

Question. Were they shooting out of the engine-house when you were in there?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Whom were they shooting at?
Answer. I could not tell that. We were kept back and they were in front and would shoot out at the door.

Question. Did they say whom they were shooting at?
Answer. I supposed they were shooting at the men. There was one of them said that he was shooting at a man; he had shot several times at a man peeping round the water station on the railroad, and he remarked to me that he thought he would take six inches of the wood. He said he had not hit him, and he thought he would take six inches of the wood, but Brown told him perhaps he had better not do that. He went back to his position and shot three or four times afterwards, and then he said, "That is the time I brought him?"

By Mr. Doolittle:

Question. At this time they were shooting out; were there shots also fired in?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Was there shooting both ways?
Answer. Yes, sir.

By the Chairman:

Question. Was anybody killed in the engine-house from shots fired outside?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. How many?
Answer. Two were killed.

Question. Was that during Monday?
Answer. Yes, sir.

By Mr. Doolittle:

Question. I suppose they were killed by being shot through the loop-holes?
Answer. No, sir; nobody was shot through the loop-holes. They were shot at the door.

By the Chairman:

Question. The door was open to enable them to fire out, I suppose?
Answer. Yes, sir; the door was partly open to enable them to fire out, and they fired out there. They would go to the door and fire. They fired a great deal out of those loop-holes.

John H. Allstadt.

Chapter Ten: The Raid

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History