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Biographical Sketch of John Henry Keagy

March 24, 1891

Boyd B. Stutler Collection
Ms78-1


Biographical sketch of John Henry Keagy one of John Browns Men written by Franklin Keagy of Chambersburg Pa
March 24th 1891

Chambersburg Pa March 24th 1891
Mr F B. Sanborn

Dear Sir I now comply with your request to give you some of my reccollections [sic] of John Brown’s Men. So far as it came under my personal notice, or obtained from Authentic Sources. I have scrupulously followed the statements made to me by my informants. I was not aware at the time, and not for many years after, I met Mr John Henry (Keagy) at Mrs. Ritners, that we were distantly related; a generation has passed away, and another born since that important event occurred at Harpers Ferry Va. to me it was an intensely interesting event. I have been antislavery ever Since I was ten years of age. One day while at play with a colered [sic] boy a year or two older than myself, in the State of Maryland, his Master came and took him away from me, and from his Parents I never seen him again; and from that hour I Hated the accursed institution; and sought its destruction by all Lawful means. Thank God! for Garrison, Beecher, Phillips, and Whittier, that Grand old man of whom the world is not worthy; and the Host of noble Men and Women, who dared to do the right: - And demand Justice for an oppressed race! The cause of the Slave seemed hopeless. The Slave power grew more and more arrogant: The chains were drawn tighter: The hour had come: John Brown struck the Blow: and God made the wrath of Man to Praise him - by setting the Bondman Free.

John Henri Keagy, was born in Bristol Trumbull Co Ohio March 15th 1835, he was an only Son, his father Abraham Neff Keagy, was born July 20th 1807 in Shenandoah County Va. he was the third son of Abraham Keagy, who was born August 7th 1764 in Conestoga township Lancaster County Pa. and he was the fifth Son of Henry Keagy, who was born in the same township, County and State, Nov 11th 1728, and he was the third Son of John R Keagy some times called Hause Keagy, in order to distinguish him from another John Keagy, who came to America in 1739.

John R Keagy, came to this country in 1715; in company with one Jacob Boehm; and others: Jacob Boehm was the father of the Rev. Martin Boehm, who with Otterbein was the founders of the “United Brethren Church;” A Son, Henry of Martin Boehms was the traveling Companion of the Pioneer Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury; Henry who lived to be over 100 years of age. From the most Authentic source it is learned that John R Keagy and Jacob Boehm, married daughters of one Martin Kendig; whose family was one of the Seven who first Settled within the present limits of Lancaster Co Pa. in the year 1708. This settlement was known as the Swiss Settlement.

In the fall of 1829 the father of John Henry Keagy left the Shenandoah Valley and went to Bristol Trumbull Co Ohio. And in 1832, April 15th, was Married to Miss Anna Fansler, who was also from the Shenandoah Valley of Va. To them was born four children, one Son and three daughters.

Johns Mother died March 30th 1838: and the little family were bereft of a Mothers love and care: both the father and mother were exemplary members of the Methodist church and possessed the most exalted character in all the virtues that go to make up good neighbors and citizens: The Mother of Abraham Keagy was Anna Neff a lineal decendent [sic] of the Celebrated Dr John Henry Neff, one of the Early Settlers in Lancaster Co Pa. The aged father of John Henry Keagy is now living in Edwards County Kansas.

The boyhood days of John Henry were as uneventful as that of most boys. he attended the common Schools in his neighborhood: was studious and apt in learning, and was very popular among his companions, because of his generous disposition, and the ability he displayed in the exhibitions of the school. His love of learning and steadiness of character induced an uncle to send him to a high school in Va. as a companion for his Son; who felt averse to going alone in a strange place. After leaving school, he commenced teaching in the Shenandoah Valley and I am informed by a relative of his now living in Va. that while he was much esteemed as a man and teacher; his uncompromising hatred to slavery was such that he would leave no opportunity escape to hurl his enathemas [sic] against “the Sum of all villainies” whether among pupils or parents. At this period he was scarcely 18 years of age. He was a good Mathamatician [sic], a rapid Calculator, and short hand writer, and a forcible and fluent debater; Richard Realf dubbed him “Greely” becase [sic] “he Said he looked and Acted like Greely, when he addressed a Crowd.” After he quit teaching School in Va. he went to Washington City, and tried to get a Situation in some of the Departments; failing in this he returned to his former home in Ohio, where he remained Some time during his stay he became acquainted with, and seemed much attached to a young Lady living in the place. At this time the Slavery question was the All absorbing theme: and its discussion was conducted with intense bitterness, all over Our land: and very soon Kansas became the theatre of Fratricidal Strife. About this time John Henry went to Nebraska; where a Sister of his resided who had married Allen Mayhew. - here he read law and was admitted to the Bar. A man of his Stamp could not remain very long a spectator of the scenes then going on in Kansas: he viewed with abhorrence the dastardly efforts of the border ruffians to force slavery upon the Soil of Kansas and resolved to share the toils privations and dangers with the free state men: he threw himself, his talents, and all he held dear to him, on the Side of Freedom.

I have it from one who knew him well: that he corresponded regularly for some time, with the young Lady above mentioned but as he at this time was constantly changing his locality her letters to him often failed to reach him, and were of course unanswered: she concluded she was forgotten by him - and was engaged to another suitor. He returned to Ohio, and finding the object of his affections, plighted to another, he is Said to have remarked, “Now I dont care for anything” and soon returned again to Kansas. Who can tell but what this event shaped his course afterward.

“A pebble in the Stream, let cast has turned the course of many a river.
A dew drop on the tiny plant, has dwarfed the Giant Oak forever.

Chas W Moffat in a letter to the writer Says, John H Keagy and I were boys together, we became separated, he went to Nebraska and I went to Kansas, and became a member of Co B. 2d regiment of Kansas volunteers. John H Keagy also went from Nebraska to Kansas and wrote for several papers, and was the Kansas correspondent of the “National Era” and associate Editor of the “Topeka Tribune” and soon made himself a fair reputation as a writer of ability a brave man and an incorruptable [sic] politician on the Side of the free State party. He was also a member of a Comp.Comd. by Col Whipple alias Col Stevens in command; We met each other in Topeka July 4th 1855 John looked like as if he had been in the mountains and just returned. his linen coat was worn through on the Shoulder carrying his gun. He shared in the hardships and fighting that made Kansas a free State and bore upon his person marks of the conflicts through which he passed. When Gov. Geary arrived in Kansas the free state men withdrew reluctlently [sic], because of his appointment as Gov. by a Proslavery President, whose views on the questions involved was too well known; to inspire confidence in the minds of the free state men; they had no thought or desire to resist the Government Officers but were reluctant to disband their forces; They were placed under arrest and confined at Lecompton; Among this number was John Henry Keagy.

The Condition of these prisoners could very aptly be compared to that of our Union Solders in Libby and Andersonville prison during the rebellion: - Although shut up on prison and well guarded he managed to let the World hear from him. he had friends, and when they came to see him he would exchange tobacco with them; he would hollow out his piece and insert his correspondence; carefully cover it over with a leaf of tobacco and by this means, the public was informed of all that transpired around him. He first went to Kansas with Jim Lanes party in 1856, and when Lanes party made Speeches; Keagy who wrote short hand reported them for the Papers. The Proslavery men finding this out threatened to kill him and sent him and others a written notice to leave the state under penalty of death. The following is a copy of the notice - “Verbatim Et Literatim”

Notice is Giben to John hermon to henry hermon to George hermon to leabe Kansis teritory instanly or they wile be hung charge the first for decoying and steaing Slaves wich they hace been seen at. the Second for hiding horses from the uss of the Kassas Armey. Third being free Soillers and threatning to raise armes against the pro Slavery men. fourth for braking the Sabath and bring Our quiet people a scandle to Kansas and her people - if you ar found her in ten days from this date we will hang ale three of you on the first tree Suitable

August the 23 1856
Atchison Rangers.

I am indebted to Mr J. H. Snyder of San diego [sic] Cal. for the copy of the above notice, who informs me that he has followed the orthography exactly, but that the chirography was beyond his ability to imitate: He Says his father S. J. H. Snyder took a leading part in the Kansas war on the free state side; and his house was a shelter and retreat, for Jim Lane and his men in those eventful times: among whom he names John Henry Keagy:” at that time Mr. J. H. Snyder was a young lad, but will not likely ever forget the scenes witnessed in his youth.

John Henry Keagy first became widely known through out the Country, by the Brutal assault on him by Judge Elmore; the Occasion of the assault was brought about in this way. The Store of a free State man had been robbed at Tecumsah, a village about four miles from Topeka. The Owner applied to the Topeka boys for justice; Knowing full well that the proslavery party then in power, would not right his grieviances [sic]; The Topeka boys sent word that an examination must by made, or they would visit the town and burn it A committee of investigation was appointed as soon as this gentle warning was received. It consisted of First. A free State man; Secondly, the person Suspected of the robbery, Thirdly, Judge Elmore as Chairman a “Conservative” The evidence given in was full & explicit: the free state man, deciding in favor of restitution; And the accused man opposing it; the decision therefore, devolved on Elmore; In true, “Conservative” spirit, he declared his inability to decide.

Keagy, Commenting on the decision, remarked that President Pierce need not have sought a pretext to dismiss Elmore, on account of his Extra Judicial investments, as it was self evident that a person who could not decide a case, when the clearest evidence was given, whether a convicted robber should restore stolen goods or retain them, was hardly qualified for a seat on the Supreme Bench of a Territory: - Elmore was greatly incensed at these comments, and meeting Keagy one day in Tecumsah as he Keagy, was going up the steps at the Court house, he said to him, are you the man who writes under the Signature of K? and being answered in the affirmative, He suddenly struck Keagy over the head with a Gold headed cane, Knocking him down senseless for a moment. recovering quickly, he drew his revolver and shot the Judge in the groin: Keagys friends then took him away or he very likely would have cut off all hope of continuing the line of Elmore’s. At another time this same Judge shot him the ball going through his coal sleeve, into and through his coat, then through a Memoranda Book in his pocket an inch thick, and through his shirt into his body, glancing on his ribs it passed around on his Side and lodged there. he is said to have extracted the ball with his penknife. Judge Elmore is reported to have Said: “that if he had known that Keagy possessed so much Pluck, he would have invited him to dinner.” The invitation would not likely have been accepted if proffered -

I have no data to show at what time he first met Brown but from all the facts gathered, it was about the time that Brown returned from Iowa, where he had gone with his Son in law Henry Thompson who had been wounded in one of the fights with the Border ruffians; this was about the second week in August 1856; The part he took after joining Brown; is already told in “Life and letters of John Brown” by F. B. Sanborn: It is very evident that Brown had great Confidence in Keagys Honor, skill, and Judgement, and for that reason was chosen his Secratary [sic] of War, and Second in Command.

I first met John Henri (Kägï) in this place (chambersburg at the boarding house of Mrs Mary Ritner; on East King Street; - Mrs Ritner is the widow of Joseph Ritner, one of Ex Governors Ritner’s Son; Mrs. Ritner; was one of the most intellectual and worthy women of her age. True to the teachings of her Divine Master; she remembered “Them that were in Bonds as bound with them” and her charity was of the most noble and practical kind.

As near as I can remember it was some time in June 1859 when I. Smith (John Brown) first came to Mrs. Ritners; and after him came John Henri (Keagy

The advent of new boarders was not a thing to excite surprise, or comment. It was supposed by the boarders, that Mr. Henri was a correspondent for the N. Y. Tribune or Some Eastern Journal, and that Mr Smith was hunting for Ore in the Mountains of Maryland. At the table all the questions and occurrences of the day were discussed pro and con. Sometimes Mr Smith was absent for days and then return again; and so it was with Mr. Henri: and as his chief employment was in writing, it was quite natural that he would be in his room most of his time, except when he went to the Post office or took a stroll about town; Sometimes in company with Brown (Smith) No one, unless it was Mrs Ritner knew that Mr Henri and Smith had ever met before they met at this place. Not the least suspicion was entertained by any of the boarders, as to their purposes so guarded were they in every respect. Only once did he (Henri) let drop a remark, that could indicate a Secret Mission: - Shortly before he went to Harpers Ferry - one day in company with one of Mrs Ritners daughters, a young miss in her Teens; he went to a Photographers, to have their picture taken; after the Negative was taken; as was the custom of the Artist he asked the parties name to which reply was made John Henri: the Artist being an old man, was some what hard of hearing, and asked the Second time, and not untill [sic] it was thrice repeated, was the artist sure he had it Correct. On leaving the room Mr Henry Said to his companion: I could have given him (the artist) a name he will always remember: The artists name was John Keagy: a distant relative of John Henri Keagys. This incident was impressed on the young miss’s memory; and recalled after the tragedy at Harpers Ferry was over. From the first hour that Mr Henri entered Mrs. Ritners house untill [sic] he left it forever; he displayed the virtues and character of a cultured Gentleman; his manners was reserved almost to bashfulness, but whenever addressed or engaged in conversation, he spoke freely and fluently and commanded attention; his language was elegant and manner agreeable and persuasive. He was strictly temperate; neither using Whiskey or tobacco, and no one ever heard a vile or profane word escape his lips. He was kind and considerate to old and young, especially to young persons, whose confidence he readily acquired; and won their esteem; he took delight in instructing the young daughters of Mrs Ritners family, four in number, and engaged with then in games and plays and frequently would drop coin among their play things which he allowed them to Keep; He also frequently read history, Biography, and the current news of the daily papers, to Mrs Ritner, whose time was almost wholly occupied in household duties - he was more like a loving and dutiful Son and brother, than a Stranger, and when his untimely fate at Harpers Ferry was made known; there were none; who lamented his death; more Sincerely than Mrs. Ritner and her children: He was thoroughly imbued with Antislavery sentiments, and Garrison, Beecher and Phillips were his Ideal men: In Mrs. Ritner, he found a noble woman, and a warm sympathizer, one whose heart beat responsive to every Sentiment expressed in the Poet Whittiers lines written on reading the Message of Gov. Ritner of Penna. in 1836.

During his stay here at Mrs Ritners; an incident occurred; that showed him an unerring shot with the revolver. A close neighbor of Mrs Ritner, named George Gross; who had won an infamous name as a Slave Catcher; had a worthless dog, that annoyed the whole neighborhood by tramping over their gardens and flower beds; his depredations on Mrs Ritners Lot were of daily occurrence and becoming unbearable: she expressed a wish that Some one would shoot him - A window in the room occupied by Mr Henri Situated on the first floor, looked out toward the Garden, and as the weather was warm the window was open. Mr Henry sat facing the window, one day, engaged in writing; The adjoining room was the dining room, in which Mrs Ritner was busily engaged in her domestic work; when hearing a noise in the Garden. She glanced out of the open door, and seeing the dog tramping among her vegetables; said Oh! there is that miserable dog again! I do wish Some one would Kill him; that instant a pistol shot rang out, and ere she had time to look away, the dog fell over dead, shot through the heart. that night he was thrown over the fence into his masters lot where he found him the next day, The owner swore terribly and threatened to shoot the one who did it but he never found it out. There were those, who wished that bullet had hit the dogs master, as one worthy of a sudden death.

Another incident occurred during the stay of Brown and Keagy at Mrs Ritners. One bright morning in the early fall of 59, the youngest daughter of Mrs Ritner, Ella, a child of some seven summers, was returning home from an errand on which she had been sent by the mother. On her way she overtook a little toddling ebony hued child that had strayed away from its home, during the absence of its Mother, whom it had Started out to find, and failing in this had set up a terrible boo hoo. Its wailings and distress elicited the tenderest sympathy of the little girl, and taking it by the hand she slowly led it to her home and on reaching it she entered the dining room, where her Mother and Brown were engaged in conversation, exclaiming; “Oh! Mother! see here what I found, poor thing, it is lost! Wont you keep it?” The mother smiled, proud of her child, as she might Justly be, she inherited the Mothers virtues; Imagine, if you can the Scene, the effect on Brown was electrical, he took both the children in his arms. His enthusiasm knew no bounds, his Eyes sparkled, His face became radiant as if his heart and mind had received new inspiration. As he commented on the noble act he declared, “It was the grandest act he ever beheld, and a Sight worthy of the angels” not equaled, I have no doubt, in his own estimation, by his last act, (if it be true) that “he stooped between the jeering ranks and kissed the negro’s child”

John Henri (Keagy) was a young man of 24 years of age at the time of the Harpers Ferry raid, he was of attractive personal appearance; about 5' - 9" or 10" high and about 150 lbs weight, his eyes were very expressive, his gaze piercing and changed expression with every mood of mind he seemed to be able to look clear through you and divine your thoughts, his face was powder marked, showing the evidence of conflicts through which he had passed at times there seemed a shade of Sadness, almost of Melancholy about his face: he had far more the appearance of a divinity student, than that of a warrior. He was a man of decided convictions, and had the courage to maintain them. Could less be expected of one who had decended [sic] from that sturdy Swiss race, who alone, among all the States around them, preserved their Liberties for Centuries; Those who knew him intimately had formed bright hopes for his future. He would have made his mark in any calling; He possessed all the qualities necessary for a Scientific military officer; - Says one, who shared the toils, privations and dangers with him in Kansas: “He was a brave fearless man, a warm and steadfast friend. Unlike his remarkable leader Brown, he made no claim to being called of God in this work but engaged in it rather from a haughty Sense of duty to a friendless race, and to teach “those who would be free must themselves Strike the blow” He was strictly moral; Just, and charitable, but made no pretentions [sic] to assume a religious character; although brought up among Presbyterians, and Methodists; and like its great and Glorious found, he regarded Human Slavery, as the “Sum of of all villianies [sic]” the vilest under the Sun: It has been asked, what induced him to go to Kansas? to engage in the Strife and dangers of that day? I answer: A love of Right, and Hatred of Wrong; Such as inspired, a Lafayette; De Kalb, Koscuisko and hundred of others, to leave their homes and fight for the independence of the Colonies. We should, we do honor them; is the one meritorious, and not so the other? There were those who censured him, among his Kindred for his participation in the Kansas war, and at Harpers Ferry; as unlawful: was the struggle in Greece for liberty, Lawful? was the resistance of our forefathers to the Tax on Tea Lawful? Hale was hung as a Spy; and Washington Hancock and Jefferson, would have been hung as Traitors; if the struggle for Independence had Failed Looking down the vista of coming time; I believe posterity will build a monument to the memory of these brave, heroic self sacrificing Men, that will eclipse in Grandeur, and that has yet been reared to heroism.

On the night of Oct 16th 1859, the duty was assigned to John Henry Keagy, to Capture and hold the Government Rifle Works, Situated on the Shenandoah River, about a half mile above its confluence with the Potomac; the next day; these works were attacked by the Virginia Militia, and Keagy and his Men driven out, and in attempting to Cross the River, they were all killed - but one, a Negro named Copeland. The bodies of the Slain were collected from the Streets and River’s and were buried in one Grave on the Southren [sic] bank of the Historic Shenandoah about half a mile above Harpers Ferry -

He died in Obedience to his idea of the teachings of Virginias greatest Statesmen. He fell a martyr so the cause of Human Freedom, and gave his young life a Sacrifice; for a down trodden and oppressed Race, the completest measure of devotion that can be given

“Mightier than living voice his Grave
That lofty protest utters O’er
Through roaring wind and Smiting Wave
It speaks his hate of Wrong once More.”
“Perish with him the folly that seeks through Evil good
Long live the generous purpose unstained with human Blood.”

What a strange chapter is presented to the reflecting mind in this affair, viewed in the light of after events; the disinterested zeal shown by the Citizen Soldiery of Va. for the Safety of the Nations property and Honor there, is in sad Contrast with that, of a few month later, when these Same men pillaged these works, and took arms machinery and all for the avowed purpose to aid them in destroying that very Government. Such is the mutation in human affairs; The vanquished then are the victors now.

“In vain Virginia set her battle in array:
In vain her tramplings squadrons Knead the winters snow in clay”
“Now North and South shall strive no more
And all their fueds [sic] and fears be lost
In Freedom’s holy Pentecost”

Franklin Keagy
March 24th 1891 Chambersburg Pa.


Chapter Nine: Final Preparations”

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History