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Senate Select Committee Report on the Harper’s Ferry Invasion
Testimony of Terence Byrne

Pp. 13-21

January 6, 1860.

Terence Byrne sworn and examined:

By the Chairman:

Question. Will you please state your age, and where you reside, and what your occupation is?
Answer. I am forty-two years of age. I reside in Washington county, Maryland, about three miles northwest of Harper's Ferry. I am engaged in farming.

Question. Are you a landholder and slaveholder?
Answer. I am a landholder jointly with my brother Joseph. I am a slaveholder.

Question. Will you state whether you formed the acquaintance of John Brown, recently executed in Jefferson county, Virginia, and by what name he passed when you formed his acquaintance, and when you formed it?
Answer. I was not personally acquainted with him.

Question. Do you know the place he lived at -- the Kennedy farm?
Answer. Very well, sir.

Question. How far is your residence from that?
Answer. My place is not quite a mile and a half south of the Kennedy farm.

Question. Did you know there was such a man in the neighborhood, although you had not seen him personally?
Answer. I knew there was a man who had rented the Kennedy farm.

Question. By what name did he pass?
Answer. By the name of Smith. I had seen him frequently and passed him on the road. I knew him by sight, but not personally.

Question. Will you state whether you were taken into custody by any party of men, and who they were, and at what time, and where?
Answer. I would rather state it in my own way. On the morning of the 17th of October I left home on horseback early, between 5 and 6 o'clock, and I had progressed about a mile and a quarter when I passed a wagon on the road, driven by a colored man. Almost at the same time that I passed the tail-end of the wagon -- I going in the direction of Harper's Ferry and the wagon towards the Kennedy farm -- I heard a voice call out, "Mr. Byrnes, stop." I reined up my horse and looked back, and recognized John E. Cook on the ground. I had known Cook before in that neighborhood. He approached me on the right side of my horse, and remarked to me, "I am very sorry to inform you that you are my prisoner," or something like that. I do not remember the exact words. I had left home with a view of riding a distance of about six miles. I looked at him and smiled, and said, "you are certainly joking." He said, "I am not." I looked down, and under his coat I saw a barrel of a rifle protruding, and he kept moving it and jerking it. I thought he wanted to attract my attention, from his actions, to his being armed; and almost a moment afterwards a second man approached me, whom I have learned since was C.P. Tidd, but at that time he was unknown to me. He presented his gun to me and said, "no parley here, or I will put a ball in you," or "through you;" "you must go with us to your place; we want your negroes," or something like that. I told him if that was the case I would go back rather than that he should put a ball through me.

Question. Well, you went back where?
Answer. To my house.

Question. What did they do after you got there?
Answer. I passed my brother on the porch just before entering the door, and I whispered to him, "civil war," or something like that; perhaps I said "servile war." I walked in. I do not know whether Cook preceded me or not, but I know we all got into the room about the same time. Cook, Leeman, and Tidd seated themselves uninvited. I walked up and down the floor, and Cook commenced making a kind of speech, sitting down, what we term a higher-law speech. My mind was busy with the future, and I paid very little attention to what he said.

Question. What was the subject?
Answer. The subject was slavery. He said that all men were created equal. That was a quotation. I remember that distinctly. Just about the time he commenced, I asked my sister, who I saw was very much alarmed, where a cousin of mine was, who was then on a visit to my house. She answered that she was up stairs, and I told her to call her down and be witness to every thing that was said and done, as she was a lady of considerable nerve. I was too much excited to pay much attention to the speech. The first word my cousin said when she came down was, "Cowhide those scoundrels out of the house; why do you suffer them to talk to you?" I did not heed her, either. I do not recollect all her remarks.

Question. There were three men then, Cook, Tidd, and Leeman; were they all armed?
Answer. All armed.

Question. With what?
Answer. Sharp's rifles and revolvers.

Question. What requirements or demands did they make of you?
Answer. I am a little too fast. Just after my arrest on the road, on turning back, they made a proposition to me to this effect, that I had better be quiet and give up my slaves; or, if I would give up my slaves voluntarily, they would enter into an article of agreement with me. They said they would first take me before their captain, and they were certain that if I would give up my slaves voluntarily their captain would enter into an article of agreement with me to protect my person and property. I told them that was something I would not do, that I looked to the State government, or, if that failed, to the federal government to protect me in my person and property. They remarked they would have them any how.

Question. What demands did they make of you in the house, and how were they made?
Answer. They addressed my brother, in the house, and said: "Mr. Byrne we want your slaves." My brother's reply was, "Captain Cook you must do as I do when I want them -- hunt for them." They were too early in the morning. My brother's servant and my own, two men, had left home the Saturday evening preceding, and had not returned yet, Monday morning. They did not get them. They did not want the negro women or children at that time.

Question. Did they become satisfied that the negro men were not at home?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. What did they do then?
Answer. They kept my brother and myself prisoners there. Two of them remained with us, and Tidd started with some five or six or seven negroes to the Kennedy farm, in Colonel Washington's wagon. I did not know whose wagon it was at the time, but Cook told me afterwards that it was Colonel Washington's wagon.

Question. They left two of the men at your house, holding you and your brother in their custody?
Answer. Yes, sir; Cook and Leeman remained.

Question. How long did they remain?
Answer. I do not know; I had no idea of the time. I did not notice the clock, though it was on the mantle.

Question. What time in the morning was it when they first arrested you?
Answer. I do not know exactly, but it was between five and six o'clock, a little after daylight.

Question. Can you give an idea of the time they remained, as near as you can come; whether they went away before noon?
Answer. Yes, sir. They left shortly after; say a late breakfast.

Question. Then they were not there more than three or four hours, if so much?
Answer. Not so much.

Question. Did they give you any reasons for going away, when they did go away?
Answer. They said I would have to go to Harper's Ferry, that their orders were to take me to Harper's Ferry before their captain.

Question. Did they do so?
Answer. They took me to Harper's Ferry and placed me in the watch-house. It was between 9 and 10 o'clock on Monday morning when I got into the watch-house.

Question. Who took you?
Answer. I was detained at my place until the wagon went to the Kennedy farm and returned back. Tidd, who had charge of the wagon and the negroes, came to Cook and remarked that they were ready to proceed. I was escorted by them. We went first to the school-house, where the arms were deposited. We had to pass by it on the road.

Question. What was in the wagon?
Answer. There were boxes. They seemed to be well filled with something. I did not know at the time what was in them.

Question. Was the wagon heavily loaded?
Answer. It seemed to pull pretty heavily, but it was a damp morning.

Question. How many horses?
Answer. Four horses. It was a heavy farm wagon.

Question. Did you know any of the negroes who were with them?
Answer. I did not. I was told by Cook, in the morning, that they had possession of the armory, railroad bridge, and telegraph, and before night would have the canal; that Colonel Washington was a prisoner at Harper's Ferry, and that his fowling-piece was carried by one of the negroes. He did not name the colored man who had it.

Question. Did Cook tell you whose negroes they were?
Answer. He did not, that I recollect.

Question. What was done at the school-house? Was there anybody in the school-house when you got there?
Answer. Yes, sir; Mr. Currie, the teacher, and his pupils. The school was in session.

Question. What passed when they arrived at the school-house?
Answer. I do not know that I heard all that passed. I do not think I did.

Question. I do not mean so much in conversation as what was done.
Answer. Some of the party went in; I shall not be positive who, but one of the three, or perhaps two, went in and asked him to suspend school for a while, and then he could go on; they wanted to occupy one corner of the house, saying they wanted to deposit some boxes there, but I shall not be positive about that; but I know Mr. Currie came out, and I whispered across the fence to him -- I did not go in -- that I was a prisoner, and remarked to him, "You have nothing to fear, you are not a slaveholder." I did not know at the time whether he owned slaves or not. My object was to put him on his guard, and he whispered in my ear "I am."

Question. What was done there? What did these men do?
Answer. The wagon was unloaded there, and the boxes placed in the school-house.

Question. Did the children leave the school-house?
Answer. Some of them manifested a disposition to leave, and I think, perhaps, were told to stay, but I am not certain about that. Most of the children were there when I left. As soon as the wagon was unloaded, Cook or Tidd told Leeman to accompany me down to Harper's Ferry.

Question. Did you leave the rest with the wagon at the school-house, when you went away?
Answer. Tidd, Cook, and the negroes were left behind with the wagon at the school-house. I proceeded with Lehman[sic] about one hundred or one hundred and fifty yards south of the school-house, and I was met by one of the Brown party, whom I had known by the name of Thompson. He came up smiling. He was armed, and, I think, had a blanket over his shoulders. He extended his hand and said, "How are you, Byrne?" I said, "Good morning, Mr. Thompson; I am well; how are you?" I was then disposed to put on a cheerful face, and I asked him what was the news at Harper's Ferry. He said the people were more frightened than hurt, and he passed on. It commenced raining about the same time, and Leeman suggested that we get under a tree until the shower passed. We sat down on the side of the road. I had an umbrella, and proposed to him to sit up close to me, and my umbrella would be some protection to him. He did so. He remarked to me, "Our captain is no longer John Smith," or I. Smith, or J. Smith, or something like that, but was "John Brown, of Kansas notoriety," I think he said, but I shall not be positive about that, for I was disposed to assume a character that I did not have at the time, that of cheerfulness. My mind was busy with the future. I was fearful of a bloody civil war. I was under the impression that, unless they were there in great numbers, they would not be foolish enough to make an attack on the borders of two slaveholding States.

Question. Did you have any further conversation with Leeman at that time, as to Brown's objects or purposes in coming there?
Answer. I did not feel disposed to question him at all; but he appeared to be very serious, had very little to say while at the house, and I am inclined to think he was meditating his escape from them, judging from his manner. He took a seat by the side of the fireplace in my house and put his head against the mantel and drew his cap down. He wore a cloth cap, I think. Cook asked him if he was hungry. He said yes, he was a little hungry. Cook then asked him if he was sleepy, and I think he answered in the affirmative.

Question. Did you proceed to the Ferry afterwards?
Answer. We sat under this tree, Leeman and myself, until the shower had almost ceased, and we started. Whether Thompson overhauled us at that point, or at a point further down near Harper's Ferry, I do not recollect; but I know that Thompson and Leeman were with me almost all the distance from the school-house to the Virginia side of the bridge. There Thompson stopped, and Leeman passed through the town as far as the watch-house with me.

Question. Was Leeman armed all that time?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. With what?
Answer. With a Sharp's rifle.

Question. Did he carry it exposed or concealed?
Answer. It was a damp, rainy morning, and he carried it under his coat or blanket. A portion of the barrel protruded.

Question. Did you meet any armed men after you got on the Virginia side of the bridge, and before you got to the watch-house?
Answer. I passed two armed men on the bridge -- a white man and a colored man. I think the white man was a son of Brown, or Smith, as he was called.

Question. Did you pass any after you left the bridge?
Answer. Not that I recollect.

Question. Did they speak to you in any way?
Answer. This white man had a mit on, and as soon as he saw me he took it off and shook hands with me.

Question. Had you seen him before?
Answer. I think I had.

Question. Did he call you by name?
Answer. I do not recollect that he did.

Question. What time did you get to the Ferry?
Answer. I do not recollect exactly, but I think it was between nine and ten o'clock in the morning.

Question. The watch-house is in the inside of the armory yard, adjoining the engine-house?
Answer. Yes, sir; under the same roof. They are adjoining rooms. The watch-house is on the west end of the building.

Question. Did anybody accost you or speak to you when you arrived at the watch-house?
Answer. I was marched up to the door. I do not recollect whom I first spoke to, but I recollect my remark, "Good morning, gentlemen; I hope I am in good company," or something like that.

Question. When did you see Brown first at the watch-house?
Answer. Almost immediately after my arrival. I saw him moving about in front of the engine-house.

Question. Did he come and speak to you?
Answer. He did not, and I did not ask to be taken to him.

Question. He did not speak to you on your coming?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. Did he at any time while you remained there?
Answer. Not until after I first addressed him. he put his hand on me and said, "I want you, sir." He went around to different ones, and I think he selected five hostages in the first place out of the watch-house. I was one of the second batch that was taken out. He just walked around and put his hand on or pointed to us; I think he put his hand on me and said, "I want you, sir."

Question. What did he want with you?
Answer. We were taken in the engine-house and pointed to the back part of the room, and told to stand there.

Question. The Brown came into the watch-house some time after you got there, and selected five men, you among them?
Answer. Ten altogether, five the first time, and five the second time. I was one of the second five.

Question. He took those ten into the engine-house and told you to take your places in the back part of the engine-house?
Answer. I do not know whether he said "back-part." The Brown party occupied the front part, and if we had taken any other position than we did, we should have been in their way.

Question. What time were you put in the engine-house?
Answer. I think it was after the middle of the day on Monday, but I could not say positively.

Question. How long did you remain in the engine-house?
Answer. Until sometime Tuesday morning, until we were rescued by the marines.

Question. Did you have any conversation with Brown while you were in the engine-house, or did you hear him conversing with any of the rest of the party on the subject of what brought him there, or what he expected or intended to do?
Answer. Yes, sir; at different times there was a great deal said. I cannot recollect one fifth part.

Question. Can you recollect anything that would disclose what his object was in coming to the Ferry; what his purpose was; what he was after; what his object was in taking the prisoners and keeping them there; what his general object was?
Answer. At one time I heard him remark: "Gentlemen, if you knew my past history, you would not blame me for being here," or something to that effect. He then went on to state that he had gone to Kansas a peaceable man, and was hunted down like a wolf by the pro-slavery men from Virginia and Kentucky, and he lost some members of his family; I think he said a son; "and now," said he, "I am here." At that time he did not say for what purpose. One son of his was laying on my right who had been wounded on Monday about the middle of the day on the street. He seemed to suffer intensely, and complained very much. He asked to be dispatched, or killed, or put out of his misery, or something of that kind, I think, and Brown remarked to him, "No, my son, have patience; I think you will get well; if you die, you die in a glorious cause, fighting for liberty," or "freedom," or something like that.

Question. Can you recollect anything that passed tending to show what his object was in coming to Harper's Ferry with a body of armed men?
Answer. I do not recollect that I heard him say, but I know his men said they were there for the purpose of giving freedom to the slaves.

Question. Did I understand you to say that Brown's son, who was wounded, had been shot in the street and came into the engine-house wounded, or was he shot while in the engine-house?
Answer. He was wounded in the street and came into the watch-house, and afterwards went into the engine-house before I was there. I first saw him in the watch-house after he was wounded. There was some firing before I was taken into the engine-house, and he asked for his rifle, and moved in himself from the watch-house to the engine-house; but when I went in the engine-house he was laying down on the floor, and I heard his father remark that he had exerted himself too much.

Question. Did he die before your rescue?
Answer. No sir; I think he was brought out alive. He was speechless, though.

Question. Was there much firing by the party in the engine-house; much shooting at persons outside?
Answer. There was a good deal of firing on Monday evening.

Question. Can you tell in what way the party inside fired out -- through the doors, or through windows, or through loop-holes, or how?
Answer. Some through the doors, and some through port holes, or loop-holes.

Question. Were those loop-holes made after you got there, or before?
Answer. I know that some of them were made after I was taken in.

Question. Was anybody of Brown's party killed in the engine-house while you were there?
Answer. They were killed about the door. When the firing was going on, I kept as close to the floor as I could. I got down, and did not see much until there was a cessation of the firing; but there were two of Brown's party killed on Monday evening. I do not think they died until some time during the night. They were shot about the door of the engine-house in which they were.

Question. Can you tell us how many of Brown's party were in there?
Answer. I do not think I can; not when I was first taken in; but I can tell you how many there were on Tuesday morning.

Question. How many of Brown's party, dead and alive together, were in there when you were rescued by the marines?
Answer. There were two dead, one in a dying condition, (Brown's son,) and five or six active men, including a negro, at the time the attack was made by the marines.

Question. How many negroes were there in Brown's party in the engine-house, that Brown brought with him, not negroes of the neighborhood?
Answer. But one.

Question. What was his name?
Answer. Shields Green, I understood.

Question. At what time were you rescued, and when, and how?
Answer. I do not know what time it was. I had no time-piece, and did not inquire after I got out.

Question. I do not speak accurately as to hours of course, but was it in the morning, or the middle of the day, or at night?
Answer. It was Tuesday morning.

Question. How was the rescue made?
Answer. By the marines; but I cannot tell how it was done, because we were inside, and they were outside. We first heard a hammering at the door, and then the Brown party commenced firing at the door. The door was closed, and an engine run against it at that time. They barricaded it as well as they could. There was a cessation for a moment or two, and during this time one of Brown's men turned round to him and said, "Captain, I believe I will surrender." His answer was, "Sir, you can do as you please." This man was then down on his knees, and he got upon his feet, and turned around to me and said, "Hallo 'surrender' for me." I hallooed at the top of my voice, and Mr. Daingerfield hallooed at the same time, "One man surrenders;" but we could not make ourselves heard on the outside. Coppic was further over to the left, and partly sheltered by an engine. A portion of his body was sheltered. He said to this man, "Get down on your knees, sir, or your head will be shot off." But he did not heed them until they commenced hitting on the door, and then he got down.

Question. Were any propositions made to you, or to any of the other prisoners in the engine-house, by Brown, as to your being redeemed by putting a slave in your place, or anything of that sort?
Answer. No sir. I heard of that afterwards. No such proposition was made to me. I did not hear it there.

By Mr. Collamer:

Question. How many prisoners did you find in the watch-house when you were first put in there?
Answer. I do not know. I made no count. I think there were twenty, or perhaps twenty-five. It might have exceeded even that number.

By the Chairman:

Question. Then, as I understand you, Brown came in and selected ten, five each at two different times, and took them out of there into the engine-house?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Terence Byrne.


Chapter Ten: The Raid

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History