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Senate Select Committee Report on the Harper’s Ferry Invasion
Testimony of John D. Starry

Pp. 23-27

January 6, 1860.

John D. Starry, sworn and examined.

By the Chairman:

Question. Will you state what is your age, where you reside, and what your profession is?
Answer. I am thirty-five years of age. I reside at Harper's Ferry. I am a practising physician.

Question. Will you state at what time you first heard of the presence of an armed party at Harper's Ferry; where you heard it; and what occurred when you first became aware of it?
Answer. On Sunday night, the 16th of October, about half past one o'clock, I heard a shot fired in the direction of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad bridge, the iron span of the bridge, and immediately afterwards a cry of distress, as if somebody had been hurt. At the same time I heard considerable confusion about the Baltimore and Ohio railroad train -- the starting point just opposite the hotel. I jumped out of my bed. My room is nearly opposite the railroad bridge. I went to the window and saw two armed men passing from the bridge towards the armory gate. These men were low fellows. While I was standing there, a tall man came from the direction of the armory gate, and met them near the Winchester railroad. Some noise about the hotel attracted his attention, and he turned and went towards the armory gate again. About that time some of the passengers came out from between the hotel and the railroad station, and the tall man said to them, "The first man that fires at me I will shoot," or, "the first man who interrupts me," or some such expression as that. In a very short time I was in the street, and there was some firing going on between the railroad party or citizens and that man. I did not know who fired first. There were several shots passed between them. I was then going across the street towards the railroad office. When I got there I found the negro porter, Hayward, shot, the ball entering from behind, through the body, nearly on a line with the base of the heart, a little below it. He told me that he had been out on the railroad bridge looking for a watchman who was missing, and he had been ordered to halt by some men who were there, and, instead of doing that, he turned to go back to the office, and as he turned they shot him in the back. I understood from him that he walked from there to the office, and when I found him he was lying on a plank upon two chairs in the office.

Question. Will you state in whose employment that negro was?
Answer. He was in the employment of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, and it was his duty to be up whenever the train arrived to attend to baggage, and receive whatever baggage was put off for the station, and attend to everything about the office during the absence of Mr. Beckham, the agent. He was a free negro, and had permission of the county court to remain in Jefferson county. I believe he did not belong to the county.

Question. Did you examine the wound?
Answer. Yes, sir. I found he was shot in the back, nearly on a line with the base of the heart, a little below it, and the ball came out in front.

Question. How long did he live?
Answer. I saw him about daylight; he was still living. I understood he died between twelve and one o'clock on Monday, the next day. Soon after that, which was probably about two o'clock in the morning, I stood at the corner of the railroad station and saw three men, who, I supposed, were the three I had first seen, coming from the armory gate, and I stood at the corner of the depot until they got within five or six feet of me. I then passed back the angle of the station until I got to the office-door and went in, and said to the passengers, and others who were there, "here go these three men now whom I saw go into the armory yard, and I will go down to the armory and see what is going on."

Question. Could you see whether those men were armed?
Answer. Yes, sir; I knew they were armed. I stood until they were very close to me. I went then to the armory gate, and before I got to the gate I called for the watchman. I was ordered to halt. I did so, and inquired of the men who halted me, what had become of the watchmen. I wanted to inquire why they allowed persons to go in and out of that gate, when they knew they were shooting down those whom they met in the street. I did not understand it, and I asked for Medler and Murphy, the watchmen. The fellow told me that there were no watchmen there; that he did not know Medler or Murphy, but, said he, "there were a few of us here." I did not say anything more to him, but turned and went up the street, and came off on the Winchester railroad, and down to the railroad office again. Soon after that, I was on the platform, and some of that party from the bridge hailed me to know if that train was coming over -- the train which they had stopped. I told him I thought it was very doubtful; I did not think it would come over until after daylight; we did not understand their movements, and should like to know what they were doing. He said to me, "Never mind, you will find out in a day or two." I asked him if he expected to stay there a day or two. He made no replay to that. I passed on around the railroad office or post office, I do not remember which. That was about three o'clock, I suppose. I watched them from that time until daylight, sometimes very close to them, and sometimes further off. About four o'clock I heard a wagon coming down the street. I did not know what that meant, and I watched them as closely as I could. About five minutes after five o'clock, I saw a four-horse team driving over the Baltimore and Ohio railroad bridge. I did not know whose it was. In that wagon there were three men standing up in the front part, with spears in their hands, white men, and two were walking alongside armed with rifles. I did not see any negroes. I saw but these men. I understood afterwards there were negroes with them, but I did not see them. About daylight, as these strangers seemed to have possession of the public works there, I determined to get on my horse and go and notify Mr. Kitzmiller, acting superintendent of the armory, of the condition of things there, but before I did that I went to the island of Virginius, and roused up Mr. Welch and others there. I knew there were a good many men about the mill and cooper-shop there. I told them the condition of things as well as I could. I met no one on the way. I then got my horse and came out into Shenandoah street, and had to go perhaps fifty yards before I made the turn of the street leading to the hill. About the time I was making that turn, I saw three of these men coming across from the armory gate towards the arsenal. They had just made a few steps from the gate into the street. I did not know whether their intention was to stop me or not. They made a sort of half turn, and I was out of their sight in a moment. I went to Mr. Kitzmiller and informed him that the armory was in possession of an armed band. I then passed up to Bolivar, and roused up some of the people, and went from there to Hall's Works, and found three of these men there armed. I rode up to the fence, which was probably twenty-five or thirty steps from where they were. They stepped out in front of one of the buildings, and marched down inside of the fence fifty or sixty yards and out into the public street, and down towards the armory. I went back to the hillside then, and tried to get the citizens together, to see what we could do to get rid of these fellows. They seemed to be very troublesome. When I got on the hill, I learned that they had shot Boerley. That was probably about 7 o'clock. Boerley was an Irishman, living there, a citizen of the town. He died very soon afterwards.

Question. Tell us about that incident; did you see Boerley?
Answer. I did not see him.

Question. Did you see him after he was dead?
Answer. No, sir. Dr. Claggett, who is here, saw him after he was dead, and was with him when he died.

Question. Do you know anything of the killing of Mr. Turner?
Answer. No, sir; I will go on with what I was stating; I had ordered the Lutheran church bell to be rung to get the citizens together to see what sort of arms they had; I found one or two squirrel rifles and a few shot guns; I had sent a messenger to Charlestown in the meantime for Captain Rowan, commander of a volunteer company there: I also sent messengers to the Baltimore and Ohio railroad to stop the trains coming east, and not let them approach the Ferry, and also a messenger to Shepherdstown. When I could find no guns fit for use, and learned from the operatives and foremen at the armory that all the guns that they knew of were in the arsenal and in possession of these men, I thought I had better go to Charlestown myself, perhaps; I did so, and hurried Captain Rowan off. When I returned to the Ferry, I found that the citizens had gotten some guns out of one of the workshops -- guns which had been placed there to keep them out of the high water -- and were pretty well armed. I assisted, from that time until some time in the night, in various ways, organizing the citizens and getting them to the best place of attack, and sometimes acting professionally.

Question. State the position of the armory and armory yard in reference to the rivers?
Answer. It is just at the confluence of the two rivers. After passing across the bridge, these men had about 60 yards to go to get to the armory gate, down the street, in front of the hotel. They would go up the Potomac river. The arsenal is rather up the Shenandoah river from there. It is probably about 60 yards from the armory gate to the arsenal gate on the Shenandoah side.

Question. Where are Hall's rifle works?
Answer. About half a mile up the Shenandoah river.

Question. These armed parties were in possession of those three points?
Answer. Yes, sir; and the Baltimore and Ohio railroad bridge also.

Question. Were you aware of the killing of any other person than this free negro you have mentioned?
Answer. No sir; I did not see the others; I saw Mr. Turner after he was dead, and also Mr. Beckham; I did not know that Mr. Turner was shot until after he was dead.

Question. Did you examine Turner to see how he was killed?
Answer. No; I did not make an examination; I saw him after he was dead.

Question. Did you examine Beckham to see in what way he was killed?
Answer. Yes, sir; Mr. Beckham was killed by a rifle ball. He was shot in the right breast.

Question. Where was the body when you saw it?
Answer. In his room. He had been removed from the place where he was killed and carried to his sleeping room near his office.

Question. Did you see this man Brown during that night, so as to identify him, that you know of?
Answer. I do not think I did; I asked him afterwards if he was at the armory gate when I was there, but he said he was not, and did not know why I had not been taken prisoner.

Question. Had you any arms?
Answer. None at all.

Question. Will you state where your chamber was, in what part of the town?
Answer. Nearly opposite the mouth of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad bridge, within 50 steps of the mouth of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad bridge, in a building across from the hotel; I was awake at the time the shot was fired and the cry of distress heard. My first idea was that some one had been shot at the train.

Question. When you first went out was the train there?
Answer. Yes, sir; it had attempted to cross the bridge before Hayward was shot, and was ordered back again by the conductor.

Question. Did you see any of Brown's party killed?
Answer. I saw a man shot in the Potomac river on Monday, I suppose about one o'clock. He was shot from near the small bridge, at the upper end of the trussel work, or from the hill side. He was attempting to cross the Potomac river from the Virginia to the Maryland side.

Question. Have you any means of knowing how many of them were killed except those in the engine-house?
Answer. I saw part of the fight at Hall's works; I went to put on some dry clothes on at half past three o'clock, and that fight was then over. A yellow fellow was brought down on the bank of the river and citizens were tying their handkerchiefs together to hang him; I put my horse between the armory wall and the fence and held him there until I allowed the officer to get off some 25 or 30 steps with the prisoner; I said to them that two or three of Brown's men were in Hall's works, and if they wanted to show their bravery they could go there. They did so. They were the citizens and neighbors of the Ferry. I organized a party about half past two or three o'clock, and sent them over there, with directions to commence the fight as soon as they got near enough; that party was under the command of a young man named Irwin. He went over, and at the first fire Kagi, and the others who were with him in Hall's works, went out the back way towards the Winchester railroad, climbed out on the railroad and into the Shenandoah river. They were met on the opposite side by a party who were there and driven back again, and two of them were shot; Kagi was killed, and a yellow fellow, Leary, was wounded and died that night; and the yellow fellow Copeland was taken unhurt.

Question. How many of the Brown party did you see dead, including those who were in the engine-house?
Answer. Four dead and Stevens wounded, and the yellow fellow Leary wounded. I saw ten of Brown's party dead altogether, including those in the engine-house.

Question. How many of those ten were negroes?
Answer. I only give you the names of the negroes as given to me by Stevens -- Leary and Anderson and Daingerfield Newby were the negroes killed. Anderson was of very light color, but was given to my by Stevens, one of the party, as a colored man.

Question. Do you know the number of citizens who were killed?
Answer. Four; three white men and the negro Hayward. Hayward first, Boerley, Mr. Turner, and Mr. Beckham. Beckham was the last shot, about four o'clock in the evening.

Question. Were there any of the citizens wounded?
Answer. Edward McCabe was wounded. There were some of the Berkeley men wounded, who were acting as military. I do not know any other citizen of Harper's Ferry who was wounded but McCabe.

John D. Starry.


Chapter Ten: The Raid

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History