The Passage of the Body to North Elba.
SPEECHES OF Mr. McKim and Mr. Phillips.
From Our Special Reporter.
Troy, Dec. 10, 1859.
The little cortege, upon whom devolved the duty of following the remains of John Brown to their final resting-place, have fulfilled that duty, and I sit down to complete for The Tribune the history of the matter. You have already published a record of events up to the time of the arrival of the body in this city, and at this point I commence my narrative.
The party reached Troy on Monday afternoon, at 2 o’clock, and stopped at the American House. They came without notice, but news of their arrival soon spread, and some of the most respectable people of the place called to express their condolence with Mrs. Brown, and to testify to the gentlemen who accompanied her their respect for their mission.
The American House is a temperance hotel, and had been Capt. Brown’s usual stopping-place when in this city. The landlord showed, with much pride, the autograph of John Brown in several places on his register, and said that he had been offered tempting prices if would consent to part with them. The party only tarried long enough to make their connection with the next rain North; but, during this brief space, a large number of persons, including not a few of the colored class, sought and found an opportunity of shaking Mrs. Brown’s hand, in token of their sympathy. They would have formed a procession to accompany her from the hotel to the depot, but a gentleman, fearing it might be painful to Mrs. Brown’s feelings, and unwilling to add, even in the slightest degree, to her trials, discouraged them.
It was at the American House, that Oliver Brown tool leave of his young bridge in September last, shortly before the affair at Harper’s Ferry, in which he lost his life. Mr. Brown had indicated it in his last interview with his wife, as a proper place for her to stop at on her way home.
Starting at 4 o’clock p.m., the party reached Rutland, Vt., about 10; there they remained until 5 the next morning, at which hour they resumed their journey, and at 10 a.m. reached Vergennes, Vt. There they stopped at the fine large hotel kept by the gentlemanly Messrs. Stevens, where they were most hospitably entertained, and all their wants provided for. The news that the widow of John Brown had arrived with the body of her husband, spread like wildfire. Soon the Hotel was crowded by leading citizens of the place, who came to express their respect and sympathy. Carriages were provided in which to convey the body, and the party accompanying it to the lake shore. A procession was formed in front, noiselessly and in a very short space of time, and, when the hour came to start, all moved forward amid the tolling of solemn bells. Arrived at the bridge over Otter Creek, a distance of about a third of a mile, the gentlemen who formed the procession halted, and, forming themselves into a double line and uncovering their heads, allowed the body, with the stricken widow and her friends, to pass through; and thus they took their leave. It was a spontaneous tribute, and an affecting sight.
At the lake shore a boat was in readiness, which deflecting from its usual course, landed them close by the town of West Port; thus, by saving time and trouble, accelerating them on their journey. Mrs. Brown was now among the friends and familiar acquaintances of her husband, and every kindness that the occasion called for was freely bestowed, and her companions, too, shared in the good will which was cherished for her. Without delay conveyances were provided, and the little party was soon on its way to Elizabethtown, where they were to tarry for the night. A heavy rain was falling, and the snow was disappearing so fast that it had been deemed best to dispense with sleighs and substitute carriages with wheels. On reaching Elizabethtown, which is the seat of justice of Essex County, the party stopped at the hotel kept by E. A. Adams, esq., who is also Sheriff of the County. Mr. Adams at once offered the Court-House as a place in which to deposit the body for the night, with an assurance that a little company should be found to guard it. This offer was accepted, and in a few minutes, raining as it was, and without any previous notice, a respectable procession was formed and the body borne to its temporary resting-place. The house was soon filled by the leading residents of the town, eager to learn from Messrs. Phillips and McKim all the particulars of the execution. They found it hard to realize that their old friend and fellow-citizen, the man whom they had known so well, and only known to respect and admire, had actually been put to death. They did not think that, in the last extremity, Virginia would do the bloody deed. They did not see how Gov. Wise could have deliberately consented to the death of such a man.
The party were now within twenty-five miles of their destination. But the road lay over a mountain, and was well-nigh impassable; so that, short as was the distance, it would take the whole of the next day (Wednesday) to accomplish the journey. Mr. Henry Adams, a son of the sheriff, volunteered to start off in the night, with a swift horse, to notify the family of the party’s approach. Six young men, including several lawyers of the place, took it upon themselves to sit up all night in the Court-House as a guard of the body. Among them were O. Abel, jr., J. Q. Dickinson, R. Hand, and Mr. Haskell; the names of the other two I did not learn. Among the gentlemen who called to express their sympathy with Mrs. Brown, and pay their respects to her escort, were Judge Hall, the Hon. O. Kellogg, late Member of Congress, G. L. Nicholson, esq., and many others, all without respect of party.
At daylight the next morning (Wednesday) the journey was resumed. The roads were so bad as to be almost impassable. At 10 o’clock the party arrived at the house of Phineas Norton, an old friend of Mr. Brown, living in the town of Keene. They ad been all that time coming 8 miles. Mr. Norton welcomed them most hospitably. He had known Mr. Brown well, and loved him dearly, and he had not been able to realize that the sentence of death would really be executed. The proof furnished by the coffin containing the dead body quite overcame him.
Stopping a short time for refreshment, the party again started on their way. Slowly they climbed the mountain pass, and as slowly descended on the other side. The sun had set b the time they reached North Elba, and it was after night when they approached the house to which they were destined. As they drew high they saw moving lights, which on their nearer approach, proved to be lanterns in the hands of men who had come out to meet them. By these they were conducted in silence to the house. Not a word was spoken. These friends had been waiting all the afternoon in anxious expectation, and, unable to bear the suspense any longer, had come out to ascertain, if possible, the cause of the delay. The carriage which bore Mrs. Brown stopped at the door. She alighted with difficulty, being much agitated. Instantly there was a sharp, low cry of “Mother!” and in answer, another in the same tone of mingled agony and tenderness, “O! Annie!” and the mother and daughter were locked in a long, convulsed embrace. They followed the same scene with the next daughter, Sarah; and then Ellen, the little girl of five, was brought, and another burst of anguish and love ensued. Then came the daughter-in-law, Oliver’s widow, and Watson’s, and there went up a wail, before which flint itself would have softened. It was a scene entirely beyond description.
But soon all was composed. The strangers had been introduced. Emotion was put under restraint—a task which all true people know well how to perform—and all was quiet. The evening meal had been ready for some time, and the family and guests, who by this time had received some accessions to their number, took their seats. Supper was soon dispatched; no one, cold and wearisome as had been the day’s travel, was much disposed to eat.
In a few moments Mrs. Brown came to Mr. McKim, saying that the family were all gathered in another room, waiting anxiously to hear a recital of what had happened, and we were all invited to join them. There was Salmon Brown, the only son at home, an intelligent looking and handsome man of 23, tall, stout, with rich auburn hair, and a full and becoming beard; then there was Ruth Thompson, the eldest daughter, a child of John Brown, by his first wife; then the daughters, and daughters-in-law already alluded to, beside some others whose names I do not recollect.
Mr. McKim, at Mrs. Brown’s request, began, and related, as well as he could in so short a space as was allowed, all that had happened of particular interest to them from the time of their mother’s arrival in Philadelphia, on the 12th of November, up to that moment. He told how she had been put under his charge by Mr. Higginson, with a request that he would aid her in making her way to Virginia; how that, finding no one to whose care he might intrust her, he had accompanied her himself to Baltimore; that, arriving there, she had been met with a countermanding dispatch, directing her to return immediately; that she had returned the same day to Philadelphia, there remaining (with the exception of a few days spent at Eagleswood, N. J.,) with sympathizing and congenial friends, till near approach of the day fixed for the execution. He told them of their mother’s letter to Gov. Wise, asking for the remains, when all should be over, of her husband and sons; of the Governor’s answer, which, at his request, Mr. Phillips then read, with the order to Gen. Taliaferro; of the letter she had received from Mr. Brown, saying he was now willing she should come to see him, if she thought herself equal to the task; of her desire to go, if she could be accompanied by a friend; of the willingness, as he was sure, of hundreds in Philadelphia to undertake that task, and of the cheerfulness and pleasure with which those whom it was agreed should bear her company tendered their services. He spoke of the delicacy and generosity with which his associate, Mr. Tyndall, had performed his part of the duty, and said that Mr. McKim and himself had regarded the permission extended to them of aiding in so holy and solemn a mission as an honor and a privilege. He then described the journey to Baltimore; the difficulty experienced there till they produced Gov. Wise’s letter as a passport; spoke of the courtesy of the officers of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and of the Marylanders generally; of the kindness of Col. Shutt, of Mr. Phelps, of D. McDougal (of the United States Army), to whom they were introduced on the way; of Mrs. Fouke at the Wager House, at Harper’s Ferry; of Capt. Moore, the officer in command of the Virginia troops at that station; of Col. Lee, the gentlemanly Commandant there of the United States soldiery; of Col. Barber, Superintendent of the United States Armory; of Mr. Moore, one of his officials; of Mr. Gautis; of Capt. Linn of Frederick, and of many others. He told them something of the delay that had been experienced at Harper’s Ferry, and of the assurances that had been given them that the respectable people of Virginia did not approve, but strongly condemned it. He made no comments on the refusal of Gen. Taliaferro to allow either of Mrs. Brown’s companions to accompany her to Charlestown; nor did he call attention to the fact, while stating it, that though their mother had arrived at Harper’s ferry at 7 o’clock a.m. on Thursday, she was not allowed to visit their father till 3 o’clock p.m. of the day following; and that then the interview was limited to a space of time not much over two hours. He was careful in his relation to say nothing that would needlessly inflame their bleeding wounds. When he came to tell of the disinterment of the bodies of Oliver and Watson, or rather the attempt at disinterment, he had a difficult part to perform. Isabel, the widow of Watson, was unavoidably absent at the time, but the big, tender, anxious eyes of Martha, the interesting widow of Oliver, were intent upon him, and for a moment he seemed embarrassed; but, with a few words on the comparative importance of what becomes of one’s body after the spirit, which is its life, has taken its flight, and upon the natural changes in the human tissues which in the lapse of time must necessarily take place, he added that Col. Barber had given his assurance that all the bodies should be disinterred and reburied with becoming decency, and then passed on to other topics. He told them as much as he could recall of what had been related to him of their father’s last hours, and lingered, evidently to their great gratification, over anecdotes which he had heard illustrative of his bravery and other noble qualities.
When Mr. McKim had finished, Mr. Phillips took up the theme, and, in the tenderest and most beautiful manner, pursued it, till all tears were wiped away. A holy, pensive joy seemed gradually to dispel grief, and a becoming filial and conjugal pride seemed to reconcile these stricken ones to their destiny.
It was a late hour, and the duties and trials of the morrow admonished the party that some of them had the need of rest.
The house is a medium-sized frame building, such as is common in that part of the country. It was four rooms on the first floor, and corresponding space above. The company was comparatively large, but ample accommodations were found for all; and, though the night was intensely cold, a bountiful supply of good, war bed-clothes kept all comfortable.
The next morning I had an opportunity, for the first time, of seeing the place as it appeared in daylight, and of beholding the surrounding country. On opening the front door, a glorious sight saluted me. Directly in front, apparently—perhaps from the thinness of atmosphere—within two or three miles, but really much further off, looms up a ragged chain of the Adirondacks; broken, jagged massive, and wonderfully picturesque. Off the left stands in solitary grandeur, the towering pyramid called “White Face”—deriving its name from the color of the rock on its summit. The Saranac and Ausable flow at each side of it; and just at its base, they tell us, is Lake Placid, a sheet of water famed through all this country of fine lakes for its exquisite beauty. On the right is to be seen, in the distance, the peak of McCleary; and on the right of that again, and still further on, McIntyre, the loftiest pinnacle of the Adirondack range, raises his towering crest. Just the country, my first thought was, for the heroic soul of John Brown, and a proper place, too, to be the receptacle of his ashes.
Mr. Brown had expressed a desire that his body should be laid in the shadow of a great rock, not far from his house. The rock, after the more striking feature of the scene just named, was the first object to arrest my attention. It stands about fifty feet from the house, is about eight feet in h[e]ight , and from fifteen to twenty feet square. It is a very striking and picturesque object, and the recollection of it would not unnaturally suggest to the mind of Mr. Brown a place for the interment of his body.
The Brown Farm at North Elba is on the highest arable spot of land in the State, if, indeed, soil so hard and sterile can be called arable. The question was asked in my hearing, why Mr. Brown should have chosen a spot so difficult of cultivation, and yielding so poor a requital to labor? and the answer was, that he had come there in pursuance of the great purpose of his life. This land formerly belonged to Gerrit Smith, and lies near to those large tracts which Mr. Smith had presented as a free gift to certain colored people; and it was to aid these colored people, and through them to benefit their race, that he had originally come to a place so unpromising to the agriculturist.
The funeral was to take place at 1 o’clock from the house, and before that time the neighbors were gathered and all were ready. The country is sparsely settled, and there was room with some crowding, for all who came. The services were commenced with a hymn, which had been a great favorite with Mr. Brown, and with which it was said he had successively sung all his children to sleep:
“Blow ye the trumpet, blow—
The gladly solemn sound;
Let all the nations know,
To earth’s remotest bound,
The year of Jubilee has come,” &c
It was sung to the good old tune of Lennox. It will be at once recognized by all who know anything about the old-fashioned sacred music, and it will readily be seen why it was a favorite with Mr. Brown. The air has a stirring, half-military ring, and the words a smack of liberty. Its themes are “jubilee,” “ransom,” &c., and it seems to blow the trumpet of Freedom.
After the hymn, followed an impressive prayer by the Rev. Joshua Young of Burlington, Vt. It was a spontaneous offering, as will be readily inferred when I say that Mr. Young, with his friend Mr. Bigelow, had traveled all night through the storm and over the dismal mountain to be present at the burial. It was as follows:
“Almighty and most merciful God! we lift our souls unto thee, and bow our hearts to the unutterable emotions of this impressive hour. O Lord, Thou alone art our sufficient help. Open Thou our lips, and our mouth shall show forth they praise. Thou art speaking unto us; as in those grand and majestic scenes of nature, so in the great and solemn circumstances which have brought us together. Our souls are filled with awe and are subdued to silence, as we think of that great, reverential, heroic soul, whose mortal remains we are now to commit to the earth, ‘dust to dust,’ while his spirit dwells with God who gave it, and his memory is enshrined in every pure and holy heart. At his open grave, as standing by the altar of Christ, the divinest friend and Savior of Man, may we consecrate ourselves anew to the work of Truth, Righteousness and Love, forevermore to sympathize with the outcast and the oppressed, with the humble and the least of our suffering fellow-men.
“We pray for these afflicted ones—this sadly bereaved and mourning family. O God, hear our prayers. We pray for the widow and for the fatherless. O Lord, put underneath them thy everlasting arm, and grant unto them the richest consolations of they Holy Spirit. But, Father in Heaven, in imitation of the self-forgetfulness and self-sacrifice of the great departed, putting aside all personal anguish and all private grief, we supplicate thy special blessing upon God’s despised ones—the poor enslaves, for whom our brother laid down his life. O God, cause the oppressed to go free; break every yoke and prostrate the pride and prejudice that dare to lift themselves up; and O! hasten on the day when no more wrong or injustice shall be done in the earth; when all men shall love one another with pure hears, fervently, and love God and do his will with all their soul and with all their strength; which we ask in the name and as the disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Mr. J. M. McKim then spoke as follows:
Mr. McKim said that, if he were to consult his feelings, he would be silent. Words were inadequate to such an occasion. These mountain peaks, this weeping group, the body of this great, good man before him—what could he add to their eloquence? And yet he did not feel altogether at liberty to be silent. It was due to these weeping widows, these bereaved children, these sorrowing friends and neighbors, that he should say something—something in honor of the hero whose body was to-day to be laid in the dust—something for the comfort of those whose hearts had been broken, and whose hearth-stones had been left desolate. But what would he say? What could he say of a man whom they had known better than he? He had not had the privilege of a personal acquaintance with Mr. Brown. He had never looked on his fact till it was cold in death. But he had become acquainted with him by the developments made in the last few weeks. How he honored, loved, and admired him, words could not express. To stand under his roof and aid in his burial, with the greatest honor that had ever been vouchsafed him.
That John Brown was a brave, magnanimous, truthful, consistent man, rested not on the testimony of admiring friends, but was freely-conceded by his open enemies. Mr. McKim had enjoyed, as they knew, the privilege of accompanying Mrs. Brown in her sacred and solemn mission to Virginia. He had witnessed the respect and the expressions of sympathy with which she was met by the best classes of people from the time she crossed the slave border till the time of her return. In Baltimore, on the railway, at Harper’s Ferry—wherever she went—Southern men treated her with respect, and comforted her by stories of her husband and her children, illustrative of their bravery and consistency. A blunt officer, with epaulettes on both shoulders, had said, in the presence of a promiscuous group at the Harper’s Ferry hotel: “I’ll tell you what my opinion is of Brown; he’s one of that kind of men that God Almighty does not put many of above ground.” Another officer, equally high in command, and one of the most thoroughly pro-slaver Virginians that we met during our visit, took me aside the night before we left, and said: “I do not like to make the request of Mrs. Brown at such a time as this, but I should like very much to get from her some little memento of Captain Brown—his autograph, or some other like relic;--any trifle that she could give me I should greatly value.”
Mr. McKim then went on to detail some of the last incidents before the execution; how he stepped forth from the prison door, with face serene and radiant; with what ease he mounted the wagon in which he was to be carried to the scaffold, and how cheerfully as he sat on his coffin, by the side of his jailer and friend, Captain Avis, he conversed on their way; how delighted he was with the landscape; how emphatic he was in condemning the exclusion from the field of citizens, and allowing only the military to witness the execution; with what elastic step he ascended the scaffold, and with what dignity, composure, self-poise, and indescribable grandeur he passed through the remaining incidents of the tragic chapter.
Mr. McKim would attempt nothing as a tribute to John Brown. The facts of his life, and especially the latter part of it, were his best eulogy, and he needed to say nothing by way of comfort to his bereaved widow and children. Most sincerely did he sympathize with them. But they sorrowed not as those having no hope. They had much to console them. Dear children, said Mr. McKim, my heart bleeds for you; but your father your husband, your brothers not only died bravely, but they died usefully; they were all benefactors; they were all martyrs in a holy cause. Not only had he heard testimony borne at the South to the bravery and uprightness of the leader in the extraordinary undertaking, but similar testimony, only in a less degree, to the same qualities on the part of his sons. Oliver Brown, Watson, Brown, Dauphin Thompson, William Thompson, all were attested to be—with the exception of this one act, the assault on Harper’s Ferry-without reproach, as well as without fear. Don’t weep for them, then, as though their lives had been spent in vain, and their death would prove of no effect. The world will yet acknowledge itself debtor to them, and history will embalm their memory. And it is due to those who are in prison to say that they too are not unworthy a tribute on this occasion. Of Copeland and Green we had heard nothing while at Harper’s Ferry. This was eulogy. If they belong to the oppressed and hated race, and if anything could be said to their disadvantage, we should have had it ere this. Stevens we had heard was a bad man; but when young Anna Brown took leave of him last summer, he said, “Give my love to all good people—to all that love the truth.” Bad men send no such message. As for Coppic, a letter which he held in his hand would illustrate his character. It was brought to Mrs. Brown at Harper’s Ferry, by the men who delivered to her the body of her husband. It is as follows:
Charlestown Jail, Va., Nov. __, 1859.
Mrs. John Brown—Dear Madam: I was very sorry that your request to see the rest of the prisoners was not complied with. Mrs. Avis brought me a book, whose pages are full of truth and beauty, entitled “Voices of the True-Hearted,” which she told me was a present from you. For this dear token of remembrance, please accept my many thanks.
My comrade, J. E. Cook, and myself, deeply sympathize with you in your sad bereavement. We were both acquainted with Anna and Martha. They were to us as sisters, and as brothers we sympathize with them in the dark hour of trial and affliction.
I was with your sons when they fell. Oliver lived but a very few moments after he was shot. He spoke no word, but yielded calmly to his fate. Watson was shot at 10 o’clock on Monday morning, and died about 3 o’clock on Wednesday morning. He suffered much. Though mortally wounded at 10 o’clock, yet at 3 o’clock Monday afternoon he fought bravely against the men who charged on us. When the enemy were repulsed, and the excitement of the charge was over, he began to sink rapidly.
After we were taken prisoners, he was placed in the guard-house with me. He complained of the hardness of the bench on which he was lying. I begged hard for a bed for him, or even a blanket, but could obtain none for him. I took off my coat and placed it under him, and held his head in my lap, in which position he died, without a groan or struggle.
I have stated these facts thinking that they may afford to you, and to the bereaved widows they have left, a mournful consolation.
Give my love to Anna and Martha, with our last farewell. Yours, truly, Edwin Coppic.
How beautiful! How disinterested! [Here there was much weeping.] Some of Capt. Brown’s friends speak as though they regarded the result at Harper’s Ferry as a disaster. Disastrous in some respects is was, but on no respect a failure. Mr. Brown said, in one of his last letters, “The Captain of my salvation, who is also a Captain of Liberty, has taken away my sword of steel, and put into my hands the sword of the spirit.” This is well said, like all his utterances. With his sword of steel he struck the hollow shell of Southern society, political and social, and revealed its emptiness. He made such developments of the weakness, imbecility, and utter powerlessness, in an emergency, of a slaveholding Commonwealth, as are certain to result in the extinction of the whole slave system. He has “builded better than he know.” He did much better than if he had established, as it would appear was his purpose, an armed exodus of fugitive slaves. He did infinitely better than if he had organized—which certainly was not his purpose—an insurrection.
And with the sword of the spirit what a work has he done. “A two-edged sword” is has been—“piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit.” And how admirably has he wielded it! None could resist him. His utterances were in the demonstration of the spirit, and with power. They have gone out to the world and are doing their work. They were words of inspiration, needing neither alteration nor addition. Thus, with the sword of the flesh and the sword of the spirit John Brown has performed a double mission; and the handwriting that dooms the system already flames out upon the wall.
Mr. McKim said that, in selecting the place for the grave, they had followed the directions given by Mr. Brown to his wife in their last interview. He also said that Mr. Brown had given directions for an inscription on his tombstone, and at this point he read the first and last part of a paper which was brought to Mrs. Brown after the execution—the whole of which, through the kindness of the family, the reporter is permitted to copy, as follows:
Oliver Brown, born _____, 1839, was killed at Harper’s Ferry, Va., Nov. 17, 1859.
Walter [sic] Brown, born _____, 1835, was wounded at Harper’s Ferry Nov. 17, and died Nov. 19, 1859.
John Brown, born May 9, 1800, was executed at Charlestown, Va. Dec. 2, 1859.
Charlestown, Jefferson Co., Va., Dec. 2, 1859.
It is my desire that my wife have all my personal property not previously disposed of by me; and the entire use of all my landed property during her natural life; and that, after her death, the proceeds of such land be equally divided between all my then living children; and that what would be a child’s share be given to the children of each of my two sons who fell at Harper’s Ferry, and that a child’s share be divided among the children of my now living children who may die before their mother (my present beloved wife). No formal will can be of use when my expressed wishes are made known to my dutiful and beloved family. John Brown.
My Dear Wife: I have time to inclose the within and the above, which I forgot yesterday, and to bid you another Farewell. “Be of good cheer,” and God Almighty bless, save, comfort, guide, and keep you to “the end.”
Your affectionate husband, John Brown.
The addendum, said the speaker, was undoubtedly the last work of the old hero with his pen. Note the sublime composure of his words. He speaks as though he were about starting on a journey!
Mr. McKim concluded with exhortations to the family and friends to be comforted, assuring them that by their sacrifices they had made large contributions to the cause of Freedom and Humanity; that in this respect their position was an honorable, and by many would be regarded as an enviable one, and that the hearts of tens of thousands beat in the deepest sympathy with them.
Wendell Phillips followed Mr. McKim and said:
How feeble words seem here! How can I hope to utter what your hearts are full of? I fear to disturb the harmony which his life breathes round this home. One and another of you, his neighbors, say, “I have known him five years,” “I have known him ten years.” It seems to me as if we had none of us known him. How our admiring, loving wonder has grown, day by day, as he has unfolded trait after trait of earnest, brave, tender, Christian life! We see him waling with radiant, serene face to the scaffold, and think what an iron heart, what devoted faith! We take up his letters, beginning “My dear wife and children, every one of them”—see him stoop on his way to the scaffold and kiss that negro child—and this iron heart seems all tenderness. Marvellous old man! We have hardly said it when the loved forms of his sons, in the bloom of young devotion, encircle him, and we remember he is not alone, only the majestic center of a group. Your neighbor farmer went, surrounded by his house-hold, to tell the slaves there were still hearts and right arms ready and nerved for their service. From this roof four, from a neighboring one two, to make up that score of heroes. How resolute each looked into the face of Virginia, how loyally each stood at his forlorn post, meeting death cheerfully, till that master-voice said, “It is enough.” And these weeping children and widow seem so lifted up and consecrated by long, single-hearted devotion to his great purpose, that we dare to remind them how blessed they are in the privilege of thinking that in the last throbs of those brave young hearts, which lie buried on the banks of the Shenandoah, thought of them mingled with love to God and hope for the slave. He has abolished Slavery in Virginia. You may say this is too much. Our neighbors are the last men we know. The hours that pass us are the ones we appreciate the least. Men walked Boston streets, when night fell on Bunker’s Hill, and pitied Warren, saying, “Foolish man! Thrown away his life! Why didn’t he measure his means better?” We see him standing colossal that day on that blood-stained sod, and severing the tie that bound Boston to Great Britain. That night George III ceased to rule in New-England. History will date Virginia Emancipation from Harper’s Ferry. True, the slave is still there. So, when the tempest uproots a pine on your hills, it looks green for months—a year or two. Still, it is timber, not a tree. John Brown has loosened the roots of the Slave system; it only breathes—it does not live—hereafter. Men say, “How coolly brave!” But in him matchless courage seems the least of his merits. How gentleness graced! When the frightened town wished to bear off the body of the Mayor, a man said, “I will go, Miss Fowke, under their rifles, if you will stand between them and me.” He knew he could trust their gentle respect for woman. He was right. He went in the thick of the fight and bore off the body in safety. That same girl flung herself between Virginia rifles and your brave young Thompson. They had no pity. The merciless bullet reached him, spite of woman’s prayers, though the fight had long been over. How God has blessed him! How truly he may say “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course.” Truly he has finished—done his work. God granted him the privilege to look on his work accomplished. He said, “I will show the South that twenty men can take possession of a town, hold it twenty-four hours, and carry away all the slaves who wish to escape.” Did he not do it? On Monday night he stood master of Harper’s Ferry-could have left unchecked with a score or hundred slaves. The wide sympathy and secret approval are shown by the eager, quivering lips of lovers of Slavery, asking “Oh, why did he not take his victory and go away?” Who checked him at last? Not startled Virginia. Her he had conquered. The Union crushed—seemed to crush him. In reality God said, “That work is done; you have proved that a Slave State is only Fear in the mask of Despotism; come up higher, and baptize by your martyrdom a million hearts into holier life.” Surely such a life is no failure. How vast the change in men’s hearts! Insurrection was a harsh, horrid word to millions a month ago. John Brown went a whole generation beyond it, claiming the right for white men to help the slave to freedom by arms. And now men run up and down, not disputing his principle, but trying to frame excuses for Virginia’s hanging of so pure, honest, high-hearted, and heroic a man. Virginia stands at the bar of the civilized world on trial. Round her victim crowd the apostles and martyrs, all the brave, high souls who have said “God is God,” and trodden wicked laws under their feet. As I stood looking on his grandfather’s gravestone, brought here from Connecticut, telling, as it does, of his death in the Revolution, I thought I could hear our hero saint saying, “My fathers gave their swords to the oppressor—the slave still sinks before the pledged force of his nation. I give my sword to the slave my fathers forgot.” If any swords ever reflected the smile of Heaven, surely it was those drawn at Harper’s Ferry. If our God is ever the Lord of Hosts, making one man chase a thousand, surely that little band might claim him for their captain. Harper’s Ferry was no single hour, standing alone—taken out from a common life—it was the flowering of fifty years of single-hearted devotion. He must have lived wholly for one great idea, when these who owe their being to him and these whom love hath joined, [?] so harmoniously around him, each accepting serenely his and her part—I feel honored to stand under such a roof. Hereafter you will tell children standing at your knees, “I saw John Brown buried—I sat under his roof.” Thank God for such a master. Could we have asked a nobler representative of the Christian North putting her foot on the accursed system of Slavery? As time passes, and these hours float back into history, men will see against the clear December sky that gallows, and round it thousands of armed men guarding Virginia from her slaves. On the other side, the serene face of that calm old man, as he stoops to kiss the child of a forlorn race. Thank God for our emblem. May he soon bring Virginia to blot out hers in repentant shame, and cover that hateful gallows and soldiery with thousands of broken fetters. What lesson shall those lips teach us? Before that still, calm hour let us take a new baptism. How can we stand here without a fresh, and utter consecration? These tears! How shall we dare even to offer consolation? Only lips fresh from such a vow have the right to mingle their words with your tears. We envy you your nearer place to these noble children of God. I do not believe Slavery will go down in blood. Ours is the age of thought. Hearts are stronger than swords. That last fortnight! How sublime its lesson! the Christian one—of conscience—of truth. Virginia is weak because each man’s heart said amen to John Brown. His words—they are stronger even than his rifles. These crushed a State. These have changed the thoughts of millions, and will yet crush Slavery. Men said, “Would he had died in arms”—God ordered better, and granted to him and the slave those noble prison hours—that single hour of death, granted him a higher than the soldier’s place, that of teacher; the echoes of his rifles have died away in the hills—a million hearts guard his words. God bless this roof—make it bless us. We dare not say bless you, children of this home; you stand nearer to one whose lips God touched, and we rather bend for your blessing. God make us all worthier of him whose dust we lay among these hills he loved. Here he girded himself and went forth to battle. Fuller success than his heart ever dreamed God granted him. He sleeps in the blessings of the crushed and the poor, and men believe more firmly in virtue, now that such a man has lived. Standing here, let us thank God for a firmer faith and fuller hope.
Another hymn was then sung, during which the coffin was placed on a table before the door, with the face exposed, so that all could see. It was almost as natural as life—far more so than an ordinary corpse. There was a flush on the face, resulting form the peculiar mode of death, and nothing of the pallor that is usual when life is extinct.
Mr. Phineas Norton, who acted as the friend of the family on the occasion, invited all who desired to do so to come and take a last look, and then make way for the family. The neighbors went forward as invited, and took their final leave of all that remained of their cherished friend, and then followed the family. It was a touching sight to see those widows, the eldest still in the prime of life, and the younger ones in its opening bud, deprived of their natural companions, leaning, as they stood round the coffin, on the arms of strangers. Such a sight I should not expect to see again if I should live a thousand years.
This scene over, the next that followed was the short procession from the house to the grave. First came Mrs. Brown, supported by Wendell Phillips; then the widow of Oliver Brown, leaning of the arm of Mr. McKim, who, in his other hand, held that of the little girl Ellen; next came the widow of Watson Brown, supported by the Rev. Mr. Young, and after that, though whether next in order I cannot now tell, the widow of William Thompson, leaning on the arm of one of the family. Salmon Brown and his sisters followed, with Henry Thompson, and Ruth, his wife, John Brown’s eldest daughter; and then Roswell Thompson and his wife, the aged parents of the two young men of that name who were killed at Harper’s Ferry. Then followed the friends and neighbors. As the body was lowered into the grave, a gush of grief, apparently beyond control, burst from the family, and Mr. Young stood forth to comfort them. Raising his deep and mellow voice, and quoting the words written to Timothy by Paul when he was brought before Nero the second time, and just before his death, he said: “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me; and not to me only, but unto all that love his appearing,” which words he followed with the benediction.
“May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the blessing of God our Father, and the Communion of the Holy [Ghost, be and abide with us all, now and forever. Amen.]
THE CHARLESTOWN EXECUTIONS.
GREAT INFLUX OF STRANGERS.
A GRAND MILITARY PARADE.
The Prisoners Preparing for Death.
ATTEMPTED ESCAPE OF COOK AND COPPIC.
THEIR DISCOVERY BY A SENTINEL.
Charlestown, Va., Friday, Dec. 16, 1859.
We have had an exciting time during the twenty-four hours which have just closed with the execution of four prisoners. In order to a correct understanding of what has transpired, I give you a succinct narrative of the events since yesterday morning.
Throughout the day yesterday there was a great influx of strangers and citizens of the county, who were flocking in to witness the last act of the Harper’s Ferry tragedy. The latter came thus early, fearing they might be detained at the outposts, as was the case on the day of the execution of Brown. The clouds which early in the morning darkened the horizon, were soon dispersed, and the sun came out in unusual brilliancy for a December morning. As the hours advanced, groups were seen on all the streets and corners discussing the all-absorbing topic of the approaching executions. The afternoon trains of cars from Winchester and Harper’s Ferry brought large numbers of persons, including a delegation of newspaper reporters from the Northern cities. The vigilance at the depot on the arrival of the trains was not so stringent as on the occasion of the execution of Brown, and but little difficulty was experienced in getting into the town, although the difficulty was not so light in obtaining accommodations.
Shortly after the arrival of the train in the afternoon, a grand dress parade of all the companies in attendance took place. The spot selected for the parade was the immense field in which Brown was executed, and on which the gallows for the execution of the remaining prisoners was being erected. The companies were drilled in four battalions. The whole was under the command of Col. Weiserger of the Petersburg Regiment, Lieut. Israel Green of the United States Marines acting as Adjutant. The troops went through their evolutions with great skill, and were reviewed by Gen. Taliaferro, who was on the ground in full dress, mounted on a spirited charger. Everything conspired to make the display a grand one. The bright bayonets and gay uniforms of the soldiers combined to perfect the picture. A very large crowd was in attendance, among whom was a large number of ladies, who occupied their handsome equipages to the east of the line. During the time of parade, a handsome company of horse entered the town. They came from Middlebury, Loudon County, and are under command of Capt. Carter.
The prisoners were visited yesterday afternoon by the Rev. Mr. Nassau; the Rev. Mr. Dutton, and the Rev. Mr. North, of the Presbyterian Church, and the Rev. Beverly Waugh, of the Methodist Episcopal Church. The services in the cells were of an interesting and solemn character, and were participated in by all the condemned men, though it is now evident, from subsequent events, that Cook and Coppic at least were playing possum, as their minds must have been fixed on hopes of life and liberty, rather than on death and eternity, at the time they were making outward protestations of resignation. They all gave unqualified assent to the convictions of religious truth, and each expressed a hope of salvation in the world to come. Cook and Coppic were loudest in professions of change of heart, and in the hope of Divine forgiveness. They freely admitted their guilt, and acknowledged their doom a just one, and that in the main they have been treated with the utmost kindness by all, though they though[t] some of the witnesses were rather harsh in their testimony.
The ministers imagined they discovered a decidedly favorable change in the condition of Cook’s mind since his interview with his sisters. Up to that time, his calmness and bravery were regarded as proceeding from a lack of feeling, and on leaving him yesterday, in the afternoon, they reported that he had been led to seek forgiveness of his sins as the only hope of salvation, and that Coppic was also equally in earnest in his protestations of religious convictions and hopes of forgiveness; all of which was undoubtedly intended to hoodwink their project of escape.
Cook has been visited throughout his imprisonment by the Rev. N. Green North, at the request of the prisoner, as also of Govs. Wise and Willard.
The Rev. Mr. North was present at an interview between Coppic and Mr. Butler, a Quaker gentleman from Ohio, who raised the prisoner. He describes the interview as an affecting one, and speaks highly of Mr. Butler’s Christian deportment and advice to the prisoner. Mr. Butler says that Coppic was a trusty but very willful boy. An uncle of Coppic, of the same name, from Ohio, his father’s brother, visited him also yesterday, the interview lasting over an hour. He seemed in much distress at the sad fate which awaits his relative.
This was the condition of the town, prisoners, and military, up to 7 o’clock last evening. All apprehensions of an intended rescue had long since been banished, and nothing was thought of but the approaching execution, while the overflowing throng of strangers were hunting quarters for the night.
The bar-rooms were all crowded with people discussing the resignation of the prisoners to their fate, and so firmly had this conviction settled in the public mind, that military duty was regarded as a bore, and the finale of the tragedy regarded as almost approached.
The supper-table of the Carter House was crowded for the fifth or sixth time, and all was moving on calmly and quietly up to 8 o’clock, when an alarm was given, and the whole town, thrown into consternation, by an attempt of Cook and Coppic to escape.
At a quarter past eight o’clock last evening the whole town was thrown into commotion by the report of a rifle under the wall of the jail, followed by several other shots from the vicinity of the guard-house, in close proximity to the jail. The military were called to arms, and the excitement was intense beyond anything that has yet occurred during our ever memorable era of military occupation. In a few minutes the streets and avenues of the town were in possession of armed men, and it was with some difficulty that the cause of all the turmoil could be ascertained. Rumors of [e]very description were afloat, and it was at one time thought that the prisoners had overpowered their guards and made their escape, and then that an attack had been made on the jail by parties attempting to rescue the prisoners. It was dangerous for a citizen to go out to ascertain the true cause of the excitement, and rumors of a most alraming [sic] character floated in, to be contradicted by momentary new arrivals of citizens, driven in from the streets.
The sentinel stationed near the jail reported that at a quarter past eight o’clock he observed a man on the jail wall. He challenged him, and receiving no answer, fired at him. Another head was also seen above the wall, but he retreated as soon as the first one had been fired at. The man on the top of the wall seemed at first determined to jump down, but the sentinel declared his intention of impaling him on his bayonet, and he then retreated into the jail-yard with Coppic, and both gave themselves up without further resistance. Cook afterward remarked that if he could have got over and throttled the guard he would have made his escape.
The Shenandoah mountains are within ten minutes run of the jail wall, and had he reached them, with is thorough knowledge of the mountains, his arrest would have been difficult, especially as but few of the military could have followed him during the night. They had succeeded after two weeks labor, whenever alone, and at night when the bed clothing muffled the sound of the saw which they had made out of an old Barlow knife, in cutting through their iron shackles, so that they could pry them off at any moment they should have their other work completed.
They had also made a sort of a chisel out of an old bed screw, with which they succeeded, as opportunity would offer, in removing the plaster from the wall, and then brick after brick, until a space sufficient for them to pass through was opened, all to the removal of the outer brick. The part of the wall on which they operated was in the rear of the bed on which they slept; and the bed being pushed against the wall, completely hid their work from view. The bricks they took out were concealed in the drum of a stove, and the dirt and plaster removed in the course of their work was placed between the bed-clothing. They acknowledged that they had been to work a whole week in making the aperture in the wall.
Their cell being on the first floor, the aperture was not more than five feet above the pavement of the yard, and when freed of their shackles, their access to the yard was quite easy. Here, however, there was a smooth brick wall about fifteen feet high to scale. This difficulty was, however, soon overcome, with the aid of the timbers of the scaffold on which Capt. Brown was hung, and which were intended also for their own execution. They placed these against the wall, and soon succeeded in reaching the top, from which they could have easily dropped to the other side, had not the vigilance of the sentinel on duty so quickly checked their movements. They were arrested in the jail yard by Gen. Taliaferro and the officer of the day, who rushed to the jail the moment the alarm was given. Gen. Taliaferro immediately telegraphed to Gov. Wise, informing him of the frustrated attempt of the prisoners. His answer directed that the military should immediately take possession of the interior of the jail and guard the prisoners until they were executed.
Sheriff Campbell and Capt. Avis are of course much chagrined at this narrow escape of the prisoners especially as they had resisted all interference of the military with the interior discipline of the jail. The prisoners were shrewd and cunning fellows, and were undoubtedly without any accomplices in their undertaking. Their friends who were still here, were also fearful that they might be suspected of knowledge of their attempt. The general impression is that if they had waited till midnight or later, they might have reached the mountains. But it is presumed they were fearful of being watched during the night, or desired to have as much as possible of the darkness to gain a good distance before daylight would allow a general pursuit.
At daybreak this morning the reveille was sounded from the various barracks, announcing the dawn of the day of execution, and soon the whole community was astir. The anxiety to learn a true version of the events of last night, caused the streets to be thronged with people at an early hour. The military, most of whom had been on duty all night, or sleeping on their arms, looked less fit for the active duties of the day than was anticipated at the time of parade yesterday. The weather was bright and beautiful, and much milder than for several preceding days. At 9 o’clock the entire military force in attendance was formed on Main street, and the officers reported ready for duty at headquarters. Those companies detailed for field duty around the gallows immediately took up the line of march, and at 9 ½ o’clock were in the positions assigned them in the field. Those companies detailed for escort duty took up their positions in front of the jail, awaiting orders.
At 10 ½ o’clock Gen. Taliaferro, with his staff, numbering about twenty-five officers, having given orders to prepare the two negro prisoners, Shields Green and John Copeland, for execution, took their departure to join the main body of the troops on the field.
The military then formed in a hollow square around the jail, and an open wagon, containing the coffins of the prisoners, drew up in front, with a carriage to convey Sheriff Campbell and his Deputies.
The crowd of citizens and steangers [sic] was very great—at least five times as numerous as on the occasion of Brown’s execution—most of who were already on the field, while others wanted to see the prisoners come out.
The religious ceremonies in the cell of the prisoner were very impressive, and were conducted by the Rev. Mr. North of the Presbyterian, and the Rev. Henry Waugh of the M. E. Church.
At a quarter before 11 o’clock the prisoners, accompanied by the Sheriff and Rev. Mr. North, appeared at the jail door, and with their arms pinioned moved slowly forward toward the vehicle in waiting for them. They seemed downcast and wore none of that calm and cheerful spirit evinced by Brown under similar circumstances. They were helped into the wagon and took their seats on their coffins without scarcely looking to the right or left. The escort now commenced to move, and the wagon was closely flanked on either side by a company of riflemen marching in double file, lock step.
At seven minutes before 11 o’clock the procession entered the field occupied by the military, and the prisoners cast a shuddering glance toward the gallows erected on the rising ground in its center. In two minutes more the wagon stopped at the foot of the gallows, and while the prisoners were alighting the companies forming the escort moved off to the position assigned them on the field.
The prisoners mounted the scaffold with a firm step, and were immediately joined by Sheriff Campbell. After a brief prayer by the clergyman the caps were drawn over their heads and the ropes affixed around their necks.
During the few moments they thus stood, Copeland remained quiet, but Green was engaged in earnest prayer up to the time the trap was drawn, when they were both launched into eternity.
Green died very easy, his neck being broken by the fall. The motion of his body was very slight. Copeland seemed to suffer very much, and his body writhed in violent contortions for several minutes. They were accompanied on the gallows by Reverends Waugh, North and Lerh [sic], to whom they bid an affectionate farewell, and expressed the hope of meeting them in Heaven. The bodies were placed in poplar coffins and carried back to jail. They will be interred to-morrow on the spot where the gallows stands, but there is a party of medical students here from Winchester who will doubtless not allow them to remain their long.
The bodies of the negro prisoners having been brought back to the jail, at about 11 ¾ o’clock, notice was given to Cook and Coppic that their time was approaching—only one hour more being allowed them. The military movements, similar to those at the first execution, were repeated; and the wagon, with two more coffins, was standing at the door at 12 ½ o’clock. The same military escort was in readiness, while the closing religious ceremonies were progressing in the cell. Since the failure of their attempt to escape last night, their assumed composure and apparent resignation had given way, and they now looked at their fate with the full conviction of its awful certainty. They were reserved and rather quiet, but fervently joined in the religious ceremonies conducted by Messrs. North, Lehr and Waugh.
When called upon by the Sheriff, they stood calm and quietly while their arms were being pinioned, and after bidding farewell to the guards at the Jail, were helped into the wagon and took seats on their coffins. Their appearance was rather that of hopeless despair than of resignation, and they seemed to take but little notice of anything as the procession slowly moved into the field of death. The wagon reached the scaffold at 13 minutes before 1 o’clock, and the prisoners ascended the scaffold with a determined firmness that was scarcely surpassed by Capt. Brown. A brief prayer was offered up by one of the Clergymen, the rope was adjusted, the cap drawn, and both were launched into eternity, in seven minutes after they ascended the gallows. They both exhibited the most unflinching firmness, saying nothing, with the exception of bidding farewell to the ministers and Sheriff. After the rope was adjusted, Cook exclaimed, “Be quick—as quick as possible,” which was also repeated by Coppic. After hanging for about half an hour, both bodies were taken down and placed in black walnut coffins, prepared for them. That of Cook was placed in a poplar box, labeled and directed as follows: “Ashbell P. Willard and Robert Crowley, No. 104 William street, New-York; care of Adam’s Express.” Coppic’s body was placed in a similar box, to be forwarded to his mother in Iowa.
Harper’s Ferry, Friday, Dec. 16, 1859.
The prisoners Cook and Coppic were visited by the Rev. Messrs. North, Waugh, and Leech. Previous to their departure for the scaffold the prisoners were engaged in the entrance washing their feet and putting on their under-clothing. Capt. Avis said that if they had anything to say they could say it then, in the presence of fifteen or twenty persons. Cook replied that he was grateful, indeed, for the kindness shown him by Sheriff Campbell, the jailer, and the guards. To the Rev. Messrs. Waugh, North, Littell, Le[e]ch, and the other ministers who had manifested such interest in his welfare, and Messrs. Joseph F. Blessing and John J. Cocke, as well as the citizens generally, for their kindness to him, he was very grateful.
At this point Coppic looked up and said, “Them’s my sent[i]ments, too, gentleman.” Cook then gave directions in regard to one or two articles; one, a breastpin, he did not want taken off, then, nor at the scaffold. He wished it given to his wife, or to his boy if he lived. Within his shirt-bosom, on the left side, was a daguerreotype and lock of his son’s hair, which he wished given to his wife. Both requested that their arms should not be pinioned tight enough to stop the circulation of the blood, which was complied with. A blue cloth Talma was thrown over Coppic, and a dark one over Cooke.
During these proceedings, Coppic was struggling to keep down his emotion, and Cook was striving to be calm. The Quaker gentleman remarked that “it was hard to die,” to which Coppic responded, “It is the parting from friends, not the dread of death, that moves us.” On the way down stairs they were allowed to advance to the cell of Stevens and Hazlitt, and bid them farewell. They shook hands cordially, and Cook said to Stevens, “My friend, good by.” Stevens said, “Good by, cheer up; give my love to my friends in the other world.” Coppic also made a remark to Stevens, which was unheard by the crowd, but Stevens replied, “Never mind.” Both then shook hands with Hazlitt, and bade him “good by,” but did not call him by name. On emerging from jail, Cook recognized several gentlemen and bowed politely.
After the cap had been placed on their heads, Coppic turned toward Cook, and stretched forth his hand as far as possible. At the same time Cook said, “Stop a minute—where is Edwin’s hand?” They then shook hands cordially, and Cook, said, “God bless you.” The calm and collected manner of both was very marked.
On approaching the scaffold, Cook shook hands with a large number of persons, and bowed politely to Mayor Green.
Various surmises were indulged in to-day in regard to the attempted escape of Cook and Coppic. It was said that Cook refused to tell how he came by the knife, and also that he had the countersign whereby he would have been enabled to pass the sentinels. This, however, needs confirmation, and is hardly reliable. Much indignation was expressed by some of the headstrong in reference to the officials of the jail, but a large majority of our citizens express confidence in them, and spurn the idea that they were bribed by the friends or Cook.
The hole made in the wall was a large one, and the room was in the second story. Cook, after his capture, said to a gentleman that they had done the best they could, that life was as sweet to them as to any one else, and that they had planned it for ten days. They had set down Tuesday night for the attempt, but it was deferred on account of not wishing to compromise Gov. Willard, who was in town that night. The prisoners conversed on a variety of subjects this morning. Cook said to a gentleman who addressed him, that they fully believed Slavery to be a sin, and that it would abolished in Virginia in less than ten years, and that by the people of Virginia. He was prepared to die in such a cause, and thought he had done nothing to regret so far as principle was concerned. Coppic said he feared the affair was not ended yet; that they had friends in the North who would not rest satisfied, he feared, till they had been avenged. He hoped, however, that the affair would end here forever.
Source: John Brown Scrap Book, compiled by Frank Sanborn, Vol. 1, Boyd B. Stutler Collection, West Virginia State Archives.