Skip Navigation

New York Weekly Tribune Articles
on the Trials

November 12, 1859


"Old Brown."

A cry has broke the silence o'er our land,
A blow disturbed our waters from their rest,
And blood has quenched a madly lighted brand
That madness lit to rouse a race oppressed.

Soon shall the echoes of that outcry fail,
And soon be smoothed the ripples on the wave,
And soon be hid the embers of that bale
The Old Man lit, within the Old Man's grave.

But in our nation's pluses will a stir
Of saddening pity ever cling around
The thought of him whom wrong had caused to err,
And in his meed of death will see him martyr-crowned.

Humanity's great heart will feel the cause
That fired the brain beneath his locks of snow,
And throb obedient to our nature's laws,
That prompt revenge for murder's coward blow.

The father's heart will swell with thickening breath,
When he recalls that deed of murder done
In lawless Kansas, and the cruel death
By banded cowards, of the Old Man's son.

Revenge became the mainspring of his life,
That, all disordered, moved by this alone.
The ever-rising vision of that strife
Showed his son's fate:echoed his dying groan.

Nay, now his courage, stubborn as his steel,
Extorts grim admiration from his foes.
The future will a deeper pity feel,
And see in Brown the victim of his woes.


Correspondence of The N. Y. Tribune.
Charlestown, Va., Nov. 2, 1859.


The citizens of Charlestown, having yielded for a week to the panic which the conflict at Harper's Ferry created among them, begin to resume airs of composure. It is evident, however, that a feeling of irrepressible uneasiness still lingers here. The streets by day are filled with groups of people discussing, with profound seriousness, the chances of renewed attacks, escapes, and insurrections. Under the walls of the Court-House the debates often rise to a warmth at once betraying the alarm which all attempt to conceal. At night, the thoroughfares are guarded by armed patrols, who arrest, without distinction, all persons who wander from their homes, unless immediate proof can be given of the innocence of their intentions. All strangers are regarded with particular suspicion. Until within a day or two, each new comer was subjected to the closest scrutiny from the moment of his arrival, and, in many cases, called upon to declare his purposes, and to make clear his freedom from connexion with the recent movement. This excessive watchfulness is now relaxed in some degree, but the hotel registers are yet put through regular courses of careful examination, and all unfamiliar eccentricities of personal appearance are visited with the penalty of constant supervision. The resident of half an hour, ignorant of all about him, and unexpectant of any sort of recognition, is astonished to find himself accosted by name, generally with much show of courtesy, and harassed with numerous inquiries, most amiably put, concerning his nativity, his avocation, his political sentiments, his plans in life, and so forth. If communicative, he receives a smile of public approval; if shy and reticent, he is overshadowed by the frown of society, and looked upon as likely to interfere with the tranquility of the neighborhood. It is perfectly clear that the subsidence of excitement is only an uncertain calm, that might at any moment be broken in upon by fresh turbulence.

Some of the inhabitants affect to ridicule the idea of apprehensions. Others admit it fairly, and justify it. A gentleman in the Court-House square, this morning, in answer, I believe, to a remark of Col. Washington, upon this subject, undertook to draw a supposititious parallel case at the North. He asked what would be the probable conduct of a Vermont village community in the event of a sudden and unlooked for invasion by a party of lawless Canadians, acting Brownwise, "in defiance of social liberties and constitutional rights." "They would hide in the hay-lofts, Sir, every one of them," said he, and as nobody volunteered to dispute the position, he spat triumphantly on the pavement, and considered the point settled.

The martial spirit of the region is shown by the presence of at least two military train-bands, which continually pervade the streets, sometimes in a body, sometimes diffused loosely about, in small squads, or in pairs. It does not appear that they are looked upon with veneration. Even the citizens are half inclined to repudiate the notion of their protection. Their ungainliness is something distressing to look upon. A part of them are Continental as to costume, but the majority of them are devoid of uniform. It is thought that, in case of danger, their bayonets would be useful, and for this reason they are cherished.

Indeed, any attempt of strangers to cast a shade upon their glory is reprehended with extreme severity. A reporter of a New-York paper is said to have poked mile fun at them, in a letter to that paper. Military Charlestown was fired with indignation. The Colonel who has the soldiery in charge visited the reporter, riddled him with small shot of interrogation, and insisted upon explanations. There were deferred, until the Colonel should specify his objections to what had been written. Subsequently the Colonel decided that, as he himself had not yet seen the obnoxious article, but had only heard of it incidentally, specifications were wholly needless, and announced with energy that, in the event of a repetition of the journalist's unpleasant levity, arrest would instantly follow.


The court-room is for everybody the central point of interest. The crowds that congregate there daily are so great that it has been found necessary to erect rude scaffoldings of plank to shelter the officials from outside interference, and to enable them to perform their duties unencumbered. The bustle and confusion are sometimes very great. The general disposition of the Court is remarkable. The picture during the greater part of this afternoon, for example, was curious. The apartment, which is not large, was thoroughly filled in every part. On an elevated platform at the rear sat the Judge, comfortably reclining in his chair, his legs resting upon the table before him, amid the chaos of law-books, papers, and inkstands, and holding upon his knees a volume bigger than all the rest. Judge Parker is a man of middle age, short and stoutish, and with a countenance singularly stern, by reason of the sharp lines about the mouth. His manner is mild and quiet, and there is dignity in his presence, notwithstanding the aspiring legs. Lawyers who have come down from the North, to watch over the interests of the Brown party, eulogize his manner of presiding. They are profuse in praises of his candor and integrity. Lounging lazily over the arm of his chair was Mr. Botts, one of the counsel rejected by Brown. Beside the Judge, on each side, sat rows of country magistrates, one or two using a fragment of his table for the support of their legs; the rest displaying an unmasked battery of boots all along the railing which edges the platform. Side stairways also were crowded with attentive spectators. Just below and in front of the Judge were the jurymen, intently wide awake to every turn of proceedings. Near the center of the room, the lawyers sat around their table, many of them following the usual upward fashion, or passion, as it seems to be here, of legs. This, and a tendency to chestnuts, were the most marked peculiarities of the assemblage. The cracking of Virginia chestnuts resounded all over the hall of justice, and the floor was thickly overspread with shells. For these, however, the outside spectators and the concourse of boys in the gallery were mostly responsible. The parties concerned in the trial shared no such frivolities. Among the lawyers were sitting the Hon. Thomas Russell, Judge of the Superior Court of Massachusetts, and one of the most active of the Republican leaders of that Commonwealth, who arrived from Boston this morning, coming in answer to an earnest appeal from Brown, asking his aid in the trial, which, however, was received so late that the time had passed before it could be acted upon; Mr. George Jennott, of the Boston bar, who also arrived to-day, with a view of assisting in the defense of the remaining prisoners; Governor Willard of Indians, who is the brother-in-law of Cook, the last captured of the band of insurgents, and who is naturally supposed to be searching for whatever may appear to favor his unlucky relative; and the Attorney-General of Indiana, with perhaps a similar view. Portions of the floor were used for purposes not strictly appropriate to the occasion. Two stalwart fellows, witnesses, I believe, and certainly heroes in some way of the Ferry fight, lay stretched at full length, asleep, and snoring pitilessly:occasionally disturbed from their repose by men in military garments, at times when it appeared their heavy respirations threatened to intrude upon the serenity of the Court.

The prisoner on trial to-day was Edwin Coppic, a young man commissioned as lieutenant in Brown's organization. His appearance is not at all remarkable. His face wears a stolid air, expressive of no strong emotion, but it is said he has shown great resolution and pluck. After his arrest, when he was coming down upon the railroad from Harper's Ferry to Charlestown, he was pretty fiercely assailed by a man who charged him with having inflicted a few wounds he carried about with him. Coppic sprang to his feet, and quite a furious war of words ensued; but the rhetorical flames of both were speedily extinguished by order of Governor Wise, who was in the car. Coppic's trial was rapidly accomplished, and the verdict was still more rapidly arrived at by the Jury. In less than half-an-hour they agreed to find the prisoner guilty. The decision was received by him with no sign of sensibility, except that he held his under-lip closely for a moment with his teeth, as if striving to repress his quivering.


During the absence of the Jury in Coppic's case, in order that no time should be wasted, John Brown was brought in from jail to be sentenced. He walked with considerable difficulty, and every movement appeared to be attended with pain, although his features gave no expression of it. It was late, and the gaslights gave an almost deathly pallor to his face. He seated himself near his counsel, and, after once resting his head upon his right hand, remained entirely motionless, and for a time apparently unconscious of all that passed around:especially unconscious of the execrations audibly whispered by spectators:"D__d black-hearted villain! heart as black as a stove-pipe!":and many such. While the Judge read his decision on the points of exception which had been submitted, Brown sat very firm, with lips tightly compressed, but with no appearance of affectation of sternness. He was like a block of stone. When the Clerk directed him to stand and say why sentence should not be passed upon him, he rose and leaned lightly forward, his hands resting on the table. He spoke timidly:hesitatingly, indeed:and in a voice singularly gentle and mild. But his sentences came confused from his mouth, and he seemed to be wholly unprepared to speak at this time. His words have already gone before your readers; but the types can give no intimation of the soft and tender tones, yet calm and manly withal, that filled the court-room, and, I think, touched the hearts of many who had come only to rejoice at the heaviest blow their victim was to suffer. Then the Judge read the death sentence, which has also been fully forwarded by telegraph. At the announcement that, for the sake of example, the execution would be more than usually public, one indecent fellow behind the Judge's chair shouted and clapped hands jubilantly; but he was indignantly checked, and in a manner that induced him to believe he would do best to retire, which he did. It is a question, nevertheless, if the general sentiment were not fairly expressed by his action. Brown was soon after led away again to his place of confinement.


The jail of Charlestown is a meek-looking edifice. In youth, it must have been a respectable private residence; but now, in years, it is given over to uses of State. At present, it divides attention with the Court-House, opposite to which it stands. Its vestibule is thronged with visitors. The reception-room is never vacant. Toward evening, the guardians of the insurrectionists augment their solicitude, and refuse ingress to all but he best-credited applicants. At dusk, this evening, this reception-room was a busy scene. A brisk Colonel, whose name I forget, but whose person I never can, on account of his miraculous development of hair, which was braided from behind, brought round over the forehead, and tied in a huge bow-knot between his eyes, was organizing the night-patrol, and superintending the loading of a number of Sharpe's rifles, ready for use. He was careful to impart confidential whispers to certain persons, in a way so that all could hear, to the effect that he had that day received scores of telegraph notices warning him of this particular night, as a rescue had been arranged to come off without delay. People, however, were little moved by this, and persisted in talking of the unexpected postponement of Brown's execution for one whole month.

Brown is as comfortably situated as any man can be in a jail. He has a pleasant room, which is shared by Stephens, whose recovery remains doubtful. He has opportunities of occupying himself by writing and reading. His jailor, Avis, was of the party who assisted in capturing him. Brown says Avis is one of the bravest men he ever saw, and that his treatment is precisely what he should expect from so brave a fellow. He is permitted to receive such visitors as he desires to see. He states that he welcomes every one, and that he is preaching, even in jail, with great effect, upon the enormities of Slavery, and with arguments that everybody fails to answer. His friends say, with regret, that in many of his recent conversations, he has given stronger reason for a belief that he is insane than ever before.

Brown's wounds, excepting one cut on the back of the head, have all now healed, without suppuration, and the scars are scarcely visible. He attributes his very rapid recovery to his strict abstemious habits through life. His appearance is very much the same as usual, which is decidedly unlike all the portraits of him that have of late appeared. He is really a man of imposing appearance, and neither his tattered garments, the rents in which were caused by sword-thrusts, nor his scarred face, can detract from the manliness of his mien. He is always composed, and every trace of disquietude has left him.

Charlestown, Va., Thursday Evening, Nov. 3


The partial tranquility of the past few days is interrupted, and public excitement enjoys a revival. The corner gossips glow with a new agitation. Feverish symptoms reappear in the community. The repose of yesterday has vanished. Do not laugh incredulously when I relate the causes, for what I shall tell you is most true.

Early this morning, just about the hour for the opening of the Court, strange uniforms were seen coming in from the direction of Harper's Ferry. A party of soldiers, five in number, all splendidly accoutered with sabers and muskets, and fixed bayonets and pistols, surrounded and hemmed in an odd-looking prisoner, very forlorn and very dusty, and held him at bay. He seemed astonished at the attentions which were showered upon him, but too much used up to suitably appreciate them. He was led to the jail, in stately fashion, and immured. He had been arrested somewhere in Shepardstown, on a charge, so far as I could learn, of attempting to write a history of the State of Virginia. You can, doubtless, imagine the enormity of such an offense. People had observed him going abut in search of historical traditions. He had been heard to make several inquiries in relation to events of the last century. This looked very ill; so bayonets were brought, and he was made a prisoner of war. He was terrified out of his wits:another fact which told strongly against him. Moreover, of the score of questions simultaneously put to him, he could answer only one at a time. All this proved him to be a dangerous person; so to Charlestown Jail he had to come. The fact:which distinctly appeared:that no one accused him of complicity with Brown, was deemed a trifle, and not worthy of consideration.

The jail became at once the object of public interest. Its steps were thronged, and its portal obstructed, until the jailor became gruff, and banished intruders. Only a few of the best-recognized citizens were permitted to enter. Strangers had not a chance, even if they had desired. I believe that an inquiring newspaper reporter essayed admittance, but gained only the privilege of a conversation very like the following with two military officers who guarded the door:

"Shall I go in, Sir, with these others, and learn something about the new prisoner?"

"Well, Sir, I don't know what to say. Col. Romulus, how does it strike you?"

"It's a great responsibility, Major Remus; I hardly know if it would be well."

"I will run over and consult Col. Tarquinius Superbus. If he consents, I shall make no objection."

"Do so, Major Remus. The responsibility is too great for any one of us, or any two of us, to take. I think that, among three of us, we might share it."

So, the Colonel over the way was consulted (they are about all colonels in Charlestown, with only now and then a rare exception of a major), and, after deliberation, the reporter was suffered to pass. The responsibility, I suppose, was impartially distributed, in due proportion.

This incident, in the first place, began to upset the Virginian balance, but "the greater was behind." It was in the Court-room that the real sensation of the day was felt. Shields Green, a negro participator in the insurrection, was put upon trial. His defense was entrusted to Mr. George Sennott of Boston. Mr. Sennott was lively. The spectators marveled at his keenly-drawn arguments. His struggle with the prosecution was a sort of guerrilla warfare. He attacked the indictment on all points. He moved that the first count, charging the prisoner with treason, should be abandoned, on the strength of the Dred Scott decision, which deprives negroes of citizenship, and consequently of their treasonable capabilities:and this count was abandoned. He moved that the entire indictment should be quashed, for a variety of reasons, involving any number of legal technicalities. First, he objected to it on account of its excessive interlineations; but this, the Court ruled, was not a material point. Then he objected on the ground that, as it comprised three various charges, it confused the prisoner's right of challenging jurymen:since, the law allowing him to challenge eight, he might desire to set aside a juryman for reasons connected with one charge, and to retain him in reference to another. This, also was overruled by the Court. Mr. Sennott, however, went on with an infinite variety of objections, scattering them all over the indictment with unflinching persistence. The spectators listened, then laughed, then fell to whispering, and then unbridled their irritation. What other effect the lawyer's close practice may have, it is not possible to foresee; but it certainly had that of spurring on the audience to bitterness of spirit. The word circulated that the Boston gentleman was making an Aboltion harangue. People who spoke as if by prophetic assurance, foretold the rising of the Court, and its abrupt departure in the midst of the argument. The least thing they looked for was that the discourse would be peremptorily checked. But in both they were disappointed. The Court heard, and the spectators grew more dissatisfied, until Mr. Sennott's name was coupled with a great many unpleasant epithets. The general idea was that of complete amazement at the utterance of "Abolition sentiments" in a Virginia Court of justice.


There are three weekly newspapers published in Charlestown:The Free Press, The Independent Democrat, and The Spirit of Jefferson. They are all thoroughly sound, and conducted on the simple principle of unsparing severity toward foes and dove-like gentleness toward friends. They unite the extremes of bitter and sweet. For all who come with credentials of adherence to the Pro-Slavery faith, they have words of sweetest welcome. For unreliable strangers, they have chilling admonitions, and, for visitors who make no secret of their want of political sympathy with the prevailing creed, they have fierce ebullitions of rage. Mr. Hoyt, the young lawyer who came from Boston to aid in the defense of Brown, affords excellent opportunities for the expression of sound doctrine. All the papers touch upon his visit in unflattering terms. The Independent Democrat says:

"A young stripling of the genus homo, hailing from Boston, a lawyer by his own avowal, came on here Friday last, and volunteered his services in defense of Old Brown. His manner and nasal twang would at once have determined his paternity, had he not stated 'that he had come the hull way from Bosting, traveling nigh and day.' His chief errand seems to be to get his name mixed up with the trial of the martyrs, so that it may be a stock of adventure to trade upon among his Abolition, Sharp's rifle, and negro equality associates at home. His presence among us upon the errand he come puts our Southern courtesy to its tension to tolerate his tribe for a single moment. We hope he may get back to the land of nutmegs with his own a little wiser than when he volunteered."

The delicacy of this morsel is paralleled by its felicity of style. Its appearance appeased the public anxiety that Mr. Hoyt should be rebuked, but did not satisfy it. The paragraph was too mild. So, a day or two after, the following was published in The Free Press, headed with the offender's name in staring type:

"This gentleman arrived in our midst on Friday last, and was admitted to the bar. He said that he 'had come from Boston, traveling night and day, to volunteer his services in the defense of Capt. Brown!' He asked for more time, as he had 'no knowledge of the criminal code of Virginia.' A pretty advocate, indeed! He had volunteered his services, and yet had 'no knowledge' of our laws! He should have remained in 'Jericho until his beard had grown.' Mr. Hoyt doubtless expected, when he volunteered, to become as prominent with the Abolitionists as Brown and his party are notorious for their crimes. An eye will be kept upon this volunteer gentleman, as it should be upon others, whether volunteers or not, who are in our midst. Had a Southern volunteer appeared in a Boston Court, he would probably have been dragged out by the neck."

Genially contrasting with this, are gracious allusions to more famed persons. The "noble representatives" of The New-York Herald and Frank Leslie's Paper are acknowledged to "have done Trojan service to the cause of the South," and receive "a hearty, whole-souled Virginian welcome." A Baltimore editor is described as "a gentleman of great urbanity of manners, and a noble specimen of the Metropolitan Press." The phonographic reporters are proclaimed to be "gentleman of exceeding suavity of manners." For Mr. Griswold of Ohio, counsel for Brown, The Democrat vouchsafes the hope that he will return home "favorably impressed with the soundness of the citizens on the goose question, and of the happy, greasy, rollicky contentedness of Sambo with his shackles":which is none the less kind for being free from grammatical constraint.

Turning from lively to severe, The Democrat takes up the case of Cook, and suggests that he be dealt with summarily, without legal formalities. It says, with a ray or two of warmth:

"If there is one among the hellish miscreants of Brown and his party, who is to be distinguished above the rest for the enormity of his crime, it is this man Cook, he being the scoundrel who, for the past three or four years, under various specious pretenses, has been visiting the houses of the citizens of this and the neighboring counties, for the purpose of prying out information necessary to complete Brown's plan to rob us of our property and raise insurrection in our midst. He is a villain of the blackest hue, and should be placed outside the leniency and protection of the law. A court of justice should not be disgraced by the presence of such a black-hearts and atrocious villain."


Brown's cheerfulness never fails him. He converses with all who visit him, in a manner so free from restraint, and with so much unconcern, that none can doubt his real convictions of self-approval. His daring courage has strongly impressed the people, and I have more than once heard public avowals of admiration of his fearlessness, in spite of ominous murmurs of disapprobation from bystanders.

A telegraph dispatch, dated Boston, was this morning received from T. W. Higginson, by Mr. Sennott. It said: "John Brown's wife wishes to go on and see him. Can you obtain permission for her?" This was answered affirmatively; but, when the matter was mentioned to Brown, he directed that this message should be immediately sent: "Do not, for God's sake, come here now. John Brown."

Judge Russell of Boston started for home this morning. He remained only one day in Charlestown. Mr. Hoyt, the lawyer, also returned. That he was suffered to depart without molestation is considered here a powerful proof of the forbearance of the people.

Charlestown, Friday, Nov. 4, 1859.


The interest in the Court proceedings this morning was considerable. Mr. Sennot argued for the defense of Shields Green. His address was full of ingenuity. Every resource seemed to be invoked. I cannot tell you the number of "points" he made, but they were very numerous, and very sharp. The sensitiveness of the audience, too, was less evident than yesterday, and Mr. Sennott's manner, which was not so demonstrative as before, augmented their good humor. I think the Court was hardly prepared for so much acuteness as he showed. Certainly it contrasted very strongly with the smooth regularity with which the other trials have been permitted to progress. The counsel for the prosecution, Mr. Hunter, felt called upon to bestow approbation on his "learned friend." He was prodigal of compliments; but believed that nothing would come, after all, of the close pleading he had listened to. The Court agreed with Mr. Hunter, and blandly overruled all opposition. The Jury, of course, agreed with Judge, and after the usual few moments of consultation, brought in verdicts of guilty on three counts of the indictment, but consented that the prisoner should be considered "not guilty" of the first, which charged him with treason, for the reason that the Dred Scott decision incapacitates a negro for participation in treasonable acts. So that Mr. Sennott's efforts were quite ineffective, as was to have been expected.

The customs of this Court are singular. They strike a Northern eye with peculiar force. Apart from the turbulence and carelessness of appearances, there are very odd ways of conducting business. Jurors are qualified who do not understand the nature of the duties they assume. I heard the Judge endeavoring for five minutes to explain to a juryman what was meant by conscientious scruples against capital punishment. Finding at last that he was expected to say he was embarrassed by no such scruples, the man did so, and was forthwith sworn. The regular Prosecuting Attorney (not Mr. Hunter) has a habit of going to sleep during arguments which he does not deliver himself. He slumbered quite placidly a long while this morning, to the great delight of the Jury, who gave the whole of their minds to him. He woke very suddenly, and called out for tobacco, at which everybody around him laughed, and the Crier shouted, "Gentlemen must not talk in Court." The attorney did talk, nevertheless, and gave a friendly companion an account of a rough-and-tumble fight he had had with a blind man the Saturday night before, just after his opening argument against Brown. I am told that this fight was a very pretty one, and that the blind man has the best of it, bestowing bruises upon his antagonist's face which the latter brought into Court with him on the Monday following. But the most extraordinary custom is that of the Clerk preparing a written verdict, reading it to the Jury, and asking them if they agree to it, which, of course, they do. In the case of Coppic, the jury came in with a blundering verdict. They knew nothing about "counts" and such trifles; they simply knew that they found the prisoner guilty. This would not do; so in a few minutes a correct verdict was written off and read to the Jury, who said that was just what they meant, and subscribed with cheerfulness.


I have some reason to believe that the cause of this gentleman's discomfiture is his acknowledged acquaintance with a gentleman and lady who came here a day or two ago to see Brown, who is an old friend of theirs. This gentleman and lady were regarded with great suspicion. It is claimed as a token of "forbearance," even beyond that shown to Mr. Hoyt, that they were allowed to depart in peace. Mr. Hunter, the senior counsel for the Government, says that the lady was only shielded by her sex, for he has letters deeply implicating her with the conspiracy. A man in her position, he says, would have found inconvenience in getting away:would not, indeed, have got away at all.

Do you think I shall get away at all?

Charlestown, Va., Friday, Nov. 4, 1859.


Certain Northern papers convey the impression of a very general belief in John Brown's safety from execution. They assume that, for political or other reasons, Gov. Wise will be induced to show clemency to this condemned man. Such ideas are here received with indignation. I certainly do not see any ground for hope in Brown's case. It is evident that any attempt to remove him alive from this town would fail. The people say that a regiment of soldiers, with the Governor at their head, could not accomplish it. You, at a distance, can hardly form an impression of the rage for vengeance which is felt by the citizens of this place. When Brown was in court, on trial, there were always faces burning with hatred hanging over him, fiercely watching every movement that he made. In the event of an attempt at rescue, which has been the great fear all along, and to prevent which all these extraordinary military precautions are still kept up, the jailors have been instructed to shoot him and his companions instantly. The populace are resolute in their determination that their victims shall never be taken from them, and it does not seem that this determination is to be shaken by any expedient.


Cook's trial is looked forward to with much anxiety. Of all the party, he is the one toward which the greatest bitterness sis displayed. It is expected that his defense will be a very strong one. His brother-in-law, Governor Willard of Indiana, has been here for many days, with the Attorney-General of that State, and another lawyer, making preparations for the trial. Their plan of defense has not been allowed to escape from them, of course. Gov. Willard's relationship to Cook has caused a vast deal of suspicion here, and the question whether he is or is not an Abolitionist and a dangerous visitor, has been very freely argued. The newspapers have intimated that he is a "wolf in sheep's clothing," and that the welfare of the country demands that he be sternly scrutinized, which I believe he is.

In the case of Copeland, the mulatto, which was tried to-day, Mr. Sennott conducted the defense in such a manner as to render it extremely probable that the verdict of guilty, which was of course rendered, will have to be set aside, and a new trial ordered. This is a curious contrast to the haste in which the other trials have proceeded. There has, heretofore, been no delay in the determination of all the cases. The Judge said very pleasant things to Mr. Sennott:told him his argument was very persuasive:and that you may see his points clearly, I will give them to you as closely and accurately as I can recall them:

The evidence being all in, Mr. Sennott moved the Court that the Jury be directed to pay no attention to any evidence tending to show treason, and to return a verdict of Not Guilty, as in the case of Shields Green, on the ground that Copeland, being described in that count as a negro, could not be guilty of treason under the decision in the case of Dred Scott, that a negro was not a citizen. The Court assenting, Mr. Hunter, for the prosecution, admitted the statement of law to be correct, and declared that they abandoned that count.

On the second count of the indictment, Mr. Sennott moved for a similar direction, on the ground that the negro was described as free, whereas the presumption of law in the Slave States was that he was a slave, being a man of color; that in a civil case he must show that fact affirmatively himself; that in a criminal case it was a material, issuable and triable fact, and must be proved as laid, and that the Government had closed their case without doing so.

Mr. Hunter called attention to the fact that they had introduced Copeland's confession to the Marshal, wherein he stated that he was born in North Carolina, but went to Oberlin at the age of ten, and was born free.

Mr. Sennott replied that the confession was admitted under strong objection;' that it had been made under influence as well as threats; that no matter how admitted, it was a declaration of Copeland in his own favor, and should not therefore be admitted; that it was in his favor legally because the status of a free man was legally superior to that of a slave; that he had a legal right to reject or refuse to assume a legal benefit when it was a practical damage; and that, at any rate, for the purposes of this trial, he would insist that his client was a slave as well as a negro, and that the Government must prove that he was free affirmatively.

The Court ruled that the burden of proof was on the Government, but refused to direct that they must prove it affirmatively.

Mr. Sennott excepted.

Mr. Sennott then asked the Court to direct a verdict of not guilty on the second count for conspiring with slaves and others to rebel, and inducing slaves to insurrection:and asked the Court to rule that there was no evidence of such an offense to go to the Jury. He also asked the Court to rule, that compelling slaves to take pikes in their hands was not advising them to revolt, in the sense of the law. The Court, with hesitation, concluded finally by refusing so to rule, and Mr. Sennott excepted. He then asked the Court to rule that, as the Government had relied all along upon the confession of Copeland that he had come to run off slaves, and had insisted on it, they could not be allowed now to contradict their own story; and that that had actually proved a different offense entirely to wit, slave stealing, from what the Grand Jury had charged them with under oath, viz.: conspiracy and rebellion! The same remarks applied to the counts for murder. At this point there appeared to be some hesitation on the part of the Court.

The Prosecuting Officer remarked that the Government had proved a common purpose, that not all the ingenious pleading of the counsel could evade. That being so, he thought proof of the overt acts of conspiracy first proved that, and then the murders occurring in furtherance of the common design were chargeable upon all the conspirators. He spent a great portion of the time of his argument and read much law to show this position.

Mr. Sennott, in reply, remarked that the whole learned argument as to common purpose was entirely useless, because the law intended only to punish a man for committing crimes in pursuance of a common purpose with which he was charged. Here, however, he was shown to have done nothing:and nobody in his band:except in pursuance of a design with which he was not charged. On an appeal to the Court, it was ruled:

That the Government must prove the second count as charged, and that evidence of a conspiracy to run off slaves did not and would not support it.

There was here a very perceptible sensation among the assembled crowd. The Jury, however, retired, and after the first discussion had in the Jury-room during all these trials, returned a verdict of Not Guilty on the first count, and Guilty on all others.

Mr. Sennott immediately gave notice that on Monday he would, with leave, move the verdict be set aside as against evidence and against the direction and ruling of the Court.

The Court remarked that it would hear the motion, and instantly adjourned.


Martial law still holds sway in Charlestown. The Continentals and the extemporized volunteer corps parade the streets daily. To the gentleman of this volunteer corps, the insurrection must be a godsend. They get a dollar and a half a day for their services, and I think if you saw them you would agree that they are dearly paid. What their means of livelihood could have been before this windfall I cannot imagine. Such troops as I have here seen do not inspire respect for the military capabilities of the region. I assure you that the Seventh Regiment could march down here and take the State of Virginia with very little trouble.

At night the precautions are redoubled. An armed patrol guards all the approaches to the town. I walked last evening a little way up the road to Harper's Ferry, and returning, was stopped short, not far far from the hotel, by a gentleman with too mush musket about him to be a pleasant partner in a conversation. "Hallo," he said, "who goes there?" I explained to him that I was a boarder at Sappington's Hotel. It wouldn't do, he said; I must give the countersign. I protested that I knew no countersign, and that he had better go along with me to the hotel. This he consented to do on condition that I would wait till he was relieved. So to wait I made up my mind, but presently he softened, appeared to be penetrated with a conviction that I was harmless, and permitted me to go on my way.

The examination of strangers is never relaxed. The surveillance is uninterrupted from the time they arrive until they leave. If they stay too long, it is popularly decided that they mean no good; and if they stay but a very short time, every one is satisfied that they mean very ill. The long sojourn of Mr. Hoyt and the brief visit of Judge Russell of Boston, are equally objected to. Why Judge Russell went off in such a hurry, the people want to know. They don't like it at all. They look upon his hasty departure as the precursor of some evil. Hence more recent comers receive more especial attentions. Two Northerners, from New-Jersey, I think, who came this morning, were put through very sharp examinations. What will be said to Mrs. L. Maria Childs's advent, which is expected immediately, I cannot imagine, but I do not think it will be entirely comfortable for her here.

The prevalence of firearms is not always agreeable. The people are forever handling them. Until within a day or two you could not go into a bar-room without finding yourself confronted by half a dozen ugly muzzles from all directions. There seems to be a great fondness for the employment of Sharp's rifles. I saw, this morning, a poor devil of a negro trembling before one which a gentleman of Continental uniform was pointing at him. Suddenly the rifle was snapped. It was unloaded, but the explosion of the percussion-cap terrified the negro beyond description. The sportsman laughed, and the bystanders applauded the jest.

Charlestown, Va., Nov. 6, 1859.


There is reason to believe that the course to be pursued in the case of Cook will result in an excitement far wider in its influence, and much more liable to a threatening termination, than any that has yet been manifested. The disposition of his case has been kept profoundly secret, but nevertheless I believe the plan is arranged in a manner very nearly as follows: Cook has been occupied for the past week in drawing up a voluminous confession, which is now in the hands of the Government, and which is said to implicate many persons of distinguished position at the North. This confession is, naturally, strictly guarded. On the strength of its admissions, Gov. Wise is supposed to have granted to Cook the permission to be tried in the United States Court at Stanton, Va., with some hope, how much is uncertain, of lenient treatment. The object in transferring the case to the United States Court is to enable the prosecution to summon as witnesses the persons who are named in Cook's confession, and possibly, all who are supposed to be concerned with Brown's party, on account of the letters found in his carpet-bag. This could not be done if the case were tried in the State Court. For what purpose it is intended to summon these parties, I cannot tell: but it only needs a very slight acquaintance with the present condition of the Virginian temper, to perceive that their position will not be a bed of roses if they ever are brought here.

Whether this intention, which without any reasonable doubt is the present one, will be carried out, tomorrow will show. If it is considered practicable, and sufficient to secure the design of the authorities, it will not be abandoned.

New-York Daily Tribune,
Tuesday, November 22, 1859.


Correspondence of The N. Y. Tribune.
Charlestown, Saturday, Nov. 19, 1859.


One of the servants at my hotel, who seems to repose confidence in me, said this morning very gravely "Now, I jus' tell you;--if they get many more folks in that old jail, they'll jus' lif' the old roof right off, 'brupt, and go 'way." Of course, I checked with severity this seditious language, but I will not deny that it made some impression upon me. The Charlestown jail is certainly a very inform establishment. Its wall bespeak decay, and its door and windows tell of insecurity. The citizens themselves have often spoken of this, and calculated, with some concern, its retentive powers. Since the publication of the plans I sent you, this question has been more than ever considered. A few persons have short-sightedly apprehended that the appearance of those plans might lead to an invasion and an attack which would be the more alarming from the diffusion of this dangerous knowledge. But the more general notion is, that unless the greatest watchfulness is exercised, the prisoners may find some means of escape for themselves. The people here will not admit that such a thing could be accomplished, but they prefer that it should not even be attempted, since it would then become necessary to dispose of the prisoners by shooting them:a very disagreeable contingency, the public opinion having settled itself strongly in favor of strangulation. Perhaps this idea may have contributed somewhat to the anxiety of the people to receive additional military support. I suppose that now, with about a thousand troops coming in from all sides, with a good deal of artillery and some practicable muskets:flint locks having been frowned upon by Col. Davis:it will be a little difficult for Brown and his party to take themselves off. Without these precautions, it is hard to say what would have happened. The wounded prisoners are getting better every day. Even Stephens begins to be quite comfortable under his five bullets. It would be an awkward thing for them to march out some-day and walk quietly up Northward, taking with them, perhaps, Mr. Hunter and one or two other gentlemen, in pursuance of their original plan. As for impediments, I do not think there would be any offered by the people of Charlestown. This would be a deserted village. It should be understood that there are as many as six of Brown's party in captivity. But I am doubtful whether even these could stand against a thousand armed men, brought all the way from Richmond. The precautions have been taken in time, and it is just as well to resign all hope now of the prisoners' escaping by their own efforts.

Col. Davis is once more at ease. His dispatches tell him that many troops are hurrying to his aid. Gov. Wise is coming, too. I hope he means to depose the Colonel, and assume command himself. None of the extra forces have yet come in, but they are all on their way, so Col. Davis says. I catch whispers of field pieces and cavalry. I wonder what use will be made of them in the event of another fire. And, apropos of the fires, there is a rumor that one incendiary has been detected, but, as he proved on inspection to be chattel, the discovery has been closely concealed, for the present, at least. Other chattels might hear, and profit by the example.


Mr. Harding is looking eagerly for the Governor's arrival. He has a little account to settle with him, he says. Mr. Harding, you may remember, was most violently opposed to the suspension of Stephen's trial, which happened in consequence of the Governor's suggestion. He protested vehemently against it, and insisted that the protest should be entered upon the records of the Court, in return for which Judge Parker snubbed him. But Mr. Harding was not to be allayed. The lawyers kept shutting him up, but, like the toy figures which are propelled from boxes to frighten children, the moment they left him, he would burst forth again. He fulminated terrible threats. He vowed with very profane emphasis that Stephens should never be released from his clutches alive. He menaced all the dignitaries of Charlestown, and was especially venomous upon Gov. Wise. He wanted to see Wise, that was all. He had a rod in pickle for Wise. He guessed Wise would bark his shins, if he undertook to climb over him. But five him a chance at Wise, and there would be music. Well, his opportunity is coming, and he professes great satisfaction. Some people say that his ardor will be dead cold by the time the Governor arrives, but he says not. I think it will depend very much upon the time of day that they chance to meet. Mr. Harding is always bolder toward night than in the morning. In the evening he is leonine; in the morning, foxy. It was in evening that he fought the blind man. I want very much to see the interview between the two gentlemen.


Whence all the appalling rumors that come floating in proceed, nobody knows. As fast as one explodes, a dozen take its place. I think they rise spontaneously in this community. Their number and variety are greater than I can convey to you; but as they are all doubtless without ground, it would hardly be worth while to repeat them. At present they are in fullest force, with no immediate prospect of decline.

The first installment of uniforms is expected to-morrow.


A correspondent of The Baltimore American writes from Charlestown, Nov. 19, as follows:

"Various rumors have been in circulation for the past few days in regard to an attempted rescue, by Northern fanatics, of Brown and his fellow-prisoners, but nothing reliable has been obtained, although it is believed by many intelligent and knowing gentlemen that the attempt will be made. Among these is Andrew Hunter, esq., whose position and opportunities for knowing all that is transpiring render an opinion from him of much weight. A letter was received a few days ago by this gentleman, addressed to John Brown, post-marked Oberlin, Ohio. The letter was written in characters, but was deciphered by an intelligent lady of our town. It bid him be of good cheer, as his friends would be dropping in one by one. The letter was of course not given to Brown, and is now in possession of Mr. Hunter. Letters are received daily by many of our officials and citizens, some of which are insulting in the extreme, while others only excite a smile of contempt for the miserable Northern fanatics who seek by threats to intimidate persons in official positions.

"The feeling in favor of Cook, which was quite apparent at the time of his conviction, has changed greatly on account of recent events, and his punishment with the others is now demanded by the great majority of our citizens. It is understood that Gov. Willard is with Gov. Wise, using his utmost exertions to have a commutation of the punishment of Cook, in view of which a meeting is announced to take place in this town next Monday, to adopt a remonstrance to be forwarded to Gov. Wise, against Executive clemency toward the prisoner. It is thought the expression of the will of the people of this county will go far toward doing away with any sympathy which may have been elicited from Gov. Wise by the friends of Cook.

"The military force at present in this town is very strong, with a prospect of a large addition to-day and to-morrow. The train yesterday brought the Alexandria riflemen, Capt. Morton Mayre, 40 privates, and the Mount Vernon Guards, Capt. Wm. Smith, 39 privates. Accompanying these companies were Colonel Thomas E. Stuart and staff, consisting of Majors H. Dorsey and James Smart; Paymaster F. W. Ashby; Quartermaster W. F. Padgett; Sargeant C. W. Jett, and Adjutant John Higdon.

"The military, therefore, at present in possession of the town, consists of the 'Jefferson Guards,' Capt. John W. Rowan, 60 men; the 'Morgan Continentals,' of Winchester, Va., Capt. Haines, 40 men; Alexandria Rifleman, 40 men; and the Mount Vernon Guards, 38 men; beside which there is a guard of 20 men on duty at the Jail, and the Executive Guards, a patrol of 25 men, under the command of Capt. Harry Hunter. This patrol is very efficient, and has received warm commendation from Col. J. Lucius Davis, a gallant and high-tones gentleman, who has command of all the military.

"It is understood the force is to be increased to-day by a company of artillery, of 100 men, from Alexandria, Va., with two field pieces, and a couple of companies from Richmond. It is thought by some that this large body will be useless, but others are anxious for a demonstration.

The prisoners still continue in good spirits, and employ their time principally in writing letters. The two negroes, Copeland and Green, have made professions of conversion under the ministerial services of the Rev. J. Hoffman Waugh, of the M. E. Church. Brown was approached by a minister of the Presbyterian persuasion a few days ago who wished to advise him spiritually. Brown repelled it, saying that he did not worship the same God. The minister was a slaveholder.

The town was visited by a heavy storm last evening, rendering sentinel duty anything but pleasant.

H. D. B.


From The Richmond Enquirer of Saturday.

The character of the dispatches from Charlestown and Harper's Ferry, received within the last few days, is of a very exciting nature. Numerous acts of incendiarism have destroyed much property of the prominent and wealthy as well as the poorer people. Night after night the heavens are illuminated by the lurid glare of burning property, which, with the exaggerated reports flying through the country, tends to increase in excitement.

Rumors are also rife that a rescue of the condemned prisoners is preparing, and that parties with such designs are in the neighborhood; but as yet these reports have had no confirmation. That there are men wicked enough to desire such an effort, we have no doubt, but that any large body of men can be found foolhardy enough to attempt it we very much question. Nevertheless, the Executive will see that the sentence of death is executed upon the criminals, and will provide for every emergency. We would advise all persons to forego the pleasure, if such it be, of witnessing the executions, by staying quietly at home and protecting their property, as well as avoiding an unnecessary risk of their persons, by going to the executions. Especially would we advise Northerners to stay away from Charlestown at the times of the executions; excursions of large bodies of men will not be permitted and if persisted in, will be prevented by actual force. Nothing would be easier for a rescuing party than to go to Charlestown as spectators, carrying concealed weapons, and in the confusion of a large crowd to attempt the rescue. To prevent the possibility of such a result, and to protect life while executing the judgment of the Court, a very large body of troops will be on duty at Charlestown on the days of the executions. These troops will protect the execution of the sentence of death from interruption, and will execute summary punishment upon all persons attempting a rescue. In such duty many innocent persons might be injured; hence we would advise all to remain at home.

Source: John Brown Scrap Book, compiled by Frank Sanborn, Vol. 1, Boyd B. Stutler Collection, West Virginia State Archives.

Chapter Eleven: The Commonwealth of Virginia v. John Brown and His Men

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History