Osborne P. Anderson. A Voice from Harper’s Ferry: A Narrative of Events at Harper’s Ferry; with Incidents prior and subsequent to its capture by Captain Brown and his Men. Boston: The Author, 1861.
The War Clear—Active Preparations—Kennedy Farm—Emigrants for the South—Correspondence—The Agent.
Throughout the summer of 1859, when ever thing wore the appearance of perfect quiet, when suspicions were all lulled, when those not fully initiated thought the whole scheme was abandoned, arrangements were in active preparation for the work. Mr. Brown, Kagi, and a part of the Harper’s Ferry company, who had previously spent some time in Ohio, went into Pennsylvania in the month of June, and up to the early part of July, having made necessary observations, they penetrated the Keystone yet further, and laid plans to receive freight and men as they should arrive. Under the assumed name of Smith, Captain Brown pushed his explorations further south, and selected
Kennedy Farm, in every respect an excellent location for business as “head-quarters,” was rented at a cheap rate, and men and freight were sent thither. Capt. Brown returned to _____, and sent freight, while Kagi was stationed at _____, to correspond with persons elsewhere, and to receive and dispatch freight as it came. Owen, Watson, and Oliver Brown, took their position at head-quarters, to receive whatever was sent. These completed the arrangements. The Captain labored and traveled night and day, sometimes on old Dolly, his brown mule, and sometimes in the wagon. He would start directly after night, and travel the fifty miles between the Farm and Chambersburg by daylight next morning; and he otherwise kept open communication between head-quarters and the latter place, in order that matters might be arranged in due season.
John H. Kagi wrote for freight, and the following letter, before published in relation to it, was written by a co-laborer:
WEST ANDOVER, Ohio, July 30th, 1859.
JOHN HENRIE, Esq.:
DEAR SIR, -- I yesterday received yours of the 25th inst., together with letter of instructions from our mutual friend Isaac, enclosing draft for $100. Have written you as many as three letters, I think, before this, and have received all you have sent, probably.
The heavy freight of fifteen boxes I sent off some days ago. The household staff, consisting of six boxes and one chest, I have put in good shape, and shall, I think, be able to get them on their way on Monday next, and shall myself be on my way northward within a day or two after.
Enclosed please find list of contents of boxes, which it may be well to preserve.
The freight having arrived in good condition, John Henrie replies.
As the Kennedy Farm is a part of history, a slight allusion to its location may not be out of place, although it has been so frequently spoken of as to be almost universally known. The Farm is located in Washington, County, Maryland, in a mountainous region, on the road from Chambersburg; it is in a comparatively non-slaveholding population, four miles from Harpers’s Ferry. Yet, among the few traders in the souls of men located around, several circumstances peculiar to the institution happened while the party sojourned there, which serve to show up its hideous character. During three weeks of my residence at the Farm, no less than four deaths took place among the slaves; one, Jerry, living three miles away, hung himself in the late Dr. Kennedy’s orchard, because he was to be sold South, his master having become insolvent. The other the knowledge of these atrocities, and the melancholy suicide named, that caused Oliver Brown, when writing to his young wife, to refer directly to the deplorable aspect of slavery in that neighborhood. Once fairly established, and freight having arrived safely, the published correspondence becomes significant to an actor in the scene. Emigrants began to drop down, from this quarter and the other. Smith writes to Kagi:--
WEST ANDOVER, Ashtabula Co., O., Wednesday, 1859.
FRIEND HENRIE, -- Yours of the 14th inst. I received last night—gad to learn that the “Wire” has arrived in good condition, and that our “R” friend was pleased with a view of those “pre-eventful shadows.”
Shall write Leary at once, also our other friends at the North and East. Am highly pleased with the prospect I have of doing something to the purpose now, right away, here and in contiguous sections, in the way of getting stock taken. I am devoting my whole time to our work. Write often, and keep me posted up close. [Here follow some phonographic characters, which may be read: “I have learned phonography, but not enough to correspond to any advantage. Can probably read any thing you may write, if written in the corresponding style.”]
Faithfully yours, JOHN SMITH.
Please say to father to address [phonographic characters which might read “John Luther”] when he write me. I wish you to see what I have written him. J. S.
In the month of August, 1859, John Brown’s Agent spent some time in Canada. He visited Chatham, Buxton, and other places, and formed Liberty Leagues, and arranged matters so that operations could be carried on with excellent success, through the efficiency of Messrs. C., S., B., and L., the Chairman, Corresponding Secretary, Secretary O., and Treasurer of the Society. He then proceeded to Detroit, where another Society is established. So well satisfied was Captain Brown with the work done, that he wrote in different directions: “The fields whiten unto harvest;” and again, “Your friends at head-quarters want you at their elbow.” This was an invitation by the good old man to as brave and efficient a laborer in the cause of human rights as the friends of freedom have ever known; and to one who must yet bear the beacon-light of liberty before the self-emancipated bondmen of the South.
MORE CORRESPONDENCE—MY JOURNEY TO THE FERRY—A GLANCE AT THE FAMILY.
Preparations had so far progressed, up to the time when incidents mentioned in the preceding chapter had taken place, that Kagi wrote to Chatham and other places, urging parties favorable to come on without loss of time. In reply to the letter written to Chatham, soliciting volunteers, the appended from an office-bearer, referred to my own journey to the South: -
DEAR SIR, - Yours came to hand last night. One hand (Anderson) left here last night, and will be found an efficient hand. Richardson is anxious to be at work as a missionary to bring sinners to repentance. He will start in a few days. Another will follow immediately after, if not with him. More laborers may be looked for shortly. “Slow but sure.”
Alexander has received yours, so you see all communications have come to hand, so far. Alexander is not coming up to the work as he agreed. I fear he will be found unreliable in the end.
Dull times affect missionary matters here more than any thing else; however, a few active laborers may be looked for as certain.
I would like to hear of your congregation numbering more than “15 and 2” to commence a good revival; still, our few will be adding strength to the good work. Yours, &c., J. M. B.
To J. B. Jr.
As set forth in this letter, I left Canada September 13th, and reached _____, in Pennsylvania, three days after. On my arrival, I was surprised to learn that the freight was all moved to head-quarters, but a few boxes, the arrival of which, the evening of the same day, called forth from Kagi the following brief note: -
CHAMBERSBURG, _____, _____.
J. SMITH & SONS, -- A quantity of freight has to-day arrived for you in care of Oaks & Caufman. The amount is somewhere between 2,600 and 3,000 lbs. Charges in full, $25.98. The character is, according to manifest, 33 bundles and 4 boxes.
I yesterday received a letter from John Smith, containing nothing of any particular importance, however, so I will keep it until you come up.
Respectfully, J. HENRIE.
CHAMBERSBURG, PA., Friday, Sept. 16, 1859,
11 o’clock. A. M.
J. SMITH AND SONS, - I have just time to say that Mr. Anderson arrived in the train five minutes ago.
Respectfully, J. HENRIE.
P. S. I have not had time to talk with him. J. H.
A little while prior to this, * * went down to _____, to accompany Shields Green, whereupon a meeting of Capt. Brown, Kagi, and other distinguished persons, convened for consultation.
On the 20th, four days after I reached this outpost, Capt. Brown, Watson Brown, Kagi, myself, and several friends, held another meeting, after which, on the 24th, I left Chambersburg for Kennedy Farm. I walked alone as far as Middletown, a town on the line between Maryland and Pennsylvania, and it being then dark, I found Captain Brown awaiting with his wagon. We set out directly, and drove until nearly day-break the next morning, when we reached the Farm in safety. As a very necessary precaution against surprise, all the colored men at the Ferry who went from the North, made the journey from the Pennsylvania line in the night. I found all the men concerned in the undertaking on hand when I arrived, excepting Copeland, Leary, and Merriam; and when all had collected, a more earnest, fearless, determined company of men it would be difficult to get together. There, as at Chatham, I saw the same evidence of strong and commanding intellect, high-toned morality, and inflexibility of purpose in the men, and a profound and holy reverence for God, united to the most comprehensive, practical, systematic philanthropy, and undoubted bravery in the patriarch leader, brought out to view in lofty grandeur by the associations and surroundings of the place and the occasion. There was no milk and water sentimentality—no offensive contempt for the negro, while working in his cause; the pulsations of each and every heart beat in harmony for the suffering and pleading slave. I think God that I have been permitted to realize to its furthest, fullest extent, the moral, mental, physical, social harmony of an Anti-Slavery family, carrying out to the letter the principles of its antetype, the Anti-Slavery cause. In John Brown’s house, and in John Brown’s presence, men from widely different parts of the continent met and united into one company, wherein no hateful prejudice dared intrude its ugly self—no ghost of a distinction found space to enter.
LIFE AT KENNEDY FARM.
To a passer-by, the house and its surroundings presented but indifferent attractions. Any log tenement of equal dimensions would be as likely to arrest a stray glance. Rough, unsightly, and aged, it was only those privileged to enter and tarry for a long time, and to penetrate the mysteries of the two rooms it contained—kitchen, parlor, dining-room below, and the spacious chamber, attic, store-room, prison, drilling room, comprised in the loft above—who could tell how we lived at Kennedy Farm.
Every morning, when the noble old man was at home, he called the family around, read from his Bible, and offered to God most fervent and touching supplications for all flesh; and especially pathetic were his petitions in behalf of the oppressed. I never heard John Brown pray, that he did not make strong appeals to God for the deliverance of the slave. This duty over, the men went to the loft, there to remain all the day long; few only could be seen about, as the neighbors were watchful and suspicious. It was also important to talk but little among ourselves, as visitors to the house might be curious. Besides the daughter and daughter-in-law, who superintended the work, some one or other of the men was regularly detailed to assist in the cooking, washing, and other domestic work. After the ladies left, we did all the work, no one being exempt, because of age or official grade in the organization.
The principal employment of the prisoners, as we severally were when compelled to stay in the loft, was to study Forbes’ Manual, and to go through a quiet, though rigid drill, under the training of Capt. Stevens, at some times. At others, we applied a preparation for bronzing our gun barrels—discussed subjects of reform—related our person history; but when our resources became pretty well exhausted, the ennui from confinement, imposed silence, etc., would make the men almost desperate. At such times, neither slavery nor slaveholders were discussed mincingly. We were, while the ladies remained, often relieved of much of the dullness growing out of restraint by their kindness. As we could not circulate freely, they would bring in wild fruit and flowers from the woods and fields. We were well supplied with grapes, paw-paws, chestnuts, and other small fruit, besides bouquets of fall flowers, through their thoughtful consideration.
During the several weeks I remained at the encampment, we were under the restraint I write of through the day; but at night, we sallied out for a ramble, or to breathe the fresh air and enjoy the beautiful solitude of the mountain scenery around, by moonlight.
Captain Brown loved the fullest expression of opinion from his men, and not seldom, when a subject was being severely scrutinized by Kagi, Oliver, or others of the party, the old gentleman would be one of the most interested and earnest hearers. Frequently his views were severely criticized, when no one would be in better spirits than himself. He often remarked that it was gratifying to see young men grapple with moral and other important questions, and express themselves independently; it was evidence of self-sustaining power.
CAPTAIN BROWN AND J. H. KAGI GO TO PHILADELPHIA—F. J. MERRIAM. J. COPELAND AND S. LEARY ARRIVE—MATTERS PRECIPITATED BY INDISCRETION.
Being obliged, from the space I propose to give to this narrative, to omit many incidents of my sojourn at the Farm, which from association are among my most pleasant recollections, the events now to be recorded are to me invested with the most intense interest. About ten days before the capture of the Ferry, Captain John Brown and Kagi went to Philadelphia, on business of great importance. How important, men there and elsewhere now know. How affected by, and affecting the main features of the enterprise, we at the Farm knew full well after their return, as the old Captain, in the fullness of his overflowing, saddened heart, detailed point after point of interest. God bless the old veteran, who could and did chase a thousand in life, and defied more than ten thousand by the moral sublimity of his death!
On their way home, at Chambersburg, they met young F. J. Merriam, of Boston. Several days were spent at C., when Merriam left for Baltimore, to purchase some necessary articles for the undertaking. John Copeland and Sherrard Lewis Leary reached Chambersburg on the 12th of October, and on Saturday, the 15th, at daylight, they arrived, in company with Kagi and Watson Brown. In the evening of the same day, F. J. Merriam came to the Farm.
Saturday, the 15th, was a busy day for all hands. The chief and every man worked busily, packing up, and getting ready to remove the means of defence to the school-house, and for further security, as the people living around were in a state of excitement, from having seen a number of men about the premises a few days previously. Not being fully satisfied as to the real business of “J. Smith & Sons” after that, and learning that several thousand stand of arms were to be removed by the Government from the Armory to some other point, threats to search the premises were made against the encampment. A tried friend having given information of the state of public feeling without, and of the intended process, Captain Brown and party concluded to strike the blow immediately, and not, as at first intended, to await certain reinforcements from the North and East, which would have been in Maryland within one and three weeks. Could other parties, waiting for the word, have reached head-quarters in time for the outbreak when it took place, the taking of the armory, engine house, and rifle factory, would have been quite different. But the men at the Farm had been so closely confined, that they went out about the house and farm in the day-time during that week, and so indiscreetly exposed their numbers of the prying neighbors, who thereupon took steps to have a search instituted in the early part of the coming week. Capt. Brown was not seconded in another quarter as he expected at the time of the action, but could the fears of the neighbors have been allayed for a few days, the disappointment in the former respect would not have had much weight.
The indiscretion alluded to has been greatly lamented by all of us, as Maryland, Virginia, and other slave States, had, as they now have, a direct interest in the successful issue of the first step. Few ultimately successful movements were predicated on the issue of the first bold stroke, and so it is with the institution of slavery. It will yet come down by the run, but it will not be because huzzas of victory were shouted over the first attempt, any more than at Bunker Hill or Hastings.
COUNCIL MEETINGS—ORDERS GIVEN—THE CHARGE—ETC.
On Sunday morning, October 16th, Captain Brown arose earlier than usual, and called his men down to worship. He read a chapter from the Bible, applicable to the condition of the slaves, and our duty as their brethren, and then offered up a fervent prayer to God to assist in the liberation of the bondmen in that slaveholding land. The services were impressive beyond expression. Every man there assembled seemed to respond from the depths of his soul, and throughout the entire day, a deep solemnity pervaded the place. The old man’s usually weighty words were invested with more than ordinary importance, and the countenance of every man reflected the momentous thought that absorbed his attention within.
After breakfast had been dispatched, and the roll called by the Captain, a sentinel was posted outside the door, to warn by signal if any one should approach, and we listened to preparatory remarks to a council meeting to be held that day. At 10 o’clock, the council was assembled. I was appointed to the Chair, when matters of importance were considered at length. After the council adjourned, the Constitution was read for the benefit of the few who had not before heard it, and the necessary oaths taken. Men who were to hold military positions in the organization, and who had no received commissions before then, had their commissions filled out by J. H. Kagi, and gave the required obligations.
In the afternoon, the eleven orders presented in the next chapter were given by the Captain, and were afterwards carried out in every particular by the officers and men.
In the evening, before setting out to the Ferry, he gave his final charge, in which he said, among other things: -- “And now, gentlemen, let me impress this one thing upon your minds. You all know how dear life is to you, and how dear your life is to your friends. And in remembering that, consider that the lives of others are as dear to them as yours are to you. Do not, therefore, take the life of any one, if you can possibly avoid it; but if it is necessary to take life in order to save your own, then make sure work of it.”
Source: Copy in John Brown Pamphlets, Vol. 2, Boyd B. Stutler Collection, West Virginia State Archives