Skip Navigation

Senate Select Committee Report on the Harper’s Ferry Invasion
Testimony of Lewis W. Washington

Pp. 29-40

January 6, 1860.

Lewis W. Washington sworn and examined.

By the Chairman:

Question. Will you please to state your age, and where you reside.
Answer. I am about forty-six years of age. I reside in Jefferson county, Virginia. I am a farmer.

Question. Are you a landholder and slaveowner?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. How far is your residence from Harper's Ferry?
Answer. It is about five miles.

Question. Will you state whether you saw an armed party at your house, who they were, what their business was, and what brought them there, on the night of Sunday, the 16th of October last?
Answer. There was a body at my house, five of whom I saw, and the other I did not see. They appeared at my chamber door about half past one o'clock in the morning. My name was called in an under tone, and supposing it to be by some friend who had possibly arrived late, and being familiar with the house, had been admitted in the rear by the servants, I opened the door in my night-shirt and slippers. I was in bed and asleep. As I opened the door there were four armed men with their guns drawn upon me just around me. Three had rifles, and one a large revolver. The man having a revolver held in his left hand a large flambeau, which was burning. The person in command turned out to be Stevens. He asked me my name, and then referred to a man of the name of Cook, who had been at my house before, to know whether I was Colonel Washington. On being told that I was, he said, "You are our prisoner." I looked around, and the only thing that astonished me particularly was the presence of this man Cook, who had been at my house some three or four weeks before that. I met him in the street at Harper's Ferry as I was passing along. He came out and addressed me by name, and said, "I believe you have a great many interesting relics at your house; could I have permission to see them if I should walk out some day?" I said, "Yes." At that time I supposed he was an armorer, engaged in the public works at Harper's Ferry, almost all of whom know me, though I do not know them; but I am familiar with the faces of most of them. I had not seen this man before, or I should have recognized him. He came out to my house about four weeks before this attack. While there he was looking at a pistol that General Lafayette had presented to General Washington about the period of the revolution. He asked me if I had ever shot it. I told him I had. He asked, "Does it shoot well?" I told him I had not shot it for six or eight or ten years, that I had merely tried it, and cleaned it, and put it in the cabinet, and, I remarked, it would never be shot again. He was very curious about arms. He finally told me that he belonged to a Kansas hunting party, and found it very profitable to hunt buffaloes for their hides. He unbuttoned his coat and showed me two revolvers, and said, he was in the habit of carrying them in his occupation, that he had been attacked with chills and fevers some time ago, and was wearing them to accustom his hips to their weight. He asked if I was fond of shooting. I said I formerly was; and then he said, "You would possibly like to try these?" We went in front of my house, and under a tree we stuck up a target, and fired some twenty-four shots. He then told me that he had a rifle, a twenty-two shooter, that he would like me to look at, as he saw I had some fondness for fire-arms. He said to me, "When you come down to the Ferry, if you will call, I should like you to see it and try it." I was at the Ferry, it so happened, ten or fifteen days from that period, and inquired for him. I happened to know his name in this way: he did not introduce himself when he came, but in taking up his large revolver, (the size used in the army,) I found "John E. Cook" engraved on the breech of it on a brass plate, and he said, "I engraved that myself; I borrowed the tools from a silversmith, a bungler, and thinking I could do it better myself, I did it." Then, said I, "I presume that is your name?" and he said, "Yes." When I asked for him at the Ferry, they told me he had left, and I supposed, in all probability, he had gone to Kansas, as he told me he intended to go in a few days. Believing that he had gone to Kansas, I was surprised to find him among the number at my house.

Question. You say that he had before asked permission to go to your house and see certain relics, and that he did go there; did you show him those arms?
Answer. Yes; he saw and handled them.

Question. What did they consist of?
Answer. The sword presented by Frederick the Great to General Washington, which he used as his dress sword, and one of the pistols presented to him by Lafayette.

Question. How did they come into your possession?
Answer. They descended to my father, and from him to me. My grandfather had the first choice of five swords left by the general.

Question. Shortly after midnight of the 16th of October, you were in bed and heard your name called at your chamber door, and opened it, and found an armed party with their arms presented towards you?
Answer. Yes, sir. I looked around at every gun to see if it was cocked, and found that they were all cocked.

Question. Who composed that party?
Answer. I only knew Cook's name at the time. I afterwards learned the others. The party consisted of Stevens, Cook, Tidd, Taylor, and the negro man Shields Green. There was a sixth man whom I did not see; but Cook afterwards told me his name was Meriam. He was engaged in hitching up the horses, as I understood.

Question. How did they get in your house?
Answer. They broke in the rear door of the house, and in that way reached the back entry that enters my dining room. They attacked it with the end of a fence rail used as a battering ram.

Question. You did not hear them?
Answer. No, sir; that is about fifty feet from my chamber, with about five feet of walls interposing.

Question. Where is your chamber?
Answer. On the front of the house on the first floor.

Question. Was there any other white person in the house besides yourself?
Answer. No, sir; they asked me directly for my overseer. I told them he was not there; that his family did not reside on my place, and he went to his own house every night.

Question. What did your family consist of?
Answer. My daughter had left the morning before for Baltimore; she had been spending the summer with me. Mr. William Turner and his two daughters were with me the night preceding. I was then alone.

Question. Was your daughter the only member of your family?
Answer. I have two daughters, one of whom has never resided with me, and the other was with me temporarily only, spending a few months in summer. She resides with her grandmother. She is a young lady grown. She had gone off the morning before, Saturday, with Mr. Turner and his daughters to Baltimore. This attack was on Sunday night or Monday morning, at the change of hours. After looking around I observed that each man had two revolvers sticking in his belt in front besides the rifle. I remarked to them, "you are a very bold looking set of fellows, but I should doubt your courage; you have too many arms to take one man." I said to one of them, "I believe with a pop-up gun I could take either of you in your shirt tail." At that time the fire began falling from the flambeau, and I asked them to come in my room and light my candles, so as to prevent my house from being burnt. After going in, and while dressing myself, I said, "Possibly you will have the courtesy to tell me what this means; it is really a myth to me." Stevens spoke up and said, "We have come here for the purpose of liberating all the slaves of the South, and we are able (or prepared) to do it," or words to that effect. I went on deliberately and dressed myself, and went into the dining room, thinking that possibly there was a better fire there; the fire in my chamber had gone out. I went into the dining room, and when I first got in, Stevens said to me, "You have some fire-arms, have you not?" I replied, "Yes, but all unloaded." He said, "I want them," and Cook made a signal to him that he had seen a very handsome gun in my closet. It was a gun which I had imported from England, and thinking he was a workman in the armory, I showed it to him, to get his opinion. I opened my closet in the dining room, and they took out the guns.

Question. What guns were they?
Answer. A shot gun and a rifle, and an old pistol of Harper's Ferry make of 1806, which was merely kept as a curiosity. They took them. Then Stevens said to me, "Have you a watch, sir?" I replied, "I have." Said he, "Where is it?" I said, "It is on my person." Said he, "I want it, sir." Said I, "You shall not have it." Said he, "Take care, sir." He then asked, "Have you money?" I remarked, "It is very comfortable to have a good deal of it these times; money is rather scarce." Then he made the same remark to me that he did before, "Take care, sir." I then said to him, "I am going to speak very plainly; you told me your purpose was philanthropic, but you did not mention at the same time that it was robbery and rascality. I do not choose to surrender my watch." He yielded the point; did not insist on it. I told him there were four there with arms, and they could take it, but I would not surrender it. Then he said to me, "I presume you have heard of Ossawatomie Brown?" I said, "No, I have not." "Then," said he, "you have paid very little attention to Kansas matters." I remarked to him that I had become so much disgusted with Kansas, and everything connected with it, that whenever I saw a paper with "Kansas" at the head of it I turned it over and did not read it. "Well," said he, "you will see him this morning," speaking apparently with great glorification. After some little time they announced to me that my carriage was ready at the door.

Question. Did they inquire about plate?
Answer. Yes; they saw in my cabinet a camp-service that belonged to General Arista in the Mexican war; I had taken it out of the case where it belonged and placed it in the cabinet; it is of very rare and beautiful workmanship; Stevens said "I do not know but we shall want that," but afterwards he said he did not know but that it was plated-ware, instead of silver. After some little time, one came and announced that the carriage was at the door. I went out, and found the fellow, Shields Green; they called him "Emperor;" it was the first time I had seen him; he drove the carriage to the door, and as soon as I went out I found my large farm wagon with four horses hitched behind the carriage. I said to the men "These horses" (referring to the carriage horses) "will not drive in that way; they are high-spirited horses; they are on the wrong side;" Tidd, I think, went up and said "This horse is reined too short." One horse is slightly shorter than the other, and they had got the small harness on the large horse; we got on some little distance when the horses refused to work; by the by, this Emperor, as they termed him, Shields Green, was ordered off the seat when the carriage was about leaving the house, and my house servant, one of my slaves, was put in his place; Cook was on the back seat with me, and Tidd by the side of the driver; the other men were in the wagon behind; I only saw the wagon indistinctly, and did not know who was being placed in it

Question. Did they tell you anything about taking your negroes?
Answer. They said "We ordered your wagon to take your servants;" and I supposed they were going to take women and all, but it seems they did not want women. I did not know until I got in my field who was in the wagon. When the carriage horses refused to pull, I said "These horses must be shifted;" I got down and put my foot on the wheel, and one of my servants came to help shift the horses, the servant whom they afterwards had in Maryland and who returned; the carriage horses were shifted in the field, and they went very well until they reached some point on the road; in the hurry of putting the harness on, the harness came loose near the top of the hill near Mr. Allstadt's house.

Question. What direction did they take on leaving your house?
Answer. The direction of Harper's Ferry by the usual road that led to the Ferry.

Question. Where was your first stopping place?
Answer. At the house of Mrs. Henderson, widow of Richard Henderson; they stopped the carriage just in front of the house; there were four or five daughters in the house who recently slot [sic] their father, and I remarked to the party in front of me "There is no one here but ladies and it would be an infamous shame to wake them up at this hour of the night." Tidd jumped out, went to the wagon, and made some remark, and they went on; they went on to Allstadt's; I heard them take a fence rail from opposite the house; we stopped on the main road in front of the house; I did not hear any directions given there; a portion of the party was left with me in my carriage; Allstadt's inclosure bordering on the pike has a post and rail fence around it; the road on the opposite side of the pike has one of our Virginia worm fences, and from this fence I heard rails moving; being familiar with the sound, I knew what they were taking; they then went towards Allstadt's house, and I heard the jar of the rail against the door, and in a few moments there was a shout of murder and general commotion in the house; I thought first it was his servants hallowing murder, but he told me afterwards it was his daughters; finding this commotion going on, they put their heads out of the window and hallooed murder; one of these fellows drew his rifle on them and ordered them to go in and shut the window; I supposed of course what their purpose was; they took a number of negroes from him, I do not know exactly how many, and Allstadt was placed in the wagon with the negroes and taken to Harper's Ferry; they mentioned to him, as he afterwards informed me, that I was in my carriage; we then proceeded on to Harper's Ferry. Up to that time I supposed it was merely a robbing party who possibly had some room at the Ferry; I did not look on the thing as very serious at all until we drove to the armory gate, and the party on the front seat of the carriage said "All's well," and the reply came from the sentinel at the gate "All's well;" then the gates were opened and I was driven in and was received by old Brown; the carriage drove into the armory yard nearly opposite the engine-house.

Question. What did Brown say? How did he know who you were?
Answer. I presume he knew who had been sent for, and he at once assumed who I was.

Question. Did he address you by name?
Answer. He did not at that moment, but as "sir." He said, "You will find a fire in here, sir; it is rather cool this morning." Afterwards he came and said, "I presume you are Mr. Washington." He then remarked to me, "It is too dark to see to write at this time, but when it shall have cleared off a little and become lighter, if you have not pen and ink, I will furnish them to you, and I shall require you to write to some of your friends to send a stout, able-bodied negro; I think after a while, possibly, I shall be enabled to release you, but only on the condition of getting your friends to send in a negro man as a ransom." Then he said, "I shall be very attentive to you, sir, for I may get the worst of it in my first encounter, and if so, your life is worth as much as mine. I shall be very particular to pay attention to you. My particular reason for taking you first was that, as the aid to the governor of Virginia, I knew you would endeavor to perform your duty, and perhaps you would have been a troublesome customer to me; and, apart from that, I wanted you particularly for the moral effect it would give our cause, having one of your name as a prisoner."

Question. Did he tell you what his purpose was; what "cause" he was in?
Answer. He spoke generally of it. He said, perhaps, "this thing must be put a stop to," or something of that sort. He used general terms.

Question. "This thing," alluding to what?
Answer. Alluding to slavery.

Question. Did you see your negroes after they were brought there?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. What was done with them?
Answer. They were brought in to the fire. The engine-house and the watch-house are divided by a wall. I should suppose the engine-house to be, perhaps, twenty-two or twenty-four feet square. The engine-house being partitioned off, is of course about twenty-two or twenty-four feet, as the other may be, the one way, by about ten the other. The stove was in the small watch-house. The engine-house and watch-house are divided. They are under the same roof -- a wall between them. There is no communication between them through that wall. The servants were all taken into the engine-house, and we into the watch-house, but they came in repeatedly to warm themselves, each negro having a pike in his hand.

Question. How many of your negroes did they take, including your house servants?
Answer. My servants were almost all away, that being Sunday night. They took two of mine, and one, the husband of one of my servants.

Question. Did they take but three negro men of yours, altogether?
Answer. Only three there. One other heard something was wrong, and got in the wagon at Allstadt's. I understood that was the point where he overtook them. That man who joined them at Allstadt's did not belong to me, but to Dr. Fuller. He was hired at my house.

Question. Do you know what use was made of your negroes afterwards, by the party at the Ferry?
Answer. In a short time after they first appeared with these pikes in their hands, I saw my house-servant walking about without one. My other servant was taken, with my team, over to Maryland, as I afterwards understood, to remove the arms from the Kennedy farm to the school-house.

Question. Did any of the servants remain with you in the engine-house or watch-house?
Answer. Yes, sir; my house-servant was in the engine-house with me all the time.

Question. Did they put him to any use at all?
Answer. Not at all. They made a servant of Allstadt's drill some port-holes.

Question. How many servants did they bring from Allstadt's?
Answer. I do not know; five or six perhaps.

Question. How many of yours and Allstadt's together were with you in the engine-house?
Answer. There was one of mine and one of Allstadt's that I know, and a servant I have known for some time, one of Mr. Daniel Moore's, who resides near Allstadt. He was arrested on the bridge or in the Ferry. He had a wife there, possibly. I do not recollect exactly the number of Mr. Allstadt's servants there.

Question. Did they put any of the slaves they had captured to any work in the engine-house?
Answer. None, except one servant of Mr. Allstadt, named Phil. Old Brown said to him, "you are a pretty stout looking fellow; can't you knock a hole through there for me?" There were some mason's tools with which he effected it. The holes were loop-holes to shoot through.

Question. Did they make more than one loop-hole?
Answer. Yes, sir; four, I think.

Question. How long were you detained in the engine-house?
Answer. I went in there about twelve o'clock on Monday, noon, and I was in there until Tuesday at seven. I was taken into the watch-house first, but he took us out as hostages about eleven or twelve o'clock on Monday.

Question. What time did you arrive at the watch-house?
Answer. I suppose about half past three; some time before daylight on Monday morning.

Question. After being in there until about midday on Monday, they took you out and carried you into the engine-house. Did they take any others with you?
Answer. Nine others

Question. Did he say for what reason you were taken out and carried to the engine-house?
Answer. He did not specify it at that time, but I understood it very well from the remarks he had made early in the morning. He just came and said, "I want you to walk with me;" and we went from one room to the other.

Question. What was the largest number of persons that he had as prisoners at any time in the watch-house?
Answer. I should say, at a rough estimate, perhaps thirty-odd; between thirty and forty.

Question. Who were they?
Answer. They were principally the armorers, the workmen of the armory, and officers of the armory; for instance, Mr. Kitzmiller, who was acting as superintendent at the time in the absence of Mr. Barbour, Mr. Daingerfield, who was the paymaster's clerk, and Mr. Mills, the master armorer, and several others, operatives, and some who were not. One was the watchman on the bridge, I believe, and one was an old man who rang the bell.

Question. They were all citizens of the Ferry and workmen there?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Were any of those men armed?
Answer. None.

Question. Did you find any of them there when you first went there?
Answer. Yes, sir; perhaps four or five.

Question. Were they brought in in a body or brought in singly?
Answer. Generally one or two at a time. As they made their appearance they were arrested, as I understood.

Question. Will you state whether you heard any conversation of Brown's during the night in the engine-house, in which he disclosed his purpose in coming there?
Answer. I think two or three different times, possibly, he made remarks to the effect that he came for the purpose of freeing the slaves, and that he meant to carry it out. I heard a remark made by Stevens pretty early. He was talking to a young man, and asked him what his view in reference to slavery was, and this young man said, "of course, being born south, my views are with the south on that subject." Stevens asked him if he was a slaveholder. He said he was not. "Well," said Stevens, "you would be the first fellow I would hang, for you defend a cause not to protect your own interest in doing so," and he used an oath at the time.

Question. Did you hear anything from Brown from which you could learn whether he expected assistance, and where it was to come from?
Answer. I do not know that I heard any such expressions. I supposed at that time he was very strong. I supposed from his actions the force was a large one. Some one asked him the number of his force, and he made an evasive answer. Said he, "I cannot exactly say. I have four companies -- one stationed" at such a place, and so on. He used the term "companies."

Question. What points did he designate?
Answer. The arsenal was one, Hall's works was another, and some other point in the yard.

By Mr. Doolittle:

Question. They were companies at or about Harper's Ferry?
Answer. Yes, sir.

By the Chairman:

Question. Can you tell how many of Brown's party you found in the engine-house when you went there?
Answer. Up to a certain period they were in and out until the firing became very severe in the street. There were eight, I think, of his party in the engine-house.

Question. I mean from the time they were beleagured so that they could not get out?
Answer. Then I think there were eight.

Question. How many of them were negroes?
Answer. One, I think.

Question. Was there not more than one negro?
Answer. Yes, but not with us. There was only one negro of his party in the engine-house. There were several slaves, but only one of his party.

Question. Do you know what his name was?
Answer. Shields Green.

Question. What was his color?
Answer. Black.

Question. Will you state whether that negro, Shields Green, was armed?
Answer. Yes, sir, like the rest, with a rifle and revolver, and a butcher knife in his sheath.

Question. Did he use his arms; did he fire?
Answer. Yes, sir, very rapidly and dilligently.[sic] I do not know with what effect.

Question. What was his deportment?
Answer. It was rather impudent in the morning. I saw him order some gentlemen to shut a window, with a rifle raised at them. He said, "Shut that window, damn you; shut it instantly." He did it in a very impudent manner. But when the attack came on, he had thrown off his hat and all his equipments, and was endeavoring to represent himself as one of the slaves.

Question. Will you state at what time you were delivered from their custody?
Answer. I suppose it was about half-past seven o'clock on Tuesday morning.

Question. Did Brown give any reasons for keeping you gentlemen confined there?
Answer. Yes. He alluded to the fact that through us he expected to gain his terms. He was very anxious towards the last. He was very solicitous to have some capitulation by which he could gain his terms, and was very obstinate in reference to his terms.

Question. Did you hear what his terms were?
Answer. Yes, sir, there were several. One was that he was to be permitted to leave the Ferry, and take all his prisoners to a point about half a mile or three-quarters of a mile above the Ferry, on the Maryland side, unmolested; and at this point he promised to release the prisoners.

Question. Was that refused?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Now will you state in what manner you were ultimately rescued?
Answer. By the marines.

Question. How did they do it?
Answer. They broke in the door, and entered with a charge. In the excitement of the moment there was a gun or two fired, I believe, in the act of breaking in the door.

Question. A gun or two fired, by whom?
Answer. By both parties.

Question. While you were confined there during Monday, was there much firing from the engine-house?
Answer. A good deal.

Question. Did you know of anybody being killed?
Answer. I did not know at that time. I knew the parties who were killed, but I did not know the fact at the time.

By Mr. Collamer:

Question. Was there firing upon the engine-house also?
Answer. There was firing upon it and from it.

By the Chairman:

Question. Did you see any of the citizens who were killed at the Ferry?
Answer. I think not.

Question. Were you acquainted with George W. Turner?
Answer. Intimately.

Question. Was he killed there?
Answer. He was killed there, I believe. He was killed in the street; not near us.

Question. Were you at his funeral?
Answer. He was merely entombed for a short time, and was buried recently at Charlestown. I was at that funeral.

Question. Will you state where he lived?
Answer. He lived at a place called Wheatland, about five miles from Charlestown, and about eight miles or eight miles and a half from my house.

Question. Were you on terms of intimate relations?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. What was his character as a citizen and a gentleman?
Answer. Very fine. None better. He was a graduate of West Point, and a distinguished officer of the army.

Question. Was he a man of fortune?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. A landholder and slaveholder?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Did you know Mr. Beckham, who was killed?
Answer. Yes, sir; for many years.

Question. What was his character as a citizen?
Answer. Very good indeed. He was an estimable man. He was mayor of the town, and had been for many years employed by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company as their agent.

Question. Did you know Boerley, who was killed?
Answer. I knew him slightly. I had known him some years merely to speak to him.

Question. Do you know what his business was?
Answer. I think he kept a small grocery store.

Question. Did you know the negro, Hayward, who was killed?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Did you know whether he was free or slave?
Answer. I understood he was free.

Question. What was his position in life?
Answer. He was the porter of the railroad station, and attended to the baggage. He was always remarkably civil.

Question. Was he esteemed and considered a man of respectability in his position?
Answer. Very much so. He was very trustworthy.

Question. Did you get back all your slaves?
Answer. Yes, sir; except the servant that was drowned at Hall's works. The others made their escape from those men who armed them in Maryland, and came down to the river, and were put across by a white woman in a boat, and were at home when I got there. They must have gone back on Tuesday night, I imagine. I did not go back until Wednesday evening. I remained at the Ferry with the governor two days.

Question. Did you find your negroes at home when you got back?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Did you get back your wagon and horses?
Answer. After a while. The wagon was used afterwards in bringing over arms to the Ferry. On Thursday one of my horses was running up in the mountain, and I went over and got him, and took the negro boy who showed me where he had hidden my gun that they had given him to arm himself when he escaped. This was a double-barreled shot gun.

Question. You lost none of your negroes?
Answer. No, sir.

Question. But a man whom you had hired from Dr. Fuller was drowned in the canal?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. Did it excite any spirit of insubordination amongst your negroes?
Answer. Not the slightest. If anything, they were much more tractable than before.

Question. Had you any reason to believe that there was any alarm amongst them when they were carried off; had you any knowledge of that?
Answer. No; I could not see what transpired when they were taken; it was out of my sight.

By Mr. Collamer:

Question. What became of your carriage and carriage horses?
Answer. They were left in the yard, and I went to Brown and told him that if those horses remained there, some time they would get off and break the carriage all to pieces. The clerk of the hotel happened to be there, and I asked him to have those horses taken to the stable. The carriage was a good deal shot to pieces. The carriage remained in the armory yard; the horses were put in the tavern stable, and, I believe, they were something like myself, they did not get anything to eat or to drink for a good while. I got nothing to eat for forty hours. I ate nothing from Sunday at dinner until Tuesday at 10 o'clock. Brown, on Monday morning, came and invited me to breakfast; he had some breakfast ordered in the yard from the tavern. I went to several of the prisoners and suggested the impropriety of touching it, "for," said I, "you do not know what may be in it; the coffee may be drugged for the purpose of saving a guard over you." I advised them not to take it.

By the Chairman:

Question. I understood you to say that they carried off a pistol and sword belonging to your family relics; did you recover them?
Answer. I recovered the sword; Brown carried that in his hand all day Monday, and when the attacking party came on he laid it on a fire engine, and after the rescue I got it.

Question. By whom did you say that sword had been given to General Washington?
Answer. By Frederick the Great.

Lewis W. Washington.

Chapter Ten: The Raid

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History