Skip Navigation

Senate Select Committee Report on the Harper's Ferry Invasion
Testimony of Daniel Whelan

Pp. 21-23

January 6, 1860.

Daniel Whelan sworn and examined.

By the Chairman:

Question. State your age and where you live?
Answer. I live at Harper's Ferry; I am about thirty-nine years of age.

Question. What was your business at the Ferry at the time of the invasion by John Brown?
Answer. I was a watchman at the armory gate on Sunday night.

Question. In whose service were you?
Answer. In the United States service.

Question. State when you first saw or heard or knew anything of Brown's party; what occurred when they came there?
Answer. The first time I ever saw them I heard the noise of their wagon coming down the street from the depot, and then I advanced about three yards out from the watch-house door, and observed the wagon standing facing the armory gate.

Question. Was the gate locked?
Answer. Yes sir; I went and I advanced a little closer; I thought it was Mr. Mason, the head watchman; there were two men at the padlock striving to open it; I told them to "hold on;" I went to the gate, and when I observed it was not Mr. Mason, I drew aside at the gate and looked until I observed them, and saw they were strangers; when they all came into the yard I think there was about twenty-five men; they asked me to open the gate; I told them I could not open the gate by any means; "Open the gate," said they; I said "I could not if I was stuck," and one of them jumped up on the pier of the gate over my head, and another fellow ran and put his hand on me and caught me by the coat and held me; I was inside and they were outside, and the fellow standing over my head upon the pier, and then when I would not open the gate for them, five or six ran in from the wagon, clapped their guns against my breast, and told me I should deliver up the key; I told them I could not; and another fellow made answer and said they had not time now to be waiting for a key, but to go to the wagon and bring out the crowbar and large hammer, and they would soon get in; they went to the little wagon and brought a large crowbar out of it; there is a large chain around the two sides of the wagon-gate going in; they twisted the crowbar in the chain and they opened it, and in they ran and got in the wagon; one fellow took me; they all gathered about me and looked in my face; I was nearly scared to death with so many guns about me; I did not know the minute or the hour I should drop; they told me to be very quiet and still and make no noise or else they would put me to eternity; one of them ordered the wagon to be marched in, and all were in the wagon except four who had me; they took the wagon down the yard and passed the horses' heads to the gate where Colonel Barbour's office is; after that, the head man of them, Brown, ordered all the men to dispatch out of the yard, but he left a man at each side of the big gate along with himself; he himself still had me and Bill Williams, the watchman whom he brought down off the Potomac bridge; those other two men were at the gate, and then he said "I came here from Kansas, and this is a slave State; I want to free all the negroes in this State; I have possession now of the United States armory, and if the citizens interfere with me, I must only burn the town and have blood."

Question. Were you the only watchman in the armory yard?
Answer. There was another above in the upper end, but they did not go near him until about 1 o'clock.

Question. How far was the upper end from the gate?
Answer. About 300 yards, I guess.

Question. You saw nothing of him until about 1 o'clock in the morning?
Answer. Not until the train came down, and he was coming down to see where I was, and Brown met him and marched him into the watch-house.

Question. What time in the night was it when Brown's party appeared there at the gate?
Answer. To the best of my knowledge it was a quarter before eleven o'clock on Sunday night, the 16th of October.

Question. What did they do with you after they took you?
Answer. They kept me in the yard and began to question me about all the officers. I told them as well as I could, and the leader said he would have all those gentlemen in the morning; and with that, before he took me into the watch-house, they had old Mr. Williams down from the rifle-works. He was the other watchman up at the rifle-works. They also brought in two or three young fellows off the street. The men scattered out of the armory yard and brought them in. I had a sword in my hand, and when they all came to view me Cook took that out of my hand. I knew Cook well. There were two old muskets in the watch-house, and they took them and put them into the wagon, and I could get no person to tell me anything about them since.

Question. There were no watchmen in the armory yard except you at the gate, and one man at the far end, about 300 yards off?
Answer. That was all.

Question. Was the gate kept locked always at night?
Answer. Always. I had the key on Monday when Mr. Daingerfield was marched out, and he asked who was the watchman last night, I said "I was the watchman." He said, "why don't you open this gate?" "I could not open it," said I. "Have you the key?" "Yes," said I, "I have the key." "Well," said Daingerfield, on Monday, about 8 or 9 o'clock, when he was taken prisoner, "you had better open the gate." I was going to open the little gate by the word of Mr. Daingerfield, and Mr. Brown struck up, took the two keys, and said he was the man who could open it, and kept the keys. They were picking them up, and brought in Mr. Allstadt and Mr. Washington there, and their negroes, their wagons and horses.

Question. Did they keep you confined in the watch-house, or leave you go about the yard?
Answer. They kept me until I was taken out of it by the force of Martinsburg or the Charlestown company, I do not know which.

Question. What time of day was that?
Answer. About three o'clock on Monday

Daniel [his X mark] Whelan.
D.F. Murphy.

Chapter Ten: The Raid

His Soul Goes Marching On

West Virginia Archives and History