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Transcript of interview with Dennis Frye, June 24, 1992, for the film "West Virginia"

Source: WV History Film Project


Q: Dennis, tell me what it must be on a lot of people's minds as they're driving into Harpers Ferry, West Virginia? What happened here? ...


Q: As people are coming into town I'm sure they ask themselves the question that they can't answer. Harpers Ferry, what happened here?
JJFA 0074
DF: People are just enthralled by the story of Harpers Ferry and the histories, a complex national history that we have. Harpers Ferry fits into that role in many different niches. We're not a place simply of natural beauty; we're not a place simply where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers come together; we're not a place of the mountains of the Blue Ridge, but we're a place where people changed this nation's path, changed this nation's future, brought new life invigorated, new excitement, new energy, into the nation. So Harpers Ferry is exciting to people because much of what happened here in the past is still very relevant to them in today's society and their everyday lives.

Q: Let's talk about how it has impacted the national course of events in the United States. Tell me about what you consider to be the big impact, which is the establishment of the armory by Washington in 1795?
JJFA 0166
DF: George Washington established a United States armory at Harpers Ferry primarily because he was interested in balance. He wanted a federal installation in the north and one in the south. They were already producing weapons at Springfield, Massachusetts so the Congress and the President, President Washington determined that that would be a logical place to have a federal armory and arsenal. But the question of where to place one in the south was never a question for George Washington. Washington had surveyed in this area as a young man; he was familiar with the water power of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, and he wanted to utilize that power to build a defense complex here at Harpers Ferry.
JJFA 0227
Washington was also interested in the economic development of the Potomac Valley, which he saw as the heart of the new nation. And one way to do that would to infuse federal dollars along the Potomac river corridor, and so Washington selected Harpers Ferry not only because of water power, but also because of the economic potential, the economic growth that it would bring in the Potomac Valley.

Q: How would that become significant?
JJFA 0269
DF: Several things. First of all Washington, George Washington recommended the armory location at Harpers Ferry, but when the engineers came out and surveyed the area, they recommended against Harpers Ferry. They said that because of its location, because of its rather remoteness at that time, it was not a good place to place an industrial complex. They also noted that the water power was good at certain times of the year, but the Shenandoah and Potomac were also subject to drought, meaning that the machinery would not be able to run during much of the rest of the year. And they were also concerned about little room to build. Because the cliffs of the Maryland and Virginia shores came right to the river banks, they felt that there would not be enough room to place buildings here in order to manufacture the weapons.
JJFA 0341
So Washington, when he received this negative report from the engineers, threw his hands up in the air and said, 'What's this? I sent you out there to tell me that this is an ideal location for a federal armory. You send me a report that states we shouldn't place one here? Go back and do it again.' So they came back out to Harpers Ferry, they submitted another report which was quite favorable to the President, and consequently a United States armory and arsenal were established here.

Q: Then what happens, the first half of the 19th century slowly develops into sort of a new type of place, a place people would become very familiar later in the century in West Virginia as a sort of a company town, where the workers are working at the armory down in the valley, the superintendents on the hill. Tell me about that.
JJFA 0421
DF: For 60 years Harpers Ferry would manufacture weapons for the United States government. Rifles, muskets, small arms only, never any artillery produced here, but small arms. The men who worked at the armory and there were no women who worked in the armory at that time, but the men who were employed here initially began as craft-oriented, skilled laborers. They were recruited from Pennsylvania and from Maryland and from the Massachusetts area, skilled craftsmen who understood the mechanics and understood the craft involved in building every piece of a weapon.
JJFA 0482
Everything from producing the barrel to the manufacture of a lock and its parts, to the creative stocks -- all of that was brought to the Harpers Ferry Armory through the craft-orientation of the gunsmiths who worked in the mid-Atlantic states. These people produced some of the prettiest weapons that the United States has ever known, and certainly the prettiest military weapons the united States government had manufactured. But what they did as time went along, this craft orientation was very slowly replaced a more mechanized process -- a process where machines were manufacture of most of the parts, and the machines then were eventually make the weapons interchangeable. The problem with the craft orientation as these men manufactured guns here is that if a weapon broke on the field, you could not simply pick up one piece and replace the damaged piece because the two would not fit together.
JJFA 0573
With interchangeable parts, a broken piece could be replaced by another piece identical to it. And so the craftsmen was very slowly changed from the piece by piece work of hand, craft, to machine by machine manufacture, where every piece came out very similar. So consequently Harpers Ferry represented not the birth place of the industrial revolution, but certainly one of areas of the growing pains of the industrial revolution because as craftsmen were replaced by machines, people were put out of work. And so we had a serious problem with unemployment here as time went on. We had a serious problem with adjustment to the work place. People were very concerned about losing their jobs, losing their craft, and being replaced by the much more efficient, and much less costly machine.
JJFA 0662
Harpers Ferry really represented a microcosm of what was happening in the nation with regard to the industrial revolution. As craft was being replaced by machine, as individual artistic talent was being replaced by mass produced, efficient, effective systems of production, and so we began to see that transition across the nation, but it was very much epitomized by Harpers Ferry. United States government was pouring government dollars; they wanted the best, most effective system possible, and so if that meant replacement of the individual in favor of the machine, the individual was disposable.


Q: ... a little bit of understanding of what Harpers Ferry's role in industry and the shifting economy. Describe for me how the town evolved, how the social conditions evolved that worked with that industrial town?
JJFA 0763
DF: Harpers Ferry was very unique with regard to the mix of people who lived here. It's considered a southern town of course because it was south Potomac river, but the people who came here represent not only the variety of culture in this country, but also culture from other countries. For example, because of the infusion of government dollars into the Harpers Ferry armory the government was constantly transporting technology from the New England states into Harpers Ferry, and so you didn't have a simple group of people build up which were always thinking the same things and always coming to the same conclusion. We began to have different opinions being injected into the population.
JJFA 0834
A New Englander from Springfield, Massachusetts, who had a different upbringing, a different religious background, a different culture, coming to Harpers Ferry in a southern climate and a southern town, would begin to mix and give diversity to the population. So, we did have people coming from Massachusetts and actually living with and sharing with the people of the town, bringing new ideas and new thoughts. But even more importantly, we have quite an immigration into Harpers Ferry as a result of labor that was imported into this country to construct the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and this gave Harpers Ferry the feeling of a melting pot in miniature.
JJFA 0905
The Irish, who were brought here to help with the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, many of them would come and remain in the Harpers Ferry area. One of the earliest churches in this entire section of the Shenandoah Valley that was a Catholic church, was built at Harpers Ferry in 1830 as a result of this influx of Irish immigrants that were coming here during the 1830's with the construction of the C & O Canal; and with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, many German laborers were imported into the nation for the construction of that transportation line, and they also came through the Harpers Ferry area.
JJFA 0960
So you had an interesting mix of Irish and German laborers working in the same very close-knit environment, totally different cultures. Many of the Germans unable to speak English; many of the Irish of course with their accent, native Virginians, native Marylanders, people from Pennsylvania and New England who were brought here by the government to give an infusion of their understanding of new technologies to build weapons. Quite a complex group of people that gave Harpers Ferry great culture diversity. ...


Q: Dennis, tell me about that other group of imported laborers who came in to Harpers Ferry.
JJFA 1038
DF: Of course Virginia was the largest slave holding state in the United States in the period prior to the Civil War, and Harpers Ferry being in the state of Virginia, had both slaves and free blacks within the population. By the mid-century period, the census records show that we had a hundred and fifty slaves and a hundred and fifty blacks who were free blacks in the population of Harpers Ferry and Bolivar. That's all of a population total of about 3,000, so almost ten percent of the population was black, half free; the other half slave.
JJFA 1103
These people certainly had an impact on what happened at Harpers Ferry. Some of the slaves in fact actually worked in the armory. They would be hired out as people who could perform various tasks within the armory itself, hired not themselves; the government would not pay a slave and hire the slave to work in the armory, but they would hire from the owner of that slave. A hundred dollars, a hundred and fifty dollars perhaps per year, so that a slave could perform functions within the armory operation.

Q: Tell me that again in a paragraph. Give me that little bit about the government didn't participate directly in slavery but indirectly there was slaves ...
JJFA 1181
DF: Slaves who resided here in Harpers Ferry did work in the U.S. Armory. Now the government didn't actually hire the slave to work in the armory, but they would hire from the master of the slave, the slave owner who would paid a hundred to a hundred and fifty dollars and then that individual would perform tasks within the armory functions. Free blacks also worked for the government for pay. For example, there was a stone mason, an excellent stone mason, who was a free black who was hired by the government to construct some of the canal walls and some of the foundations for buildings that were constructed at the armory. But it's interesting in some of the correspondence that the government at times was not interested in paying him the wage that they would have paid a white person performing the same task. And so there would be correspondence between armory officials and the treasury department to determine just how much they should pay this individual for the work that he did.
JJFA 1282
But that's what differentiated a slave from a freed black. The slave of course would not receive direct income. It went to the master. The free black did receive that income, but the quotation of the word 'free' you must be very careful because a free black in Harpers Ferry did not have the same freedom that a white male would have living in the town. And so the only difference between a slave and a free black was that a free black did have some freedom to move about and did not answer directly to a master. But in terms of regulation, they were very, very similar in the application to both slave and free black.

Q: So we have Germans, we have Irish, we have New Englanders, slaves, free blacks. Describe for me the geography then of Harpers Ferry where you have workers living at the bottom of the hill ? ?
JJFA 1372
DF: Yes, Harpers Ferry with its diverse population, you found blacks living with whites. Free blacks living with whites. Slaves living with their white masters. You did not have segregated populations throughout the town as we think of segregated areas in many of today's cities. But you did have a cultural social layering in the town. For example, Harpers Ferry, the low lands which sit between the Potomac and the Shenandoah where the factory buildings were located along the river, in many of the areas that we refer to as the lower town, that's where the factory workers lived. They lived in housing that first of all was provided by the government and eventually over time that housing was available for purchase by these workers. But as you begin to move out of the factory area, you begin to move up the hill into what we refer to today as the 'upper town'.
JJFA 1462
That's where the leaders of the armory resided. That's where the entrepreneurs lived. That's where the armory superintendent resided, the armory paymaster, the highest paid officials, the decision makers for the armory, all lived well above the actual factory itself, above the factory workers. One reason for that was that they felt the climate was much healthier at the upper levels of town than down where the actual production occurred. They also felt they had better water, better air, they had more room and space. The people who lived up here generally had their own individual gardens and animals. They would have a place for their own carriage, for their own horses, stables. Whereas individuals living in the lower town might have a very small garden plot and maybe a little bit of grass, but very few people had any space to place their own horse or other animals.
JJFA 1550
So you do see that diversification and stratification, based on social hierarchy, who were the leaders of the armory and where were they? High above those who actually worked in the factory. You also find that same situation with the business community. The businessmen had their shops and businesses in the commercial district, in the lower town, but they didn't live down there most of them. Most of the businessmen also resided in the area where the armory superintendent and other representatives of the armory hierarchy lived. But there was an adjoining town called Bolivar, which also sat above the factory towns area, but Bolivar became primarily a working class town.
JJFA 1621
Many armorers who were able to make enough money to buy their own property and build their own home would leave the lower town area and go only one mile to the little community of Bolivar. And so over time, during the mid part of the 19th century, Bolivar began to flourish as an armory workers town. And it's interesting that even today, many of people in Harpers Ferry are seen as middle to upper class white collar people, whereas many of the folks who reside in Bolivar today are still seen as working class people in the community, so that stratification is very much in existence in Harpers Ferry and in Bolivar today.

Q: Your description of Harpers Ferry, I thought for a second you were describing a coal town in the 1920's or a company town?
JJFA 1704
DF: Harpers Ferry is the classic company town, but what makes Harpers Ferry different from other company towns is who owned and operated Harpers Ferry -- the United States government. United States government dollars were poured into the development of the factories; the employees who worked here received U.S. government salaries; the products that were produced here went to the United States government; the weapons were all property of the United States, so this is the classic, classic company town. But the hierarchy, the leader, the owner was the United States government; in fact, although population of Harpers Ferry in 1850 was approximately 3,000, the town was not incorporated because very few of the town's residents owned any of the property.
JJFA 1792
It all belonged to the United States government. And so, this town in my judgment if you consider is the oldest developed U.S. government town in this country, what will come to most people's mind is Washington, D.C., but Harpers Ferry also represents a U.S. government company town.

Q: Tell me about Washington's dream of the C & O and how it impacted Harpers Ferry?
JJFA 1849
DF: The heartland for the nation during the period of George Washington's presidency was the Potomac valley. Washington saw that as the gateway into the fertile Shenandoah valley and further west into the markets of the Ohio valley, but the Potomac river of course is one which has numerous falls and is not very navigable in many areas. And so during the mid 1780's Washington and a group of businessmen formed the Potomac Canal Company, which was a vision to open the Potomac river to navigation from the area western Maryland, western Virginia, all the way to the Chesapeake Bay. To do this, they wanted to develop a system of skirting canal. A skirting canal literally would go around rapids in the river. Where the river was navigable, they would utilize the slack water in the river, but wherever they ran into a falls, they would build a canal system and lock system that would go around that and then back into the river you would go again.
JJFA 1943
Here at Harpers Ferry with the falls of the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers, they did build a system of skirting canals. The Potomac Canal was later superseded by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The first spade full of earth was turned by President John Quincy Adams in 1828, just a little outside of Washington at Georgetown. And there they had great hope of utilizing the canal system to again to open up the riches of the Ohio valley, hence Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was the name designation. But it's ironic on the same day that John Quincy Adams turned that first spade of earth to begin the C&O Canal, only a few miles north of Georgetown at Baltimore ...


Q: Dennis, tell me about this coincidence in a single day . . .
JJFB 0025
DF: On the same day that John Quincy Adams ... On the same day that John Quincy Adams dug the first spade of earth for the C & O Canal at Georgetown, just outside of Washington with great hoopla, great fanfare and great vision to finally open up George Washington's Potomac valley, a few miles to the north in Baltimore, a group of entrepreneurs were conducting an experiment, and the experiment was the railroad. There they laid the cornerstone, not a rail, but a cornerstone on July 4, 1828, for the new Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, and the race for the riches of the Ohio Valley had begun.
JJFB 0093
By the time the two different, very different transportation systems arrived at Harpers Ferry in 1834, they had been fighting and bickering over the very close right away along the Potomac river, the railroad had had enough, and it decided to go to the Virginia legislature and petition to come across the river at Harpers Ferry and no longer have to worry about fighting the canal for right of way to the western riches. The Virginia legislature agreed; a bridge was constructed at Harpers Ferry, and the railroad continued west. And that's the end of the story because there on out, the B&O indeed raced west and by 1852 had reached Wheeling and the Ohio river.
JJFB 0166
On the other hand the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal never went any further west than Cumberland, Maryland and was almost bankrupt by the time it reached Cumberland in 1850. And so the railroad won the race; the experiment proved successful, but it shows the glory of entrepreneurship and the willingness to take risks because when they began on July 4, 1828 the canal was the proven means of transportation, and the railroad was a total experiment. How much it had changed in a couple of decades.

Q: Let's go to 1859; tell me why ?? ? with a crazy plan ? ? at that time.
JJFB 0244
DF: John Brown came to Harpers Ferry because of the United States Armory and Arsenal. There were 100,000 weapons stored in two arsenal buildings here at Harpers Ferry. Brown intended to utilize those weapons to bring about an end to slavery throughout the south, specifically he would take the weapons, train slaves, former slaves that he would liberate, and be able to utilize this new army to liberate additional slaves throughout the south for at that time there were four million men, women, and children in bondage in the southern states. Brown's plan also was to utilize the mountains of Virginia as his stronghold. Brown had trained himself in guerrilla warfare, so his plan would be hit and run tactics. Strike, allow escape, slaves to escape, and bring them into his fold.
JJFB 0339
So, Virginia really became the nerve center of Brown's plan to liberate hundreds of thousands of slaves, and Harpers Ferry would be the beginning of that liberation. Many think the old man was crazy, insane, a lunatic; after all, there was insanity in the Brown family, proven. Yet, his plan, his attack of Harpers Ferry armory was initially well conceived. Brown had an advanced scout here who had lived in the Harpers Ferry region for over a year before he had arrived. Information had been sent from this scout to Brown. The scout knew who the leading people of the town were. He knew when the work hours were for the armory. He knew when the business were open. He knew how many men worked in the armory, what their shifts were. He knew how many men guarded the armory. He knew the routes in and out of Harpers Ferry, and so with this advance man here which no one knew, no one knew about Brown nor about what his plans were in this region, Brown felt very comfortable in the plan which he devised.
JJFB 0451
So on the night of October 16, 1859, a rainy, foggy, miserable evening, Brown and eighteen men and his army, all of his men with commissions, advanced across the Potomac river bridge, where they met the one night watchman. Eighteen against one. Brown won without a hassle. His access in and out of town is secure. Moments later he comes to the armory gate, rattles the gate, and walking out from the armory fire engine comes one night watchman. Eighteen against one. Brown won again. All of the armory fell into Brown's possession, and the same watchman who guarded the armory also is responsible for the arsenal. So, Brown also had the keys to the arsenal buildings. That's not insane; that's brilliant.

Q: How did it start to unravel?
JJFB 0547
DF: It really unravel ... Brown's plan which had been working so well during its first few hours began to unravel about one o'clock in the morning when one of his men, one of the prisoners he had captured at the bridge coming into Harpers Ferry escaped, began to run out along the railroad along the river and as he was running to the west, they flagged down a passenger train, which Brown had expected to come into town. He knew that it would be arriving; he did not intend to stop it. Everything would be business as usual although nothing was usual at the moment. But unfortunately for Brown the train stopped. The night baggage porter, named Heyward Shepherd noticed that the train was late.
JJFB 0628
One report speaks about the engineer blowing his whistle after he had been warned by the bridge watchman that there were thugs and robbers in Harpers Ferry who were there to steal from the train people, from the passengers, not realizing this was a group of abolitionist who had come to strike a blow against slavery. The night watchman walked out on the railroad platform, excuse me it was the baggage master who walked out on the railroad platform. ... The baggage master walked out onto the railroad platform in search of the passenger train. As he was looking west, he was confronted by a few of Brown's men. 'Who are you? What are you doing here?' And instead of stopping to respond, he panicked and began to run. And as Heyward Shepherd began running along the platform, Brown's men told him to 'Halt!'
JJFB 0702
The adrenaline began to pump even harder, and Shepherd ran faster. Not wanting any other individual to escape, two of Brown's men raised their weapons and fired and Shepherd was hit in the groin and he fell, mortally wounded. That shot which rang out awoke a doctor who lived somewhere very near the armory. His name was Dr. John Starry. Starry, thinking there might have been a problem, shortly after midnight rises from his bed, puts his clothes on, walks out on to Shenandoah Street and down toward the armory. When he arrives there he's confronted by a few of Brown's men. 'Who are you? What are you doing here?' 'I'm a doctor.' ...


Q: Tell me about the doctor who heard the shots?
JJFB 0779
DF: So shortly after one o'clock in the morning when Brown's men fired their guns to stop Heyward Shepherd from running from them, one of those shots was heard by Dr. John Starry, who lived somewhere near the armory. We're not certain exactly where. Starry rose from his bed, put his clothes on, went outside. He was confronted by several of Brown's men as he arrived at the armory. 'Who are you?' 'What are you doing here?' 'I heard a shot is someone hurt?' They took him, Dr. Starry, to the wounded Heyward Shepherd. In the darkness, Starry looked him over and said, 'I can do nothing for this man; he's badly wounded, and I'll think he'll die.' And here Brown's men made their fatal error. Instead of holding Dr. Starry as a hostage, they allowed him to walk away.
JJFB 0852
And Starry whose ears had been wide open, his eyes viewing all that was around him, had taken in what was happening. Starry did not go back to bed. He went to the livery, grabbed a horse, and began to ride. And he rode to neighboring communities stating loudly that Harpers Ferry had been captured by abolitionists. And when he arrived at Charles Town, church bells began to ring and people came out. 'Where's the fire?' There was no fire, no building fire, but there was an abolition fire at Harpers Ferry, and the militia began to arrive. And the militia began to march upon Harpers Ferry, and in a very short time Brown was trapped and surrounded by local militia.
JJFB 0920
John Starry is a real hero for the people of Harpers Ferry and Jefferson County because he sounded the alarm, was the first to sound the alarm. We've all heard of Paul Revere and that shot and Paul Revere's ride to warn the people the British were coming. We've never heard of John Starry, and John Starry is the Paul Revere of the John Brown raid. ...


Q: So the militia starts converging on Harpers Ferry. Then what happened?
JJFB 0996
DF: Brown becomes trapped in the armory fire engine house which he had been utilizing as his central headquarters. Brown, although trapped, has one advantage and that advantage is hostages. Several prominent people in the community and in the region had been taken as hostage, including the great grand-nephew of George Washington, Colonel Lewis Washington and some of Lewis Washington's slaves and personal possessions. Brown wanted Washington because Washington represented a symbol of liberation, a symbol of freedom, a symbol of new revolution, and so huddled in the engine house are less than 20 people, the hostages and what few of Brown's men still remained to defend him.
JJFB 1066
On the morning of October 18th when the raid is barely 36 hours old, the United States Marines, who had arrived earlier that day under the command of a person who never was a marine, Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, are here to make the final approach. Lee, being the gentlemen Virginian offered his fellow militia commanders, also gentlemen Virginians, the opportunity to make the attack on the engine house. But they demurred to Colonel Lee and said: 'You're the professional soldiers. You are the people who are paid to do this, and it's dangerous. You may have the honor of making the attack. We have surrounded him; our job is complete.' So with that, Lee gives instructions to J. E. B. Stuart, who was along also not as a marine, but as the person who delivered the message to Colonel Lee from the War Department. And so that's how Lee and Stuart arrived here together with the United States Marines.
JJFB 1162
Stuart went up to the building to parlay with Brown. There was some discussion back and forth. Brown's point was: 'You let me and my men leave with the hostages, and we will promise them no harm. You will not follow, and we will release the hostages when we feel we are a safe distance from Harpers Ferry.' Of course Brown intended to go into Pennsylvania and leave behind now his failed raid. Stuart was instructed to demand surrender, and not to accept any other terms. So since the two men were not able to negotiate favorable terms, Stuart backed away from the fire engine house, raised his hat, swung it in the air; and that was the symbol for the marines to assault. The marines first of all grabbed a sledge hammer and tried to beat down the doors of the engine house, which Brown had barricaded with ropes and ladders and fire engines. They did not succeed.
JJFB 1245
But since it was a fire engine house, they discovered a nearby ladder and twelve of them got on that ladder and tried to use it as a battering ram. And the first time they struck the fire engine house doors nothing happened. But they backed up, re-grouped, and advanced again, and the second time where that sledge hammer had been used it had weakened the fabric of the door, and the second assault by the marines with the fire engineer ladder, they smashed through the door right were the sledge hammer had been doing its work. It produced a very small hole, only large enough for one man at a time to crawl through. And the first man through was a marine, Lieutenant Israel Green. Head first, the rest of his body following, coming into a smoke filled, cloudy, dark room, not knowing what awaited him.
JJFB 1326
And as he walked into the middle of the room someone pointed out to him Ossawatomie, which was Brown's nickname from Bloody Kansas. And Brown who apparently for the first time understood that the engine house had been penetrated by the marines, turned around; and with that Green lunged at Brown with his saber -- lunged a direct blow right toward the navel. He struck Brown and pushed him down, but the sword did not penetrate. In fact when Green raised his sword and looked at it, no longer was it a long saber, but it had bent over and now looked like a sickle. And Green looked at his sword and he looked at Brown and puzzled momentarily. What had happened? What had the sword struck? Well, we later found out that Brown was wearing a buckle, and the sword had struck that buckle with such force that instead of penetrating, it almost had broken it in half.
JJFB 1418
And this is where history becomes a matter of a quarter of an inch. A quarter of an inch high or low or a quarter of an inch to the right or to the left away from that buckle, that sword would have penetrated Brown and he would have died on that very cold brick floor. But instead it was deflected and Brown would survive. He would be badly wounded by saber blows with the hilt of the sword by Green and he would fall unconscious. In the meantime additional marines would come into the building. In a period of three minutes it was over. From the time that first penetration occurred with the ladder to the time when all the hostages were safe, and all the raiders either captured or killed, three minutes would go by. It's a very important three minutes in American history.
JJFB 1499
They would bring Brown out of the engine house eventually, badly wounded. And there was a hush silence by the people, a throng, the crowd which had gathered to watch the climax of the raid, because many people when they saw John Brown dragged out of that building, knew him, but they didn't know him as John Brown. They didn't know him as the abolitionist fighter. He didn't know him as the ardent anti-slavery crusader. They didn't know him as Ossawatomie of Bloody Kansas, but they knew him as Isaac Smith, a man who had recently moved into the area with his sons to go prospecting in the mountains, a man who had walked the streets of Harpers Ferry, bought newspapers and groceries in the town, had come up and greeted people with his hand.
JJFB 1582
They knew him. This was the man who had perpetrated this raid, had perpetrated this crime against Virginia, and what the meaning of Brown was trust. No longer could the people of Harpers Ferry trust any stranger. Any person who walked into their midst from henceforth was another John Brown who came to take their slaves.

Q: ? ? I want you to tell me ? ? 17th of October, and Brown ? ? scenes in waiting. Execution of Brown ??


Q: John Brown ? ?
DF: Yes, John Brown is taken to Charles Town, the county seat of Jefferson County, where he is placed on trial for treason, murder and inciting slave rebellion.

JJFB 1718
DF: Brown was taken to Charles Town, the county seat of Jefferson County, where he was tried for murder, treason, and inciting slave rebellion. The trial was fast, but Brown declared it fair. On November 2, 1859, shortly after, -- he had been captured on October 18, the judge pronounced that he was guilty and that he would be executed by hanging in Charles Town one month later on December 2. The reaction throughout the north and the south was mixed. The southern reaction was justice. Brown after all had come to steal private property. For the southerner, the slave was property; the slave was guaranteed property by the Constitution of the United States, and so no one, no individual had the right to steal another person's property.
JJFB 1824
And that's exactly what Brown intended to do when he came to free the slaves was steal from southerners. That's the law. But from a moral perspective, which is what many of the abolitionist brethren proclaimed, Brown was right. Slavery is a sin against humanity, that to own another person is a sin against your fellow man, and so for Brown's raid, although a failure, to occur was a benefit to the northern abolitionists. It gave them something. It have them hope; it gave them an opportunity to further declare the evils of slavery from the moral perspective.
JJFB 1913
So, Brown really represents a clash between religious belief because Brown had convinced himself that he was an instrument of God, that he had been sent here by Jehovah with the bible as his creed, to declare war against slavery versus the law of man. The law of God from Brown's perspective versus the law of man which guaranteed individual property rights and hence guaranteed the institution of slavery and its existence in the southern states.


Q: To sum up, tell me in your mind what impact John Brown was on the nation in the middle of the 19th century?


Q: ... Tell me what impact John Brown had on the nation in the middle of the 19th century?
JJFC 0072
DF: John Brown's raid can best be summarized with one word: emotion, an outpouring of emotion across the land. Emotion of how dare this individual and this group of men strike against our personal property? How dare they come and try to steal our slaves from us versus the emotion of: Hurrah for Brown! This is fabulous. This is the stroke of lightening we've been waiting for to crash into the southern land and shake them to their hearts. The northern perspective was Brown, hero -- Brown, martyr -- Brown, the man of God who had been called by God to rid the nation of the curse of slavery. The southern perspective was that Brown was the very Devil himself, who had been placed amidst the people of the south. ...


Q: Compare the northern and the southern perspectives on what happened to John Brown?
JJFC 0176
DF: The northern perspective was that Brown was a bolt of lightening into the heart of the southern land, that he struck a blow for freedom, that he shook the south to its very heart. From a northerner's point of view, the northern abolitionist, Brown was a hero. He was a martyr; he was a man of God, who had been called by God to rid this nation of the curse of slavery. From the southern perspective, however, Brown was evil incarnate, Brown was the Devil himself. Brown was an individual who had come to bring terror and horror to the people of the south. And so Brown I feel can best be summarized by the emotion that he unleashed, north and south. John Brown carved a canyon, a grand canyon between the north and the south.
JJFC 0257
And we would not be able to again span the canyon that Brown placed between the two nations. In addition, Brown can best be understood from a perspective of heated debate. No longer could you stand on top of the fence and not topple either for slavery or against slavery. Brown took away the opportunity for compromise. Brown as one author once wrote: 'probably can be summarized as the individual who took away reason, took away any of the opportunity to simply discuss it without getting fervently involved. Peace rules the day when reason rules the mind.' And Brown took away that reason and soon our nation would have no peace. John Brown still lives very much of the heart of this nation today, and I think Stephen Vincent Benet best summarized Brown in his famous epic poem, "John Brown's Body," when he wrote: "You can weigh John Brown's body well enough but how and in what way do you weigh John Brown?"

Q: Tell me about the next part of the story which is the Civil War breaks out and early in that war Union forces ? ? Harpers Ferry and ? ?
JJFC 0408
DF: The first property destruction to occur in the state of Virginia at the outbreak of the Civil War, less than twenty-four hours after Virginia succeeded from the union, occurred at Harpers Ferry. United States troops, somewhere between 40 and 50 United States regulars, were informed that the Virginia militia were advancing against the town, 3,000 Virginia militia. In reality there were only three hundred, but the point was that Virginia troops were coming to Harpers Ferry to seize the armory and arsenal. So the lieutenant in charge of this several hundred thousand dollar complex, a lieutenant, that responsibility on his shoulders, determined that since he could not defend the armory and arsenal, he would have to destroy it. And so about ten p.m. on the night of April 18, 1861, the torches were lit, the fires were set, and the explosions occurred, and the arsenals blew up.
JJFC 0488
Fifteen thousand stand of weapons completely destroyed, consumed by the flames. People shaken out of their beds as they looked around that night and they saw the flames towering up against Maryland and the Loudoun Heights. What has happened? What is happening to our land? Many of those same people after they recovered from their initial shock put their clothes on, ran out to the armory to try to extinguish the fire and most cases they succeeded. They weren't interested in union and confederacy; they weren't interested in north and south; they were interested in saving their jobs. And every time they put out the flame, they saved their own job or the job of a friend.
JJFC 0548
So the armory was salvaged, and all the machinery that manufactured the weapons was saved from the flames, but the Virginia militia had arrived and soon to arrive in command of the Virginia militia would be Thomas Jonathan Jackson, Colonel Jackson, Ol' Blue Light they called him, a professor of the Virginia Military Institute, quite an eccentric man, a native of western Virginia, Clarksburg. Many don't realize it, but Jackson's first command of the Civil War would be at Harpers Ferry, and it was at Harpers Ferry where he would take the troops of a stonewall that would stand later at Manassas and Jackson would drill and drill and discipline those troops and from my perspective the stonewall that stood at Manassas was molded by Stonewall Jackson at Harpers Ferry in the first two months of the war in April and May of 1861.
JJFC 0636
In mid-June, 1861, confederate authorities determined that Harpers Ferry was not worth holding, that they should not remain in position on the border between north and south, and so Harpers Ferry was abandoned. The railroad bridge was blown up, the armory buildings were destroyed, and Harpers Ferry would soon become a ghost town, isolated and very, very vulnerable to forces from both union and confederacy. The only thing that separated Harpers Ferry from north and south was nine hundred feet of the Potomac river. Potomac river became the Rio Grande river, it became the border between Canada and the United States because now we had two warring nations under two separate flags under two separate presidents and Harpers Ferry was right on the border between these two warring countries.
JJFC 0716
And so the Potomac, in effect, became an international boundary between the union and the confederacy. And unfortunately for Harpers Ferry, it sat right on the edge of that boundary.

Q: What were Jackson's feelings about destroying both Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg?
JJFC 0748
DF: Jackson certainly was not comfortable with destroying property in Virginia, but Jackson was a warrior. He was the consummate commander. He understood that war brought destruction. He understood that war would bring death and misery. So for Jackson to destroy when he would leave areas, destroy the railroad round house at Martinsburg, to destroy trains that he had captured on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, to assist with the destruction of the armory at Harpers Ferry, for Thomas J. Jackson those were simply the results of war, a war that he did not want, a war that many other Virginians did not desire, but now that he had thrown his hat in with the confederacy, he would execute the edicts of war. And if that war brought death, misery and destruction, so be it.

Q: A twist of fate that's so common in war, September 1862 that it rolls ? ?
JJFC 0851
DF: Little did Thomas Jackson realize in the spring of 1861 that he would return in September 1862 as the most famous man in America. The most famous man not only in the south, but also in the north; and for that matter, he may have been the most famous man known throughout the world in the fall of 1862 because of his famous exploits during that summer of 1862 in the Shenandoah Valley. ... During that spring of 1862 in ...
JJFC 0914
Little did Thomas J. Jackson realize that when he would return to Harpers Ferry in September of 1862, many would consider him the most famous man in America, not only in the north but also in the south of course. But throughout much of the world, Jackson was acclaimed as a brilliant military man because of his exploits in the Shenandoah valley in the spring of 1862. So we have the confederacy's most famous commander directed to capture Harpers Ferry in the fall of 1862 by army northern Virginia commander, Robert E. Lee, who of course was Stonewall's superior. What would happen is when the confederates invaded Maryland in September, the first week of September of '62, they expected the 14,000 union soldiers who occupied Harpers Ferry and Martinsburg to be withdrawn to the north.
JJFC 0998
General Lee depended on the Harpers Ferry-Martinsburg corridor into the Shenandoah valley as his avenue of supply, transportation, communication, and possible retreat. But with all of these thousands of blue coats holding the lower end of the valley ...


Q: Tell me about Stonewall's season of Harpers Ferry ? ?
JJFC 1034
DF: On the afternoon of September 13th, three converging confederate columns, totaling 23,000 men, almost half of Robert E. Lee's entire army that had come into Maryland, was advancing on the three mountains surrounding Harpers Ferry, Maryland Heights, Loudoun Heights, and Schoolhouse Ridge (Bolivar Heights). What would happen is that the confederates would take the mountains after some resistance on Maryland Heights, but once the confederates had the high ground, it was only a matter of time the Federals would be forced to surrender. Jackson's men would drag artillery to the Heights. They would begin a bombardment, ferocious bombardment, on September 14th; and although psychologically weakened and damaged and very, very concerned about their well being, the Federals didn't surrender on the 14th, and so Jackson during the night of the 15th changed some of his troop positions.
JJFC 1120
He moved infantry behind the left flank of the union lines; he brought artillery closer to bear at point blank range, and as the fog began to rise on Monday morning, September the 15th, the changes were immense for the federal commander. And as the lanyards were pulled on the federal artillery and the bombardment began, in a very short period of time the union commander, Dixon Miles, decided 'I've had enough. We cannot sustain any more casualties or can we possibly survive this type of bombardment and possible infantry assault. So Miles made the decision to raise the white flag, and mid morning on September 15th, the union garrison surrendered.
JJFC 1183
What did Jackson accomplish? What had he done at Harpers Ferry? Extraordinary, extraordinary. Seventy three pieces of artillery fell into confederate hands. You can take all the battles of the army in northern Virginia, put them together here in the eastern theater, and the number of guns that they captured and they kept on battlefields from '62 through '65 doesn't equal 73 pieces of artillery. Jackson, 73 in one fell sweep. Two hundred wagons, confederate quarter masters were smiling from ear to ear, new transport for the army. Twelve thousand small arms, weapons. That's enough fire power to equip an entire army corps, but most important is that Stonewall Jackson captured 12,500 United States soldiers, and that is the largest capitulation of United States Forces during the Civil War. And in fact, up until the fall of Bataan in WWII, Harpers Ferry rated as the number one surrender of United States troops in American History.
JJFC 1303
So Jackson was brilliant here. It is one of the greatest confederate victories; and in fact if you take a look at Stonewall Jackson and all of his individual battles, he commanded many troops here. He commanded in a difficult situation. He was under a tight time constraint. The enemy was advancing against his rear. General Lee was in great trouble in the north near South Mountain in Sharpsburg Jackson had to perform; he did, and I consider it Stonewall Jackson's most brilliant victory of the war when you consider his results.

Q: The war then drifts out of western Virginia and instead of West Virginia, only to come back in a different form in 1864. Phil Sheridan leads his troops on a sweep through the valley in Virginia and ex-slaves come and start pouring as refugees into Harpers Ferry. Describe that.
JJFC 1395
DF: Harpers Ferry became General Sheridan's base of operations during his 1864 valley campaign conducted in the fall of 1864, and as Sheridan's army of 40,000 men moved up and down the valley, defeating the confederate forces time and again, many hundreds of refugees would come to seek refuge behind union lines at Harpers Ferry. Many of those refugees were former slaves, and it became problem for the government here because with these people, these former slaves arriving at Harpers Ferry, they needed shelter. They needed food; they needed clothing. Most of them had no education, and so they began to try to serve the needs of what at that time was known as the 'contraband of war' here behind union lines. When the war would end, many of these former slaves remained in this area and continued to live in abandoned buildings in Harpers Ferry.
JJFC 1492
The Freedman's Bureau made this one of its central distribution points, central headquarters for former slaves so that they could help keep them fed and provide them with shelter and give them places to live, and they also began to educate the former slaves. And to that effect, missionaries, people from New England, began to come into the south to serve as teachers, as instructors, as people who would provide education to former slaves, believing that education was the route to success. Eventually at Harpers Ferry, that would produce an educational institution known as Storer College, named after John Storer who was a philanthropist from Maine, who donated $10,000 to the Free Will Baptists who had established a mission here at Harpers Ferry for the education of former slaves.
JJFC 1574
They were very fortunate in that the United States government decided that it would not rebuild the armory, so there were many vacant government buildings here; and when the Freedman's Bureau was petitioned by the Free Will Baptists to obtain these buildings as the nucleus for Storer College, the infrastructure was provided. So the school began in 1867 formally, and it continued to function as a school and as an institution primarily for former slaves in its early years, but it lasted all the way up until 1954. One of the unique things about Storer College is that Storer required his money be used only for an integrated school. Storer demanded that his school be open to both male and female, both white and black. So it's an example of one of the earliest integrated schools in West Virginia.

Q: Before we skip over the refugee situation, I've read accounts of children, infant mortality in Harpers Ferry refugee camps and women working as domestics and the men being forced to go out and ?? to work as farming hands and children being abandoned. They were living in tents, ? ?
DF: Are you talking about 1864 or '65.

Q: '65.
JJFC 1703
DF: ....Conditions for the former slaves, despite the efforts of the army and despite the efforts of the Freedman's Bureau were not very good. Disease was rampant. Tuberculosis was a problem. Many of the women had difficulties finding an adequate shelter for their families. Many of the men were not able to get enough income to make a suitable living and were forced to go out and try to find work away from their families. So we have the division of families, we have difficulty providing food and shelter, the difficulty of education. Education is meaningless if you're hungry, if you have no place to live; and so Harpers Ferry truly was a refugee camp where the conditions were not very good.

Q: We've kind of come full circle to the last question: What excites you or keeps you ? so passionate about conveying the history of this place, this one small place? ?
JJFC 1797
DF: I am so passionate about Harpers Ferry and the history of this area because I know of very few places where so much occurred that changed the nation's history, that changed the path that we were following in one small community. Harpers Ferry represents the microcosm of America during the nineteenth century. It's a place where you can come and learn about the people of the past without leaving that place to go to many disparate areas to get little pieces of the story. Many of those pieces all come together at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah River.
JJFC 1856
Many of those pieces, the story of the industrial revolution, the story of slavery, the story of John Brown, the story of the Civil War, the story to rid this nation of slavery, the story of education for former slaves, the story of the struggle for freedom, all of that happened at Harpers Ferry. And it really represents America in miniature. It truly represents 19th century America as it grew, as it struggled, as it experienced pain and hardship, as it flourished. That's Harpers Ferry.

JJFC 1944