Monday, November 2, 2009

John Brown's Fort

This year marks the 150 anniversary of abolitionist John Brown's raid on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, W Va. To commemorate the 2009 Sesquicentennial Anniversary, many events are planned this year. There is a small cast iron miniature replica of John Brown’s Fort. They were made around 1920 and stand 2 inches tall. Readers tell me this is a very rare miniature building. On October 16, 1859, John Brown and several followers seized the United States Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. The actions of Brown's men brought national attention to the emotional divisions concerning slavery. In 1856, Brown and his sons murdered five men who supported slavery, although none actually owned slaves. Brown and his sons escaped. They spent the next three years collecting money from wealthy abolitionists in order to establish a colony for runaway slaves. To accomplish this, Brown needed weapons and decided to capture the national arsenal at Harpers Ferry. In the summer of 1859, John Brown, using the pseudonym Isaac Smith, took up residence near Harpers Ferry at a farm in Maryland. He trained a group of twenty-two men, including his sons Oliver, Owen, and Watson, in military maneuvers. On the night of Sunday, October 16, Brown and all but three of the men marched into Harpers Ferry, capturing several watchmen. The first victim of the raid was an African-American railroad baggage handler named Hayward Shepherd, who was shot and killed after confronting the raiders. During the night, Brown captured several other prisoners, including Lewis Washington, the great-grand-nephew of George Washington. There were two keys to the success of the raid. First, the men needed to capture the weapons and escape before word reached Washington, D. C. The raiders cut the telegraph lines but allowed a Baltimore and Ohio train to pass through Harpers Ferry after detaining it for five hours. When the train reached Baltimore the next day at noon, the conductor contacted authorities in Washington. Second, Brown expected local slaves to rise up against their owners and join the raid. Not only did this fail to happen, but townspeople began shooting at the raiders. Local militia companies surrounded the armory, cutting off Brown's escape routes. When Brown realized he had no way to escape, he selected nine prisoners and moved them to the armory's small fire engine house, which later became known as John Brown's Fort. Authorities in Washington ordered Colonel Robert E. Lee to Harpers Ferry with a force of Marines to capture the raders. Brown was taken to the Jefferson County seat of Charles Town for trial. A jury found him guilty of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia. Sentenced to death, Brown was hanged on December 2. Before walking to the scaffold, he noted the inevitability of a national civil war: "I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood." Northern abolitionists immediately used the executions as an example of the government's support of slavery. John Brown became their martyr, a hero murdered for his belief that slavery should be abolished. In reality, Brown and his men were prosecuted and executed for taking over a government facility. Still, as time went on, Brown's name became a symbol of pro-Union, anti-slavery beliefs. After the Civil War, a school was established at Harpers Ferry for African Americans. The leaders of Storer College always emphasized the courage and beliefs of John Brown for inspiration. In 1881, African-American leader Frederick Douglass delivered a classic speech at the school honoring Brown. The fort was built in 1848 as the Armory’s fire engine and guard house. John Brown’s Fort, as the structure became known, was the only Armory building to escape destruction during the Civil War. In 1892, the fort was been sent to the Chicago World's Fair and then brought back to a farm near Harpers Ferry. In 1895, John Brown's Fort returned and was rebuilt on the Murphy Farm about three miles outside of town on a bluff overlooking the Shenandoah River. In 1903, Storer College began their own fundraising drive to acquire the structure. In 1909, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of John Brown's Raid, the building was purchased and moved to the Storer College campus on Camp Hill in Harpers Ferry. Acquired by the National Park Service in 1960, the building was moved back to the Lower Town in 1968. Because the fort's original site was now covered with a railroad embankment, the building now sits about 150 feet east of its original location. Today, the restored fort is in the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. WOW, that’s a lot of moving around for any structure!


Anonymous said...

I might add this piece if very hard to come by. Even in the Washington DC area.

Anonymous said...

I have seen this piece maybe three times for sale in fifteen years of collecting.

Debbie said...

I have one of these, just bought it today. Can anyone tell me how much it is worth?

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