Sunday, April 8, 2012

Harpers Ferry and The Year of Meteors

Your humble blogger after hiking up the trail at Maryland Heights to look out over the town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  I am sitting in Maryland, the hills to the left in the picture are in Virginia.  The Shenandoah River is on the left and the Potomac River flows in from the right.  George Washington helped survey this area and Thomas Jefferson, many years before the famous raid by John Brown stood on the hill in the back of the church in the above picture (center, right, mid-frame) and said the view is "perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature." 
There aren't many places in America where so many historical figures or events converge, but Harpers Ferry happens to be one of them.  Its place in United States history cannot be understated.   In an effort to cause a slave rebellion and call to arms to all and provide them with weapons, John Brown attacked the armory at Harpers Ferry,
The obolisk marker sits on the original site of the stand off between John Brown and the militia commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee (yes, that Robert E. Lee).  His position was over-run by U.S. Marines after a three day siege of the "fort", which was actually an old fire house.  Keep in mind this was before the start of the Civil War and Harpers Ferry was then still part of Virginia, a slavery state.

The picture below shows John Brown's fort which was moved from the original site, about 100 yards away,  in the early 20th century.   

After being captured, Brown and several of his men were tried in Charles Town (then Virginia), about 8 miles from the site of the raid.  On December 2, 1859, Brown was transported to the site below, seated on his coffin, his hands bound.  Among those who were among the 2000 spectators were Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and John Wilkes Booth, who would later assassinate President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C.  Frederick Douglass, who Brown had conferred with about the raid prior, later declared him a martyr whose "zeal in the cause of my race was greater than mine." 

In a poem about the execution of John Brown - which he was a witness to - Walt Whitman wrote these haunting words:  
"I was at hand, silent I stood with teeth shut close, I watch'd, I stood very near you old man when cool and indifferent, but trembling with age and your unheal'd wounds you mounted the scaffold."  
-Year of Meterors 

As I drove up to this site today I noticed a sign on the property stating "Historic Land For Sale."  


  1. The property is in a beautiful neighborhood, likely with properties passed down generations. Were it not for the signs and markers you would never suspect this famous execution took place here. If one could go back in time to witness an event.....