|A Reader’s Theatre: John Brown’s Raid
Narrators: Ranger choice – need Nine Narrators
Speaking: Annie Brown, John Brown, Dangerfield Newby, Daniel J. Young, A. J. Phelps,
Hayward Shepherd, Dr. John T. Starry, William Thompson, Mary Mauzy,
Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart, Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, Lieutenant Israel Green, Colonel Lewis Washington, Clifton W. Tayleure, Watson Brown, Thomas Rutherford, Robert T. Brown, Mary Brown, John Dangerfield
Narrator 1: Since a young boy, John Brown had despised slavery and vowed to one day destroy the evil institution. In his attempt to do this, he had traveled far. On October 16, 1859, his journey brought Brown and his 21 followers to Virginia. It was a drizzly Sunday night…
All: Snapping fingers
Narrator 1: …as John Brown and his men, now known as the Provisional Army of the United States, marched…
Narrator 1: …over the Potomac River bridge into the silent town of Harpers Ferry. For many weeks before the Raid, Brown and his men had hidden on the nearby Kennedy Farm in Maryland.
Narrator 1: 15 year-old Annie and 17 year-old Martha had come to the farm to assist their father. Annie Brown’s father told her to stay home…
Annie Brown: …so that I could keep the world from discovering that John Brown and his men were in the neighborhood.1
Narrator 2: Just before the Raid, Annie and Martha returned to their New York home. Brown’s men, with weapons hidden under their long overcoats, captured the bridge watchman and cut the telegraph wires. When they reached the Armory, the scared but determined watchman, Daniel Whelan, refused them entrance, so they snapped the chain…
Narrator 2: …and entered the Armory through the iron gate.
John Brown: If the citizens interfere with me, I must only burn the town and have blood.2
Narrator 2: The fight to free the enslaved people had begun.
John Brown’s band was an assortment of men from different backgrounds. One raider, 48 year-old Dangerfield Newby, a former slave and blacksmith, joined Brown when he could not buy freedom for his wife and children. Dangerfield’s wife sent him letters, begging him to help her. One letter read…
Dangerfield Newby: …Buy me and the baby…as soon as possible, for if you do not get me, somebody else will.3
Narrator 3: Brown’s men quickly seized the railroad tracks, Armory and Arsenal. They began to take hostages. One townsperson, Daniel Young, an Armory worker, told Brown’s men…
Daniel Young: I warn you…that before this day’s sun shall have set, you and your companions will be corpses.4
Narrator 3: At 1:25 a.m., the mail and passenger train came into town…
All: Train sounds
Narrator 3: …and was stopped. Hayward Shepherd, a free black man and the B&O Railroad baggage master, went up the tracks to investigate. When the raiders ordered Shepherd to halt, he turned and ran back, and a shot rang out.
Narrator 3: The train conductor later explained…
A. J. Phelps: I heard the sound of a gun, and Hayward,….. came running to me…5
Hayward Shepherd: Captain, I am shot! 6
Narrator 3: Ironically, the first man killed was not a slave-holder, or even a slave, but a free African-American, shot in the back.
Narrator 4: Dr. John Starry, who gave medical care to the mortally wounded Shepherd, began to spread the word and alert the town. Dr. Starry ordered…
Dr. John Starry: Ring the Lutheran Church bell to get the citizens together to see what sort of weapons we have! 7
All: Bong! Bong!
Narrator 4: Soon militia – local citizen soldiers – from Virginia and Maryland began to arrive and close in.
Narrators 4: Gunshots filled the air.
Narrator 4: Militia and Raiders exchanged fire. Around 7 a.m., Dangerfield Newby was the first of the raiders to die. His body was thrown to the hogs.
A short time later, Brown allowed the train to leave.
All: Train sounds
Narrator 5: At the next stop, the conductor immediately sent out word of the raid over the telegraph.
All: Tapping of the telegraph
Narrator 5: President James Buchanan, in response to the alarming news, ordered 90 Marines under the command of Lieutenant Israel Green to Harpers Ferry. Later that day, Mayor Fontaine Beckham was killed. Outraged by the death of their popular mayor, townspeople dragged out a captured raider, William Thompson, and executed him on the bridge. Thompson cried…
William Thompson: You may take my life, but 80,000 will rise up to avenge me, and carry my purpose of giving liberty to the slaves.8
Narrator 5: Townsperson Mary Mauzy described the scene as another Raider tried to escape…
Mary Mauzy: I saw one poor wretch rise above the water and someone strike him with a club and he sank and in a moment they dragged out a corpse.9
Narrator 6: By the evening the remaining raiders and a handful of hostages were cornered in the Armory’s fire engine house. Later that night the Marines under Lieutenant Green from Washington City arrived by train.
All: Train sounds
Narrator 6: Lieutenant-Colonel Robert E. Lee soon arrived, accompanied by Lieutenant Jeb Stuart, and took command. They marched into town…
Narrator 6: …entered the Armory yard, and replaced the disorganized militia.
All: Cheering, shouting
Narrator 6: At daybreak on the third day, October 18, 1859, Lieutenant Stuart described what happened…
Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart: I approached the door in the presence of perhaps 2,000 spectators, and told Brown that I had a communication for him from Colonel Lee.10
Narrator 6: Brown cracked open the door…
Narrator 6: …and Stuart offered Colonel Lee’s terms of surrender, which stated…
Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee: ….If you will peaceably surrender yourselves…you shall be kept in safety to await the orders of the President.11
Narrator 7: When Brown refused, Stuart waved his hat, signaling the Marines to move in.
All: Marching quickly
Narrator 7: Several Marines crashed a ladder against the engine house door and made a small hole; Lieutenant Green led the charge inside.
Lieutenant Israel Green: I instantly entered the opening made by the ladder; I should say that Brown had just fired his weapon…and so I passed in safety.12
Narrator 7: As the Marines entered, the raiders fired.
Narrator 7: One Marine, Private Luke Quinn, was killed instantly. One of the hostages, Colonel Lewis Washington, George Washington’s great grand-nephew, later said that at this moment John Brown…
Colonel Lewis Washington: …commanded his men with the utmost composure, encouraging them to be firm and to sell their lives as dearly as they could.13
Narrator 8: In about three minutes the fighting was over. Brown, though injured, was taken alive. Nineteen raiders had entered Harpers Ferry: 10 were killed, 5 were captured, and 4 escaped. Four townspeople and one Marine were killed. Several local enslaved men also died in connection with the event. All hostages came out alive.
A reporter said he approached the Engine House, made a pillow for one of the raiders, gave him a drink of water, and asked why he had come to Harpers Ferry. The raider, Watson Brown, replied that it was his duty. Reporter Clifton W. Tayleure responded…
Clifton W. Tayleure: Is it your idea of duty to shoot men down upon their own hearthstones? 14
Narrator 8: Watson Brown replied….
Watson Brown: I am dying; I cannot discuss the question. I did my duty as I saw it.15
Narrator 8: The next day, Brown and the other raiders were taken by train…
All: Train sounds
Narrator 9: …to nearby Charles Town. Brown’s trial lasted for five days. On the final day the Clerk of the Court asked the jury for the verdict. The Foreman of the Jury stood up and gave their answer…
Thomas Rutherford: Guilty.16
Narrator 9: The Clerk of the Court pronounced…
Robert T. Brown: Guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel and murder in the first degree. 17
Narrator 9: Brown was sentenced to death. He spent the final eve of his life with his wife Mary. She begged Virginia Governor Wise that she be allowed to take back home with her…
Mary Brown: …the mortal remains of my husband and his sons.18
Narrator 9: John Dangerfield, one of Brown’s hostages, refused to go to the execution because…
John Dangerfield: Brown had made me a prisoner but had spared my life; and when his sons were shot down beside him, almost any other man in the same situation would have taken life for life.19
Narrator 9: Brown’s hope of freedom for the enslaved ended when he was hanged on December 2, 1859. In his last message, John Brown wrote:
John Brown: I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.20
1. Oswald Garrison Villard, John Brown 1800-1859: A Biography Fifty Years After (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1910),
2. U.S. Congress, Senate Select Committee on the Harper’s Ferry Invasion, Testimony, 36th Cong., 1st sess., Rep. Com. 278, 15 June 1860, 22.
3. Governor Henry A. Wise, Appendix to Message 1: Documents Relative to the Harpers Ferry Invasion, 25 November 1859, 116.
4. Joseph Barry, The Strange Story of Harper’s Ferry: With Legends of the Surrounding County, (Martinsburg: Thompson Brothers, 1903), 64.
5. Life, Trial and Execution of Captain John Brown, (New York: Robert M. De Witt, 1859), 69.
7. U.S. Congress, Senate Select Committee on the Harper’s Ferry Invasion, Testimony, 36th Cong., 1st sess., Rep. Com. 278, 15 June 1860, 25.
8. Virginia Free Press, 27 October 1859.; Oswald Garrison Villard, John Brown 1800-1859: A Biography Fifty Years After (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1910), 442.
9. M.E. Mauzy to Eugenia Burton, 17 October 1859, Colonel James H. Burton Papers, Yale University, Sterling Memorial Library, Manuscripts and Archives, New Haven, Conn.; “Harpers Ferry National Historical Park - The Mauzy Letters (U.S. National Park Service),” http://www.nps.gov/hafe/historyculture/the-mauzy-letters.htm.
10. James Ewell Brown Stuart to his mother, January 1860; Henry Brainerd McClellan, The Life and Campaigns of Major-General J. E. B. Stuart: Commander of the Cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1885), 29.
11. U.S. Congress, Senate Select Committee on the Harper’s Ferry Invasion, Invasion at Harper’s Ferry - Appendix, 36th Cong., 1st sess., Rep. Com. 278, 15 June 1860, 44.
12. Israel Green, “The Capture of John Brown,” The North American Review 141, no. 349 (1885): 566.
13. Oswald Garrison Villard, John Brown 1800-1859: A Biography Fifty Years After (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1910), 453.
14. C. W. Tayleure to John Brown, Jr., 15 June 1879, copy in Maryland Historical Society Library, Baltimore; Oswald Garrison Villard, John Brown 1800-1859: A Biography Fifty Years After (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1910), 455.
16. Life, Trial and Execution of Captain John Brown, (New York: Robert M. De Witt, 1859), 93.
18. Mary D. Brown to the Hon. H.A. Wise, 21 November 1859, Dreer Collection, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.; Oswald Garrison Villard, John Brown 1800-1859: A Biography Fifty Years After (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1910), 549.
19. John E. P. Daingerfield, “John Brown at Harper’s Ferry,” The Century 30, no. 2 (June 1885): 267.
20. John Brown Papers, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago; Oswald Garrison Villard, John Brown 1800-1859: A Biography Fifty Years After (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1910), 554.