Harpers Ferry, WV
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
• Matthew¹ 3:11-12
In order for any real change to occur in this world, it is very useful for there to be a precursor who first exclaims these crazy ideas and therefore is thought by some to be a crazy man. A crazy man that is, until a man (or God) comes along and propagates these same ideas on a country that has now been made fertile . . . by his very own John the Baptist.
To the South that believed that the Bible had ordained and codified it, and to the North who hoped that if everyone would keep their mouths shut (and their eyes closed) maybe it would just (very) slowly fade away: Nobody wanted to talk about slavery. In fact, the North went so far as to enact a gag rule in 1836 that forbade the raising, consideration, or discussion of slavery in the House of Representatives.
While there were many abolitionists, citizens, and politicians who talked about ending slavery, there was one man who was determined to do something. In this case, the aptly named John Brown played the role of John the Baptist - "These men are all talk. What we need is action – action!" If like his namesake he had to die for his beliefs then so be it.
John Brown was born on May 09, 1800, in Connecticut, to a father who hated slavery, educated by a man who was an abolitionist, and became one himself when he witnessed a man being beaten with an iron shovel for the sin of being a slave. For the next 55 years, Brown moved from state to state seething about slavery and its injustice.
He came to national attention during the Bleeding Kansas crisis of the late 1850s, a state-level civil war over whether Kansas would enter the Union as a slave state or a free state. During the ensuing struggle, Brown's son was killed, and Brown was personally responsible for the death of numerous pro-slavery supporters.
This all led Brown to devise a plan to ignite a massive slave uprising throughout the South.
The plan, initiated on Oct 16, 1859, was for Brown and 19 of his men (including two sons) to seize rifles at the Federal Armory in Harpers Ferry. Then wait for news of the raid to spread throughout the surrounding region, and for slaves to rally to him at Harpers Ferry. He would then arm them and then the revolution would spread throughout the South.
After the raid, Brown, therefore waited at Harpers Ferry for slaves to come to him. As there was no way for slaves to find out about the raid, few if any made their way to Harpers Ferry, and Brown was quickly surrounded by armed citizens, local militia, and eventually the U.S. Marines. In the end, he took shelter in the armory (fire) engine house with ten hostages, one of whom was Colonel L. W. Washington, a great-grandnephew of President George Washington.
Early on Oct 18, 1859, U.S. Marines, under the command of Col Robert E. Lee (with the help of Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart) stormed the engine house. Two of the raiders were killed, and the rest were taken prisoner. The hostages were freed and the assault was over in three minutes.
Brown was subsequently tried in Virginia for five murders that were conducted during the raid, inciting a slave insurrection, and treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was found guilty of all three counts on November 02, 1859, and hung on December 02, 1859.
Interior of the engine house - Feb 19, 2022 and Oct 18, 1859
When I visited the Harpers Ferry on February 19, 2022 I noticed:
The engine house where Brown and his followers made their last stand is very small. The above drawing makes it seem quite spacious.
John Brown's plan was not very well thought out. He had counted on slaves throughout the region upon hearing about the raid coming to Harpers Ferry to be armed but yet had no plan to inform them.
The engine house, which has also subsequently been called John Brown's Fort has been moved four times, which at one point had it sitting in Chicago. It is now located 150 ft from its original location, as its original location is covered by a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad embankment. These numerous moves and rebuilds may have resulted in the current building being a bit smaller than its original size.
There are some who say the most recent John the Baptist is Houston Stewart Chamberlain, others say it is Ron Paul . . . who am I to say, as one man's religion is another man's psychosis.
¹ The Gospel of Matthew was not written by the apostle Matthew. According to Wikipedia "It was composed between . . . AD 70 to 110 . . . does not identify its author . . . the early tradition attributing it to the apostle Matthew is rejected by modern scholars. He was probably a male Jew, standing on the margin between traditional and non-traditional Jewish values, and familiar with technical legal aspects of scripture being debated in his time. Writing in a polished Semitic "synagogue Greek"², he drew on the Gospel of Mark as a source, plus the hypothetical collection of sayings known as the Q³ source (material shared with Luke but not with Mark) and material unique to his own community, called the M source or "Special Matthew".
² Note that the Gospel of Matthew was written in Greek which is not the language spoken by Jesus.
³ Q source??!! You can't make this stuff up!!
“ . . extremism in defense of liberty is no vice . . . moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
• Barry Goldwater