- Historic Sites
Eyewitness At Harpers Ferry
February 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 2
From the earliest ages, men of this class have existed. Their immediate surroundings, and the conditions of society have been different, but the type has always remained the same. Moore, in the Fire-Worshipers has so graphically described the religious fanatic, in the person of the Mohammedan chief, sent to exterminate the worshipers of the sun, that I cannot refrain from quoting it.
This extract though written of a different age, and a wholly different state of society, portrays the character of John Brown, as it impressed me from what I had heard and then saw of him. His followers were young men, whom he had induced to take part with him in his mad effort.
How far he should be held responsible, for their untimely and inglorious death, I shall not attempt to discuss. He has been long since called to answer before the highest tribunal, for his conduct in the whole affair.
I have now related all I know of the “John Brown Raid” except this. The day after the capture of Brown, or possibly the second day, a party of volunteer soldiery, ascended the mountain on the Maryland side of the river, and found at Brown’s farm house, and at a log school house not far distant, a considerable number of rifles, pistols, hideous looking pikes, and a great variety of other things. These were brought to Harper’s Ferry and were eagerly sought as relics.
Several things came into my possession, but only one remains with me to this day. This is a large leather bag, or haversack, arranged like a mail-bag and secured by a padlock. 1 saw it among Brown’s effects, and it became the property of Maj. W. S. Downer, a clerk in the armory, who gave it to me. It was at the time , identified by many persons as having been used by Brown and his men when they lived in the mountain, as a mail-bag. Its chief value to me, however, consists in the fact, that it is an old and has been a useful friend. During the four years of our disastrous civil war it was constantly with me. In it, I carried my scanty supply of clothing, and over and over again it proved a soft and luxurious pillow.
I take it if Brown could have foreseen the use to which it was subsequently to be put, it would never have come into my possession.
It demonstrates the weakness of human nature, that while immediately after his ill fated attempt, few could be found bold enough to approve, or defend Brown’s course; there are now thousands striving to place his name on the roll of Martyrs.
But let the opinion of posterity be what it will, on the subject of slavery in the Southern States; Brown’s character in history can never be any thing but that of a misguided and most dangerous fanatic.