The bearded patriarch / With the Old Testament eyes*

On Sunday Morning, October 16th, Captain Brown arose earlier than usual and called his men down to worship. He read a chapter from the Bible, applicable to the condition of the slaves, and our duty as their brethren, and then offered up a fervent prayer to God to assist in the liberation of the bondmen in that slaveholding land. . . . Every man there assembled seemed to respond from the depths of his soul, and throughout the entire day, a deep solemnity pervaded the place.
. . .
In the evening, before setting out for the ferry, [Captain Brown] gave his final charge, in which he said, among other things: –And now, gentlemen, let me impress this one thing upon your minds. You all know how dear life is to you, and how dear your life is to your friends. And in remembering that, consider that the lives of others are as dear to them as yours are to you. Do not, therefore, take the life of any one, if you can possibly avoid it; but if it is necessary to take life in order to save your own, then make sure work of it.
. . .
At eight o’clock on Sunday evening, Captain Brown said: “Men, get on your arms, we will proceed to the Ferry.” His horse and wagon were brought out before the door, and some pikes, a sledgehammer and crowbar were placed in it. The Captain then put on his old Kansas cap, and said: “Come, boys!” when we marched out of the camp behind him, into the lane leading down to the main road.
-Osborne P. Anderson, A Voice From Harper’s Ferry

Osborne Perry Anderson was born a free black in Pennsylvania in 1829. He was the only African-American member of John Brown’s party who was both at the Ferry and escaped first death during the raid, then eluded capture, trial, and execution by the government. Realizing that the raid was a failure, Anderson and Albert Hazlett fled into Pennsylvania. Anderson continued to Canada, but Hazlett was captured and subsequently tried and then hanged. Osborne Anderson would go on to serve in the US Army, enlisting in 1864 and mustering out in Washington DC at the end of the war. It was there he died of consumption in the early 1870s, leaving behind his memoir, A Voice From Harper’s Ferry: A Narrative of Events at Harper’s Ferry; With Incidents Prior and Subsequent to Its Capture by Captain Brown and His Men.

October 17th: He captured Harpers Ferry with his nineteen men so few

October 18th: I could see Harpers Ferry only as a trap of steel
* Title from Stephen Vincent Benet’s long poem “John Brown’s Body”.


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  1. […] He captured Harpers Ferry with his nineteen men so few* October 16th: The bearded patriarch / With the Old Testament eyes […]

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