John Brown's Fort

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Harper's Ferry Armory in 1862, with the fire engine house on the left

John Brown's Fort was the building built in 1848 that was originally constructed for use as a guard and fire engine house for the federal Harpers Ferry Armory in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, then a part of Virginia.

An 1848 military report described the building as "An engine and guard-house 35? x 24 feet (7.3 m), one story brick, covered with slate, and having copper gutters and down spouts…"[citation needed] The building achieved notoriety during John Brown's Raid on the Harpers Ferry Armory in 1859.

John Brown's Raid[edit]

Main article: John Brown's Raid
Illustration of the interior of the engine house immediately before the door is broken down

John Brown planned to capture the armory and the associated arsenal and use them to supply an army of abolitionists and run-away slave guerrillas. Beginning their raid the night of October 16, Brown and his small army of 21 men (16 white and 5 black) did initially manage to capture the armory and arsenal and succeeded in taking 60 citizens of Harper's Ferry hostage. However, Brown's plan relied on local slaves joining the insurrection, and none did. The local militia and armed townspeople killed several members of the insurrection and forced Brown to take up position in the fire engine house where Brown's men had placed several of the hostages and prepared a defensive fortification. On the night of October 17, U.S. marines and then Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee and his aide J.E.B. Stuart arrived in Harper's Ferry to put down Brown's insurrection. The next morning, using a ladder as a battering ram, the marines battered down the door and stormed the fire engine house. One marine was mortally wounded in the attack as well as several of Brown's men. Some of Brown's men managed to escape, but most were captured, including Brown who was stabbed by the Marine commander, Lt. Green. The hostages were freed.

John Brown's Fort today
Fort being relocated in 1968

After Brown's raid, the fire engine house became known as "John Brown's Fort" and attracted tourist attention. In 1891, the building was sold to a buyer who wished to use it as an attraction close to the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The building only had 11 visitors and was dismantled and left on a vacant lot after the exhibition. In 1894, a movement was spearheaded by Washington D.C. journalist Kate Field to preserve the building and move it back to Harper's Ferry.[1] Alexander and Mary Murphy deeded 5 acres (20,000 m2) of their Harpers Ferry farm for one dollar ($1.00) as a relocation site, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad provided free shipping. Reconstruction of John Brown's Fort on the Murphy farm was completed by November 1895, which included the gates that surrounded the fort. These gates were designed by George Washington. The Murphy Farm was established September 1, 1869, the National Park Service purchased the farm through TPL, December 31, 2002.

August 17, 1906, Murphy allowed over one hundred prominent African-American men and woman to walk past their farm house to the back field to pay homage to John Brown where the fort had been located. WEB DuBois, Lewis Douglas, WT Greener, and others took their shoes and socks off as walking on holy ground. This day is noted as the John Brown Day written by Benjamin Quarles, Allies for Freedom.

In 1909, Storer College in Harper's Ferry bought John Brown's Fort from Alexander Murphy for $900.00 and moved it to the college's campus. In 1960, the National Park Service acquired the building and, in 1968, moved it once more to a location close to its original site, which had been covered by a railroad embankment in 1894. The Fort is now part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park run by the NPS and sits 150 feet from its original location.[2] 39°19′22.95″N 77°43′46.43″W / 39.3230417°N 77.7295639°W / 39.3230417; -77.7295639

The structure cannot be considered "fully authentic" due to the number of times it has been dismantled, moved and reassembled, each time with potential loss of original building material. It is also not an exact replica, as portions of the building were reconstructed backwards.[3]

The John Brown Museum now houses the original armory Gate and Alexander Murphy's picture. The original armory gate was donated to the NPS by Jim Kuhn, great-great grandson for no money or tax benefit; the remaining gates were donated in 1997. Coordinates: 39°19′24.42″N 77°43′47.59″W / 39.3234500°N 77.7298861°W / 39.3234500; -77.7298861

Controversy over bell[edit]

During a Union Army occupation of Harpers Ferry, a contingent of soldiers from Marlborough, Massachusetts, removed a bell hanging in the Harpers Ferry arsenal firehouse, which had served as John Brown's Fort. Several of those from Marlborough were in the local fire department, called the "'Torrent' Fire/Engine Company", according to the city of Marlborough website. They took the bell back to Marlborough, where it has remained. Harpers Ferry has attempted to retrieve the bell without success.[4]

In July 2011, Howard Swint of Charleston, West Virginia threatened to sue the city of Marlborough in an attempt to obtain the bell for Harpers Ferry. He has drafted, but not filed his lawsuit (as of July 20, 2011).[5] However, his action has generated controversy in the Marlborough area.[6][7][8][9] Swint's research findings were published in a Massachusetts newspaper editorial column.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "John Brown Fort". Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Retrieved 14 November 2013. 
  2. ^ "John Brown's Fort". Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, National Park Service. Retrieved 6 March 2010. 
  3. ^ Moyer, Teresa S. and Paul A. Shackel. The Making of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park: A Devil, Two Rivers, and a Dream; Rowman Altamira, 2008, p. 92
  4. ^ Joan Abshire (March 12, 2008). "The John Brown Bell". 
  5. ^ Howard Swint (undated). "IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT — NORTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA". 
  6. ^ Kendall Hatch (July 20, 2011). "Battle resumes over Marlborough's John Brown bell". 
  7. ^ Paul Brodeur (July 24, 2011). "Battle of the John Brown bell". 
  8. ^ Metrowest Daily News (July 25, 2011). "Editorial: Give back the bell". 
  9. ^ Paul Brodeur (July 29, 2011). "Legal reality behind Brown's Bell". 
  10. ^ Howard Swint (August 3, 2011). "Howard Swint:Who Owns John Browns Bell?". 

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