A Voice from Harper's Ferry

Osborne Perry Anderson

Preview: Issue 1 of 7


My sole purpose in publishing the following Narrative is to save from oblivion the facts connected with one of the most important movements of this age, with reference to the overthrow of American slavery. My own personal experience in it, under the orders of Capt. Brown, on the 16th and 17th of October, 1859, as the only man alive who was at Harper's Ferry during the entire time—the unsuccessful groping after these facts, by individuals, impossible to be obtained, except from an actor in the scene—and the conviction that the cause of impartial liberty requires this duty at my hands—alone have been the motives for writing and circulating the little book herewith presented.

I will not, under such circumstances, insult nor burden the intelligent with excuses for defects in composition, nor for the attempt to give the facts. A plain, unadorned, truthful story is wanted, and that by one who knows what he says, who is known to have been at the great encounter, and to have labored in shaping the same. My identity as a member of Capt. Brown's company cannot be questioned, successfully, by any who are bent upon suppressing the truth; neither will it be by any in Canada or the United States familiar with John Brown and his plans, as those know his men personally, or by reputation, who enjoyed his confidence sufficiently to know thoroughly his plans.

The readers of this narrative will therefore keep steadily in view the main point—that they are perusing a story of events which have happened under the eye of the great Captain, or are incidental thereto, and not a compendium of the "plans" of Capt. Brown; for as his plans were not consummated, and as their fulfilment is committed to the future, no one to whom they are known will recklessly expose all of them to the public gaze. Much has been given as true that never happened; much has been omitted that should have been made known; many things have been left unsaid, because, up to within a short time, but two could say them; one of them has been offered up, a sacrifice to the Moloch, Slavery; being that other one, I propose to perform the duty, trusting to that portion of the public who love the right for an appreciation of my endeavor.

O. P. A.



The idea underlying the outbreak at Harper's Ferry is not peculiar to that movement, but dates back to a period very far beyond the memory of the "oldest inhabitant," and emanated from a source much superior to the Wises and Hunters, the Buchanans and Masons of to-day. It was the appointed work for life of an ancient patriarch spoken of in Exodus, chap, ii., and who, true to his great commission, failed not to trouble the conscience and to disturb the repose of the Pharaohs of Egypt with that inexorable, "Thus saith the Lord: Let my people go!" until even they were urgent upon the people in its behalf. Coming down through the nations, and regardless of national boundaries or peculiarities, it has been proclaimed and enforced by the patriarch and the warrior of the Old World, by the enfranchised freeman and the humble slave of the New. Its nationality is universal; its language every where understood by the haters of tyranny; and those that accept its mission, every where understand each other. There is an unbroken chain of sentiment and purpose from Moses of the Jews to John Brown of America; from Kossuth, and the liberators of France and Italy, to the untutored Gabriel, and the Denmark Veseys, Nat Turners and Madison Washingtons of the Southern American States. The shaping and expressing of a thought for freedom takes the same consistence with the colored American—whether he be an independent citizen of the Haytian nation, a proscribed but humble nominally free colored man, a patient, toiling, but hopeful slave—as with the proudest or noblest representative of European or American civilization and Christianity. Lafayette, the exponent of French honor and political integrity, and John Brown, foremost among the men of the New World in high moral and religious principle and magnanimous bravery, embrace as brothers of the same mother, in harmony upon the grand mission of liberty; but, while the Frenchman entered the lists in obedience to a desire to aid, and by invitation from the Adamses and Hamiltons, and thus pushed on the political fortunes of those able to help themselves, John Brown, the liberator of Kansas, the projector and commander of the Harper's Ferry expedition, saw in the most degraded slave a man and a brother, whose appeal for his God-ordained rights no one should disregard; in the toddling slave child, a captive whose release is as imperative, and whose prerogative is as weighty, as the most famous in the land. When the Egyptian pressed hard upon the Hebrew, Moses slew him; and when the spirit of slavery invaded the fair Territory of Kansas, causing the Free-State settlers to cry out because of persecution, old John Brown, famous among the men of God for ever, though then but little known to his fellow-men, called together his sons and went over, as did Abraham, to the unequal contest, but on the side of the oppressed white men of Kansas that were, and the black men that were to be. To-day, Kansas is free, and the verdict of impartial men is, that to John Brown, more than any other man, Kansas owes her present position.

I am not the biographer of John Brown, but I can be indulged in giving here the opinion common among my people of one so eminently worthy of the highest veneration. Close observation of him, during many weeks, and under his orders at his Kennedy-Farm fireside, also, satisfies me that in comparing the noble old man to Moses, and other men of piety and renown, who were chosen by God to his great work, none have been more faithful, none have given a brighter record.



To go into particulars, and to detail reports current more than a year before the outbreak, among the many in the United States and Canada who had an inkling of some "practical work" to be done by "Osawattomie Brown," when there should be nothing to do in Kansas,—to give facts in that connection, would only forestall future action, without really benefitting the slave, or winning over to that sort of work the anti-slavery men who do not favor physical resistance to slavery. Slaveholders alone might reap benefits; and for one, I shall throw none in their way, by any indiscreet avowals; they already enjoy more than their share; but to a clear understanding of all the facts to be here published, it may be well to say, that preliminary arrangements were made in a number of places,—plans proposed, discussed and decided upon, numbers invited to participate in the movement, and the list of adherents increased. Nine insurrections is the number given by some as the true list of outbreaks since slavery was planted in America; whether correct or not, it is certain that preliminaries to each are unquestionable. Gabriel, Yesey, Nat Turner, all had conference meetings; all had their plans; but they differ from the Harper's Ferry insurrection in the fact that neither leader nor men, in the latter, divulged ours, when in the most trying of situations. Hark and another met Nat Turner in secret places, after the fatigues of a toilsome day were ended; Gabriel promulged his treason in the silence of the dense forest; but John Brown reasoned of liberty and equality in broad daylight, in a modernized building, in conventions with closed doors, in meetings governed by the elaborate regulations laid down by Jefferson, and used as their guides by Congresses and Legislatures; or he made known the weighty theme, and his comprehensive plans resulting from it, by the cosy fireside, at familiar social gatherings of chosen ones, or better, in the carefully arranged junto of earnest, practical men. Vague hints, careful blinds, are Nat Turner's entire make-up to save detection; the telegraph, the post-office, the railway, all were made to aid the new outbreak. By this, it will be seen that Insurrection has its progressive side, and has been elevated by John Brown from the skulking, fearing cabal, when in the hands of a brave but despairing few, to the highly organized, formidable, and to very many, indispensable institution for the security of freedom, when guided by intelligence.

So much as relates to prior movements may safely be said above; but who met—when they met—where they met—how many yet await the propitious moment—upon whom the mantle of John Brown has fallen to lead on the future army—the certain, terribly certain, many who must follow up the work, forgetting not to gather up the blood of the hero and his slain, to the humble bondman there offered—these may not, must not be told! Of the many meetings in various places, before the work commenced, I shall speak just here of the one, the minutes of which were dragged forth by marauding Virginians from the "archives" at Kennedy Farm; not forgetting, however, for their comfort, that the Convention was one of a series at Chatham, some of which were of equally great, if not greater, importance.

The first visit of John Brown to Chatham was in April, 1858. Wherever he went around, although an entire stranger, he made a profound impression upon those who saw or became acquainted with him. Some supposed him to be a staid but modernized Quaker; others, a solid business man, from "somewhere," and without question a philanthropist. His long white beard, thoughtful and reverent brow and physiognomy, his sturdy, measured tread, as he circulated about with hands, as portrayed in the best lithograph, under the pendant coat-skirt of plain brown Tweed, with other garments to match, revived to those honored with his acquaintance and knowing to his history, the memory of a Puritan of the most exalted type.

After some important business, preparatory to the Convention, was finished, Mr. Brown went West, and returned with his men, who had been spending the winter in Iowa. The party, including the old gentleman, numbered twelve,—as brave, intelligent and earnest a company as could have been associated in one party. There were John H. Kagi, Aaron D. Stevens, Owen Brown, Richard Realf, George B. Gill, C. W. Moffitt, Wm. H. Leeman, John E. Cook, Stewart Taylor, Richard Richardson, Charles P. Tidd and J. S. Parsons—all white except Richard Richardson, who was a slave in Missouri until helped to his liberty by Captain Brown. At a meeting held to prepare for the Convention and to examine the Constitution, Dr. M. R. Delany was Chairman, and John H. Kagi and myself were the Secretaries.

When the Convention assembled, the minutes of which were seized by the slaveholding "cravens" at the Farm, and which, as they have been identified, I shall append to this chapter, Mr. Brown unfolded his plans and purpose. He regarded slavery as a state of perpetual war against the slave, and was fully impressed with the idea that himself and his friends had the right to take liberty, and to use arms in defending the same. Being a devout Bible Christian, he sustained his views and shaped his plans in conformity to the Bible; and when setting them forth, he quoted freely from the Scripture to sustain his position. He realized and enforced the doctrine of destroying the tree that bringeth forth corrupt fruit. Slavery was to him the corrupt tree, and the duty of every Christian man was to strike down slavery, and to commit its fragments to the flames. He was listened to with profound attention, his views were adopted, and the men whose names form a part of the minutes of that in many respects extraordinary meeting, aided yet further in completing the work.


Chatham, (Canada West,)

Saturday, May 8, 1858—10, A. M.

Convention met in pursuance to a call of John Brown and others, and was called to order by Mr. Jackson, on whose motion, Mr. William C. Munroe was chosen President; when, on motion of Mr. Brown, Mr. J. H. Kagi was elected Secretary.

On motion of Mr. Delany, Mr. Brown then proceeded to state the object of the Convention at length, and then to explain the general features of the plan of action in the execution of the project in view by the Convention. Mr. Delany and others spoke in favor of the project and the plan, and both were agreed to by general consent.

Mr. Brown then presented a plan of organization, entitled "Provisional Constitution and Ordinances for the People of the United States," and moved the reading of the same.

Mr. Kinnard objected to the reading until an oath of secrecy was taken by each member of the Convention; whereupon Mr. Delany moved that the following parole of honor be taken by all the members of the Convention—"I solemnly affirm that I will not in any way divulge any of the secrets of this Convention, except to persons entitled to know the same, on the pain of forfeiting the respect and protection of this organization;" which motion was carried.

The President then proceeded to administer the obligation, after which the question was taken on the reading of the plan proposed by Mr. Brown, and the same carried.

The plan was then read by the Secretary, after which, on motion of Mr. Whipple, it was ordered that it be now read by articles for consideration. The articles from one to forty-five, inclusive, were then read and adopted. On the reading of the forty-sixth, Mr. Reynolds moved to strike out the same. Reynolds spoke in favor, and Brown, Munroe, Owen Brown, Delany, Realf, Kinnard and Kagi against. The question was then taken and lost, there being but one vote in the affirmative. The article was then adopted.

The forty-seventh and forty-eighth articles, with the schedule, were then adopted in the same manner. It was then moved by Mr. Delany that the title and preamble stand as read. Carried.

On motion of Mr. Kagi, the Constitution, as a whole, was then unanimously adopted. The Convention then, at half-past one o'clock, P. M., adjourned, on motion of Mr. Jackson, till three o'clock.

Three o'clock, P. M. Journal read and approved.

On motion of Mr. Delany, it was then ordered that those approving of the Constitution as adopted sign the same; whereupon the names of all the members were appended.

After congratulatory remarks by Messrs. Kinnard and Delany, the Convention, on motion of Mr. Whipple, adjourned at three and three-quarters o'clock.

J. H. KAGI, Secretary of the Convention.

The above is a journal of the Provisional Constitutional Convention held at Chatham, Canada West, May 8, 1858, as herein stated.

Chatham, (Canada West,) Saturday, May 8, 1858.

Six, P. M. In accordance with, and obedience to, the provisions of the schedule to the Constitution for the proscribed and oppressed people "of the United States of America," to-day adopted at this place, a Convention was called by the President of the Convention framing that instrument, and met at the above-named hour, for the purpose of electing officers to fill the offices specially established and named by said Constitution.

The Convention was called to order by Mr. M. R. Delany, upon whose nomination, Mr. Wm. C. Munroe was chosen President, and Mr. J. H. Kagi, Secretary.

A Committee, consisting of Messrs. Whipple, Kagi, Bell, Cook and Munroe, was then chosen to select candidates for the various offices to be filled, for the consideration of the Convention.

On reporting progress, and asking leave to sit again, the request was refused, and Committee discharged.

On motion of Mr. Bell, the Convention then went into the election of officers, in the following manner and order:—

Mr. Whipple nominated John Brown for Commander-in-Chief, who, on the seconding of Mr. Del any, was elected by acclamation.

Mr. Realf nominated J. H. Kagi for Secretary of War, who was elected in the same manner.

On motion of Mr. Brown, the Convention then adjourned to 9, A. M., on Monday, the 10th.

Monday, May 10, 1858—9, A. M. The proceedings of the Convention on Saturday were read and approved.

The President announced that the business before the Convention was the further election of officers.

Mr. Whipple nominated Thomas M. Kinnard for President. In a speech of some length, Mr. Kinnard declined.

Mr. Anderson nominated J. W. Loguen for the same office. The nomination was afterwards withdrawn, Mr. Loguen not being present, and it being announced that he would not serve if elected.

Mr. Brown then moved to postpone the election of President for the present. Carried.

The Convention then went into the election of members of Congress. Messrs. A. M. Ellsworth and Osborn Anderson were elected.

After which, the Convention went into the election of Secretary of State, to which office Richard Realf was chosen.

Whereupon the Convention adjourned to half-past two, P. M.

2 1-2, P. M. Convention again assembled, and went into a balloting for the election of Treasurer and Secretary of the Treasury. Owen Brown was elected as the former, and George B. Gill as the latter.

The following resolution was then introduced by Mr. Brown, and unanimously passed:—

Resolved , That John Brown, J. H. Kagi, Richard Realf, L. F. Parsons, C. P. Todd, C. Whipple, C. W. Moffit, John E. Cook, Owen Brown, Stewart Taylor, Osborn Anderson, A. M. Ellsworth, Richard Richardson, W. H. Leeman and John Lawrence be and are hereby appointed a Committee to whom is delegated the power of the Convention to fill by election all the offices specially named in the Provisional Constitution which may be vacant after the adjournment of this Convention.

The Convention then adjourned, sine die.

J. H. KAGI, Secretary of the Convention.


William Charles Munroe, President of the Convention; G. J. Reynolds, J. C. Grant, A. J. Smith, James M. Jones, George B. Gill, M. F. Bailey, William Lambert, S. Hunton, C. W. Moffit, John J. Jackson, J. Anderson, Alfred Whipple, James M. Buel, W. H. Leeman, Alfred M. Ellsworth, John E. Cook, Stewart Taylor, James W. Purnell, George Aiken, Stephen Dettin, Thomas Hickerson, John Caunel, Robinson Alexander, Richard Realf, Thomas F. Cary, Richard Richardson, L. F. Parsons, Thomas M. Kinnard, M. H. Delany, Robert Vanvanken, Thomas M. Stringer, Charles P. Tidd, John A. Thomas, C. Whipple, I. D. Shadd, Robert Newman, Owen Brown, John Brown, J. H. Harris, Charles Smith, Simon Fislin, Isaac Holler, James Smith, J. H. Kagi, Secretary of the Convention.

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