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SharePrint Media File

Type: Video

Series Title West Virginia: A Film History

Filmmaker Mark Samels

Company West Virginia Humanities Council

Format DVD


Narrator: On the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown and eighteen followers crossed the Potomac River into Harpers Ferry, Virginia. There they easily seized the federal armory and arsenal, took a half-dozen prisoners, then barricaded themselves in the arsenal engine house.

Just after midnight, Brown’s men killed Heywood Shepherd, a free black who worked for the railroad. At dawn they seized two dozen armory workers as they reported for work. But then, Brown let a train from Wheeling pass through town and its conductor quickly spread the alarm.

Units of the Virginia militia arrived that afternoon and killed Dangerfield Newby, an ex-slave. Newby had joined Brown with the hope of freeing his wife and children who were still in bondage. Someone cut off his ears as souvenirs.

Three more of Brown’s men were killed in sporadic fighting. Townspeople shot at two of the lifeless bodies throughout the day.

That night, ninety United States Marines arrived from Washington. They were led by Robert E. Lee, a fifty-two-year-old army colonel.

At dawn the next day Lee demanded that Brown surrender. When he refused, marines battered a hole in the engine house door.

Dennis Frye: The first man through was a marine Lt. Israel Green. He struck Brown and pushed him down but the sword did not penetrate, Brown was wearing a buckle.

Narrator: Lt. Green clubbed Brown unconscious and his small army surrendered.

As Brown was carried out of the engine house, a hushed silence fell on the crowd that had gathered.

The death toll of the raid was sixteen, including one marine and two of Brown’s sons.

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