Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
Harpers Ferry National Historical Park is nestled at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers in West Virginia with views of Maryland and Virginia. Visitors can cross the Potomac River and hike to the peak of Maryland Heights that overlooks Harpers Ferry. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park houses Storer College, buildings involved in John Brown's Raid, and a Civil War battleground.
Backstory and Context
John Brown was an avid abolitionist and became known as “Osawatomie Brown” for his actions in “Bleeding Kansas,” and became a wanted man for killing five pro-slavery individuals. In Harpers Ferry, Brown devised a plan to lead a raid on the federal armory and arsenal. Brown’s plan was to obtain weapons from the armory and free all of the slaves in the south by providing them with weapons to rebel. Brown and his 18 raiders hid out at the nearby Kennedy Farm house in Maryland. On the eve of October 16th, 1859 Brown and his raiders entered the silent town of Harpers Ferry, it was a drizzly Sunday night. Brown’s men took several local citizens as prisoners, and once the local militia began to exchange fire, Brown took coverage in the armory’s fire engine house, now referred to as John Brown’s Fort. The U.S. Marines from Washington D.C., under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee offered Brown terms of surrender. Brown refused and after a short three-minute struggle Brown was captured and put under arrest. Brown was tried and found guilty of three crimes: murder, treason, and conspiring and inciting a slave rebellion, and was sent to the gallows on December 2, 1859. John Brown is quoted with his last words being “I John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land, will never be purged away with blood.” Brown was envisioning a Civil War to occur and it did.
Harpers Ferry also holds a history of African Americans in West Virginia. After the American Civil War a school to educate newly freed African Americans was formed by missionaries. The school later turned into Storer College. In 1906, on the campus of Storer College, the second meeting of the Niagara Movement took place, and was led by W.E.B DuBois. The Niagara Movement was the forerunner of the NAACP. Storer College ended in 1954, when the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education was passed making segregated schools illegal. Today, Storer College is a training center for the National Park Service.
Transportation and Industry are also prominent themes in Harpers Ferry. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad meets the Winchester & Potomac Railroad in Harpers Ferry, along with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The canal was a way to transport goods from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington DC. With it’s ideal location for water powered factories, Harpers Ferry was home to cotton mills, paper mills, rifle works, and the Federal Armory and Arsenal. However, when you visit the park today all that remains are the ruins of the once industrial town due to the flooding that occurred.
1. "Share Harpers Ferry." E-WV. Accessed October 03, 2016. http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/263. 2. "Share John Brown." E-WV. Accessed October 03, 2016. http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/668.