We interupt this broadcast… Strother on Brown’s Raid

Posted on October 17, 2010 by

2


I missed the opportunity during the 150th anniversary of the raid, but thought some might enjoy reading what David Hunter Strother (aka “Porte Crayon” or, here, known as “The Porte”) had to say about the John Brown incident.

Though this sketch of Harpers Ferry is from 1861... it still works...

On the morning of the 17th… 151 years ago today… we find Strother in his office in Martinsburg…

…when I was informed that there was an insurrection of some sort at Harpersferry and that the night train for Passengers and the morning Freight trains on the Baltimore & Ohio R. Road had been stopped & turned back. I treated the report lightly and remarked that we would see what was the matter when the morning train for Baltimore went down. The train passed down as usual and about an hour afterward I saw it returning to Martinsburg Depot backing up. This verified the report that there was something wrong at the Ferry and I immediately went to the depot to ascertain what was the matter. I found a large and excited crowd there and all sorts of rumours afloat. One of the Rail Road tonnage men told me that the Arsenal and Rail Road Bridge at Harpersferry had been seized by a band of abolitionists whose object was to kill all the whites and free the slaves & This was the general tenor of all the information we could get and yet I with all other discreet persons rejected it as absurd and sought some other solution of the difficulty. That the trains were stopped, the bridge and arsenals seized — the telegraph wires cut and several persons killed we could not doubt but that this was the work of armed Abolitionist we could not believe. It was rather supposed that it might be a rebellion among the workmen at the Armoury; a riot among the labourers on the government dam who had been defrauded of their pay by an absconding contractor; an organized band of robbers from the cities seeking the contents of the Paymasters chest, in fact any idea that suggested itself was accepted rather than that which the Tonnage men returned from the Ferry reported.

Among the bewildered crowd at the depot was a party of Englishmen, apparently men of rank with their servants & attendants. This party had been hunting & adventuring in the western territories and was on its return to Washington & New York. The — & its reported cause must have impressed them with not very favourable ideas of American institutions. In the same train was a company of Philadelphia excursionists returning from a tour by rail & steamboat, by way of the Great lakes, Ohio river &c. About noon a town meeting was held, and its having been there authoritatively stated that Col. Lewis Washington, & several of the chief officers at Harpersferry were held in captivity by the insurgents a company was organized to go down to their rescue. Two car loads of men started down about two o clock armed with squirrel rifles, fowling pieces, pistols swords, and whatever was at hand.

During the remainder of the day, things in Martinsburg were comparatively quiet, rumors occasionally of the death of Turner, Burleigh, Beckham…

We’ll catch-up to Strother tomorrow, to see what he has to say about events as they continue to unfold…

*Cecil B. Eby published this document in “The Last Hours of the John Brown Raid: The Narrative of David H. Strother,” Virginia Magazine 73 (1965):169-177, but the original document (undated) is in Ms. Box 1, Journal 3, of the David Hunter Strother Collection (A&M 2894) in the West Virginia and Regional History Collection, West Virginia University.

About these ads