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Why I am Still Patriotic

Posted by on Sep 29th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

Why I am Still Patriotic

For the past couple of years, I’ve chosen a word to summarize my focus for that year. In 2021, it was Patience. And, boy, did I need it that year, between lingering Covid and Al having some pretty serious surgery that involved a very long recovery.

This year, my theme is Hope. And, again, I find that I set myself an appropriate challenge. We have an important mid-term election coming up, and it seems that many people feel despair that our country can ever overcome the terrible divisiveness of the past five years. I admit that I’m not especially optimistic, at least over the short term. I don’t necessarily feel hopeful. But, similar to faith, I believe that hope is a verb more than a feeling. I believe that hope is in what we do. So, I will be canvassing for my preferred candidates every Saturday between now and the election.

Do I love doing that? No, I do not. The weather isn’t always agreeable, and people aren’t always happy to see you. But I will make myself do it because, in spite of the rancor of the past five years, I still love my country. One of my five-star books for 2021 was about the topic of patriotism, and I’m republishing my review here because I don’t have any better words to explain why I’m still patriotic, and why I’ll be out there canvassing regardless of weather, and regardless of slammed doors and argumentative rightists. God bless America!

My Review of Reclaiming Patriotism

My heart broke on November 8, 2016. I have always been patriotic, but I have struggled since 11/8/2016 to maintain my faith and pride in my country. 1/6/2021 didn’t help.

This book was like an elixir. Smith is a professor of Philosophy and Political Science at Yale, and his writing reflects that. He doesn’t just expound his own opinions at the reader. Referencing sources from Aristotle to the Federalist papers, he relies especially on Lincoln’s speeches and writings, in his defense of patriotism.

He defines patriotism as loyalty to one’s home country in the first chapter. Then he contrasts patriotism with both nationalism and cosmopolitanism. And, finally, in the last two chapters he describes what enlightened patriotism looks like and discusses the values and character of the United States, the things that we can love and take pride in.

This book took me a couple of weeks to read. It was both intellectually and emotionally dense for me. I had to read a little, and then ponder what I’d read before reading more. But it was well worth it.

In a nutshell, Smith’s argument is that you can recognize that your nation is flawed and still love it. You can respect that other people love their own countries, too, and still love you own. It isn’t even necessary to think, as many Americans do, that you live in the best country in the world. You can still love America because it is your own. Your home.

I thought about how the people of America gave me an education. I thought about how my family would have lost our home after my dad died, if the American people hadn’t sent us Social Security survivor’s benefits every month. My country has given me so much. This is my home. I enjoy French culture and language, but I don’t love France. I didn’t grow up in Paris or on the wide plains of the French countryside. Instead, I grew up in the hills and valleys of Appalachia, and there lies my heart.

But those affinities – “habits of the heart” as Smith calls them – aren’t the only reasons to love America. Smith mounts a full-throated defense of all that is good about our country, all that is worth loving. First and foremost, our dedication to the notion of the “equal moral dignity” of every human being. Have we always fully lived that principle? Obviously not. But, to an extent that no other nation can match, it is our creed. Smith also calls out our Constitution, which has managed to maintain rule of law for almost 250 years. He also points to our cultural, artistic, economic and scientific achievements. And I would add that we have also defeated tyranny twice in the past century. That’s a record to be proud of.

You can weep for our country’s flaws and errors. I certainly do. But this book reminded me that nations are like human beings: tragically flawed and gloriously noble both at the same time. It reminded me that I am not free to give up on our country any more that I am free to give up on the people I love. It gave me back my hope and pride

The Pressed Steel Car Strike

Posted by on Aug 20th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

One of the bloodiest battles of the early twentieth century labor movement took place just a few miles from downtown Pittsburgh, in my old hometown of McKees Rocks.

Imagine earning only $122* for 110 hours of work over eleven days. You pay $400* a month to rent half of a small company-owned duplex. You have to buy all your groceries and supplies at inflated prices at a company store. On average, of the 6000 men working in your plant, one dies in an industrial accident every day. And your wife or daughter may be asked for sexual favors to help you keep your job or to forestall payment on your debt at the company store.  

These conditions led to The Pressed Steel Car Strike in 1909. It was the most significant labor dispute in the Pittsburgh area since the 1892 Homestead Strike, and a precursor to the Great Steel Strike of 1919.

*Note: all dollar amounts in this post adjusted to 2022 dollars

The P&LE and the Pressed Steel Car Company

The Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad started business in 1879, transporting coal, coke, iron ore, and limestone into Pittsburgh’s steel mills, and transporting the finished steel out. They located their 100-acre repair and maintenance center in McKees Rocks in 1888. The railroad employed thousands over the years, including one of my uncles. Immigrants flocked to the Rocks for the work opportunities. By 1920, the population of the town reached 14,702, 42% of which were immigrants. Between 1879 and 1920, many Italian and Slavic immigrants arrived, adding to the German and Irish populations already settled in the Rocks.

In 1899, in Joliet, IL, the Pressed Steel Co. and Fox Solid Press Steel Co merged to form The Pressed Steel Car Company. Run by Frank Norton Hoffstot, the company manufactured passenger and freight railroad cars.

At the time, it was the second-largest rail car producer in the United States. Locating a plant in McKees Rocks near the railroad hub and so much cheap labor seemed like a no-brainer.

Background of the Strike

By 1909, the plant employed 6000 men of sixteen different ethnicities, most of them foreign-born. But it had a reputation for brutal oppression. Workers called it “the last chance” and “the slaughterhouse.” The priest of St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in the Rocks said that “men are persecuted, robbed and slaughtered, and their wives are abused in a manner worse than death. . . all to obtain or retain positions that barely keep starvation from the door.”

Laborers worked under a “Baldwin contract,” a form of labor pooling. The company parceled out jobs in lots to foremen who contracted to get the work done for a set sum. The less the foremen paid the workers under them, the more they got to keep for themselves. So, the foremen had a strong incentive to race each other to the bottom of the pay scale. And workers couldn’t count on the size of their paychecks from one project to the next.

A newspaper reporter investigated the pooling scheme and found that one worker worked nine days, ten hours a day, and received pay of $89.53*. Before pooling, workers had averaged as much as $130* a day. But after pooling went into effect, average pay plummeted to $16* per day.

The strike begins

July 10, 1909, was a payday. Many workers noticed that their pay seemed especially scanty on that day, even less than the paltry amount they had bargained for. They demanded to speak to plant management. The managers refused. Violence erupted immediately.  The first fatality was an immigrant worker named Stephen Horvat. More deaths would follow.

The leaders of the strike were a former German metalworker and union leader, Hungarian veterans of railway strikes, and three Russians who had been involved labor strife in St. Petersburg in 1905.

Five thousand of the plant’s 6000 workers joined the strike. Three thousand more from the Standard Steel Car Company of Butler also went out on strike in solidarity. The carpenters’ union sent wagons of food, and the Pittsburgh Leader newspaper took up a collection. Sensing an opportunity, the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, sometimes called the “Wobblies”) came to the aid of the strikers. Big Bill Haywood himself, leader of the IWW, even showed up.

The company wasted no time in hiring scabs. By the end of July, 100 new workers had been brought into the plant, On July 14, a riverboat pulled up to deliver more strikebreakers. The strikers fired on the boat, forcing it to retreat. When deputy sheriffs tried to intervene, a riot broke out, resulting in 100 injuries from rocks, clubs and bullets. A mob of 1000 strikers attacked fifty mounted officers and broke a state trooper’s leg. Law enforcement got orders to shoot to kill.

Escalating Violence

On July 23, the company established an “information bureau” where workers could state their grievances. But the strike, and the violence, continued into August. In mid-August, the company hired 450 more strikebreakers.  On August 19, strikers attacked streetcars bringing workers into the plant. On August 21, they shot at the company doctor, W. J. Davidson, as he approached the plant. Workers’ wives also joined the rioting. When state troopers and local deputy sheriffs arrived, the strikers attacked them, too.

By August 22, 200 state constables (whom the Slav workers called “Black Cossacks”) and 300 deputy sheriffs had been deployed to protect the strikebreakers. That day, when strikers again boarded a street car to turn back scabs, armed deputies confronted them and opened fire.

The next day, the rioting strikers killed the deputy sheriff, Harry Exley. On August 22 and 23, the bloodiest days of the strike, Exley, two state troopers, and at least ten strikers lost their lives.

The Strike Ends

The tide of the strike turned on a newspaper photograph and an ill-advised attack on company housing.

The workers’ housing stood near the plant, in the little neighborhood called Presston (also known as Hunky Town). The area remained rural enough that workers had gardens to supplement their diets.

During the strike, the company began to evict workers, who were neither working in the plant nor paying their rent. On August 21, a local newspaper published a photograph of one family’s eviction. The photo included the heartbreaking feature of a baby buggy loaded into the wagon of possessions being carted away, and it gained much outraged sympathy for the workers.

Then, on August 23, state troopers stormed Presston to facilitate the evictions, attacking both men and women.

The Strike’s Legacy

The work stoppages and the bad publicity forced the company to settle the strike on September 8. The pooling practice ended. Wages were increased. The company began to offer English classes to immigrant workers. They improved housing in Presston, built a playground and planted trees. For many years after, the company sponsored free annual festivities on Independence Day, with races, garden competitions and cash prizes.

Workers won a victory on September 8, 1909, part of the labor movement’s long progress towards decent pay and working conditions.

The community of Presston still stands, in the form of about 200 duplex houses on Ohio and Orchard Streets.

The Pressed Steel Car Company went on to contribute significantly to the World War Two industrial effort, designing and produced tanks, gun carriages and motor carriers. The company was bought by U.S. Steel in 1956.

The P&LE Railroad went out of business in 1992.

The McKees Rocks Bottoms, where the P&LE yard and the Pressed Steel Car plant stood, is still home to a small railyard and several industrial plants, including Tudi Mechanical Systems, Standard Forged Products, and McKees Rocks Forgings. An historical marker and small memorial live on a nearby corner. The memorial is adorned with ten small American flags: one for each of the workers’ lives lost on August 22, 1909.

Presston early 20th century

Presston today. The 1899 duplexes still stand.

Sources

Agreen, Bernadette Sulzer, and the McKees Rocks Historical Society. Images of America: McKees Rocks and Stowe Township. Charleston, SC: Acadia Publishing, 2009.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressed_Steel_Car_strike_of_1909#:~:text=The%20Pressed%20Steel%20Car%20strike%20of%201909%2C%20also,private%20security%20agents%2C%20and%20the%20Pennsylvania%20State%20Police.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressed_Steel_Car_Company

https://www.post-gazette.com/business/businessnews/2009/08/16/Pressed-Steel-Car-strike-in-McKees-Rocks-reaches-centennial-anniversary/stories/200908160200

Nemacolin’s Trail

Posted by on Jul 9th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

The Old National Road is the gift that keeps on giving. This summer, Al and I realized that we’d given the Maryland section of the road short shrift, and we decided to return and do it justice.

Nemacolin

The section of National Road between Cumberland, MD, and Brownsville, PA, is also called Nemacolin’s Path or Nemacolin’s Trail. I was especially curious about Nemacolin’s contribution, because of my recent interest in the original natives of our area.

Nemacolin, of course, also has a very swanky resort in the Laurel Highlands named after him. He was born in 1715 near Brandywine Creek and a Swedish trading post that later became Fort Christina and, still later, Wilmington, Delaware.

His father was is variously named as either Checochinican or Leni Lenape, a chief of the Fish Clan of the Turtle tribe of the Delaware/Lenape nation.

The Delaware nation originally lived along the Delaware River in New Jersey. They spoke a form of Algonquin and were related to the Miami, Ottawa and Shawnee. The other Algonquin tribes called them “grandfathers” because they believed the Delaware were the most ancient Algonquin tribe. The tribe had moved west as the British encroached on New Jersey and Delaware.

By treaty with William Penn in 1726, the tribe ceded their land on both sides of the Brandywine. Thus, Nemacolin grew up near Shamokin, PA, in a village along the Susquehanna River. The Indians called Shamokin “Schahamokink” (“place of eels”). An Indian tribe called the Saponi had already settled there. The came from North Carolina or Virginia and spoke a Siouan language. Their name may have come from the Siouan word for black: “sapa”. Or it may have come from the name of a female goddess of their religion, Sepy. In the seventeenth century the English explorer John Lederer described them as “governed by an absolute Monarch; the People of a high stature, warlike and rich.”

Nemacolin and the National Road

Nemacolin and his family later moved south and west and lived for a while with the Cresap family. Thomas Cresap was born in 1702 in Skipton, Yorkshire. He later settled as a farmer and trader near Wills Creek in present-day Cumberland.

In 1750, Cresap was commissioned to improve the old Indian path through the Cumberland Narrows, across the Appalachian Mountains.

Cresap hired his friend Nemacolin and Nemacolin’s two sons to help with the stretch between Wills Creek and Redstone Creek (present-day Brownsville, PA). Christopher Gist oversaw their work, which crossed harsh, mountainous terrain.

Later during the French & Indian War, Gist led George Washington along the trail, which became part Braddock’s Trail, then Forbes Trail, and finally the National Road.  

Nemacolin lived to see the British increasingly encroach on his tribe’s land. The treaty of Easton in 1758 compelled the Delaware to move to the Ohio Territory. There, they fought with the Iroquois and were driven further west. Many lived along the Muskingum River in eastern Ohio, or along the Auglize River in the northwestern part of the state. Similar to Guyasuta’s Mingo, the Delaware tried to stay neutral in the American Revolution.

After the Revolution, the Delaware struggled against more white encroachment in the Ohio territory. They were part of the force defeated by General Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. They lost most of their land in the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, and the rest in 1829. Finally, they moved west of the Mississippi River.

Nemacolin eventually moved his tribe to a Shawnee town on Blennerhassett Island in the Ohio River. The island sits on a stretch of the river between West Virginia and Ohio, along Route 50. Nemacolin died there in 1767.

Our Drive Along Nemacolin’s Trail: Cumberland

We began at the official start of the road in Cumberland. Cumberland, Maryland, is a small, pretty city with lots of nineteenth-century architecture and much of historical interest. The people there are very friendly and helpful. When we had trouble locating the site of the National Road’s start, we stopped at a museum to see if we could find information there. The museum was closed, but the County Comptroller’s Office next door was open. The clerk there directed us to the railroad station across the street and told us we could leave our car parked in her office’s free parking lot. At the railroad station, we met a very knowledgeable local who took the time to point us to abundant historical resources. Again and again in our travels, we find people who love their hometowns and are eager to share them.

In addition to the starting point of the National Pike, Cumberland was home to George Washington’s headquarters during the French & Indian War. The building still stands.

The town is also home to both the old C&O Canal and several Civil War sites. We vowed to return and explore those at a future date.

Our Drive Along Nemacolin’s Trail: LaVale Tollhouse and Casselman Bridge

Along the drive to from Cumberland to Brownsville, we also explored another toll house, the LaVale Tollhouse. It looked very much like the ones we’d seen last year. But each toll house is different in what it provides. This one had a very nicely reproduced interior (see photos below). And we learned that the toll collectors were paid $200 per year, in addition to their free lodging in the toll house. The collectors had to be alert, because many people tried to avoid paying the toll. We learned, too, that the LaVale Tollhouse collected almost $10,000 in tolls in its first year of operation.

We also discovered the magnificent Casselman River Bridge, now surrounded by a pretty Maryland state park. This stone arch bridge, dating to 1813, remained in use until the rerouting of Route 40 in 1933. When it was constructed, it was the largest single-span stone arch bridge in the United States. Presidents James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, and Abraham Lincoln all crossed this massive, well-maintained stone bridge.

Nemacolin’s Trail ends at Brownsville, which we had visited last year. The improvements to this old Indian Trail between Wills Creek and Redstone Creek mark the true birth of the National Road, sixty years before its official start.

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemacolin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemacolin%27s_Path

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamokin,_Pennsylvania

https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/nemacolin-native-american-24-2z6gyhz

https://www.ancestry.com/genealogy/records/nemacolin-native-american-24-2z6gyhz

https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Delaware_Indians

https://www.nps.gov/articles/a-long-legacy.htm#:~:text=In%20response%20to%20these%20tensions,expansion%20quickly%20nullified%20the%20agreement.

Guyasuta’s Final Chapter

Posted by on Jun 16th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

Like smaller, weaker nations always and everywhere, the American Indians were blown in all directions by the hurricane of the American revolution. By 1778, only the Delaware and Oneida sided with the Americans. Across Iroquois country, Indian villages suffered attack by either the Americans or the British or Indians who sided with one or the other. The Indians near Fort Niagara were attacked so viciously that the very cold winter of 1779-80 left them close to starvation.

Ever the displomat, Guyasuta accompanied Cornplanter to the fort to plead with the British for help. It was their only hope. By this time, the Iroquois ability to hunt or wage war was so weak that they were reduced to begging.

Although offered only minimal help by his British allies, Guyasuta returned to the Ohio country in 1780 . He urged the Mingo people to remain loyal to the crown. Later in 1780, he led thirty Wyandot warriors in an attack on the Americans’ Fort McIntosh.

The Delaware and the Americans continued to attack Mingo villages. And Guyasuta became impatient with the British refusal to provide either protection or retribution. In the summer of 1782, he participated in a raid on the Patriot town of Hanna’s Town. The one-day fight destroyed thirty homes, dozens of acres of crops and 100 cattle. The town was never rebuilt. It was Guyasuta’s last battle.

In the 1782 Treaty of Paris that officially ended the war, the British signed over to the Americans all of their territory east of the Mississippi River. No one had consulted the Indians who lived there. They had no representative at the peace conference.

In 1784 and 1785, the Iroquois and the Mingo signed peace treaties with the United States, confirming the terms of the Treaty of Paris. But it was a mere formality. All was already lost. Once again, Guyasuta had backed the losing side.

The (Iroquois) Empire Strikes Back

The white men weren’t the only ones who broke treaty terms. Although the Indians had signed a peace treaty with the new United States, many young warriors refused to honor it. With the authority of the old Iroquois Confederacy weakened, bands of young warriors conducted freelance raids. Gradually, a new western confederacy of anti-treaty warriors emerged, supplied by British Canada. The frontier was still a dangerous place for isolated white settlers.

Against Guyasuta’s and Cornplanter’s objections, a former Mingo ally named Thayendanegea (also called Joseph Brant) assembled a force of 1500 warriors from the Wyandot, Shawnee, Delaware, Ottawa, Chippewa, Miami, Mingo, Creek and Cherokee tribes. Between 1786 and 1791, Thayendanegea’s army and their allies massacred 1500 settler families.

In 1791, President George Washington sent an army into the Ohio country led by Arthur St. Clair. But a near-bankrupt Congress could supply the army very poorly, and most of them were militia or 6-month draftees. Of the 2000 troops mustered, 600 deserted. The Miami general Little Turtle easily defeated St. Clair’s force.

Logstown: The Birthplace of the Professional United State Army

But Washington didn’t triumph in the Revolution by being a quitter. By the winter of 1792, Washington had selected General Anthony Wayne to lead the next attempt. Similar to Forbes in 1755, Wayne took a more methodical approach than his predecessor. From the 2500 soldiers remaining in the Continental Army and some new recruits from Pittsburgh, Wayne established the Legion of the United States.

He built a training camp at the abandoned site of Logstown (see this previous post), renaming it Legionville. Wayne spent the winter training and drilling his new army, which included Meriweather Lewis, William Clark and future president William Henry Harrison.

By this time, Guyasuta was about 70 years old. He had settled with two wives on a piece of fertile land along the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh.

Guyasuta visited the training camp twice. In his first visit during the winter, he asked for clothing and supplies. He also warned Wayne that the Western Confederacy was still on the warpath. His second visit took place in March of 1793. He pleaded with Wayne not to launch an attack on the Confederacy until all diplomacy was exhausted. But the Confederacy would settle for nothing less than a return to the 1768 treaty, which stipulated no white settlement west of the Ohio River. And the new United States would never agree to that.

Again like Forbes, Wayne built a string of forts between the fall of 1793 and the summer of 1794. Marching west, his Legion supplemented by 800 Kentucky militia, he burned every Indian village between present-day Fort Recovery Ohio and Defiance, Ohio, a distance of about 63 miles. The two towns still bear the names of the forts that Wayne built on their sites.

The Battle of Fallen Timbers

The Indians debated surrender, but decided to make one last stand. They chose a site near British Fort Miami, where they could still get supplies from the British and could retreat if needed. They thought this would be a good place to ambush Wayne’s army. On August 20, 1894, the forces of Little Turtle and Blue Jacket suffered defeat in the 80-minute Battle of Fallen Timbers. When they attempted to retreat to Fort Miami, they found it closed to them. Indian power in the Ohio country was finally completely beaten.

The peace treaty signed at Fort Greenville on August 3, 1795, ceded the Ohio river and most of the state of Ohio to the United States. In exchange, the Indians received a small annuity and a stipend of commodities.

Death of Guyasuta

Guyasuta had died just a few months earlier, in late 1794 or early 1795. He started his life in Logstown, a prosperous little town along the Ohio. And he ended it in another prosperous Ohio River town: the growing city of Pittsburgh. He had been a sachem, a warrior and a diplomat. In every war of his lifetime, he had the bad luck to choose the wrong side. His life as a representative of an empire in defeat tragically illustrates the fates of thousands of American Indians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

As a student in the Pittsburgh Public Schools in the 1960s and 1970s, I learned little about the fates of the original natives of our nation. They used to live here. Our white ancestors came and displaced them. Now they live on reservations in the west. The end. In this series about Guyasuta, I’ve tried to bring to life the people who were native to Western Pennsylvania before it was part of the United States. And I’ve tried to show parallels between them and other fallen nations. Nothing can ever do justice for the loss of their home. But they were the first Americans and it is right that we remember them.

If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend Brady J. Crytzer’s book, listed in my Sources.

Sources:

Crytzer, Brady J. Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LCC, 2013.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Wayne

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Fallen_Timbers

Guyasuta and the American Revolution

Posted by on May 31st, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

Guyasuta was a signatory to the 1765 treaty between the Indians and the colonies of Pennsylvania and Virginia. The treaty allowed British forts in the Ohio Country, but no white settlers. He probably doubted from the start that the white settlers would respect the treaty’s terms. But I wonder if he expected to be betrayed by his Iroquois cousins.

Surprise! The White Men Break a Treaty

Eager white settlers, of course, continued to stream west into the Ohio Country. The Washington brothers, and other speculators, had succeeded in acquiring title to large tracts in what was ostensibly Indian country. So, the settlers were often squatters. By 1768, the 1765 treaty had become meaningless. Unsurprisingly, the Indians objected to the encroachments of the white settlers, and committed acts of violence. Then whites attacked Indians in retribution – very often, not the same Indians who had attacked them. By this time Guyasuta and Superintendent if Indian Affairs Johnson were actually allies. Both wanted to end the cycle of violence and retribution. Both had an interest in peace. But Johnson believed that the Mingo should fold back into the Iroquois Confederacy. He wanted only one Indian nation to deal with.

Colonial officials and Indians met again, this time at New York’s Fort Stanwix, to revise the boundaries of settlement. Present were Johnson, a few other colonial officials, and the leaders of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Notably absent: any representative of the Mingo, whom Johnson stubbornly saw as being represented by the Iroquois.

In the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Iroquois allowed the opening of all of southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky to white settlement.

Most of the Mingo from the ceded territory migrated to Ohio. Others stayed, and the bloodshed on both sides continued. Somewhat ironically, in 1770, George Washington visited Guyasuta’s hunting camp near where the Hocking River flows into the Ohio. He was seeking to buy more land.

Lord Dunmore’s War

Meanwhile, the white colonists grew restive. The British victory in the French & Indian War came at a very high financial cost. Naturally, the British government felt that some of that cost should be borne by the colonists themselves. But the colonists objected to the 1764 sugar tax and the 1765 stamp tax. In 1767, they objected again to the Townsend Duties on lead, glass, paint and tea. In 1770, violence erupted between civilians and British soldiers. The incident became known as the Boston Massacre.

When a nation is bitterly divided internally, someone always comes up with the idea of distracting the feuding sides by creating an external enemy. In 1774, the person who came up with the distraction was John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore, and the colonial governor of Virginia.  

Indian versus settler violence had continued in West Virginia and Kentucky, both claimed by Virginia at that time. Lord Dunmore thought that a war against the Mingo and Shawnee would rally the colonials back to the mother country’s side. He also hoped to clear the Indians out of the area once and for all. And, even if he failed at both of those goals, a nice little war would weaken colonial military power.

Dunmore sent two columns toward the disputed territory. One column of 1000 colonials moved west from Virginia under Col. Andrew Lewis. Another 1000-man column moved south from Fort Pitt under Dunmore himself. Lewis was ambushed by 600 Ohioans under the Shawnee chief Cornstalk at Point Pleasant (or Tu-Endie-Wei, “point between the waters”). Despite being taken by surprise, the colonials won a victory because, by this time, they had learned to fight “Indian style.”

A New Treaty

Dunmore joined Lewis at Camp Charlotte, near modern-day Chillicothe, Ohio, to negotiate surrender terms with Cornstalk. The terms forced the Indians to turn over all the lands south of the Ohio river that they had won in the Treaty of Ft. Stanwix. In addition, Dunmore won Cornstalk’s promise that, in case of a war between the provincials and the mother country, the Mingo and Shawnee would remain neutral.

Guyasuta, now reconciled to the Iroquois nation, represented the nation in working out details of the peace treaty. He succeeded in negotiating the release of all prisoners from the Dunmore war, and affirmed the Indian promise of neutrality. Speaking for both the Iroquois and the Mingo, he vowed, “We will not suffer either the English or the Americans to march an army through our country.”

Not every Iroquois chief agreed with the neutrality position. Many young warriors wanted to take the British side should war break out between the white men. Guyasuta spent 1776 shuttling back and forth between the Indians and the white men at Forts Pitt and Niagara, trying to reassure the British army and maintain the neutral Indian position.  But 1776 was a fateful year, and fateful events generally require men and women to choose sides.

American Revolution and Indian Civil War

By 1777, neutrality had broken down. The Iroquois relied on British trade goods and believed that they would be more likely to lose their land if the Americans won. Also, in 1777 the British looked like a sure bet to win the war. Eventually even the champions of neutrality, Guyasuta and Cornplanter, sided with the British.

A Presbyterian minister named Samuel Kairland had lived among the Oneida and Tuscarora Indians for eight years and convinced them to take the American side. He assured them that the Americans would honor their land claims. These conflicting loyalties would soon lead to disaster for the Indians.

The Americans had occupied Fort Stanwix, forming an impediment to British General John Burgoyne’s goal of controlling the area between the St. Lawrence River and New York City. In August of 1777, Burgoyne sent a force under Lieutenant Colonel General Barry St. Leger to recapture the fort. St. Leger sent about 500 Seneca and Mohawk among his force to lay siege.

But their Oneida allies had warned the Americans of the coming attack, and they were prepared. A small army of Oneidas and Americans ambushed the besieging Mohawk and Seneca. A vicious hand-to-hand battle followed. One Seneca veteran later said, “The blood shed made a stream running down the sloping ground.”

The battle resulted in an official Iroquois civil war. Guyasuta and Cornplanter sent the bloody hatchet to the Oneida, and their allies attacked an Ottawa village. The Oneida attacked a Mohawk village in retaliation. Burgoyne’s campaign to gain control of the Mohawk valley had failed. But it had ignited a civil war that would fatally weaken the Iroquois nation.

Next time: Guyasuta’s life in the new American nations

Sources

Crytzer, Brady J. Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LCC, 2013.

https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/Siege_of_Fort_Stanwix

Guyasuta’s Wars

Posted by on May 16th, 2022 in Blog | 1 comment

The French and Indian War Does Not End Well for Guyasuta

In 1755, Guyasuta had every reason for confidence in his French allies. But after Braddock’s defeat at the Monongahela (see my previous post), British Secretary of State William Pitt appointed Brigadier General John Forbes to capture Fort Duquesne from the French.

Learning from the catastrophic failure of the Braddock expedition, Forbes took a very methodical approach. He ordered the construction of a series of forts between Carlisle and present-day Pittsburgh. He planned that the completion of the forts would culminate in the capture of the French stronghold at the forks of the Ohio.

Forbes’ plan wasn’t completely foolproof. When he sent Major James Grant on a reconnaissance mission to the French fort, Grant jumped the gun and attacked, with disastrous consequences. Earlier, the French had mounted a failed attack on the under-construction British fort at Ligonier. A loyal French ally, Guyasuta participated in both of these battles.

But, by the fall of 1758, the Mingo warriors clearly saw that Fort Duquesne would soon fall. Besides, it was hunting season. The Mingo abandoned their French allies. On November 24, 1758, George Washington planted the British flag at the site of what would soon become known as Pittsburgh.

By 1760, the French had lost their North American empire to the British. The British signed the Treaty of Easton with the Shawnee, Delaware and Iroquois, promising no white settlements in the Ohio Country.

The Mingo had backed the wrong side and had no promises from the British. They didn’t trust the Treaty of Easton (with good reason, as it turned out), and didn’t want to come back under Iroquois domination. Guyasuta looked west, to the Great Lakes tribes, for new allies.

Guyasuta Makes a Fruitless Trip to the Great Lakes

In 1760, diverse peoples populated the Midwest: French, British, Canadians, Dutch, Huron, Ojibwa, Ottawa and Miami all called the region home. The Indian tribes had been French allies in the war. So, Guyasuta had reason to think they might join with him in standing firm against British encroachment west.

Guyasuta and another Mingo sachem, Tahaiadoris, travelled to the Great Lakes area to pursue an alliance. He proposed that they join together to expel the British from Fort Detroit. Not only did the Great Lakes Indians rebuff the Mingo. They also reported the request to William Johnson, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for North America.

The Mingo were now without allies, and, what’s more, they’d made an enemy of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Guyasuta and Tahaiadoris returned to Western Pennsylvania defeated and empty-handed. But one Ottawa chief had listened sympathetically to their proposal. A few years later, he would set the frontier on fire.

Pontiac’s War

Pontiac was about Guyasuta’s age, born in 1725. Like Guyasuta, he was loyal to the French during the war, and he may have been present at the Battle of the Monongahela. In April of 1763, he decided to implement Guyasuta’s plan to besiege Fort Detroit. When the Ohioans heard of the siege, they blocked the Forbes Road, so that Fort Pitt could neither receive supplies from the east nor send troops to relieve Fort Detroit.

Pontiac’s War was less a coordinated war with Pontiac as a general than a cluster of attacks inspired by the same cause. In May, Forts Sandusky, St. Joseph, and Miami fell in rapid succession. In June, Forts Ouiatenot and Michilimachmace in the west surrendered, and Fort Venango fell to the Mingos.

Meanwhile, in early summer Guyasuta and the rest of the Mingo began to harass Fort Pitt. They’d fire on work parties cutting wheat near the fort or attack small outlying farmsteads. On July 28, the Indians’ casual siege of the fort turned into an assault by about four hundred Delaware, Shawnee, Wyandot and Mingo. The attack killed seven people in the fort and damaged the roofs of some of the buildings.

But on August 1, the Indians suddenly melted away. It turned out that they had a more urgent target.

The Battle of Bushy Run

The Indians had received word that Pennsylvania Governor General Amherst had sent five hundred Highlanders, Royal Americans and Rangers under Henry Bouquet to break the siege of Fort Pitt. Their forced march from Philadelphia in the summer heat took two months.

Guyasuta turned his force away from Fort Pitt, and met Bouquet’s army at Bushy Run on August 5. Local settlers were warned of the imminent battle and fled. Legend has it that one farm wife, Phoebe Byerly, fled with her three young children riding on the family’s cow.

The Indians secured a high spot near Bushy Run and forced Bouquet’s forces into retreat on the first day of battle. But, on August 6, Bouquet set a trap. He pretended to retreat further. The Indians fell for it, and Bouquet flanked them and won the day on more favorable ground.

The sieges were ended and the Forbes Road reopened, but the Indians were still on the warpath. Johnson, the Indian Affairs Superintendent, realized that he would have to negotiate. The resulting Proclamation of 1763 ordered white settlers off all the lands west of the Ohio that had been promised to the Indians in the 1760 Treaty of Easton. Nobody was happy with it. The white settlers felt cheated. Even the prisoner exchange was only partially successful; not all of the captive white people wanted to leave the Indian tribes that they’d lived with for up to a decade. As for the Mingo, they must have understood that the white settlers would continue to flow into the Ohio Country.

Next time: Guyasuta and the run-up to the American Revolution

Travel Recommendation

As part of my research for this post, Al and I travelled to Bushy Run Battlefield State Park and had an absolutely delightful day. The park is maintained by the State, but mostly staffed by a crew of friendly, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable volunteers. And don’t worry if you have trouble walking hilly battlefields: they offer free tours via golf cart! A very worthwhile stop for anyone interested in early American history. Hours and schedule of events are available on their website.

Sources

Crytzer, Brady J. Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LCC, 2013.

Anderson, Niles. The Battle of Bushy Run. Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1975.

Guyasuta: early life

Posted by on Apr 25th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

In his native language, his name meant “He stands up to the cross” or “He sets up the cross.” It’s sometimes rendered as Kiasutha, Kiasola or Kiashuta, but mostly commonly as Guyasuta.

Guyasuta was born around 1725 in the Genesee Valley of New York. His father was a sachem of the Seneca nation, one of the six nations that made up the mighty Iroquois Confederacy. 

The sachems of the Confederacy had an interest in Western Pennsylvania. Control of the Ohio River brought opportunities to trade with the French, as well as with their British allies. It also meant access to dwindling supplies of beaver. The Confederacy had defeated the native Algonquins and established a settlement at Logstown (see my previous post, also called Loggs Town, or Ciningue in French). In its time, it was the biggest, most prosperous town in the Ohio valley, home to councils and fur trading.

Guyasuta’s family migrated to Logstown, sometime before 1752. By then, the Delaware, Shawnee, Seneca and Cayuga Indians in Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia had intermixed. They began to think of themselves as a separate people from the Iroquois. They called themselves Mingo or Ohioans.

Guyasuta meets Washington

In 1753, Guyasuta met George Washington for the first (but by no means the last) time. Washington called him “Tall Hunter” in his personal journals. Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddy had sent Washington to Western Pennsylvania to notify the French that the area was claimed by Great Britain and ask them to leave.

Because the Iroquois Confederacy was allied with the British, Washington came to Logstown and requested a guide to Fort LeBoeuf. The sachems selected Guyasuta, along with Half King, the Cayuga Jeskakake, and Kaghsiwaghtanuint another Seneca.

The background of this trip isn’t as well-understood as it should be. The Lieutenant Governor, Washington’s brother Augustine, and Washington himself had goals unrelated to statecraft. The three gentlemen had engaged in land speculation in the Ohio Country. It was very much in their own financial interests to win the disputed territory for Great Britain.

The Mingo also had interests of their own. Although officially allied with the British because of their membership in the Iroquois Confederacy, these Ohioan Indians chafed under Iroquois control. They saw the French as potential allies against their Iroquois masters. These mixed loyalties complicated their motivations, to say the least.  

As any Pennsylvania school child knows, Washington’s expedition to the French failed spectacularly. It led to the murder of Jumonville, Washington’s defeat at Fort Necessity, and the world’s first global war.

The French & Indian War Begins

We know, of course, that Washington was present at the Battle of the Monongahela, a disaster for the British. Guyasuta’s participation is less certain, but it seems likely. We do know that Guyasuta committed himself to the French side in the war. He hoped that a defeat for the British/Iroquois alliance would mean independence for the Mingo.

We also know that Guyasuta represented his people in alliance negotiations with the French. And we know that he spent the winter of 1755-6 in Montreal, making plans with his new allies.

In 1756, Guyasuta and his Mingo warriors attacked homesteads and trading posts all along the frontier. The attacks spread terror and convinced many British settlers to move back east. Said one, “Our tender infants hath their brains dashed out, our wives big with child hath their bellies ript open, those killed within their houses are mostly burnt with them. . . if thay flie into the woods or hideth in the hedges the murderers soon finds them and plunges their hatchets either into their brest or skill. . . their once sweet cheeks and lips now stained with dust and blood and their bosom filled with clotted gore.”

At this point, it looked like Guyasuta had backed the right side. The French seemed sure to win. But the tide was about to turn. . .

Coming in next month’s post: How did the end of the French & Indian War impact the Mingo people? And what was Guyasuta doing in the run-up to another historic conflict?

Sources

Crytzer, Brady J. Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LCC, 2013.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guyasuta

Guyasuta

Posted by on Mar 25th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

Like 21st-century Ukraine, the Mingo Indians in 18th-century Western Pennsylvania found themselves caught in the power politics of three imperial powers.

In the early 18th century, two powers dominated what is today the northeastern United States: the British and the Iroquois Confederacy. The Confederacy resulted from a series of bloody wars of conquest starting in the thirteenth century. The Seneca, Cayuga, Onandaga, Oneida and Mohawk nations made up the Confederacy.

In addition, French power loomed to the north, in Canada.

The British, the French, and the Iroquois all recognized the opportunities presented by the Ohio Valley. Some Indians from the Iroquois and Shawnee tribes migrated west in the early 18th century. They came for several reasons. The Iroquois wanted to stake a claim to the area. European immigrants were rapidly filling the northeast. And a smallpox epidemic in 1733 and a drought in 1741 drove many people west. They began to settle in what was then known as the Ohio Country, joining or displacing the native Algonquin and Delaware peoples. Today we call the area West Virginia, Ohio and western Pennsylvania,   

Some historians refer to these settlers as Ohioans or New Ohioans. They called themselves the Mingo. The Mingo came to see themselves as a separate people from the Iroquois Confederacy, and to resent the Confederacy’s power over them. They wanted to make their own rules, and trade freely with both the French and the other Indian tribes to their northwest.

Guyasuta and the Ohio Valley

In 1724, a baby was born in New York’s Genessee River Valley, the son of a Seneca chief. His family soon migrated to the Mingo village of Logstown beside the Beautiful River, the Ohio. The little Indian boy grew up in the forested hills of western Pennsylvania. He met George Washington more than once, figured as a warrior or diplomat in the most important events of 18th-century North America, often chose the losing side, and died brokenhearted. Today a status of him with George Washington overlooks the city of Pittsburgh from Mount Washington.

His name was Guyasuta.

I was reading about him just as Al and I had participated in a Sunday School class about native Americans. Their history is early American history. But most of us know very little about it. It has been erased or ignored – “cancelled” in current parlance. I wanted to do my small part to remedy that by telling Guyasuta’s story in more depth.

So, watch this space for a series of posts on a man who tried to protect his people against three different imperial powers at a time when lives, fortunes and a whole continent were at stake.

Sources

Brady J. Crytzer. Guyasuta and the Fall of Indian America. Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, LLC, 2016.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logstown

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guyasuta

Storer College

Posted by on Feb 26th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

The first known Black resident of Harpers Ferry, a slave of Robert Harper, came to the area with Harper when he bought squatter’s rights from Peter Stephens in 1747. As the river town grew into an industrial powerhouse, the population naturally expanded. By the time of John Brown’s raid in 1859, ten percent of the town’s three thousand residents were Black, about evenly divided between enslaved and free.

And, after the Civil War, Harpers Ferry became the home of an institution that educated thousands of Black students over a period of eighty-eight years.

The Beginning

At the end of the war, more than thirty thousand newly-freed Black people lived in the Shenandoah Valley. It isn’t hard to imagine how eager they must have been to make the most of their newfound freedom. But most were illiterate. Until the end of the war, it had been illegal to teach any Black person to read or write.

Schools sprung up all over the South, many of them church-affiliated. The little school in Harpers Ferry was one of many created in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, by Freewill Baptist minister Nathan Cook Brackett, in cooperation with the Freedmen’s Bureau. It started by educating adult freed slaves alongside their children. But most of the adults gave up in frustration. Contemporary sources described the first class of nineteen formerly enslaved children as “poorly clad, ill-kept and undisciplined.”

But then the school came to the attention of a wealthy Maine abolitionist, John Storer. Storer offered a $10,000 grant to the school under certain conditions. The school must admit students regardless of color. It must make plans to become a degree-granting college. And it must raise a $10,000 match within one year.  

Under Brackett’s determined leadership, the school managed to raise the $10,000 with only one day to spare, thanks to a combination of donations, government funding and multiple mortgages. Thus, Storer College was born in 1867.

Early History of Storer College

The school struggled at first. Until 1869, the war-damaged armory paymaster’s house (Lockwood House) served as both the schoolhouse and the dormitory for teachers and resident students.

White residents resented the education of their Black neighbors. Students and teachers reported regular harassment. Vandals damaged the school buildings. Local newspapers slandered Brackett, and local politicians made efforts to close the school.

Brackett’s daughter told a possibly-apocryphal story of a time when a mob of whites confronted him with lynching on their minds. According to the story, a Confederate veteran rescued him and declared that the mob would not touch Brackett without killing him first. Apparently, during one of the many battles that took place near Harpers Ferry during the Civil War, this veteran had been wounded and left for dead, and Brackett saved his life.

But Brackett persevered. In 1869, the U.S. Congress turned over to Storer three more buildings, along with the land they stood on. Black teachers and ministers joined the formerly all-white faculty. Frederick Douglass served as an early trustee.

Later History and Legacy

By 1872, the College had enabled 75% of Harpers Ferrry’s Black citizens to own real estate, an extraordinary number for the time (and a number that has yet to be matched today in most cities in the United States). An article in the school newspaper in 1892 declared, “When the time comes that the colored people of the South live in their own houses, cultivate their own farms, and read their own ballots, there will no longer be a race problem.”

Not until the twentieth century did the college live up to its name and to Storer’s condition. Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, it taught what we today would call elementary school, and later what was then known as “normal school” or teacher’s college. Finally, in the 1900s, Storer became accredited to grant two-year and then four-year degrees.

Storer held its students to strict behavioral standards. Students were required to have a Bible and attend chapel, Sunday School and daily assemblies. They were not permitted to attend dances on weekends, nor to leave the campus at all during the week. But the Storer community was also strong and nurturing. “Here you will gain new understanding of community living and of friendships,” said one grateful graduate. The school was also a center of the protest movement against Jim Crow laws in the early and mid twentieth century.

Nathan Brackett stayed on as principal until 1896 and remained on the board of trustees until his death in 1910. Even after Nathan’s death, members of the Brackett family served as trustees as long as the school was open.

And the End

But despite the dedication of the Brackett family, Storer closed its doors in 1955. It’s tempting to conclude that the West Virginia Board of Education closed the school out of malice, following the Brown v Board of Education decision in 1954. White malice was surely a factor, but the story is more complicated. Although the Freewill Baptists continued to fund the school and it also received a $20,000 annual stipend from the state, it continued to struggle financially. Average enrollment was only 176 students per year. Storer’s remote location in a declining industrial down wasn’t a draw. And, by 1955, Black students had many more options.

But Storer’s place in history was assured. For twenty-five years, it was the only school in West Virginia where a Black person could get any education beyond the elementary level. And over its eighty-eight years of existence, it educated over seven thousand future Black leaders.

Sources:

Most of the information in this post came from the excellent exhibits in the African-American History Museum of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

Other sources:

https://www.nps.gov/hafe/learn/historyculture/storer-college.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storer_College

Harpers Ferry National Park

Posted by on Feb 4th, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

Tall, craggy cliffs tower over the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, topped by frost-covered trees like gray ghosts. On the bright winter day when we visited Harpers Ferry, the Potomac stretched broad and green below us, dotted with frost-glazed rocks, while the busier, bluer Shenandoah rushed to meet it.

The majestic beauty of the scene seemed just the right stage for the dramatic events that occurred there in 1859

Harpers Ferry Early History

The first known settlers in the area that would later be named Harpers Ferry were Patawomeck Indians who called their village Pomeiock.

But, with the coming of the white man, it didn’t take Europeans long to recognize the advantages of the spot where present-day Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia meet. In the eighteenth century, the land officially belonged to Lord Fairfax. But the first white settler was Peter Stephens, in 1732. In 1747, Stephens sold his squatters rights to Robert Harper for 30 guineas. Harper got a patent on 125 acres around 1750 and by 1761 had established the ferry service that would give the town its name. Harpers Ferry became a starting point for settlers moving into the Shenandoah Valley and further west.

Ferry service ended in 1824, with the construction of a covered wooden bridge. But by then, Harpers Ferry already bustled with industry. The town’s history as an industrial town began when George Washington proposed the site for an armory and arsenal. Construction began in 1799, and the arsenal eventually produced more than 600,000 muskets, rifles and pistols between 1801 and 1861. It supplied the tomahawks, knives, guns and other equipment for the Lewis & Clark expedition in 1803.

At its peak, the town at one time boasted 3000 residents and multiple busy factories in addition to the arsenal, powered by the rushing waters of two rivers: a bottling plant, a pulp mill, a cotton factory, machine shops, a flour mill, a cooper, blacksmith, iron foundry, sawmill, chopping mill and wagon maker.

Harpers Ferry was the home of the first successful use of interchangeable parts. John Hall of Hall’s Rifle Works pioneered the notion of using the same parts in multiple products, a technique that was as important to the industrial revolution as Henry Ford’s assembly line.

But today Harpers Ferry’s fame rests on only one thing – and one man.

John Brown

John Brown was born in 1800 in Torrington, Connecticut. Married twice, he fathered twenty children. He moved around a lot, living at various times in Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York and Kansas. He succeeded and then ultimately failed at several different businesses, including leather tanning, surveying, raising livestock, sheep farming and real estate.

A passionate abolitionist, Brown was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and formed the League of Gileadites to help runaway slaves escape to Canada.

In 1855, he moved to Kansas. Kansas in the 1850s was a battlefield between pro- and anti-slavery advocates. And I mean the word “battlefield” literally. In response to the sacking of Lawrence, KS, by a pro-slavery gang, Brown led a small band to Pottawatomie Creek on May 24, 1856. They dragged five unarmed men and boys – whom they believed to be pro-slavers – from their homes and brutally murdered them. Then they rode into Missouri, freeing eleven slaves and murdering their owner.

It seems incredible today that Brown never faced any justice for these murders. Instead, he spent the next two and a half years traveling through New England to raise money for anti-slavery activity in the South.

By 1859, Brown had come up with a plan to spark a slave rebellion in Virginia. He and a group of about two dozen followers, including four of his sons, rented a farmhouse four miles north of Harpers Ferry. To deflect suspicion, the men took women with them, including Brown’s daughter Annie and daughter-in-law Martha, and rented the farmhouse under the alias Isaac Smith. The men trained for an operation that would capture the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and arm Blacks to rebel against their enslavers

Somehow, the plan leaked. Brown heard that a search warrant was imminent, so he decided to launch the attack eight days earlier than planned.

Brown Attacks

At 11 p.m. on October 16, Brown left the women and three men at the farmhouse as a rear guard, and led the rest of his band across the bridge into Harpers Ferry. They took as their first hostage Lewis Washington, great-nephew of George Washington, freeing his twelve slaves and seizing two valuable Washington relics.

They then cut the telegraph lines in both directions. A free Black B&O Railroad baggage handler, Heyward Shephard, was killed when he accidentally encountered the raiders.

Taking the armory was the easy part. In the middle of the night, only one man guarded the armory, and he handed over the keys. As soon as other armory employees arrived for work early in the morning, they were taken hostage.

Executing the rest of the plan was harder. Brown assumed that his gang would only have to hold the arsenal on their own for a few hours. He’d assumed that slaves would rally to his cause as soon as they heard about it, and, once armed, would march through the area freeing more slaves. But he apparently hadn’t thought through how to get the word out to the enslaved. Soon enough, though, word got out to those less friendly to his cause.

The Raid Begins to Falter

Brown controlled the rail line, but allowed a train passing through town to go on to the next stop in Monocacy, where the conductor alerted government & railroad executives to the raid. By noon, several companies of militia had arrived, taken the bridges and cut off Brown’s escape.

Brown and his men retreated to the arsenal’s small fire engine house, known today as John Brown’s Fort. The militia were poorly armed and many of them were drunk by afternoon. The militia combined with angry townspeople to form an angry, drunken, ineffective mob. The battle for the arsenal became a standoff.

President Buchanan then called in the Marines from Washington Navy Yard, only about sixty miles away. The Marines’ commander, Colonel Robert E. Lee, hastily arrived from his home in Arlington in civilian clothes. But he also had with him 81 privates, 11 sergeants, 13 corporals, a bugler, and seven howitzers.

Lee sent J. E. B. Stuart to offer Brown’s party surrender terms. Brown was having none of it. And so the attack commenced. Lee’s forces fairly quickly broke down the doors of the engine house. After that, the battle took all of three minutes.

Ten of Brown’s raiders were killed, including two of his own sons. Brown and three others were captured. Seven of the raiders escaped, but two of those were also later captured. One of the escaped and later captured was Brown’s son Owen. The Marines had to protect the captured raiders from the drunken mob outside the arsenal.

All of the hostages were freed. Eight militia were wounded. Lee’s forces suffered only one casualty.

Aftermath of the Raid on Harpers Ferry

On November 2, 1859, John Brown was convicted of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia and inciting a slave insurrection. On December 2, he was executed by hanging. In one of those you-couldn’t-make-this-up coincidences, witnesses at his execution included Walt Whitman and John Wilkes Booth. At his trial, John Brown said, “…if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments–I submit; so let it be done!”

An already divided nation quickly took sides on the matter of the raid. To many in the North, Brown was a martyr. The South was infuriated. Ardent pro-slavery activist Edmund Ruffin, among others, claimed that the raid proved that the North actively supported slave rebellion. Distrust between the two factions grew. A catastrophic Civil War soon followed.

As for the town of Harpers Ferry, it never recovered. The day after Virginia seceded from the Union, the U.S. Army emptied the armory and burned the arsenal. The town changed hands eight times during the Civil War and was also subject to multiple floods in the decades that followed, and industry declined. From a high of 3000 in the nineteenth century, the population of Harpers Ferry has fallen to about 250 people, with the National Park its main attraction – along with, of course, the mighty cliffs and beautiful rivers that will stand long after all warring nations have passed away.

A Thoroughly Enjoyable Day

Al and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Harpers Ferry National Park. It was off-season, but most of the exhibits were open, and we had them mostly to ourselves. I have never been disappointed in any of our National Parks, and this one was no exception. The exhibits were very well done, thought-provoking and informative. Sadly, we lost most of our photos due to a glitch with Al’s camera that we still haven’t figured out, so the photos in this post are mostly grabbed from the internet.

One our way home, we had a very good lunch at Tom’s Taphouse in the pretty little town of Boonsboro, Maryland. Boonsboro was founded in 1792 and still features at least three log structures still in use. One is a pottery, one is a tattoo parlor, and the other is a private residence.

Watch for my next post later this month. I’ll write about some interesting African-American history that we discovered in Harpers Ferry, and the final verdict (in my opinion) on John Brown.

Sources

Most of the information in this post comes from the excellent educational exhibits at Harpers Ferry National Park.

Other Sources:
http://harpersferrywv.us/about.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpers_Ferry,_West_Virginia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brown%27s_raid_on_Harpers_Ferry

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/john-brown

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