Report of Senate Committee Investigating the Attack at Harper's Ferry

June 15, 1860
Minority Report of the Senate Committee
Testimony Before the Committee

Mr. MASON submitted the following




The Select Committee of the Senate appointed to inquire into the late invasion and seizure of the public property at Harper's Ferry, beg leave to submit their report:


On the 14th of December, 1859, the resolutions annexed were adopted by the Senate of the United States:

"Resolved, That a committee be appointed to inquire into the facts attending the late invasion and seizure of the armory and arsenal of the United States at Harper's Ferry, in Virginia, by a band of armed men, and report­


“Whether the same was attended by armed resistance to the authorities and public force of the United States, and by the murder of any of the citizens of Virginia, or of any troops sent there to protect the public property;


"Whether such invasion and seizure was made under color of any organization intended to subvert the government of any of the States of the Union; what was the character and extent of such organization; and whether any citizens of the United States not present were implicated therein, or accessory thereto, by contributions of money, arms, munitions, or otherwise;

“What was the character and extent of the military equipment in the hands or under the control of said armed band; and where and how and when the same was obtained and transported to the place so invaded.


"That said committee report whether any and what legislation may, in their opinion, be necessary on the part of the United States for the future preservation of the peace of the country, or for the safety of the public property; and that said committee have power to send for persons and papers."

In conducting this inquiry the committee examined a number of witnesses, who were summoned before them from different States of the Union. Their testimony in full will be found annexed to this report.

Upon the first subject of inquiry to which their attention was directed by the resolutions, to wit: Whether "the invasion and seizure of the armory and the arsenal of the United States at Harper's Ferry, in Virginia, by a band of armed men, was attended by armed resistance to the authorities and public force of the United States, and by the murder of any of the citizens of Virginia, or of any troops sent there to protect the public property."


The committee find, from the testimony, that this so-called invasion originated with a man named John Brown, who conducted it in person. It appears that Brown had been for some previous years involved in the late difficulties in the Territory of Kansas. He went there at an early day after the settlement of that Territory began, and either took with him or was joined by several sons, and, perhaps, sons-in-law, and, as shown by the proof's, was extensively connected with many of the law­less military expeditions belonging to the history of those times. It would appear, from the testimony of more than one of the witnesses, that, before leaving the Territory, he fully admitted that he had not gone there with any view to permanent settlement, but that, finding all the elements of strife and intestine war there in full operation, created by the division of sentiment between those constituting what were called the free-State and slave-State parties, his purpose was, by participating in it, to keep the public mind inflamed on the subject of slavery in the country, with a view to effect such organizations as might enable him to bring about servile insurrection in the slave states.


    To carry these plans into execution, it appears that, in the winter of 1857-58, he collected a number of young men in the Territory of Kansas, most of whom afterwards appeared with him at Harper's Ferry, and placed them under military instruction at a place called Springdale, in the State of Iowa, their instructor being one of the party thus collected, and who, it was said, had some military training.

     These men were maintained by Brown; and in the spring of 1858 he took them with him to the town of Chatham, in Canada, where he claimed to have summoned a convention for the purpose of organizing a provisional government, as preliminary to his descent upon some one of the slave States. The proceedings of this convention, with the form of the provisional government adopted there, were taken amongst the papers found with Brown's effects after his capture, and were before the committee, and will be found in the appendix to this report. So far as "the committee have been able to learn from the testimony, the convention was composed chiefly of Negroes who were residents in and about this town of Chatham, in Canada. The only white persons present were Brown and those who accompanied him. The presiding officer of the convention was a Negro, and a preacher. At the close of the convention Brown returned with the party he had taken there back to Ohio, and permitted most of them to disperse, upon the agreement that they would be at his command whenever caned for. Two of them, however, to wit: John E. Cook, afterwards executed in Virginia, and Richard Realf were sent on the following missions: Cook was sent to Harper's Ferry, in Virginia, with directions to remain there and thereabout subject to the future call of his chief. Realf was sent to the city of New York, as shown by his testimony, for the following purposes: it would seem from the testimony that a man named Hugh Forbes, an Englishman, who, it was said, had the reputation of mili­tary experience in some of the revolutions in Southern Europe, had been engaged by Brown to take charge of his military sch001 in Iowa. Differences, however, arising between them, Forbes, who had gone to the West with that view, abandoned the project and returned to New York. Whilst the convention was sitting at Chatham, Brown received information which led him to believe that Forbes had betrayed his counsels, and Realf was dispatched to New York with instructions, if practicable, to get possession of such correspondence with Brown as might prove the facts of his intended descent upon some one of the slave States should his plans be divulged-a mission which, for the reasons stated in the testimony of Realf, altogether failed.

In conducting the inquiry, the committee deemed it a matter of importance to have the testimony of Forbes. It appeared, however, that not long after the explosion at Harper's Ferry, Forbes left the country, and the committee were not able to procure his attendance before them.

As to the attack itself at Harper's Ferry, the committee find that Brown first appeared in that neighborhood early in July, 1859. He came there under the assumed name of Isaac Smith, attended by two of his sons and a son-in-law. He gave out in the neighborhood that he was a farmer from New York, who desired to rent or purchase land in that vicinity, with a view to agricultural pursuits, and soon after­wards rented a small farm on the Maryland side of the river, and some four or five miles from Harper's Ferry, having on it convenient houses, and began farming operations in a very small way. He had little or no intercourse with the people of the country; and when questioned through the curiosity of his neighbors, stated further that he was accustomed to mining operations, and expected to find deposits of metal in the adjacent mountains. He lived in an obscure manner, and attracted but little attention, and certainly no suspicion whatever as to his ulterior objects. Whilst there, he kept some two or three of his party, under assumed names, at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, who there received, and from time to time forwarded to him, the arms of different kinds of which he was subsequently found in possession. Cook, one of his men spoken of above, it appears, hl1d resided at Harper's Ferry and its neighborhood for some twelve months before Brown appeared, pursuing various occupations. He left the Ferry a few days before the attack was made, and joined Brown at his country place. The whole numbers assembled with Brown at the time of the invasion were twenty-one men, making with him in all twenty-two.

On Sunday night, the 16th of October, 1859, between 11 and 12 o'clock at night, Brown, attended by probably eighteen of his company, crossed the bridge connecting the village of Harper's Ferry with the Maryland shore, and, on reaching the Virginia side, proceeded immediately to take possession of the buildings of the armory and arsenal of the United States. These men were armed, each, with a Sharp's rifled carbine, and with revolving pistols. The inhabitants of the village asleep, the presence of this party was not known until they appeared and demanded admittance at the gate leading to the public works, which was locked. The watchman in charge states that on his refusal to admit them, the gate was opened by violence and the party entered, made him prisoner, and established themselves immediately in a strong brick building used as an engine-house, with a room for the watchmen adjoining it. They brought with them a wagon, with one horse, containing arms and some prepared torches.

The invasion thus silently commenced, was as silently conducted, none of the inhabitants having been aroused. Armed parties were then stationed at corners of the streets. Their next movement was to take possession, by detached parties of three or four, of the arsenal of the United States, where the public arms were chiefly deposited, a building' not fiH from the engine-house; and by another party, of the workshops and other buildings of the armory, about half a mile off, on the Shenandoah river, called" Hall's rifle works." These dispo­sitions made, an armed party was sent into the adjoining country, with a view to the seizure of two or three of the principal inhabitants, with such of their slaves as might be found, and to bring them to Harper's Ferry (in the language of Brown) as "hostages;" Cook, who had become well acquainted with the country around Harper's Ferry, acting as their guide. They thus seized Colonel Lewis W. 'Washington, with several of his slaves, (negro men» at his residence, some five or six miles distant; and in like manner a gentleman named Allstadt, who lived near the road leading from Colonel Washington's to the Ferry, two or three miles distant from the latter, with some five or six of his slaves, (also negro men.) They-brought off also from Colonel Wa8h­ington's such arms as they found in his house, with a wagon and four horses, for subsequent use, as will be shown. This party with their prisoners arrived at the Ferry a little before day, and the latter were carried at once to the room adjoining the engine-house, where they were kept in custody.

     Having thus far apparently perfected his plans, a party was sent, taking Washington's wagon and horses, and five or six of the captured slaves, into Maryland to bring the arms deposited at Brown's house there to a point nearer the Ferry and more accessible. On their way, they seized a gentleman named Byrne, who lived in Maryland, three or four miles from Harper's Ferry, and whom they afterwards sent to the Ferry and placed amongst the other prisoners at the engine-house. It is shown that their design was to have taken at the same time as many of the slaves of Byrne as might be found, but in this they did not succeed. During Monday, a large portion of the arms, consisting of carbines, pistols, in boxes, and pikes, were brought off in the wagon and deposited in a school-house about a mile from the village of Harper's Ferry, on the Maryland side.

     The first alarm that was given, indicating the presence of the hostile party, appears to have been on the arrival there of the mail train of cars on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, on its way from Wheeling to Baltimore, and which arrived at Harper's Ferry at its usual hour, about half past one o'clock in the morning. On the arrival of Brown's party, he had stationed two men, well armed, on the bridge, with directions to permit none to pass. This bridge is a viaduct for the railroad to cross the river, having connected with it a bridge for ordinary travel. When the train arrived, it was arrested by this guard, and very soon afterwards a Negro named Hayward, a free man who lived at Harper's Ferry and was in the service of the railroad company as a porter, was shot by this guard and died in a few hours. His statement was, as shown in the testimony of John D. Starry, one of the witnesses, "that he had been out on the railroad bridge, looking after a watchman who was missing, and he had been ordered to halt by some men who were there; and instead of doing that, he turned to go back to the office, and as he turned they shot him in the back." The alarm, however, did not extend to the inhabitants of the town, the scene of operations, so far, being near the river, at points occupied by the railroad structures and the public works; the principal part of the town being somewhat remote from that quarter. The train of cars, after being detained some hours, was permitted to proceed on its wav to Baltimore.

When daylight came, as the inhabitants left their houses, consisting chiefly of workmen and others employed in the public works, on their way to their usual occupations, and unconscious of what had occurred during the night, they were seized in the streets by Brown's men and carried as prisoners to the engine-house, until, with those previously there, they amounted to some thirty or forty in number. Pikes were put in the hands of such of the slaves as they had taken, and they were kept under the eyes of their captors, as sentinels, near the build­ings they occupied. But their movements being conducted at night, it was not until the morning was well advanced that the presence and character of the party was generally known in the village.

The nearest towns to Harper's Ferry were Charlestown, distant some ten miles, and Martinsburg, about 20. As soon as information could reach those points, the citizens assembled, hurriedly enrolled themselves into military bands) and with such arms as they could find, proceeded to the Ferry. Before their arrival, however, it would seem that some four or five of the marauders, who were stationed at "Hall's rifle works," were driven out by the citizens of the village, and either killed or captured. In the course of the day, an attack was made on the engine and watch-house by those of the armed citizens of the adjoining country who had thus hurriedly arrived, and the prisoners in the watch-house, adjoining the engine-house, were liberated. The attacking parties were fired on by the marauders in the engine-house, and some were severely wounded. It should have been stated that during the night Brown selected ten of those whom he considered the principal men of his prisoners, and carried them into the engine-house, where they were detained. The rest thus left in the watch-house were those who were liberated during the attack spoken of. The engine house is a strong building, and was occupied by Brown, with seven or eight of his men.

During the day it appears that all of Brown's party, who were not with him in the engine-house, were either killed or captured, except those who were on the Maryland side engaged in removing the arms, as above stated. Before, however, they were thus captured or destroyed; they shot and killed two persons, citizens of Virginia, in the streets. One of them, a man named Boerley, who lived in the village, was killed by a rifle shot near his own house. He had taken no part in any of the attacks, and does not appear even to have been armed. The other, Mr. George W. Turner, was a gentleman who lived in the country some ten miles distant) and who, it appears, had gone to the village upon information that his neighbor, Mr. Washington, had been seized in his house and carried off during the night. It woul4 seem that, for his safety, he had taken a gun offered to him by some one in the village, and was proceeding along the street unattended, with it in his hand; when he also was killed by a rifle ball.

The party immediately under Brown remained barricaded in the engine-house during the whole of that day, (Monday.) They had confined with them ten most respectable and valuable citizens, kept, as stated by Brown, in the nature of "hostages," for the security of his own party, he assuming that a regard for the safety of the" hostages" would deter their friends and neighbors from attempting their rescue by force.

During the day an irregular fire was kept up against the engine house by the people who assembled, and which was returned by the party within through loop-holes made in the wall, or through the doorway, partially opened.

In this manner two of Brown's party were killed at the doorway; and in the afternoon a gentleman of the village, Mr. Beckham, was killed by a shot from the engine-house. It was clearly shown that he was entirely unarmed, and had exposed his person only for an instant on the railroad bridge opposite to the house.

To conclude this narrative, it appears that as soon as intelligence could be conveyed to Washington of the state of things at Harper's Ferry, the marines on duty at the navy-yard were ordered to the scene of action, under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee, of the army.

The official report of Colonel Lee, found in the appendix to this report, will show in what manner the affair was ended by the capture of Brown and his remaining party, and the rescue in safety of those he detained as prisoners.

Colonel Lee, it will be seen, found it necessary to carry the house by storm, the party within refusing to surrender except on terms properly held inadmissible. In this affair one marine was killed, and another slightly wounded.

Such, it is believed, are succinctly the facts attending this great outrage; and the committee find in response to so much of the resolu­tions of the Senate, that the armory and other public works of the United States were in the possession and under the control of this hostile party more than thirty hours; that besides the resistance offered by them to the military force of Virginia, they resisted by force the lawful authority of the United States sent there to dispossess them, killing one, and wounding another of the troops of the United States, and as shown that, before they were thus overpowered. they killed in the streets three of the citizens of Virginia who were alone and not even in military array, beside the negro who was killed by them on their first arrival.

It does not appear that any of the public property was stolen or carried away, although a large sum of money was in the paymaster's office near to the engine-house, and doubless would have been seized had they known where it was. There was nothing to protect it but the ordinary safety of an iron door.

In answer to the inquiry contained in the third resolution of the series, "Whether such invasion and seizure was 'made under color of any organization, intended to subvert the government of any of the States of the Union, what was the character and extent of such organi­zation-, and whether any citizens of the United States, not present, were implicated therein, or accessory thereto, by contributions of money, arms, munitions, or otherwise," the committee report:

There will be found in the Appendix, a copy of the proceedings of a convention held at Chatham, in Canada, before referred to, of the pro­visional form of government there pretended to have been instituted, the object of which clearly was to subvert the government of one or more of the States, and of course to that extent the government of the United States. The character of the military organization is shown by the commissions issl1ed to certain of the armed party as captains, lieutenants, &c., a specimen of which will be found in the Appendix. It clearly appeared that the scheme of Brown was taking with him comparatively but few men, but those had been carefully trained by military instruction previously, and were to act as officers. For his military force he relied, very clearly, on inciting insurrection amongst the slaves, who he supposed would flock to him as soon as it became known that he had entered the State and had been able to retain his position-an expectation to no extent realized, though it was owing alone to the loyalty and well-affected disposition of the slaves that he did not succeed in inciting a servile war, with its necessary attendants of rapine and murder of all sexes, ages, and conditions. It is very certain from the proofs before the committee, that not one of the captured slaves, although arms were placed in their hands, attempted to use them; but on the contrary, as soon as their safety would admit, in the absence of their captors, their arms were thrown away and they hastened back to their homes.

    It is shown that Brown brought with him for this expedition arms sufficient to have placed an effective weapon in the hands of not less than 1,500 men; besides which, had be succeeded in obtaining the aid he looked to from the slaves, he had entirely under his control all the arms of the United States deposited in the arsenal at Harper's Ferry. After his capture, beside the arms he brought in the wagon to the Ferry, there were found on the Maryland side, where he had left them, 200 Sharp's rifled carbines, and 200 revolver pistols, packed in the boxes of the manufacturers, with 900 or 1,000 pikes, carefully and strongly made, the blade of steel being securely riveted to a handle about five feet in length; many thousand percussion caps in boxes, and ample stores of fixed ammunition, besides a large supply of powder in kegs, and a chest that contained hospital and other military stores, beside a quantity of extra clothing for troops.

     For an answer to the inquiry, how far" any citizens of the United States, not present, were implicated therein or accessory thereto by contributions of money, arms, munitions, or otherwise," the committee deem it best to refer to the evidence which accompanies this report. It does not appear that such contributions were made with actual knowledge of the use for which they were designed by Brown, although it does appear that money was freely contributed by those styling themselves friends of this man Brown, and friends alike of what they styled "the cause of freedom, " (of which they claimed him to be an especial apostle,) without inquiry as to the way in which the money would be used by him to advance such pretended cause. The evidence fully shows that he had the pikes manufactured in Connecticut especially for this expedition, and certainly they would appear to have been the most formidable weapon which could have been placed in the unskillful hands for which they were intended. For a description of this weapon, and the story told by Brown to the manufacturer when he ordered them, the committees refer to the evidence of the latter. They were sent directly from Connecticut to. Brown, under his assumed name of Isaac Smith, first to Chambersburg, in Pennsylvania, there received by some of Brown's men, who were placed there also under assumed names, and by whom they were transported to his abode near Harper's Ferry.

   The history of the rifles and pistols is most interesting to this inquiry. It appears from the evidence that, in 1856, these 200 Sharp's carbines had been forwarded by an association in Massachusetts called the" Massachusetts State Kansas Committee," at first to Chicago, on their way to Kansas. At Chicago they were placed under the control of another association, called the" National KansQ, 8 Aid Committee." There being some difficulty, from the disordered condition of the country at that time, in getting them to Kansas, they were sent by this last named association into Iowa, where they remained. In January, 185'7, it seems there was a meeting of this National Kansas Committee in the city of New York. That committee was constituted of one member from most of the non-slaveholding States. At that meeting John Brown appeared, and made application to have these arms placed in his possession. It would seem that he wanted them, as he expressed it, "for purposes of defense in Kansas;" but as the troubles there were nearly ended, such pretension seems to have been discredited by those to whom it was addressed.

     At page 245 of the testimony, a full account of this application for the arms will be found, as given by H. B. Hurd, who was the secretary of the association. He states that, "When Mr. Brown was pressing his claim for the aid desired, I asked him this question: 'If you get the arms and money you desire, will you invade Missouri or any slave Territory?' to which he replied, 'I am no adventurer; you all know me; you are acquainted with my history; you know what I have done in Kansas; I do not expose my plans; no one knows them but myself, except, perhaps, one; I do not wish to be interrogated; if you wish to give me anything, I want you to give it freely; I have no other purpose but to serve the cause of liberty.' “And he also adds: “Although it had been understood by the members of the committee that Mr. Brown intended to arm one hundred men, to be scattered about in the Territory and to. be actual settlers, and engaged in their several pursuits, only to be called out to repel invasion or defend the Kansas free-State settlers, yet this reply was not satisfactory to all, and the arms were voted back to your committee" (meaning the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee) "to be disposed of as you thought best. "

     How and why these arms (the two hundred Sharp's rifles) were originally purchased by this Massachusetts State Kansas Committee, will appear from the testimony of George L. Stearns, who was its president or chairman, at page 22'7 of the testimony. It is shown by Hurd that, after the national committee, for the reason stated, had refused to entrust them to Brown, on his application, they" were voted back," as Hurd calls it, to the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee; and, on page 229 of the testimony, will be found a letter from Stearns to Brown, dated at Boston, on the 8th of January, 185'7, advising him that he was directed by his committee to send him an order on Edward Clark, of Lawrence, in Kansas Territory, for the two hundred rifles, "with four thousand ball cartridges, thirty-one military caps," (afterwards corrected as thirty-one thousand percussion caps,) which he states were then stored at Tabor, in Iowa, with directions to hold the same as agent of the society, subject to their order, and, at the same time, authorizing him to draw on their treasurer, at Boston, for a sum of money not to exceed five hundred dollars. At page 228 of the testimony will be found the following question, put to Stearns, with his answer:

"Question. Was it at Brown's request that you put him in possession of these arms in January, 1857?

"Answer. No, sir; but because we needed an agent to secure them," &c.

And again, at page 230, he was asked: "Did I understand you to say that this was voluntarily proffered to him, and not at his request?" (Meaning the arms)

Yes, sir.
"Question: Why did you desire to place these arms in his possession?
"Answer For safe-keeping.
"Question Were they not in safe-keeping where they were?
"Answer: They were not substantially in our hands. We had passed them into the hands of the National Kansas Committee, to be transported to Kansas," &c.

    The committee are not disposed to draw harsh, or perhaps uncharitable conclusions; yet they cannot fail to remark that these arms, which had been refused to Brown by the national committee, for the very, satisfactory reason that he gave evasive answers to their inquiry how they were to be used, were proffered to him, and without request on his part, by the Massachusetts committee; and this proffer is found attended by the fact, not a little to be remarked, that contemporaneous with it-that is to say, in January, 185'7-this Mr. Stearns gave authority to Brown to purchase from the Massachusetts Arms Com­pany two hundred revolver pistols, which Stearns alleges he paid for out of his own funds, (page 22'7 of the testimony,) giving to Brown at the same time authority to draw on him at sight for $'7,000, "in sums as it might be wanted, for the subsistence of one hundred men, provided that it should be necessary at any time to call that number into the field for active service in the defense of Kansas, in 1857."

     Considering the comparative tranquil condition of Kansas at the period referred to it is not easy to reconcile this act of the" Massachusetts State Kansas Committee" and its chairman with a reasonable regard to the peace of the country, or the lives of their fellow-citizens. These arms, however, with the two hundred rifles, were left from that time in Brown's possession, although as stated by the witness St0arns, at page 228 of the testimony, "the exigency contemplated did not occur," and therefore no part of the $7,000 was drawn by Brown.

At what time Brown procured the pistols, or transported them to the West, appears only from the testimony of Stearns, who says he paid for them, and the freight on them to Iowa, on production to him of the railroad receipt afterwards, in 1858, but it does appear that they were sent along with the Sharp's rifles from Ohio to him, in the neigh­borhood of Harper's Ferry. In 1858, Brown it appears told Stearns that both the rifles and the pistols were then" stored in Ohio." (Page 232 of the testimony) From the correspondence of John Brown, jr., signing himself" John Smith," with his father, and with J. H. Kagi, (under the name of "J. Henrie,”) shortly before the invasion at Harper' s Ferry, printed in the Appendix, it will be seen that they were sent by him from Ashtabula county, Ohio, to his father at Harper's Ferry, via Chambersburg.

The testimony of the witnesses, Hurd and Stearns, would show that the arms refused to Brown by the national committee, had been after­wards voted to him by the Massachusetts committee-reference to Hurd's statement (page 250) and to the order given by Stearns to Brown (page 234) for the arms, would from their dates seem to con­tradict this, but only as to the order of time. The facts interesting to this inquiry are only, were the arms placed under control of Brown; by whom; and when? and this is clearly shown.

It. is shown fully, from the testimony, that, although Brown when he first went to Kansa's was accompanied by two of his sons; with their families, yet that he never removed his family from ,New York, and that he subsequently freely and fully avowed that he never had an idea of settling in Kansas, but was attracted to remain there only in the hope that by keeping alive the irritation and excited feeling of the settlers on the subject of slavery, and stimulating and accustoming them to war and bloodshed, he would be enabled in some way to lead them across the borders to incite a servil6 war in Missouri, from whence he might be able to extend it to other slaveholding States. Ultimately disappointed in this, and so early as the fall of 1857, he seems to have conceived the plan of a distinct invasion of one of the slaveholding States, under the organization and in the manner in which it was afterwards carried into execution in Virginia. This, of course, re­quired the command of large sums of money; and he seems to have so successfully impressed himself and his capacity for conducting what he and his associates styled" the cause of freedom," upon the sickly, if not depraved, sensibilities of his allies in such" cause," as to com­mand their confidence, if he did not altogether lull their suspicions. Letters to and from Brown and others, in the Appendix, give much insight into the manner and the sources whence his funds were derived.

The testimony shows generally how these contributions were made occasionally in large sums paid directly to Brown, but more usually by collections made in the villages and towns throughout the country by itinerant lecturers; these lectures appear to have been patronized by the principal men in the States where they were delivered. Their topics were. various, but all directed in some manner to what was called" the general cause of freedom;" sometimes for the creation of a fund to aid fugitive slaves in their escape; at other times with no definite character ascribed to them, except that the funds collected were to be used in promoting human freedom; and at other times, as would seem, for the personal expenses or to reimburse supposed losses of Brown. See the evidence of J. R. Giddings, pages 150, 151, and 152, of the testimony. He was a lecturer through the Northwestern States, one class of his lectures devoted, as he states, to "an exposition of the doctrines of the higher law," and which he expounds, at page 151 of the testimony, thus:

"What I mean by the higher law is that power which for the last two centuries has. been proclaimed by the philosophers and jurists and statesmen of Germany, Europe, and the United States, called, in other words, the law of nature; by which we suppose that God, in giving man his existence, gave him the right to exist; the right to breathe vital air; the right to enjoy the light of the sun; to drink the waters of the earth; to unfold his moral nature; to learn the laws that control his moral and physical being; to bring himself into harmony with those laws, and enjoy that happiness which is consequent on such obedience.”

To the question, "In your lectures, was the theory of that law applied to the condition of African slavery in the United States," he answered:

"Unquestionably, to al1. Wherever a human soul exists, that law applies. I mean by the term' soul,' that immortal principle in man that exists hereafter, which is called the human soul; and wherever such soul exists there is the right to live; the right to attain knowl­edge; the right to sustain life, obey the laws of his Creator, and enjoy heaven or happiness.

"Question. Was that theory or doctrine of a higher law, in your lectures, applied specially to the condition of African slavery in this country?

Answer. To all human beings, wherever they are."

And further, he states:

"I will say that the meanest slave who treads the footstool of God holds from his Creator the same right to live and attain knowledge             and to liberty that you and I possess."

And in answer to a further question, he states:

"The views given in my lectures go to this extent, that whenever, without going into any other State, we have the opportunity to sustain the right of a fellow-being, it is our duty to do it. I have never felt myself called upon to advocate nor to encourage the entering into other States to speak thus to slaves; but wherever, in my own State, where I can do it without violation of law, or enactments erroneously called law, I uniformly arm the slave; I uniformly tell him to defend his life and his liberty; I uniformly teach him his rights, so far as I can."

    As a further exposition of the views entertained by those devotees to the so-styled "cause of freedom," the committee refers to the evi­dence of George L. Stearns, at page 240. This gentleman, although not a lecturer, was, as shown by his testimony, one of the most active and successful workers in that" cause." For his views as to the legitimate use of money contributed to this" cause," see page 242, where he states:

"From first to last, I understood John ]3rown to be a man who was opposed to slavery, and, as such, that he would take every opportunity to free slaves where he could; I did not know in what way; I only knew that from the fact of his having done it in Missouri in the instance referred to; I furnished him with money because I considered him as one who would be of use in case such troubles arose as had arisen previously in Kansas; that was my object in furnishing the money; I did not ask him what he was to do with it, nor did I sup­pose he would do anything that I should disapprove."

To the question" Do you disapprove of such a transaction as that at Harper's Ferry," he answered:

"I should have disapproved of it if I had known of it; but I have since changed my opinion; I believe John Brown to be the represent­ative man of this century, as Washington was of the last-the Har­per's Ferry affair, and the capacity shown by the Italians for self government, the great events of this age. One will free Europe, and the other America."

And so in the testimony of Samuel G. Howe, a physician of Boston. At page 166, speaking of Brown, he says:

“I contributed to his aid at various times.

"Question: His aid in what way?

"Answer: In the same way that I contributed to the aid of other anti-slavery men; men who give up their occupations, their industry, to write papers or to deliver lectures, or otherwise to propagate anti­slavery sentiments. I give as much money every year as I can possibly afford. I am in the habit of contributing in that way."

And at page 167:

"Question: Will you state what you mean by that phrase 'contributing for the promotion of anti-slavery sentiments?' What is the meaning of that idea?

: In the same way that I would promote the Gospel among the heathens; I cannot precisely say what. The means are various lectures, writing, talking, discussing the matter.
"Question: What ends are to be attained by promoting that antislavery sentiment? What is the object in view?
"Answer: The promotion of freedom among men; the same object as the fathers in the revolution.
“Question: Was one of its objects the means of attaining the freedom of the African slaves held in this country?
"Answer: That would be the natural and desired result.

Question: Was that one of ~he ends to be attained by promoting this anti-slavery sentiment by lecturing and otherwise?
Answer. It was. I answer these questions out of courtesy to the Chairman, but I must think they are rather wide."

Of these three witnesses, one, Giddings, represented a district in the House of Representatives from Ohio for a long series of years, and is known to the country as an intelligent man; another, Dr. Howe, holds the highest professional and social position in the city of Boston. The other, Mr. Stearns, is a merchant in the same city, of wealth and with all the influence usually attending it. With such elements at work, unchecked by law and not rebuked but encouraged by public opinion, with money freely contributed and placed in irresponsible hands, it may easily be seen how this expedition to excite servile war in one of the States of the Union was got up, and it may equally be seen bow like expeditions may certainly be anticipated in future when­ever desperadoes offer themselves to carry them into execution. In regard to the one here inquired into, it appears that Brown, after the dispersal of his convention at Chatham, proceeded to the eastern States to provide materials both of arms and money; and in reference to the ease with which the latter was obtained without scrutiny as to the uses to which it was to be put, it will stand upon the record as a remarkable fact, that a check for one hundred dollars given by Gerritt Smith to Brown was handed by him directly, in part payment, to the manufacturer of the pikes with which the slaves were to have been armed. This gentleman, Mr. Smith, is known to the country as a man of large wealth and a liberal contributor to this pretended "cause." By reason of his very infirm health he was not summoned as a witness before the committee; and the, use of this particular check is not referred to as proof in any manner that its contributor knew definitely what was to be done with it, but it is referred to as a most persuasive proof of the utter insecurity of the peace and safety of some of the States of this Union, in the existing condition of the public mind and its purposes in the non-slaveholding States. It may not become the committee to suggest a duty in those States to provide by proper legislation against machinations by their citizens or within their borders destructive of the peace of their confederate republics; but it does become them fully to expose the consequences resulting from the present license there existing, because the peace and integ­rity of the Union is necessarily involved in its continuance

     It has been already stated in this report that Brown, learning, during or just after the adjournment of the convention at Chatham, that Forbes had betrayed his plot, made an effort through his emissary, Realf, to recover the correspondence between himself and Forbes, which, if exposed, would establish it. And it would appear that Forbes considered, by his revelations at Washington, in May, 1858, that he had done what Brown feared he would do. This is referred to in the testimony of Realf, at page 100, where the committee was endeavoring to trace the arms of the Massachusetts Kansas Committee to Brown's possession. The witness states:

"Within a day or two following the convention at Chatham, John Brown said to me that he had received a copy of a letter written by Senator Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts, from Washington city, to Dr. Howe, of Boston," &c.


     And, on page 101 he continues:

"On the occasion of which I have just spoken, at Chatham, Brown said to me that Colonel Forbes, maddened by the non-receipt of moneys which he had expected to receive, had threatened to divulge Brown's plans, and had done so by coming to Washington and stating to Senator Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts, that Brown had a purpose in view of effecting an insurrection in the Southern States."


     The committee at once apprized the Hon. Henry Wilson, senator of the United States from Massachusetts, of' the testimony of this witness, and invited him to attend the committee, as well to put any questions he might think proper to the witness, as to give his own testimony, if any he had, in relation to this matter, The testimony of Mr. Wilson will be found commencing at page 140. It shows that the communication made to him by Forbes induced him to write a letter at once to Dr. Howe, at Boston, the substance of which, from recollection, he gave as follows:


"I wrote to him for the purpose of saying it was rumored that some of the arms that had been contributed by gentlemen in the East for the defense of Kansas had passed into the hands of John Brown, and were held somewhere in his hands, and that they ought to get them out of his hands and put them in the hands of some reliable man in Kansas who would use them only for the purposes of defense, for which they were contributed; that if these arms should be used for any illegal purpose, they would involve the men who contributed for the other purpose in difficulties. That was the substance of the letter; that if they should be used for any illegal purpose whatever, they would be involved in difficulty, and they should get them out of his hands at once. "


Mr. Wilson continued:

"I received a letter, three or four days after I wrote mine, from Dr. Howe, to this effect: that they had sent to Brown to deliver the arms into the hands of somebody in Kansas; at any rate, they had sent to him to take the arms into Kansas, or deliver them up in some way; and" I supposed at the time the arms were those referred to as being in Iowa, which were sent out there and stationed on the way. I received this letter a day or two after I wrote. That was the substance of it. The whole matter, I supposed then, was a quarrel between Brown and Forbes, and I paid but little attention to it; and never, until the outbreak took place, dreamed or heard from any quarter whatever anything in regard to it. I heard nothing from Forbes or Brown or any other source."

At page 158, in the testimony of Dr. Howe, he says, in answer to a question:

"In the year 1858 I received a communication from a Mr. Forbes, then in Washington, and information from other quarters, that Cap­tain Brown had in his possession arms belonging to the committee which he would probably use for purposes not intended by the committee. A meeting was called. The committee had then been virtually dissolved; it had nothing more to do; but the members ware called together. A vote was passed instructing the chairman to write to Captain Brown and direct him, if he held any property, arms, or otherwise, belonging to the committee, to take them into Kansas, there to be used only for the defense of freedom in Kansas. Such a vote was passed, such a letter was written, and, I have no doubt, received by him. "

This letter, it seems, however, was not written by Dr. Howe himself, but by the chairman of the" Massachusetts Aid Committee." When asked the question, "Who was the chairman who wrote the letter you refer to?" he answered, "I should prefer' not to answer that question," adding, "I am here to answer all I have done myself, freely and frankly, but I would respectfully ask to be excused from answering any questions touching the actions of anybody else. I can only answer for my view as one of the committee." He subsequently added, how­ever, "Perhaps I am over sensitive about it, and inasmuch as the gentleman's name is perfectly well known as chairman of the com­mittee, and is in print, I give it Mr. George L. Stearns.

At page 160, this witness also stated that about the same time with the letter from Forbes he received one from Mr. Wilson of the Senate; that he preserved a copy of Mr. ''''Wilson’s letter" until recently, when, in the general destruction of my [his] papers of no consequence, at the beginning of the year, I destroyed it among others, but I have a dis­tinct recollection of its contents

"Question, "'Till you state the contents?
"Answer It was that he had reason to believe that Captain Brown had in his possession arms belonging to the Massachusetts Aid Com­mittee, which he would be likely to use for purposes not contemplated by the committee; that he, Wilson, considered the original movement for procuring anything of the kind to have been a very mistaken and unfortunate one, and he advised by all means that measures be taken to prevent Captain Brown using those arms for any purpose not contemplated in their original purchase. It was a short letter, and that was the amount of it; but I recollect distinctly he expressed his disapprobation of the fact of such arms being in existence, and his disapprobation of John Brown's general career."

This witness having promised, on his return to Boston, to make search for all documents connected with this subject  which could be found, replied by letter to the chairman, which will be found at page 112, and in which he states that the letter from Mr. Wilson could not be found. He sent, however, copies of two letters to Mr. Wilson, dated respectively on the 12th and 15th of May, 1858, which will be found at page 176. The latter is brief, and in the following words:

    "DEAR SIR: When I last wrote to you, I was not aware fully of the true state of the case with regard to certain arms belonging to the late Kansas committee. Prompt measures have been taken, and will be resolutely followed up, to prevent any such monstrous perversion of a trust as would be the application of means raised for the defense of Kansas to a purpose which the subscribers of the fund would disap­prove and vehemently condemn."

    And on page 177 will be found two letters of George L. Stearns, as chairman of the Massachusetts State Kansas Committee, dated the 14th and 15th of May, 1858, referred to by Dr. Howe as the measures taken by the committee to divest Brown of these arms. Howe's letter to Wilson of the 15th of May, cited above, shows very clearly that he was then strongly impressed with the necessity of arresting certain measures projected by Brown, whatever they were, and of which it would appear, at the date of his previous letter to Mr. Wilson, he had not been fully aware, but which he then characterizes as "a monstrous perversion of a trust" in "the application of means raised for the defense of Kansas, to a purpose which the subscribers of the fund would disapprove and vehemently condemn." Stearns, however, as shown by his letters to Brown, in executing the orders of the committee to prevent the misuse of the arms by Brown, contented himself with reminding Brown that those arms were" to be used for the defense of Kansas," and warns him only" not to use them for any other purpose," but to hold them subject to his order as chairman; adding that a member of the committee would go to Chatham to confer with Brown as to the best mode of disposing of them. The following day, the 15th of May, he again wrote to Brown, telling him that he could find no member of the committee who could spare the time to go to Chatham, and requesting Brown to meet him in New York City sometime the following week, and that the committee would pay his expenses.

    The committee cannot but remark on the feeble, and, as it resulted, the abortive effort of the chairman of the Massachusetts committee to prevent a murderous use of these arms by Brown; certainly in striking contrast with the assurance given by Dr. Howe to Mr. Wilson, that prompt measures had been taken, and would be resolutely followed, to prevent such a " monstrous perversion of the trust" connected with them. But a perusal of the testimony at large of Mr. Stearns may show that he had 'at best but vague and undefined opinions as to what would be a perversion of the trust spoken of by Dr. Howe.

    The history of the large armament collected by Brown at Harper's Ferry is thus clearly traced. The rifled carbines, manufactured in Connecticut, intended, as would appear, to be original1y used in intestine strife in Kansas, and sent there for that purpose, were voluntarily, by the Massachusetts Kansas Committee, through its chairman, placed in the hands of Brown, with vague and inexplicit instructions as to their use, about the time when it would appear that he finally conceived the purpose of exciting servile war in some of the slaveholding States. They were allowed to remain in his possession, notwithstanding his failure or refusal to give them up after that committee and its chairman had been warned of his purpose to put them to some use not warranted by those who owned them. The revolver pistols, as shown by the testimony of Stearns) chairman of that committee, was a volunteer gift from him to Brown, at about the same time the carbines were handed over to him, and whether thus beyond his control or not, were not recalled from his possession. The expedition, so atrocious in its character, would have been arrested, had even ordinary care been taken on the part of the Massachusetts committee to ascertain whether Brown was truthful in his professions. Even the modest inquiry made of him by the National Kansas committee, as stated by their secretary, Hurd, resulted in such equivocation and evasion on his part as led them peremptorily to refuse these arms to him, as their act.

The facts exposed in this part of the testimony speak for themselves. It will be remembered that the period referred to, when Mr. Wilson communicated his suspicions to Dr. Howe, and through him to the chairman of the Massachusetts committee) was so late as May, 1858. Order had then been restored in Kansas. The troops of the United States had been long previously withdrawn, and the only contests remaining in the Territory were conducted through the ballot-box. Notwithstanding all which, it would seem Brown was to be kept afoot, entrusted with arms for military organization, and amply supplied with money. The testimony shows that after his treasonable proceed­ings at Chatham he went back to New England, traveled through its several villages, collecting money, which was freely contributed under the auspices both of Dr. Howe and Mr. Chairman Stearns and others, with knowledge that he retained the large supply of arms of which they had failed to dispossess him.


Upon the whole testimony, there can be no doubt that Brown's plan was to commence a servile war on the borders of Virginia, which he expected to extend, and which he believed his means and resources were sufficient to extend through that State and throughout the entire South. Upon being questioned, soon after his capture, by the Governor of Virginia, as to his plans, he rather indignantly repelled the idea that it was to be limited to collecting and protecting the slaves until they could be sent out of the State as fugitives. On the contrary, he vehemently insisted that his purpose was to retain them on the soil, to put arms in their hands, with which he came provided for the purpose, and to use them as his soldiery. (Pages 61, 62)


This man (Brown) was uniformly spoken of, by those who seemed best to have known him, as of remarkable reticence in his habits, or, as they expressed it, "secretive. " It does not appear that he entrusted even his immediate followers with his plans, fully, even after they were ripe for execution. Nor have the committee been enabled clearly to trace knowledge of them to any. The only exception would seem to be in the instance of the anonymous letter received by the Secretary of War in the summer preceding the attack, referred to in his testimony. The Secretary shows that he could get no clue to the writer; nor were the committee enabled in any way to trace him. Considering that the letter was anonymous, as well as vague and apparently incoherent in its statements, it was not at all remarkable, in the opinion of the committee, that it did not arrest the attention of the officer to whom it was addressed.

The point chosen for the attack seems to have been selected from the two-fold inducement of the security afforded the invaders by a mountain country, and the large deposit of arms in the arsenal of the United States there situated. It resulted in the murder of three most re­spectable citizens of the State of Virginia without cause, and in the like murder of an unoffending free Negro. Of the military force brought against them, one marine was killed and one wounded; whilst eight of the militia and other forces of the neighborhood were wounded, with more or less severity, in the several assaults made by them.

Of the list of "insurgents" given in Colonel Lee's report, (fourteen whites and five negroes,) Brown, Stevens, and Coppic, of the whites, with Shields Green and Copeland, of the negroes, captured at the storming of the engine-house, were subsequently executed in Virginia, after judicial trial; as were also John E. Cook and Albert Hazlett? who at first escaped, but were captured in Pennsylvania and delivered up for trial to the authorities of Virginia-making in all seven thus executed. It does not seem to have been very clearly ascertained how many of the party escaped. Brown stated that his party consisted of twenty-two in number. Seven were executed, ten were killed at the Ferry; thus leaving five to be accounted for. Four of these five, it is believed, were left on the Maryland side in charge of the arms when Brown crossed the river, and who could not afterwards join him; leaving but one, who, as it would appear, is the only survivor of the party who accompanied Brown across the bridge, and whose escape is not accounted for.

     The committee, after much consideration, is not prepared to suggest any legislation, which, in their opinion, would be adequate to prevent like occurrences in the future. The only provisions in the Constitution of the United States which would seem to import any authority in the government of the United States to interfere on occasions affecting the peace or safety of the States, are found in the eighth section of the first article, amongst the powers of Congress, "to provide for calling for the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions;" and in the fourth section of the fourth article, in the following words: "The United States shall guaranty to every State in this Union a republican form of government, and shall protect each of them against invasion, and, on the application of the legislature or of the executive, (when the legislature cannot be convened,) against domestic violence." The "invasion" here spoken of would seem to import an invasion by the public force of a foreign power, or (if not so limited and equally referable to an invasion by one State of another) still it would seem that public force, or force exercised under the sanction of acknowledged political power, is there meant. The invasion (to call it so) by Brown and his followers at Harper's Ferry, was in no sense of that character. It was simply the act of lawless ruffians, under the sanction of no public or political authority-distinguishable only from ordinary felonies by the ulterior ends in contemplation by them, and by the fact that the money to maintain the expedition, and the large armament they brought with them, had been contributed and furnished by the citizens of other States of the Union, under circumstances that must continue to jeopard the safety and peace of the Southern States, and against which Congress has no power to legislate.

     If the several States, whether from motives of policy or a desire to preserve the peace of the Union, if not from fraternal feeling, do not hold it incumbent on them, after the experience of the country, to guard in future by appropriate legislation against occurrences similar to the one here inquired into, the committee can find no guarantee elsewhere for the security of peace between the States of the Union.

    So far, however, as the safety of the public property is involved, the committee would earnestly recommend that provision should be made by the executive, or, if necessary, by law, to keep under adequate military guard the public armories and arsenals of the United States, in some way after the manner now practiced at the navy-yards and forts.

     Before closing their report, the committee deem it proper to state' that four persons summoned as witnesses, to wit: John Brown, jr., of Ohio, James Redpath of Massachusetts, Frank B. Sanborn, of Massachusetts, and Thaddeus Hyatt, of New York, failing or refusing to appear before the committee, warrants were issued by order of the, Senate for their arrest. Of these, Thaddeus Hyatt only was arrested; and on his appearance before the Senate, still refusing obedience to the' summons of the committee, he was by order of the Senate committed to the jail of the District of Columbia. In regard to the others, it appeared by the return of the marshal of the northern district of Ohio, as deputy of the Sergeant-at-Arms, that John Brown, jr., at first evaded the process of the Senate, and afterwards, with a number of other persons, armed themselves to prevent his arrest. The marshal further reported in his return that Brown could not be arrested unless he was authorized in like manner to employ force. Sanborn was arrested by a deputy of the Sergeant-at-Arms, and afterwards released from custody by the judges of the supreme court of Massachusetts on habeas cm-pus. Redpath, by leaving his State, or otherwise concealing himself, successfully evaded the process of the Senate.

And the committee asks to be discharged from the further consideration of the subject.



Trial of John Brown