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The Fire Engine House The Fire Engine House
Photograph by David T. Gilbert

  Main Entrance to Armory, c. 1862 Main entrance to the armory at Harpers Ferry, c. 1862
Photograph courtesy of the Harpers Ferry Photo Archives

During the summer of 1859, John Brown (1800-1859) developed a strategy for seizing Harpers Ferry and gathered weapons, supplies, and supporters while living at the Kennedy Farm, located seven miles away in Maryland. His plan was to liberate slaves by starting a revolution, arming the slaves, and establishing a free black stronghold in the Appalachians. Brown chose Harpers Ferry because of the stock of weapons at the Federal armory there and its location near the mountains. On the night of October 16, he set out for Harpers Ferry with 17 men and a wagonload of supplies. The party crossed the Potomac River, seizing the bridge and armory watchmen. Brown then cut telegraph wires and sent parties out to bring in slaves and hostages.

Brown's men barricaded themselves in armory buildings and began to exchange fire with townspeople. By noon of October 17, the militia had arrived and secured the Potomac River bridge. The raiders who survived the encounter with the militia managed to take refuge in the fire engine house of the armory's musket factory, where they were stormed by a party of marines on the morning of October 18. Two men were bayoneted and others were captured, including John Brown who was brought to trial the following week in the county seat of Charles Town.

TheHarpers Ferry National Historical Park is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in the states of West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland, 65 miles northwest of Washington, DC, and 20 miles southwest of Frederick, MD, via U.S. Route 340. The Visitor's Center is open 7 days a week from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.

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