"Posterity will owe everlasting thanks to John Brown for lifting up once more to the gaze of a nation grown fat and flabby on the garbage of lust and oppression, a true standard of heroic philanthropy, and each coming generation will pay its installment of the debt. . . . John Brown saw slavery through no mist or cloud, but in a light of infinite brightness, which left no one of its ten thousand horrors concealed." Frederick Douglass

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Descendants of John Brown and his followers attend reception

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Brenda Pitts remembers standing where her uncle, John Anthony Copeland, was hanged Dec. 16, 1859.

“It felt very somber,” the Columbia, Ind., woman said. “I thought about what he went through. They used the wrong rope. It took 30 minutes for him to die.”

Pitts was among less than a dozen descendants of John Brown, his followers and others involved in the raid on Harpers Ferry who attended a reception Friday night in the parking lot behind the Jefferson County Courthouse.

The event was sponsored by the Jefferson County chapter of the NAACP as part of its 17th Annual Jefferson County African American Culture & Heritage Festival this weekend.

Pitts said she learned about her great-great-great uncle by reading about the raid on Harpers Ferry, which occurred Oct. 16-18,1859.

Copeland, one of Brown’s 21 followers in the raid, was a free black man and a student at Oberlin College in Ohio. His uncle, Lewis Leary, was also one of Brown’s men.

Pitts said her family plans to come to Harpers Ferry for a reunion in mid-October during the 150th anniversary of Brown’s raid on the town.

“My family feels so strong about the contribution Uncle John made,” she said.

The guest of honor Friday was Alice Keesey Mecoy of Allen, Texas, Brown’s great-great-great granddaughter. She said Brown’s raid was a family secret no one ever talked about.

Thursday was her first visit to Harpers Ferry.

Judy Ashelman of Ranson, W.Va., has family connections with Barclay and Edwin Coppoc, two of Brown’s raiders. Barclay escaped; Edwin was captured and hanged.

The brothers were nephews of Ashelman’s great-great grandfather, Joshua Coppoc.


Deana Steece of Shepherdstown, W.Va., said her great-great grandfather, the Rev. Joshua Young, officiated at Brown’s funeral in New York.

Elliott B. “Bud” Perrett of Frederick, Md., said his great-great grandfather, Seldon Perrett, was Brown’s second cousin. He produced a copy of the genealogy to prove it.

Today’s festival highlight will be a parade at noon that will wind through Third Avenue and North George Street in Ranson then south to Washington Street in Charles Town to Lawrence Street.

The festival will continue at Wright Denny Alternative School in the 300 block of South Lawrence Street.

On Sunday, a re-enactment of the meeting between Frederick Douglass and John Brown, featuring actor Fred Morsell, will be shown at 3 p.m. at the Betty Roper Auditorium at the corner of South Charles and West Congress streets.

Source: Richard F. Belisle, The Herald-Mail [Hagerstown, Md.], August 15, 2009

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