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"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Raider Osborne Anderson Honored Ten Years Ago this Month

THE WASHINGTON POST (NOV. 16, 2000)--Organized by the cemetery, descendants and Temple Hills genealogist Paul E. Sluby Sr., it was billed as a Veterans Day event. Yet, while [Osborne Perry Anderson] did serve in the Union Army during the Civil War, it was his participation in the pre-war raid on the federal arsenal in Harper's Ferry that made an indelible mark on history.

Osborne P. Anderson, raider and author
of the much neglected eyewitness
account, A Voice from Harper's Ferry
The Columbian Harmony Society section comprises about 40 of the 125 acres of burial ground located within sight of FedEx Field. The plaque to Anderson says, “This dedicated and brave Christian traveled from Chatham, Canada to Harper's Ferry, W. Va. to fight beside John Brown in his quest to abolish slavery.”

For Robert Berry, 54, of Brunswick, Anderson was also his great-great grandfather, a shadowy figure he’d heard about over the years but only now is beginning to know. “One day, my mother and I went up to Harper's Ferry and introduced ourselves to the National Park Service people,” he said. “They were surprised he had descendants.” Berry is glad he did. “You know, I stop and think, if he had been captured and killed, I wouldn’t be here today.”

In a cemetery off Sheriff Road in Landover are buried many forgotten figures in African American history, among them John Brown raider Osborne Perry Anderson.

Last weekend, nearly 100 people came on a clear, breezy day to National Harmony Memorial Park to memorialize this forgotten abolitionist and to dedicate a bronze plaque to his memory at the site of his final resting place. They included a color guard from Fairmont Heights High School, black Civil War re-enactors, Prince George’s County Council Chairman Dorothy F. Bailey (D-Temple Hills), former D.C. Council member Frank Smith and a score of Anderson’s descendants.

That Anderson’s remains were there is no secret, though the exact grave site is unknown. However, Saturday’s ceremony was intended not to close the book on his life but to open a new chapter of remembrance.  “What it means for me is closure,” said Dennis Howard, 50, a District social worker and a great-great grandson. “At the same time, it’s a starting point.”

That 1859 attack, under the leadership of fiery abolitionist John Brown, is often cited by historians as a prime catalyst to the war that claimed 600,000 lives and ended slavery.

Born in Pennsylvania on July 17, 1830, Anderson was educated at Oberlin College in Ohio, then immigrated to Canada, where he learned the printing trade and met Brown in 1858.
Anderson was one of five blacks among Brown’s 21 raiders, and he was only one of a handful among the entire group who escaped and survived. He went on to write a book, A Voice from Harper’s Ferry [1861].

Anderson enlisted in the Union Army in 1864. Mustered from service, he lived in Washington, where he belonged to the 15th Street Presbyterian Church and died of tuberculosis in December 1872 at 42. An obituary in the Washington Star described him as “a man of good character” eulogized by three ministers.

He was buried first in the Columbian Harmony Cemetery, founded by free blacks in 1825, at the current site of the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station parking lot in Northeast Washington.  The cemetery eventually fell into disuse and disrepair, and, in 1959, its 37,000 remains were disinterred and moved to Maryland, to the National Harmony Memorial Park.

Because of inadequate records and lack of contact with families, many of the remains were unidentified and reinterred without markers. Anderson’s exact location is among the many unknowns, and cemetery caretakers could only guess when placing the plaque.

The Columbian Harmony Society section comprises about 40 of the 125 acres of burial ground located within sight of FedEx Field. The plaque to Anderson says, “This dedicated and brave Christian traveled from Chatham, Canada to Harper's Ferry, W. Va. to fight beside John Brown in his quest to abolish slavery.”

Those attending the ceremony included Harpers Ferry Mayor Walton D. Stowell and three uniformed members of Company B of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Group, Civil War reenactors inspired by the film “Glory.” They were led by Ben Hawley, the great-great grandson of an African American soldier in the Union Army. “I like to feel I’m reliving history in his name,” said Hawley, who also said of honoree Anderson, “I mean, he was a hero. He was an inspiration.”

FYF: Notice of Anderson's funeral in The Daily
Morning Chronicle
 [Wash. D.C.], Dec. 14, 1872
Other prominent 19th-century African Americans buried at the cemetery include George Beall, who established the first school for blacks in Washington in 1807; Francis Datcher, first president of the Columbian Harmony Society and for 42 years a messenger for the War Department; and William Slade, who was in charge of the hired help at the White House and was once described as Abraham Lincoln’s “friend and human comforter.”

Also Mary Ann Shadd Cary, a prominent abolitionist; James Wormley, proprietor of the internationally-known Wormley House hotel, at 15th and I Streets NW, and the Rev. John Cook, founder and first pastor of the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in 1841.

SOURCE: Eugene L. Meyer, "At Cemetery, a John Brown Raider Is Remembered," The Washington Post [Final Ed.] (Nov. 16, 2000), Sec. J, p. 8.  My thanks to our friend, historian and journalist, Colin Rickards, for providing this article.  Among his other works, Mr. Rickards is the author of Hand of Captain Danjou: Camerone and French Foreign Legion in Mexico 30 April 1863 (2005)


Mayor to Lecture on Historic Predecessor, Fontaine Beckham, Killed During the Harper's Ferry Raid 101 Years Ago

On November 15, 2010, the Society and the Harpers Ferry Foundation will host historian and Harpers Ferry Mayor James Addy’s presentation “Mayor Fontaine Beckham of Harpers Ferry --The Forgotten Casualty of the John Brown Raid". Mayor Addy’s presentation is free and open to the public and will begin at 7:00 p.m. at the Camp Hill Methodist Church, 601 W. Washington Street in Harpers Ferry. The presentation will be preceded at 6 pm by a public reception at the church.

Mayor Addy earned his BS in Education at Towson (MD) University, an MA in History and Loyola University, and his PhD in African American Studies at George Washington University. For many years he was a teacher and assistant principal in the Baltimore City Public Schools, where he also held the position of Maryland Supervisor of Social Studies and was an educational advisor to the Maryland Bicentennial Commission. Jim has been Mayor of Harpers Ferry, WV since 2001 and is a professor of social studies at Bowie State University, MD, where he teaches courses in American history. Jim and his wife Elsie live in Harpers Ferry and have three children and two grandchildren.

Mayor Addy will describe Harpers Ferry as it was in 1859 when John Brown and his followers sought to seize the Federal arsenal and armory by force in order to begin a slave revolt. The Mayor will introduce a number of characters who played pivotal roles during the night of Oct. 16th,including Mayor Fontaine Beckham, who lost his life during the siege. He will continue with a description of the trial and execution of the raiders in Charles Town and reflect on the impacts of the raid and Beckham’s death on the town. He will also compare the ideals of Fontaine Beckham and John Brown and let you in on the surprising legacy of the forgotten casualty of the John Brown Raid. For more information about the presentation, contact Curt Mason at cmasonwhf@aol.com. To learn more about the Harpers Ferry Historic Town Foundation and the Historical Society, please visit their web sites: http://historicharpersferry.com/hff/ and http://jeffersonhistoricalwv.org.  Watch for monthly reminders and abstracts about the remaining 2010 presentation, “Shepherdstown—Then and Now” by Dr. Jim Price, December 6 at the Shepherd University Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, as well as for a new schedule of 2011 presentations.

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