Jean Libby Writes: Harper's Ferry Sharp's Rifle Highlighted in New Article
Michael J. Konowal, a Senior Attorney with Microsoft Corporation, and a collector of manuscripts and artifacts, has published an article in the Fall 2012 (LXIV:4) issue of Manuscripts about how he found an authentic Sharp's rifle from the Harper's Ferry episode, which turned out to have belonged to Dauphin Thompson, one of Brown's raiders. Documentary authority Jean Libby assisted Konowal in providing historical context for his article, and has sent the following chronological overview in conjunction with the aftermath of the raid.
November 16, 1859: Shields Green and John Copeland, in John Brown’s Provisional Army, sentenced to hang. They were convicted, like John Brown, of murder and inciting slaves to insurrection. They are not convicted of treason to the Commonwealth of Virginia because as black men their citizenship is legally unrecognized. Their execution date is December 16.
Fires are set in the haystacks and barns of the jurors of the trials of Green and Copeland by local African Americans.
“Hundreds” cross the gap near Kabletown to the Shenandoah, then to Leesburg and Alexandria . Governor Alexander Wise declares martial law to contain the flow of enslaved African Americans from Jefferson County .
Edwin Coppoc and John Cook sentenced to hang. Their counts include treason to the Commonwealth of Virginia because they are white. Their execution is December 16.
November 17: Arely, the mother of Ben, liberated from John Allstadt in the raid and who died in prison in Charlestown after fighting on Brown’s side, perishes in the cold on Shenandoah Heights.
Osborne Anderson, the sole survivor of the battle in Harpers Ferry to successfully escape, is secreted in the basement closet of William Goodrich, a wealthy African American photographer and merchant in York, Pennsylvania.
Mary Brown is making her way to Virginia to see her husband in prison via the Underground Railroad (William Still and Mr. and Mrs. J. Miller McKim) in Philadelphia. She carries letters of safe conduct from Governor Wise due to physical harassment of the traveling party in Baltimore . Her mission is to bring the body of her husband John Brown after his execution on December 2, 1859 home to New York. She also seeks recovery of the bodies of her slain sons, Oliver and Watson Brown, and those of her neighboring connected family, William and Dauphin Thompson. She is not successful in retrieving the bodies of the young raiders.
This is the provenance for publications in Fall 2012 on the discovery of artifacts of the John Brown raid:
Allies for Freedom is a group of local historians and teachers who organized in 1999 to research local African American in the vicinity of John Brown's raid (Jefferson County, West Virginia and Washington County, Maryland). Most of us are retired now. To continue publishing John Brown Mysteries by Allies for Freedom (Pictorial Histories, Missoula Montana 1999) I have edited and updated "The Guns of October" by Hannah N. Geffert and "The Woodlands of Maryland," which traces the Civil War service of the owners of the guns in the article and their likely path to the black community of Catonsville. It is online and may be downloaded without charge.
With much appreciation,
email@example.com ------------------------------------- Dauphin Thompson: Remembering a Noble, Young Soldier of Freedom Dauphin Osgood Thompson was born on April 17, 1838, the youngest child of Roswell and Jane Thompson, who settled in North Elba, Essex County, N.Y. in 1824.1 In local history references for Essex County, the Thompsons are spoken of as the largest family in North Elba, and this is born out by the 1850 census which states that Roswell and Jane had eleven children. There were nine sons: John, Archibald ("Archie"), Henry, Franklin, Samuel, Leander, the twins William and Willard, and the youngest in the whole family was Dauphin. The Thompsons also had two daughters, Isabelle and Roby, born between the twins (William and Willard) and the youngest, Dauphin. Perhaps Roby (b. 1834) died sometime in the 1850s because she is not mentioned in any accounts focused on the Thompsons and Browns at the time of the Harper's Ferry raid.2
Sketch of Dauphin O. Thompson from
Richard Hinton's John Brown and His Men
Local historians would immediately recognize that Dauphin Osgood Thompson was the namesake of Dauphin Osgood, the son of a leading figure in the community, Iddo Osgood. "Squire Osgood," as he was known, was an early settler of North Elba who owned an inn and eatery spot as well as a good bit of real estate in North Elba. Although there was no established church in North Elba in that era, he was also known as "Deacon Osgood" because of his religious leadership in the community. Indeed, John Brown's actual residence in North Elba was relatively brief, but during his time there he and Osgood seem to have served together as informal spiritual leaders in church services. Furthermore, Brown must have trusted Osgood greatly; when wanted by federal agents for his anti-slavery activities, the abolitionist even sent mail to his family through Osgood. One such letter sent by Brown in 1857 has a verso note that reads: “Iddo Osgood Esqr, Dear Friend Please give this to some one of my family Very Respectfully Yours John Brown.”3 Since Osgood was a beloved figure in the community, it is no surprise that the Thompsons might name one of their sons after his son, especially if Dauphin Osgood had died in youth. It is not clear if this is the case, but it was interesting to note that there were two younger boys in North Elba that were named Dauphin, including Dauphin Osgood Thompson, in the 1850 census. Yet if the Thompson family held "Squire Osgood" in high esteem, ultimately they were far more impacted by John Brown, who had first moved to North Elba with his family in the spring of 1849. United in Love and Death Indeed, the Thompsons are remembered prominently because of their extensive involvement with the Brown family, first as neighbors whose children intermarried, and secondly for the heavy price they paid by supporting the Old Man's anti-slavery efforts. In 1850, Brown's eldest daughter, Ruth, married Henry, the third Thompson son (b. 1822). In 1856, Watson Brown (b. 1835) married Isabelle "Belle" Thompson (b. 1836). According to Konowal's new article, there may also have been an attachment of affection between Dauphin Thompson and Brown's daughter Anne ("Annie," born 1843). I suspect Konowal is overly romanticizing the relationship that Annie had with Dauphin, who was five years her senior. That fact that Konowal has found “Annie” etched on the metal sling bar of the rifle is probably evidence of the close relationship that she had developed with him and the other raiders while she kept house at Brown’s Maryland headquarters in the summer of 1859. Konowal himself found that Dauphin had also inscribed the name of his sister, Isabel, or “Bessie Bell” on the rifle.4 Perhaps Annie had merely done the same thing in order to express her affection. Looking back as an old woman, Anne did not describe Dauphin either as a lover or a suitor, but as a tender, almost pitiable figure: Dauphin was “more like a girl than a warrior,” wrote Anne, “with his light yellow, curly hair and innocent blue eyes, and face as smooth as a baby's.” She found him both diffident and quiet, remembering that he never spoke much to anyone except close friends, and was “very affectionate and child like with his friends.”5 Of course, Henry Thompson was particularly dear to Brown because he was strongly anti-slavery in conviction and a great supporter of his father-in-law. Henry accompanied Brown to Kansas in 1855, and was one of the lethal sword-wielders in the Pottawatomie incident of May 1856, in which the Browns and some allied neighbors conducted a preemptive strike against pro-slavery conspirators. Afterward, Brown wanted Henry to go with him to Harper’s Ferry too, but both Ruth and Henry begged off, undoubtedly much to the Old Man's disappointment.6 Instead, two other Thompson boys joined Brown, William (b. 1832) and young Dauphin. Both men tragically perished at Harper's Ferry—William being murdered by his ruthless Virginia captors, and Dauphin bayoneted by a marine at the taking of the armory engine house on October 18, 1859. To say that the Thompsons paid dearly for their alliance with the Browns is an understatement. Isabelle Thompson, too, suffered greatly, being left a young widow with a two-month-old baby after her husband, Watson Brown, perished at Harper’s Ferry. Baby Freddy evidently was named for Brown’s son who was slain in Kansas in 1856. Unfortunately, Freddy died several years after his father’s death; his small headstone remains in the cemetery at North Elba. It reads: “Gone Home—August 19, 1863.” Isabelle remarried after moving to Ohio, but remained an in-law to the larger Brown family when she was wed to a cousin, Salmon Brown, and lived out her days in Wisconsin.7 The Last Moments of Lieutenant Thompson Dauphin Osgood Thompson was one of only two men among the raiders to be commissioned by John Brown as a lieutenant.8 He stood his ground and fought fairly, even to the last. I would take issue with Konowal’s use of the New York Times and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News reportage of the marine assault, which clearly are flawed sources.9 Although I would agree that marine Major William Russell acquired Dauphin’s rifle after he was killed in the engine house, Konowal unknowingly misrepresents his last moments. First, it is not the case that the marines were exchanging fire with Brown’s men at the point of their breakthrough, since they had been sent into the engine house with strict orders to use only bayonets in order to avoid harming the hostages and enslaved people inside. Second, although he was the first fatality of the assault, Private Luke Quinn did not enter first through the breach. Actually, he followed Lieutenant Israel Green and Major William Russell, neither of which was armed with a deadly weapon. Since Green and Russell were not carrying a gun, it is understandable why the raiders momentarily ceased firing and lowered their carbines. However, when armed marines momentarily followed through the breach, Thompson and Anderson realized that their lives were in jeopardy and quickly began to fire their weapons. This can only be understood based upon the fact that one of the other raiders, probably Edwin Coppoc, wanted to surrender and Brown had called outside that one of his men wanted to give up.10 Unlike Coppoc, Dauphin Thompson and Jeremiah Anderson seem to have hesitated without surrendering, as did John Brown. Thus, when the first two marine officers entered without weapons, they were not shot, probably because Brown thought they were going to receive the surrendering raider. Brown later told Major Russell that he easily could have shot him down when he first entered the engine house. Instead, Lieutenant Green proceeded to attack Brown, even as the other marines poured through the hole. Although Thompson and Anderson were able to shoot one and wound two others, they could not escape the ferocity of the close attack and were impaled quite ruthlessly on marine bayonets.11 In the terror of the final onslaught, poor Dauphin had slid down under one of the fire engines to take cover—his boyish blue eyes filled with terror as his attackers approached and the bayonet found its mark. Louis A. DeCaro, Jr.
Nov. 21, 2012 Always glad to get feedback from Jean Libby. Here's her response (Nov. 20):
Interesting review and depth of new research on the raid. I believe in Annie's romantic attachment to Dauphin, as testified by her sister Ruth Brown Thompson but more so for a lock of hair found in a leather case on the body of Dauphin. It was the only thing on his person. The New York Times writes of it, saying the raider was Albert Hazlett, who was out in the mountains with Osborne Anderson. With your quotation from her age I can see Annie still with the matching lock from the boyish curls of Dauphin Osgood Thompson.
1 The Plains of Abraham: A History of North Elba and Lake Placid: Collected Writings of Mary MacKenzie. Edited by Lee Manchester (Utica, N.Y.: Nicholas K. Burns Publishing, 2007), p. 97-98. Some sources erroneously give him the middle name, Adolphus. 2 Thompson Family of North Elba, Essex County, N.Y. 1850 Census, Schedule I. Recorded by I. F. Morgan, Ass't Marshal on September 6, 1850. 3 Mary MacKenzie, More from the Plains of Abraham. Edited by Lee Manchester (Lake Placid, N.Y.: Makebelieve Publishing, 2008), pp. 85-89; Louis A. DeCaro, Jr., "Fire from the Midst of You": A Religious Life of John Brown (New York: NYU Press, 2002), pp. 173-74; See John Brown to “Dear Wife, & Children,” 20 Oct. 1857, in John Brown Collection of the Chicago History Museum. 4 Michael J. Konowal, “The Dauphin Thompson Carbine and Brown’s Raid at Harpers Ferry,” Manuscripts 64:4 [Fall 2012]: 280-81. 5 Katherine Mayo’s notes from letter of Anne Brown Adams to Richard Hinton, 15 Feb.1893 (Hinton Papers, Kansas State Historical Society), in Dauphin Thompson folder, Box 17, Oswald Garrison Villard—John Brown Papers, Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Collection. 6 While Brown was staying with Frederick Douglass in early 1858, he wrote to his daughter Ruth and asked if she would release her husband, Henry Thompson, to go “to school. . . for another term.” This was referencing Henry’s valuable role in Kansas, and his desire to have his trusted son-in-law likewise join him in Virginia. “I know of no man living; so well adapted to fill it,” Brown wrote. In April, Ruth and Henry wrote to Brown, who was working among black expatriates in Canada, that they had mutually agreed that Henry should not join the raiders. See John Brown to “Wife & Children everyone,” 30 Jan. 1858, in Franklin B. Sanborn, Life and Letters of John Brown (1885; rpt., New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969), pp. 440-41; Henry and Ruth Thompson to “Dear Father,” 21 Apr. 1858, John Brown Collection, #299, Box 1, Folder 31, Kansas State Historical Society. 7 The Plains of Abraham: A History of North Elba and Lake Placid, pp. 103-04. Also Katherine Mayo’s notes of interview with Annie Brown Adams by Richard Hinton on 23 May 1893 (Hinton Papers, Kansas Historical Society, Hinton Papers), in Watson Brown folder, Box 6, Oswald Garrison Villard—John Brown Papers, Columbia University. 8 “John Brown’s Invasion. Cook’s Confession,” New York Tribune, 26 Nov. 1859, p. 7, col. 4. 9 The account offered by Leslie’s seems to have been based upon the erroneous New York Times report, published three days after the raid. Konowal, “The Dauphin Thompson Carbine,” p. 270; “The Negro Insurrection. . . Storming and Capture of the Armory,” New York Times, 19 Oct. 1859, p. 8; See section, “Storming of the Conspirators’ Stronghold,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News, 29 Oct. 1859, p. 336, col. 1. 10 I am inclined to disagree with Tony Horwitz’s dramatic account at this point, as I believe the only raider in the engine house who wanted to surrender was probably Edwin Coppoc, whereas Tony presents Dauphin Thompson and Jeremiah Anderson as having tried to surrender, and Coppoc as trying to fight on with Brown. Although one cannot be definitive about what transpired in those last, heated moments, it does not make sense that Thompson and Anderson would try to surrender and then pick up their guns and start shooting at the marines. More likely, Coppoc saved himself by dropping his weapon and standing nearby with the hostages, all of which had their hands upraised in a posture of surrender in order to avoid the deadly marine assault. Whether or not Coppoc’s gun misfired, as Horwitz says, is not clear. Either way, he had probably put it down right away in order to save his life. See Tony Horwitz, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011), pp. 178-80. 11 See my essay, “The Slavemasters’ Butcher: Israel Green and the ‘Capture’ of John Brown,” in John Brown, Emancipator (New York, 2012), pp. 68-81.