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Douglass-Brown meeting place marked

August 21, 2000

Douglass-Brown meeting place marked



By DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Blue and yellow state historical markers dot the landscape of Franklin County, Pa., but a new marker unveiled Monday commemorating an 1859 meeting between abolitionists John Brown and Frederick Douglass has some people thinking of bigger things.

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Brown met with Douglass, the ex-slave and statesman, at a stone quarry along the banks of the Conococheague Creek on Aug. 19-21.

Brown wanted Douglass' support for the raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, a move Brown hoped would trigger a slave revolt through the South.

"So tormented was John Brown that he was prepared to kill and be killed, even to sacrifice his own sons, even to murder hapless civilians, as he had in Kansas in 1856," said Raymond H. Depuy, the former president of Franklin County Heritage Inc.

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"Frederick Douglass also believed the time had come for bold action, but the risk of committing his people to be slaughtered was unacceptable," Depuy said. "He tried, but failed to persuade Brown to revert to his earlier plan of providing refuge and protection to escaping slaves."

The marker is near the Conococheague Creek along West Washington Street on property owned by Paran Management Co., which owns the nearby Southgate Mall.

"When Brown was here waiting for Douglass, it is written he pretended to be fishing," Depuy said.

Douglass later wrote that Brown "convinced me that he was going into a perfect steel trap, and that once in, he would never get out alive."

Douglass was in Chambersburg to address abolitionist supporters when he met secretly with Brown.

The Oct. 16, 1859, raid on Harpers Ferry, in what is now West Virginia, failed to ignite a slave revolt. Brown's conviction for treason and execution on Dec. 2, 1859, however, further polarized North and South.

"I am worth inconceivably more to hang than for any other purpose," Brown wrote his brother prior to his execution, knowing he would serve as a martyr to the anti-slavery movement.

Depuy envisions something more at the current marker site, perhaps sculptures or bas-relief plaques with the images of Douglass and Brown, accompanied by quotations. He said efforts are already under way to raise money to augment the marker, which was paid for by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Franklin County Heritage and the Kittochtinny Historical Society.

State Rep. Stephen Maitland of Adams County, Pa., commissioner of the state Historical and Museum Commission, said about 70 applications for markers are received each year, and about 20 are approved. He said the Douglass-Brown marker met the main qualifications of having statewide or national importance.

Chambersburg Borough Councilman William F. McLaughlin has a more expanded vision than Depuy outlined. He noted there is a Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and said the United States should establish regional museums and interpretive centers on the history of slavery.

"Slavery, that peculiar institution was the original sin of this nation," he said, calling it "our national holocaust."

"I think one of them ought to be right here because of our proximity to the Mason-Dixon Line," McLaughlin said.

Franklin County stands out for other reasons, too, he said. It was a stop along the Underground Railroad, Pennsylvania Quakers led the abolitionist movement and Chambersburg was the gateway to Gettysburg for Confederate troops in 1863.

Antietam National Battlefield historian and author Ted Alexander of Greencastle, Pa., said Chambersburg's Civil War history had national impact. One of the first major forays by Union troops into the Shenandoah Valley was staged from Chambersburg; hundreds of injured Union soldiers were hospitalized here after Antietam; and J.E.B. Stuart's 1862 raid contributed to Abraham Lincoln firing Gen. George McClellan as commander of the Union army.

In July 1864, Chambersburg became the only town north of the Mason-Dixon Line to be burned by the Confederates, he said. Alexander said Confederate raiders rounded up free blacks and escaped slaves, returning them to bondage.

Of 180,000 blacks to serve in the Union Army, 500 came from Franklin County, Alexander said.

Chambersburg businessman James Wolfson, who did much of the research and prepared the application for the marker, said the state approved it in 1999, but it was too late for a celebration last year, the 140th anniversary of the Douglass-Brown meeting.

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